More Florida parents choose home education

For a growing number of Florida families, back-to-school season doesn’t mean a return to the classroom, per se. In the past several years, the state’s home education programs have grown faster than most of its school districts.

Home education enrollment

The top 10 Florida school districts for homeschooling remained the same in the two most recent school years, but enrollment patterns shifted.

That remained true last year, even though growth in homeschool enrollment slowed considerably, according to the latest annual report, released this week by the state Department of Education.

The report is based on data collected by school districts, which help keep track of home education students. It shows the number of students enrolled in home education grew 1.7 percent last school year, its slowest growth rate since 2008. That still outpaced enrollment increases in the state’s 2.7 million-student public school system, which grew by less than 1 percent.

And by another measure – the number of participating families – home education grew more quickly.

Statewide, nearly 57,000 families chose to homeschool their children in the 2013-14 school year, a 4.6 percent increase from the year before. There’s also some significant variations in homeschool participation in different parts of the state.

Duval County, Florida’s sixth-largest school district, has the largest number of homeschool students and accounted for 7.7 percent of the state total. The largest district, Miami-Dade County, is home to less than 5 percent of Florida’s homeschool students, and has fewer than some smaller districts like Orange and Brevard, according to the report.

While the top 10 school districts remained the same in both 2012-13 and 2013-14, there were some shifts. The share of home-education students coming from Hillsborough declined, but the share in Pasco increased.


Florida roundup: Funding, testing, tax credit scholarships and more

Tax credit scholarships. The Palm Beach Post criticizes this year’s school choice legislation in an editorial.

Charter schools. WPTV scrutinizes Charter Schools USA’s real estate operations.

florida-roundup-logoFunding. Gov. Rick Scott promises record funding for schools in the midst of a re-election battle. Associated Press. Times/Herald. Palm Beach Post.

Campaigns. Partisan politics rear their head in a supposedly nonpartisan Hernando school board race. Tampa Bay Times. The Florida Times-Union looks at school board campaigns in Putnam and Baker Counties.

School boards. The Palm Beach Post examines possible Sunshine violations by the local school board.

Budgets. School district employees’ travel comes under scrutiny in Pasco. Tampa Bay Times. A Marion school board member reverses course on restoring funding to arts programs. Ocala Star-Banner.

Testing. Is opting out really an option for parents? Palm Beach Post.

Superintendents. Clay County’s showdown over elected-vs-appointed heads to court. Florida Times-Union.

Tutoring. An audit finds problems with supplemental instruction for low-income children at a Lee County school. Fort Myers News-Press.

Security. A school administrator saves a student from an on-campus attack. Palm Beach Post.

Growth. The Santa Rosa district sees larger than expected enrollment increases. Pensacola News-Journal.


Engaging teacher unions will accelerate transition to parental choice

This post first appeared on the Friedman Foundation blog.

Social movements such as women’s suffrage, black civil rights, and parental choice in education involve the redistribution of social, political, and economic power. Because few groups in control of that power at the time are enlightened enough to share it voluntarily, these power struggles are usually contentious—but they don’t have to be.

Although school choice opponents have used name-calling, character assassination, and misinformation as key strategies in maintaining their power, thankfully they have refrained from the physical violence that often accompanies disruptive social change. The bad news is their strategies still undermine our civic discourse and make it more difficult to provide every child with an equal opportunity to succeed. Our children and our democracy deserve better.

Despite the opposition’s tact, school choice supporters should try engaging opponents, particularly teachers’ unions. I know that is easier said than done, but, in the long run, the willingness to search for common ground could accelerate the transition to greater school choice. I say this as someone who’s had a front-row seat on both sides of this debate.

I became a teachers’ union organizer in 1978, and, for the next 16 years, held a variety of local, state, and national leadership positions in both the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA). Today, I am president of a nonprofit organization that helps administer our nation’s largest private school choice program.

Although neither side is without sin, I have been most disappointed by the discourse coming from the teachers’ unions and their anti-choice allies. When I talk with local, state, and national union leaders, I am stunned at how uninformed they are and how many falsehoods they have embraced as truths.

I recently had dinner with one of our country’s top teachers’ union leaders who told me there has never been research showing students benefit from school choice programs. And last month, I was on a panel with a top Miami-Dade union leader who erroneously said Florida’s tax credit students are not tested.

