Author Archive | Ron Matus

Florida is and isn’t Top 10 in latest Education Week rankings

EdWeek QC coverAfter a strong run of top-tier showings, Florida public schools are No. 28 in the latest overall rankings from Education Week, but continue to place in the Top 10 in academic achievement.

Education Week moved to a slimmed-down version of its annual “Quality Counts” analysis this year, after not giving overall grades or ranks to states last year. The new version, released Thursday, is based on three broad categories rather than six, and does not include several categories in which Florida traditionally scored well, including standards and accountability, and the teaching profession.

Between 2009 and 2013, Florida finished at No. 11, No. 5, No. 8, No. 11 and No. 6 in overall rank. EdWeek cautioned that this year’s overall grades are not directly comparable to past years because of the change in scoring criteria.

In the K-12 achievement category, Florida finished in the same spot as last year, No. 7, but the data in that category was not updated from last year (it’s typically updated every other year). Between 2009 and 2013, Florida finished at No. 7, No. 7, No. 6, No. 12 and No. 12 in achievement, according to EdWeek’s analyses, which look at performance and progress with NAEP scores, AP results and graduation rates.

Supporters of Florida education policy have often touted the rankings as another credible indicator of the state’s steady progress since the late 1990s. Critics have often ignored or dismissed them.

In overall rank, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland and Vermont finished at the top this year, all earning B grades. Florida’s overall grade is a C, the same as the nation’s.

In achievement, Florida finished behind Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont and Minnesota and ahead of Pennsylvania, Washington and Virginia. Florida has a far higher rate of low-income students than any of them (57.6 percent, according to the most recent federal data, compared to 35.1 percent for front-runner Massachusetts.) It was given a C in the category, while the nation earned a C-. Continue Reading →


10 school choice wishes

school choice wish 2014 logoIf you could change one thing to move the ball on parental school choice, what would it be? As we’ve done the past couple of years, we posed that question to a range of folks in the school choice universe. Over the next two weeks, we’ll publish their responses.

Our contributors reflect the incredible diversity of voices supporting choice – voices many of us find compelling and complementary. They are Republican and Democrat; conservative and liberal; black, white and Hispanic. Folks from think tanks and advocacy groups and academia kindly took time to weigh in. So did a community organizer and a school board member. So did a mom.

Here’s the line-up:

Friday: Dec. 19: Ben DeGrow, education policy analyst with the Colorado-based Independence Institute.

Monday, Dec. 22: Peter Hanley, executive director of the American Center for School Choice.

Tuesday, Dec. 23: Sharhonda Bossier, vice president, advocacy and engagement, at Education Cities.

Wednesday, Dec. 24: Rev. Timothy Scully, founder of the Alliance for Catholic Education at the University of Notre Dame.

Friday, Dec. 26: Two posts: The first by Charles Glenn, noted education researcher at Boston University; the second by Jason Crye, executive director of Hispanics for School Choice.

Monday, Dec. 29: Wevlyn Graves, a Florida parent of a tax credit scholarship student.

Tuesday, Dec. 30: Nicole Stelle Garnett, professor at Notre Dame Law School and co-author of the 2014 book, “Lost Classroom, Lost Community: Catholic Schools’ Importance in Urban America.”

Wednesday, Dec. 31: Gary Beckner, founder and executive director of the Association of American Educators.

Friday, Jan. 2: Jeff Bergosh, a member of the Escambia County (Fla.) School Board. Continue Reading →


Marcos Crespo: Embrace of diversity should extend to parental school choice

Democratic NY Assemblyman Marcos Crespo:  "I don’t lose sight of the fact that I don’t know better than the parents who know their children. And my responsibility is not to tell her what she needs, it’s to provide options for her to choose."

Democratic NY Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, speaking at the HCREO conference in Florida: “I don’t lose sight of the fact that I don’t know better than the parents who know their children. And my responsibility is not to tell her what she needs, it’s to provide options for her to choose.” (Photo credit: Johana Sanchez)

New York Assemblyman Marcos Crespo is the latest example of an influential Democrat offering full-throated support for school choice, including options such as tax credit scholarships.

At a press conference in Miami last week, Crespo pointed to Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, the nation’s largest private school program, as giving New York a “playbook for something that works.” (The program is administered by nonprofits such as Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.)

Crespo repeatedly referred to Miami scholarship student Valentin Mendez, who preceded him at the press conference. He also referenced the Catholic school education that helped shape U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Like Crespo, Sotomayor hails from the Bronx. Her success wouldn’t have been possible without the school, and without her mother’s sacrifice in paying tuition, Crespo said. “Us in government,” he continued, “have a responsibility to create more opportunities for more Justice Sonia Sotomayors.”

Here are Crespo’s remarks in full, edited slightly for length and clarity.

I want to thank you and CREO for bringing us all together on this important conversation. It’s hard to follow Sen. Sandoval and Valentin and his testimony. But I’ll share with you what’s happening in New York.

