Author Archive | Ron Matus

Florida students rock AP tests despite demographic challenges

AP cohort data report coverFlorida now trails only Maryland and Connecticut, states with far lower rates of low-income students, in the percentage of graduating seniors who have passed college-caliber Advanced Placement exams.

Thirty percent of Florida’s Class of 2014 found success on at least one AP exam, moving Florida ahead of high-flying Massachusetts and in a tie with Virginia, according to results recently released to states by the College Board, the nonprofit that oversees the AP program.

The national success rate was 21.6 percent.

Florida’s performance is especially noteworthy given its demographics. In fact, no state has a bigger disconnect between AP results and rate of low-income kids. (See chart at the end of this post.)

Florida ranks No. 44 in the percentage of students eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch, at 57.6 percent, according to the most recent federal figures. Massachusetts ranks No. 3, with 35.1 percent; Connecticut No. 5, with 35.7 percent; and Virginia No. 9, with 39.2 percent. Maryland comes in at No. 17, with 41.8 percent.

Despite its challenges, Florida continues to be a pace-setter in AP progress, too, coming in at No. 2 in improved performance over the past decade. Between 2004 and 2014, the percentage of graduating seniors in Florida passing at least one AP exam rose 13.7 percentage points, far surpassing the national rise of 8.9 points. Only Connecticut improved more.

The Florida story isn’t happenstance. In 2000, the state forged a partnership with the College Board to widen the doors of access to low-income and minority students, who had too often been shut out of AP classrooms. At the same time, it better identified potential AP students, better grounded them for tougher courses and better prepared AP teachers for more diverse classrooms.

Success skyrocketed. In 2000, Florida students passed less than 40,000 AP exams; last year, they passed roughly 150,000.

The trend lines have been especially steep for minority students: Continue Reading →

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Florida nears 14,000 mark for charter school teachers

The number of charter school teachers in Florida reached a new high again this year and is now just shy of 14,000, according to preliminary state numbers.

FL charter school teachers 2014-15Counting all instructional personnel, the new total of 13,951 is up 13 percent from last year.

The increase isn’t a surprise given Florida’s growing charter school sector, which ranks among the largest in the nation. (As reported on redefinED last month, charter school students in Florida topped the 250,000 mark this year, and now account for 1 in 11 public school students in the state.) But it is another noteworthy sign of how fast the education landscape is shifting not just for parents and students, but educators.

Charter school teachers in Florida are still just a fraction of all public school teachers in the state (about 7 percent). At the same time, Florida now has more charter school teachers than nine states have public school teachers, period.

Miami-Dade County, Florida’s largest in population, outpaces all other districts with 2,752 charter school teachers. Broward County is second with 1,895, followed by Palm Beach County with 1,251.

This Florida Department of Education spreadsheet offers a breakdown by district and by instructional categories. It also includes info on charter school administrative ranks.

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Parent of student with autism: New ed choice program is precious gift

John Kurnik

John Kurnik

Wonks and politicos weren’t the only attendees at the Jeb Bush education summit in Tallahassee this week. Parents who support educational choice were also there, including John Kurnik of Tampa, Fla., who has a 12-year-old son with autism.

A college professor, Kurnik introduced Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner, and for good reason. Gardiner led the legislative charge last year for creation of Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts, a new ed choice program for students with significant special needs. Kurnik and his wife Mary secured a PLSA for their son, and have become vocal and visible supporters.

We thought Kurnik’s prepared remarks were worth posting in full. They’ve been edited slightly for length and clarity.

Good afternoon! My name is John Kurnik, and I am honored and humbled to be speaking to you today about high-quality education for the children in our state.

First, on behalf of my son John who has autism, my wife and family, the Florida PLSA recipients and the thousands of family members, friends, neighbors, and all those who will be touched in a positive and hope-filled way … thank you … from the bottom of our hearts.

Thank you for knowing that the educational paradigm for special needs education requires early and effective intervention if we are to help these young people maximize their special gifts in a timely manner. And until now, many families including my own, have had to triage psychologist- and physician- recommended therapies and treatments according to those available services and the family budget. Or more times than not, completely go without.

Many thanks for helping these young people and their families with the hope of overcoming hurdles to success, and giving them the possibility of a productive, full, and happy life with the blessing of the PLSA. They will benefit from the PLSA. And when they benefit, all of us – our neighborhoods, our communities and our state – will benefit too.

I congratulate you for recognizing that special needs includes hope for the parents, siblings, friends, and relatives of a special-needs child who needs 24-7 care and attention by a wonder woman or superman parent or caregiver.

Thank you for trusting us as those caregivers for our special kids to make the best decisions possible on their behalf as good stewards of these funds which allow great things to happen. Believe that the vast majority of us play by the rules, and we agonize over the best use of this precious gift. Continue Reading →

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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 →

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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 →

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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 →

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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 →

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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 →

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