This level of ignorance is a reflection of how insular, polarized, and tribal our politics have become. People are increasingly retreating into self-contained echo chambers where they hear only the messages that reflect the positions of their political tribe. Without access to contrary views from sources they know and trust, people have no basis upon which to question the one-sided communications they are receiving. And few organizations are as insular and tribal as teachers’ unions.

Such insularity causes many union leaders to develop a mindset that says their positions are good and all contrary positions, and those who hold them, are evil—hence all the rhetoric coming from teachers’ union leaders.

There are also financial incentives at play. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Charter schools, campaigns, teacher quality and more

Charter schools. A Duval charter school that just opened is at risk of being shut down. Florida Times-Union. Children affected by a charter school’s miscalculation are placed in new schools. Gradebook.  WTVJ follows up on the impending closure of a South Florida charter school. Two small Palm Beach charters fail to open due to lack of enrollment. Palm Beach Post. A Polk Montessori preschool looks to open a K-8 charter. Lakeland Ledger.

florida-roundup-logoCampaigns. School choice supporters pour money into a Volusia school board race. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Teacher quality. A study finds the least experienced Miami-Dade teachers often end up in schools with the greatest needs. Miami Herald.

College readiness. New scores show Florida students struggle on the ACT. Tampa Tribune. Patricia Levesque sounds a not of urgency on the EdFly. Results improve in Brevard and Alachua. Florida Today. Gainesville Sun.

Facilities. Officials look into the possibility of a new high school in Bonita Springs. Fort Myers News-Press.

Polling. The latest PDK/Gallup education survey shows support falling for Common Core. Sentinel School ZoneStateImpact. The American Federation for Children provides a disclaimer for the poll’s voucher results.

Continue Reading →


Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: Research double standard, adults cheating on tests and hostile charter takeovers

MrGibbonsReportCardDavid L Kirp, professor, University of California, Berkeley

David L Kirp’s latest New York Times op-ed pleads with education reformers to focus on teachers rather than “impersonal” reforms like charter schools and vouchers. Although nothing is more impersonal than being zoned to a school by a faceless bureaucrat, Kirp’s distaste for school choice reforms seems rooted in a double standard he holds on education research.

For example, Kirp is a big supporter of Head Start, a pre-k program for low-income children. Even though the federal government has spent billions on Head Start, the evidence that it improves academic performance is weak, at best. Kirp even acknowledges that the most recent report on Head Start, conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found no statistically significant benefits for participating students.

Yet Kirp still wants to expand Head Start to include wealthier students. He argues adding rich students will create peer effects that benefit low-income students. It is a plausible theory, but it is one he mysteriously doesn’t apply to other educational programs such as vouchers.

David L. Kirp

Kirp argues that charter performance is no different than public school performance and that Milwaukee’s voucher program hasn’t produced learning gains, at least so far as he can tell.

The nation’s largest charter school study by CREDO has twice found modest academic advantage for low-income and minority students enrolled in charters. There are also “gold-standard” studies on Milwaukee (one by Greene, Peterson, and Du and one by Rouse) which demonstrate that participating low-income voucher students also see statistically significant academic gains and even higher graduation rates.

If including higher-income kids will help save Head Start, then imagine what it would do for programs already producing measurable benefits for low-income kids.

Grade: Needs Improvement


Public school cheaters in Ohio


Columbus, OH

Incentives to behave badly exist whether you work for a public non-profit school or a private for-profit company. The most recent example of this comes from an investigation in Ohio where auditors revealed at least 20 different public schools manipulated student assessment data to keep school grades from dropping. School leaders cheated by “scrubbing” student enrollment to make it appear as if low-performing students did not attend for the entire school year.

School leaders had a dual incentive to cheat: 1) they received financial bonuses for good performance and 2) preventing the school from receiving a D or F grade would ensure students remained ineligible for vouchers. According to the Columbus Dispatch, one father has already sued the district to recover tuition money he spent for a private school education after it was revealed his daughter would have been eligible for a voucher because she was actually assigned to a D-rated school.

The FBI is now involved and, according to the Dispatch, one leader has already plead no contest to felony charges while several others have resigned or have been fired. The Dispatch has been following this closely in its ongoing series “Counting Kids Out.” The newspaper’s editorial board has also blasted the districts.