I represent the community in the southeast section of the Bronx that has been known for far too long for all the social ills associated with urban communities and low-income communities. We have talked for years that education is our priority. We have talked about fixing a broken system that continues to fail to graduate and prepare enough students in our community, particularly minority children, Hispanic children, low-income community children. We’ve talked about the fact that 80 percent of the kids graduating from our school system, when they go to college, they need remedial courses because they’re not prepared for the academics they’re going to confront there. Think about that.

We talk about the economy of the state, and whatever state you’re in, whether New York or Illinois or Florida or wherever you are in this country, you’re not competing with just your own local community businesses. You’re competing in a global market. We talk about the failure of this country to be competitive with other superpowers around the world, and we have that conversation but we don’t do anything about it or enough about it.

I’m here today, and I’m here with friends who are Republicans and Democrats because as the senator said, this isn’t a partisan issue. The issue of education is a moral issue. It’s a rights issue. And it is an issue of opportunity and growth that is going to keep this country to be the great country that it’s been. We cannot do that without preparing the next generation. We cannot achieve that without empowering our young people to be the leaders of tomorrow. We say that far too often as a punchline and not as a real goal, and as a commitment for anyone regardless of what label you use to describe yourself and your politics.

I don’t know that an elected official, or a bureaucrat working at a state education agency anywhere in this country, can know better what’s best for Valentin than his mom who spoke here earlier. No one can tell her what’s best for her son.

In every state in this country, we talk about diversity. We talk about the strength of our diverse communities, we talk about the diversity of faith, of cultures and languages that make the United States what it is, certainly New York what it is. But then we don’t translate that very concept into the way in which we provide opportunities. Ladies and gentlemen, one size doesn’t fit all. Continue Reading →


School choice scholarship parents get ok to intervene in FL lawsuit

Fifteen parents of tax credit scholarship students in Florida will be allowed to help defend the nation’s largest private school choice program against a lawsuit that aims to end it, a judge ruled Friday.

Several tax credit scholarship parents and their children traveled to Tallahassee to attend Friday's hearing.

Several tax credit scholarship parents and their children traveled to Tallahassee to attend Friday’s hearing.

After a 25-minute hearing, Leon County Circuit Court Judge George S. Reynolds III granted the parents full intervenor status in McCall v. Scott, the suit filed Aug. 28 by the Florida teachers union, Florida School Boards Association, Florida PTA and other groups.

Several parents attended the hearing, including a Tallahassee parent whose son was relentlessly bullied in public school, a doctor’s assistant from Fort Lauderdale who fled Venezuela after the election of Hugo Chavez and a Wesley Chapel mom with two daughters at the highly regarded Academy Prep private school in Tampa. The other parent-intervenors include a public school teacher from Miami.

The 13-year-old scholarship program serves about 69,000 low-income students this year, and is administered by nonprofits such as Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog. The plaintiffs say it violates constitutional prohibitions against state money going to religious institutions or to a non-uniform education system.

A court filing said the parents wanted intervenor status because they had a “direct, substantial and immediate” interest in the program that “will not vary over the course of this litigation, whereas the Defendants’ interests in this lawsuit are liable to shift with the political winds.” The defendants include Gov. Rick Scott, members of the Florida Cabinet and the state Department of Education.

“While our interests are complementary, our interests are not identical,” the parents’ attorney, Karen Walker, told the judge. “We should be able to use every tool in the toolbox” to defend them.

The defendants had no objections.

The plaintiffs agreed prior to the hearing to allow the parents to intervene, but not with “full party status.” Continue Reading →


Public school teacher grateful for private school choice

Heidi Gonzalez is the mother of two children who participate in Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, the nation’s largest private school choice initiative. She’s also a public school teacher.

“Every kid is different,” said Gonzalez, 35, who teaches first grade in Miami. For her daughter, who struggled in public school, “I needed a school that helped her, that more fit her personality,” she said.

Too often, parental choice critics assume school choice parents and the people who support them are anti- public school. But records at Step Up For Students, a nonprofit that administers the scholarship program (and co-hosts this blog), show at least 700 scholarship parents are employed by school districts.

There’s no easy way to determine how many of those district employees are teachers, but it wouldn’t be a big surprise if a fair number were. Public school teachers are more likely than the public at large to put their own children in private schools. One of them, in fact, is among 15 parents who filed to intervene in the lawsuit that the Florida teachers union, Florida School Boards Association and other groups filed in August to end the scholarship program. (A hearing on the motion to intervene is set for Friday.)

Gonzalez, who calls the lawsuit “horrendous,” made a facebook video to call attention to it. She credits a tax credit scholarship with her daughter’s turnaround. Continue Reading →


Duval Republicans take aim at FSBA over school choice suit

The Republican leadership in one of Florida’s biggest counties passed a resolution Monday night condemning the Florida School Boards Association and other groups for filing suit against the state’s tax credit scholarship program and potentially snuffing out academic options for nearly 70,000 low-income students.



The strongly-worded resolution by the Republican Executive Committee in Duval County, a conservative stronghold that includes the city of Jacksonville, calls on all registered Republicans to stand in opposition to the suit. It also urges those elected to serve on school boards to “take all appropriate measures to force the Florida School Boards Association to remove itself as a litigant.”

