Fifty years since ‘Moynihan Report,’ are schools rising to the challenge of poverty?

Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Editor’s note: This article draws on a symposium hosted by Education Next, which has become the subject of controversy over the journal’s latest cover. Here, we focus on its contents and their implications. -TP

Despite Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s warnings fifty years ago, the number of children born to single family homes increased while the associated disadvantages have grown even stronger.

The connection between single-parent households and poverty has been well known for decades. It was documented in a report by the late Senator on the hardships facing African-American families in the 1960s.

Yet, in the decades that followed, when looking at children’s educational outcomes, “the predictive power of single-parent family structure appears to have increased over time,” according to Kathleen Ziol-Guest, Greg Duncan and Ariel Kalil, co-authors of an article in the latest issue of Education Next.

The authors find that students in single-parent homes receive, on average, nearly two fewer years of schooling.  Furthermore, 40 percent of students in two-parent households go on to complete college, but the figure drops to less than 15 percent for students in single-parent households.

The Moynihan Report, released in 1965 during a time of racial segregation and tension, may have focused its attention on the African-American family, but researchers Sara McLanahan and Christopher Jencks find no evidence that single motherhood has different effects on black or white children.

Single parents can still have a positive impact on their children’s education. Zoil-Guest, Duncan and Kalil discovered that, among single mothers, for every 2 years of education of the mother there was a corresponding rise in educational attainment of the children by nearly one additional year. Other studies show that fathers active with their children’s lives decrease childhood delinquency and drug use and can raise their academic achievement.

Combined, mothers and fathers living together with their children leads to “stronger cognitive and non-cognitive skills” for the children as well as an increased likelihood to going to college, earning more money and forming “stable marriages themselves,” according to a study by the left-of-center Brookings Institute.

What can be done to mitigate the academic disadvantages of poverty and single-parent households?

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Florida schools roundup: Testing, tax credit scholarships, mastery and more

florida-roundup-logoTesting. Some school districts halt testing a third day, saying they aren’t confident the state has fixed the problems; large districts resume testing. Tampa Bay Times. Gradebook. Miami Herald. Sun-Sentinel. Orlando Sentinel. Fort Myers News-Press. Bradenton Herald. Meanwhile, testing legislation advances. News Service of Florida. Times/Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A Palm Beach school board member points his finger at the state. Palm Beach Post.

Tax credit scholarships. The Florida Times-Union runs Rev. H.K. Matthews’ column describing school choice as a civil right.

Recruitment. Facing a teacher shortage, the Hernando school district heads to New York. Tampa Bay Times.

School uniforms. A bill encouraging them moves in the Florida House. Gradebook.

Black history. A high school’s culinary festival pays tribute to Black History Month. Tampa Bay Times.

Mastery. A Hernando student reaches complete mastery on a computer-based learning program. Tampa Bay Times.

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Bill would give younger children access to Florida special needs accounts

Parents of three- and four-year-olds with special needs would be able to enroll their children in Florida’s newest educational choice program for special needs students under changes approved by a legislative panel on Wednesday.

Sen. Don Gaetz

Sen. Don Gaetz

The state Senate’s education budget committee approved tweaks to legislation expanding the state’s new Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts after hearing emotional testimony to the mother of a child with autism.

Katie Swingle told the panel that she and her husband had scraped together money to afford therapies and private school tuition for their son, who is now seven years old, and attends Woodland Hall Academy in Tallahassee with the help of a scholarship account.

He has progressed from being told he would not be able to talk to learning to write in cursive, Swingle said. The younger children are when they start to receive services, she said, the faster their progress tends to be, but parents often struggle to cover the cost.

“When you get these bills, it’s frightening,” she said. “You just want to see you’re child succeed and you just want to see them do well and be happy, and I see that.”

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Survey shows teachers supportive of school choice, reform

Gary Beckner

Gary Beckner

Reforming America’s education system has become a top national priority. In an increasingly divided political climate, ensuring that every student has access to a quality education still brings bipartisan coalitions together unlike any other issue.

Despite growing consensus among advocates, teachers are often overlooked as allies in the fight to improve our struggling system. In order to promote positive and practical reform, it’s critical to engage our teachers on the front lines.

For far too long the real voices of classroom teachers have fallen on deaf ears. The outdated union model is harming students and alienating a changing workforce.

Teachers deserve better.

In reality, hard-working educators are not in lock-step agreement with the demands and rallying cries of union leaders. To establish a credible teacher voice, we must empower teachers to be leaders for reform, not roadblocks.

Teachers are true professionals with ideas and opinions valuable to the education reform conversation. And it’s clear the vast majority of teachers want to see their students succeed and their profession evolve.