Grade: Needs Improvement

  Continue Reading →


Appeals courts criticize Florida charter school statutes

Two Florida appeals courts recently decided two cases involving the same charter school operator and came to the same conclusion: There are “deficiencies” in the state’s charter school statutes.

The courts indicated that when the state Board of Education overrules school boards on charter school applications, it should be required to spell out its reasoning in greater detail. They also found other “shortcomings” in the state’s standards for high-performing charter school appeals.

The state board can hear appeals from charter schools whose applications are rejected by local school boards. It often overturns their decisions, especially in cases involving “high-performing” charters like Renaissance Charter School, Inc., which was rebuffed in two separate efforts to bring its South Florida schools to Central Florida.

State law only allows high-performing charter schools to replicate once per year. If a school board rejects a high-performing charter’s application to replicate one of its schools, the school board has to show “clear and convincing” evidence the application failed to meet certain standards spelled out in state law.

In the two recent cases, one in Seminole County and one in Polk, the state board decided the districts did not prove their case. The districts disagreed, and appealed the cases to state courts. Three-judge panels for the Fifth and Second Courts of Appeals both sided with the districts and overturned the state board’s decisions. And in both rulings, the latest of which was issued earlier this month, the courts criticized the state laws that spell out the process for charter school appeals.

The two cases, both decided 3-0, were broadly similar.

Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Catholic schools, reading, turnarounds and more

Catholic schools. The latest evaluation of Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship program suggests Catholic schools get impressive reading results. The Thomas Fordham Institute’s Ohio Gadfly runs the numbers.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. A Palm Beach Post columnist rips charter schools.

Turnarounds. The EdFly highlights a successful effort to turn around a struggling Central Florida school.

Transportation. St. Lucie students who live close to their schools may soon have the option of paying for bus service from the district. St. Lucie News-Tribune. The Pasco school district improves communication with its bus system. Tampa Bay Times.

English language learners. Their treatment in the state’s testing and accountability system is the subject of a dispute between Florida and the federal government. Tampa Bay Times.

Reading. The extra hour of reading for 300 struggling schools may be more like a half hour in two Southwest Florida districts. Naples Daily News.

Growth. Hillsborough’s enrollment is up. Gradebook.

Continue Reading →


Nothing more impersonal than an education system without school choice



In the New York Times of Aug. 17, David Kirp tells us “there is no substitute for the personal element” in schooling and claims those who support school choice disagree with him. In his “Teaching Is Not a Business,” he scolds the entire parental choice movement as dominated by “marketplace mantras” that regard test scores “as the single metric of success.” He would have us understand that business competition and systematic testing exhaust the litany of arguments for choice and that these are impersonal forces.

Kirp, in my judgment, is correct to downgrade both scores and competition; they are important essentially as the instruments of the more central values thought to be served by parental autonomy. And, true, in arguing for choice, some economists have found little to say beyond hailing the market. I will suggest they have forfeited their best arguments. But, then, for Kirp to attribute their narrow vision to the mainstream of serious students and proponents of family authority is grossly misleading.

What is school choice really about? Like any other element of human freedom it is, before all else, an occasion of responsibility. It is specifically so for the parent; armed with constitutional authority, fathers and mothers must face up to the issue: where will Little Nell get her formal instruction? The parents must decide; but first they must probe and learn – they must act like responsible citizens. They will make mistakes and grow by them, because these decisions will affect their own future lives. They care about this child, not simply because she is theirs – though that is crucial – but because they have to live with the outcome.

The child observes such behavior, and that experience suggests the meaning of responsibility. Further, Nell grasps that, if the decision turns out painful for herself, she has an open mic at dinner and bedtime to plead her own case and maybe change schools. She gains confidence in the possibility of her own responsibility. There is a system; she is part of it; and it can work. She has discovered that she is a citizen.

Nell’s neighbor, Jim, for reasons of poverty, has no parent who is able to choose for him; he is conscripted for a school called “public.” He is called to learning by strangers who bear no long-term responsibility for his success. His parent and he are both helpless – for 12 years. Is this what Kirp means by “the personal element?” Does conscription serve the development of a “civic” attitude? Continue Reading →