“They’re denying children an opportunity to get a good education and they’re doing it strictly for dollars,” Rick Hartley, chairman of the Republican Party of Duval County, told redefinED. “They’re fighting over dollars and they don’t care about the kids. That’s not appropriate.”

The move in Duval is the latest example of pushback following the suit’s filing on Aug. 28. Florida’s 13-year-old tax credit scholarship program is the largest private school choice program in the nation, with 67,000 students enrolled this fall, nearly 70 percent of them black or Hispanic. Evidence shows the students tended to be the lowest performers in the public schools they left behind.

In the suit’s aftermath, state Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, a key education leader with a reputation for listening to all sides, declined to accept the FSBA’s “Legislator of the Year” award; state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, a moderate with close ties to teachers unions, expressed concern about the potential displacement of low-income students; and a handful of local school board members around the state penned newspaper op-eds denouncing it.

Duval isn’t the only county where Republican leaders are taking action. Last week, the executive board of the REC in neighboring, suburban Clay County passed a similar resolution, which will go before the full membership next week. Leslie Dougher, who heads the Clay REC, is also chairwoman of the Republican Party of Florida. Continue Reading →


Howard Fuller: Parental choice fight in Florida is national issue

If its import wasn’t apparent already, parental choice leader Howard Fuller said Florida should be a national battleground after the Florida School Boards Association, Florida Education Association and other groups filed suit Aug. 28 to kill the nation’s largest private school choice program.

“First off, we got to fight, and we need to make Florida a national issue,” Fuller, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, told redefinED this week. “It isn’t just a Florida issue. It has to be a national issue, for all of us who care, not just about parental choice as a policy, but care about 70,000 poor kids not having the opportunity to go to the schools of their choice. So we need to become very focused on that.”

The suit is targeting the 13-year-old tax credit scholarship program, which is serving more than 67,000 students this fall. All are low-income, and nearly 70 percent are black or Hispanic. The program is administered by scholarships funding organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.

Fuller said the suit should be a lesson to school choice supporters that they must be ever vigilant.

“They just told us, we don’t care. We don’t care. And we’re going to continue to try to protect our power,” he said, referring to the plaintiffs. Continue Reading →


What drives a parental choice warrior

fuller bookIn 1998, at a luncheon in Chicago, former superintendent, activist and now-icon Howard Fuller was on an education panel with an up-and-coming state senator. Barack Obama told the audience that vouchers were a “distraction,” and said those who support them don’t want to tackle the difficulties of changing the “entire system.”

Dr. Fuller

Dr. Fuller

Fuller laments the spectacle of black leaders going toe to toe in public, but he did not shy from a retort. As he recalls in his just-released autobiography, “No Struggle, No Progress,” he answered from experience about teachers unions’ resistance to change, then lowered the boom:

“And you sit here and claim that we can make changes in the existing system? If you can do that, God bless you. But I’m going to tell you this. Those of us who are out there fighting are not going to wait for you to do that. We’re going to keep trying to find ways to help people whose kids are being undereducated, miseducated, not educated.”

Howard Fuller’s passion for parental choice is common knowledge in choice circles. He is arguably the best known and most revered figure in that realm. But thanks to his book, a wider swath of people will get a chance to meet him. Written with noted author Lisa Frazier Page, the book would compel even if school choice wasn’t such a hot topic; it chronicles an extraordinary American life. But it has the potential, too, of knocking a few more holes into the tired narratives about choice supporters and what motivates them.

Low-income parents are lining up in droves for alternatives to district schools, and one prominent Democrat after another is swinging towards them, including President Obama who, while still hung up on vouchers, wholeheartedly supports charter schools. The Dem divide is real, and as it grows, more rank-and-file Democrats will have second thoughts. Fuller’s story can hasten the process. Politically, he’s part of the same extended tribe, and for many folks that external validation makes all the difference.

It wasn’t until after he embraced vouchers in the late 1980s, Fuller notes, that he heard of economist Milton Friedman. Fuller’s views about education and everything else were forged in a different world: through his own humble upbringing by strong black women who found ways to get him the best education possible (including stints in Catholic schools); and in the tumult of the 1960s – in civil rights and Black Power, in protest marches and rent strikes.

It’s clear from every page that Fuller is motivated by love for “my people,” and for finding ways to right wrongs and uplift them. “No Struggle, No Progress” is brimming with passages that speak to his heart – passages like this one, where Fuller describes one of the Durham, N.C. neighborhoods he was assigned to help as a community organizer in the 1960s:

“Though I’d grown up in public housing and spent my earliest days in a poor southern community, I’d never seen poverty and neglect like this. Hayti, the largest neighborhood in my target area, sat in the heart of a major city, yet some areas still had dirt streets. Dirt streets! In the middle of town! That was incomprehensible to me. Shotgun shacks were everywhere, and some of them had no running water indoors. My heart hurt when I saw how my people were living and how they had accommodated themselves to survive under conditions that no human being should have to endure. Anger burned deep inside. But far from feeling overwhelmed, it made me even more determined to figure out how to change the condition.”

Early on, Fuller was captivated by another concept too: “maximum feasible participation.” Continue Reading →