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Report: Schools not following Blueprint

Published Oct. 8, 2005

Every Florida school has a customized plan under a 1991 law designed to shift control of classrooms from state officials to teachers, parents and employers.

But not every school has defined how much improvement it thinks can be reasonably expected.

In fact, none of the 22 plans reviewed by state auditors defines "adequate progress" for student performance, graduation rates, school safety and other areas identified in state goals.

"There generally appears to be an unwillingness at the school level to define adequate progress, yet the school does not want anyone else to define adequate progress for them," the auditors wrote.

A reform law known as Blueprint 2000 required schools to operate under their own improvement plans starting last year.

The plans had to be approved by the district school board and were supposed to be developed with the input of an advisory council made up of parents, teachers and employers.

The concept was simple: Give schools more flexibility to do what's best for their students and then hold them accountable for the outcomes.

But a report issued this week by the state's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability warned that school boards are going to have a hard time determining what kind of progress schools have made when the schools' own plans are silent on the issue.

The auditors visited five districts and 22 schools. They interviewed 22 principals and 89 council members, and conducted 66 discussion groups with 245 teachers in Hillsborough, Calhoun, Palm Beach, St. Johns and Volusia counties.

"Based on interviews with teachers, we believe they generally supported the idea of school improvement plans and that the implementation of the plan resulted in improvements at their school," the auditors wrote.

But teachers said there was a lack of money to do things that would really make a difference such as hiring more counselors or buying enough textbooks for every student.

Half of the principals interviewed by state auditors say they have a hard time getting parents involved.

In four of the schools, at least half the members were teachers. In two, a majority of the members were parents. Six of the schools did not have a business or community representative.

Seven of the schools didn't have advisory councils that reflected the ethnic and racial makeup of its student population.

In addition to the seven broad state goals, each school should have long-term goals reflecting its plan to meet the state's expectations, the auditors wrote.

Most of the plans lacked "long-range goals with quantified objectives as annual benchmarks."

"Thus, these school communities were not provided a mechanism to assess either individual school progress toward meeting its goals or progress in meeting state education goals," according to the report.

Education Commissioner Doug Jamerson said Friday he wasn't terribly disappointed by the audit.

"I think the audit indicates that there's still a great potential for Blueprint 2000," he said.

"What we've got to do now is more appropriately define adequate progress," he said.