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Florida schools roundup: Testing, charter schools, lawsuits and more

florida-roundup-logoTesting. Some districts delay testing another day as they question the computer system that saw glitches during Monday’s start of assessments. Tampa Bay Times. Miami Herald. Sun-Sentinel. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WESH. WFOR. Tampa Tribune. A school and a parent are in conflict over the parent’s attempt to opt her child out of state testing. Orlando Sentinel. Northwest Florida students say they’re unfazed by the new assessments. Northwest Florida Daily News. No major testing issues in Manatee. Bradenton Herald. Democratic lawmakers try to pressure Gov. Rick Scott. Associated Press.

Charters schools. A bill moving through the Legislature would create a charter school institute at Florida State University. Tallahassee Democrat.

Digital learning. St. Johns County says it sees academic payoff from a one-to-one initiative. St. Augustine Record.

Lawsuits. Alabama’s tax credit scholarship program is upheld in a court case resembling Florida’s. redefinED. Education Week.

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Florida charter school bill gets bipartisan support

A Florida charter school bill cleared its first legislative hurdle on Tuesday, after avoiding the party-line votes and heated debates that have flared in recent years.

The legislation, aimed at improving charter school quality, passed the House Choice and Innovation panel with bipartisan support.

Rep. Irv Slosberg, a South Florida Democrat who voted for the bill, described it as a “beneficial compromise.”

It would create a charter school institute at Florida State University that would help vet charter school applications, examine teacher preparation programs, and otherwise help the state’s 67 school boards manage its roughly 650 charter schools. It would also give school boards more authority to screen charter applicants and make it easier for academically high-performing charters to expand in high-needs neighborhoods.

“Charter schools are like a fast-moving freight train,” Slosberg said. “On one hand you don’t want to get in front of the train, and other other hand you want to slow it down so it doesn’t crash.”

Longtime charter school supporters, including Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said the legislation would help modernize Florida’s 19-year-old charter school laws. He said parents’ access to charter schools can vary depending on where they live. Continue Reading →

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Alabama tax credit scholarships upheld in a case that sounds a lot like Florida’s

The Alabama Supreme Court on Monday rejected a constitutional challenge to a scholarship program that bears striking similarity to Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship for low-income students, which was challenged in August. The Alabama ruling comes six months after the New Hampshire Supreme Court also rejected a challenge to tax credit scholarships in that state.

Not surprisingly, school choice advocates in Alabama were pleased. Said Chad Mathis, chairman of the Alabama Federation for Children: “We are thankful to the justices of the Alabama Supreme Court for seeing this lawsuit for exactly what it was – a veiled attempt by Alabama Education Association (AEA) to keep the status quo in education and prevent parents from making decisions that best suit their children.”

The AEA, Alabama’s teachers union, challenged both the procedure by which the Alabama law was passed in 2013 and the constitutionality of the program. The constitutional issues were based on the union’s argument that the scholarship funds were the equivalent of state appropriations – a claim that closely tracks the Florida case, which was filed by the Florida Education Association and other groups. Florida’s tax credit scholarship program is administered by organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog and employs the author of this post.

By alleging the scholarship funds were in fact government appropriations, the AEA said the program improperly used money from the Alabama Education Trust Fund on nonpublic schools and to support religious schools.

The union’s lawyers wrote that a tax-credited scholarship contribution “channels to charitable organizations monies that otherwise would have gone to the public (and) is the functional equivalent, in all respects, of an appropriation to such charitable institutions that are not under the absolute control of the State.”

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What’s on the Florida Legislature’s school choice agenda this year

Florida CapitolStandardized testing issues are expected to consume much of lawmakers’ focus once the Florida Legislature convenes its annual 60-day session today.

But there’s room on the agenda for school choice bills, even if they’re not expected to trigger the high-profile legislative drama we’ve seen in recent years.

Florida’s past two legislative sessions have produced measures allowing students to customize their education beyond their choice of school (course access and Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts), spurring new of public school options (career academies and collegiate high schools) and helping existing choice programs grow (increased eligibility for tax credit scholarships, standardized charter school contracts).

That’s hardly an exhaustive list.

This year, many of the proposals call for making adjustments: Helping districts stop unqualified charter school operators, broadening eligibility for the scholarship accounts, eliminating obstacles for students signing up for virtual courses.

There are a few other, provocative ideas worth keeping an eye on. Lawmakers in both chambers are looking to eliminate geographic barriers that might restrict parents’ access to desirable schools, allowing them to enroll in any public school that has space.

Sen. John Legg, the Trinity Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said the fact that the concept appears in two separate pieces of legislation — one sponsored by him, and one by two fellow Republicans — is a sign it’s likely to get attention this year.

His Senate district lies along the boundary between Pasco and Hillsborough Counties, north of Tampa. Parents who commute every day from the bedroom communities of Pasco might want to enroll their children in a Hillsborough County school, and parents in other Tampa Bay-area counties might want access to some of the Pasco school district’s attractive new offerings.

Public schools are becoming increasingly specialized, Legg said, and “arbitrary political boundaries” should not keep children out of schools that might meet their needs.

Here are the key school choice bills to watch over the next two months.

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