Florida schools get failing grade due to re-segregation, investigation finds

This week, an investigation of five Florida elementary schools in low-income, predominantly black neighborhoods of St. Petersburg labeled the schools 'failure factories,' partially blaming racial re-segregation over the past eight years. Tampa Bay Times reporter Michael LaForgia joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.

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    Turning now to Florida. This week, The Tampa Bay Times published an investigation of five elementary schools in low-income, predominantly black neighborhoods of St. Petersburg, in Pinellas County. The newspaper labels the schools "failure factories" and blames, in part, racial resegregation over the past eight years.

  • Among the findings:

    last year 95 percent of the black children failed standardized reading and math tests, and 52 percent of teachers asked for a job transfer.

    Reporter Michael LaForgia co- wrote the story. He joins me now.

    So, you know, let's inoculate some of the basic reservations that come up when we talk about stories like this, that this is a poverty problem — and you report this is not. Why?


    That's right. From our reporting, we looked at any measure that you can think of — any socioeconomic measure that you can think of — of a neighborhood. We looked at the levels of poverty, median household income, rates of college graduation, rates of single-parent homes.

    And by any measure, we could find, Pinellas County, Florida, falls dead in the middle of the pack of all Florida counties.


    But it's still producing these failure factors.

    Another reservation is people are going say, you know what? It's the parents' problem. The kids weren't ready to start school. When they got there, they were already behind.

    But you found out —


    That's right. That's right. And that's probably the most common thing you hear when you're doing a story like this.

    And what we did is we analyzed a batch of kindergarten-readiness data, tests that kids take when they're coming into kindergarten to see how prepared they are showing up for school. And what we found was that our kids in these schools were no less prepared than children in scores of other schools across Florida but it was only after a few years in these five schools that they were falling dramatically behind.


    And these five schools were not always that way. You trace is back to something that happened eight years ago. Why do you think that resegregation is leading to these problems?


    Well, I mean, this absolutely was a recent phenomenon. Eight years ago, schools were about average. Kids were performing much better, and then our school board voted for a plan that effectively resegregated the schools. It ended integration efforts and created a situation where children in predominantly black neighborhoods were suddenly going to predominantly black schools.

    They knew that this was going to happen when they made this decision. And in order to make it go down easier, they promised that these schools would be flooded with money and resources —


    Did that happen?


    — social workers, counselors, that type of thing.

    No, that never happened.


    And what did happen as a result?


    Well, as a result, the schools got a little bit worse academically, and a little bit more disordered and chaotic year after year after year. Teachers fled. Kids began not to feel safe in class, and we got to the situation where we are today.


    Your reporting also highlights that there are other counties in Florida that might be statistically worse off but are having better outcomes because they're doing things that this county is not.


    That's right. You see in Broward County, for example, they created an office dedicated slowly to raising the achievement levels of black males. They track their students' progress in real time. Orange County has a similar office that targets minority achievement. Deval County is paying teachers $20,000 a piece in incentive pay to work in high-risk schools. Pinellas County hasn't tried any of those things.


    All right. Michael LaForgia of The Tampa Bay Times — thanks so much for joining us.


    Thanks for having me.

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