Monday, June 25, 2018
Education

FCAT scores at Pinellas charter school that used Scientology 'study tech' are among lowest in Tampa Bay

DUNEDIN — When Hanan Islam and her management company took control of the struggling Life Force Arts and Technology charter school here last summer, she passed out lesson plans based on the work of Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

She said Hubbard's "study technology" would enlighten children and help save the school. But grades from Florida's standardized FCAT test released Thursday show that, in one year under Islam's management, Life Force students' education suffered.

Life Force's third- and fourth-graders scored the lowest or second-lowest passing rates in math, reading and writing of more than 300 elementary schools across Tampa Bay.

"It's a classic case of how a management company mismanaged this school, was paid an extraordinarily large fee for dismal services, and the ultimate victims were those poor children," said Dot Clark, the Pinellas County school district's coordinator of partnership schools.

Islam's company, Clark added, "promised the world and gave them nothing. ... It breaks my heart."

Third-graders took a more difficult test this year than last, resulting in lower average scores statewide. But even adjusting for the different standards, Life Force's FCAT math and reading scores worsened year-to-year.

Only one of 14 third-graders at Life Force passed this year's reading test. Eight students scored in the lowest achievement level, leaving them at high risk of being held back. None of the third-graders passed math.

Life Force fourth-graders fared just as poorly. Only five of 17 students passed the writing test. Last year, all of Life Force's 12 fourth-graders passed the writing portion.

Life Force third-graders had Tampa Bay's second lowest passing rate, with only Pepin Elementary, a Tampa charter school for children with learning disabilities, scoring lower. Life Force fourth-graders had Tampa Bay's lowest passing rate by far. The second lowest, from students in Pinellas' dropout prevention program, was 13 percent higher.

For those results, Life Force paid Islam's companies — her charter school management firm, Art of Management, and a study-tech promotional group, the World Literacy Crusade — more than $100,000 in public funds over a span of five months, bankruptcy records show.

"I'm just disheartened. We had every disadvantage you could think of," principal Lenor Johnson said Friday. "The funds we needed ... we were unable to use because our management company said no."

The Pinellas County School Board voted to revoke the school's charter in March, due in part to its use of an unauthorized curriculum. Islam's company left the school later that month.

Neither Islam nor her second in command at Life Force, former director of operations Vikki Williams, responded to messages Friday. Life Force teachers believe Islam has moved to California or Puerto Rico but intends to open another school in south St. Petersburg.

Teachers blamed the poor performance on Islam's forced instruction of Hubbard's study tech as well as the school's lack of funding for basic classroom materials like paper, pencils and textbooks. Fifth-grade teacher Jason Lowe, who was fired by Islam but rehired after she left, said teachers "were definitely set up for failure."

Some blamed students' poor marks on instability due to Islam's repeated firings of, as third-grade teacher Lynne Kittredge said, "good, certified teachers, because they wouldn't accept her Scientology stuff."

"We worked our butts off. We did after-school, we did tutoring; we weren't even being paid. But I'm not a miracle worker," said Kittredge, who was hired in February. "By the time we came in, the best we could do was damage control."

Life Force board chairman Louis Muhammad, appointed by Islam in January, defended her management of the school, saying students' scores would have drastically improved if study tech had been given more of a chance.

He also blamed the low scores on the Tampa Bay Times, saying the newspaper's coverage of Life Force's problems "caused confusion and, in other words, hindered the school."

"You all put out this confusion on religion, and we're not talking religion: we're talking technology," Muhammad said. "If you all had left the school alone, it would have been better."

On its last day, June 7, Life Force will become the first Pinellas school to be forcefully closed by a revoked charter. The approximately 50 remaining students, down from nearly 100 in August, will move to nearby public and charter schools.

But for some students, their low marks at Life Force could haunt them for years. Several will need summer school to keep up with their peers, while others, including kindergarten students, may need to repeat the grade.

In recent weeks, some teachers say they have seen some student growth. They hope the small improvements, not visible in FCAT scores, will carry on to their next school.

"Did they get a full year's growth? No," Kittredge said. "But we have eight days. Eight days. We're all teaching to the very bitter end. We'll be teaching our way out the door, because that's what we do."

Drew Harwell can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4170.

Comments
Next step for Hillsborough schools facing biggest challenges: Hire more teachers

Next step for Hillsborough schools facing biggest challenges: Hire more teachers

TAMPA — As chief of diversity for the Hillsborough County School District, Minerva Spanner-Morrow tries to keep her expectations realistic. "We want the best of the best and I know that’s very difficult," she told principals last week as...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Hernando school officials set to discuss replacement, sever ties after firing Superintendent Lori Romano

Hernando school officials set to discuss replacement, sever ties after firing Superintendent Lori Romano

BROOKSVILLE — With dust still settling from the Hernando County School Board’s close vote to fire Superintendent Lori Romano — and days before her time as head of the district runs out — school officials and community members seem to be already movin...
Published: 06/20/18
Hernando students score slightly better on state tests

Hernando students score slightly better on state tests

BROOKSVILLE — As schools and districts across the state await their 2018 grades from the Florida Department of Education, the standardized test scores that factor into those ratings and were dropped last week show slight gains in Hernando County.The ...
Published: 06/20/18
Budget analysis projects deficit, deepened by security costs, for Pasco schools in coming year

Budget analysis projects deficit, deepened by security costs, for Pasco schools in coming year

An early analysis of the Pasco County School District’s 2018-2019 budget projects a deficit of more than a million dollars, with more than half of that coming from a shortfall in funding new school safety requirements.Costs to hire and train 53 new s...
Published: 06/20/18
New dorm still coming to USF St. Petersburg, but in a smaller package

New dorm still coming to USF St. Petersburg, but in a smaller package

ST. PETERSBURG — Originally pitched as a nine- or 10-story, 550-bed dorm for the overcrowded University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus, USF’s latest residence hall project will likely look much different by the time it’s done.For starters, it...
Published: 06/20/18
Carlton: From Sun Dome to Beer Stadium: Don’t let suds scare you

Carlton: From Sun Dome to Beer Stadium: Don’t let suds scare you

Am I missing something in the — pardon the expression — brouhaha over the renaming of the University of South Florida Sun Dome to the Yuengling Center? In trading a college arena’s longtime name for that of a big-name beer brewed ne...
Published: 06/20/18

Hillsborough school district will pursue two kinds of local taxes

TAMPA — Hillsborough County School District officials took an important step Tuesday toward asking the voters to pay higher taxes for schools that, they say, are not getting enough money from the state.The board voted 5-0 to submit a tax referendum r...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/20/18
STEM camp beats the summer doldrums for some Pasco students

STEM camp beats the summer doldrums for some Pasco students

DADE CITY —Just a few weeks into summer vacation, Pasco Middle School student Jade Neal, 14, was back at school, delving into a challenging STEM activity on force in motion, as the theme to Mission Impossible played in the background.The assignment? ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Editor’s note: Ethan Hooper wrote today’s column to give Ernest Hooper Father’s Day off.In May, I graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in elementary education, and I recently secured a job as a first-grade teacher with Orang...
Published: 06/18/18
AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

Since 2002, the AP World History course has covered thousands of years of human activity around the planet, starting 10,000 years back. But now the College Board, which owns the Advanced Placement program, wants to cut out most of that history and st...
Published: 06/16/18