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 →


Florida roundup: Charter schools, school improvement, teachers unions and more

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. ITT Technical Institute wants to try its hand operating charter schools in Florida and elsewhere. NPR. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel cheers efforts to place new limits on charter schools in an editorial.

Tax credit scholarships. A Context Florida column argues public schools should have the same flexibility as private schools accepting tax credit scholarships when it comes to standardized testing. Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute picks apart the Sun-Sentinel’s latest opinion piece cheering a lawsuit challenging the program. The Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal highlights parents getting involved in the suit. Opportunity Lives highlights the programs success stories. The program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.

Budgets. Growing state revenue makes a boost for schools spending – and tax cuts – more likely. Associated Press. Tampa Bay Times.

School improvement. Florida schools that saw some of the biggest improvement last school year began by setting a culture that acknowledges every child’s potential to learn. EdFly.

Teachers unions. Intercepts highlights the Florida Education Association’s fiscal 2012-13 finances.

Community involvement. Palm Beach high school students help build a Habitat for Humanity home. Palm Beach Post.

Continue Reading →


Public boarding school plants seeds of hope, high expectations

Antanarie Edge almost missed the chance she was hoping for. There were 60 slots for the first sixth-grade class at Florida’s first and only public boarding school, The SEED School of Miami, but 104 students had applied. When the school held a lottery to see who would get in, Antanarie was not among the lucky ones.

Then, about week into the school year, her phone rang. It was her mom. A spot had opened.

“I started jumping up and down,” she said.

Now a few months into her first year at SEED Miami, Antanarie says the reasons for her excitement have become more clear. During the week, the school is a home away from home for its students, half of them boys and half of them girls. They spend five full days eating, sleeping and attending classes in an academic oasis, a re-purposed dormitory at Florida Memorial University.

When the Miami charter school opened this fall, it became the third in a network of college-preparatory boarding schools whose model has been featured on 60 Minutes and in films like Waiting for Superman. Like existing SEED schools in Washington and Maryland, it targets some of the most disadvantaged students, for whom a seven-hour school day may not provide enough support to reach their ultimate goal: college.

Separated from the stigmas that often dog teenagers in school, students like Antanarie are free to try new things. She’s enjoyed signing up for CrossFit sessions. But above all, she’s been able to focus like never before on the goal that drove her to the school in the first place: Making it to college.

The scene that greets students arriving at SEED Miami.

The scene that greets students arriving at SEED Miami.

When students arrive on Sunday afternoons, they’re greeted by a row of pennants from universities, one of the many cues intended to reinforce the college-going culture that is common among no-excuses charter schools.

Jerico Evans, one of SEED Miami’s student life counselors, said the school wants students to believe, even in middle school, that college is a basic expectation  even if it might not be for other kids in their neighborhood.

Evans previously taught in Miami-Dade public schools and now is working toward a master’s degree in educational leadership at Johns Hopkins University. He said he’s seen this emphasis on college rub off. Before he took a job at SEED, he said, “I never met a sixth-grader who wanted to go to MIT.”

As a student life counselor, Evans works with students after the school day ends, from about 4 p.m. to midnight. He helps students with homework and leads character-education lessons. He’s also charged with making sure students read – not only during required reading time, but for class, for pleasure, to fill idle moments.

Antanarie said she’s seen a shift in her own attitude about reading.

Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: School choice politics, charters, STEM and more

florida-roundup-logoSchool choice. A political group that supports school choice gets involved in the Democratic primary for a Northeast Florida state House seat. News Service of Florida.

Private schools. A new private school, started by two charter school teachers, is aimed at low-income students in urban Orlando. Orlando Sentinel. A St. Petersburg private school helps gather gift donations for children in the state’s Guardian ad Litem program. Tampa Bay Times.

Lawsuits. Parents from around the state are helping to defend Florida’s tax credit scholarship program in court. Tampa Tribune. Wayne Blanton of the Florida School Boards Association hits back with an op-ed defending the lawsuit and criticizing the school choice program, which as administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog. South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Charter schools. Many Florida charter schools struggle to comply with state transparency laws requiring them to post financial and governance information on their websites. Naples Daily News. See the paper’s analysis here. looks at charter school growth statistics.

Technology. More federal dollars are going to help schools pay for technology purchases. Tampa Tribune. Flagler schools officials find the digital transition hasn’t been as wholesale as they hoped. Daytona Beach News-Journal. A Bevard middle school rolls out a one-to-one inititative. Florida Today. Monroe officials try to combat online threats and cyberbullying. Keynoter.

Teacher evaluations. Districts should follow Hillsborough’s lead on teacher evaluations, Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano writes. Some teachers call for changes. Tampa Bay Times. Baker County teachers boast some of the highest VAM scores in the state. WJCT.

STEM. Why not use Bright Futures scholarships to nudge students toward college majors in STEM fields? Paul Cottle raises the idea in the Tallahassee Democrat. Central Florida high school students take part in scientific research on local college campuses. Orlando Sentinel.

Continue Reading →


How Florida can improve charter school authorizing

Florida scores fairly well in a new-first-of-its kind report on charter school authorizing that’s worth a look for anyone concerned about the quality of the state’s charter schools.

The takeaway: Florida’s constitution may be preventing the state from passing the best-possible charter policy, but the state could still be doing more to help improve the quality of charter school supervision.

The report, released last week by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers looks at states’ policies for charter school authorizing – that is, the process for approving new schools, and then monitoring their performance and holding them accountable.

The group ranks Florida third of 17 states where school districts are the main authorizers of charter schools. The state gets good marks for its law such as a requirement that charters receiving two consecutive F’s from the state must close. And the report praises the Florida Department of Education for this year developing a set of authorizing standards.

Still, it’s worth unpacking why Florida doesn’t score as well as South Carolina, the highest-scoring state in Florida’s category. One key advantage: South Carolina has a state-run board that can authorize charter schools, meaning hopeful charters have a route to opening that doesn’t run through the local school board.

When there’s an alternative authorizer in place, good schools can open even if a local district wants to keep them out. It then becomes more feasible for the state to crack down on authorizers that allow too many poor schools to open.

If there’s only one authorizer, threatening to strip its authorizing authority would mean shutting the door to new charters. As the report notes, “the absence of a quality authorizer in any jurisdiction can make the rest of the policies less important.”

Florida lawmakers have tried to create a statewide charter school authorizer before, but they’ve been stymied in court because the state constitution gives districts the power to supervise all free public schools within their jurisdiction. As a result, “NACSA encourages Florida to revise its charter application appeals process to allow the appellate body to serve as the authorizer on appeal or to explore possible constitutional changes to allow a non-district alternative authorizer to do so.”

But at a time when charters and districts alike are anxious about improving quality and stopping bad charters from opening, the report says the state can make some improvements without a constitutional change.

Florida policymakers, the report says, should look for ways to improve scrutiny of charter schools during the application process (what the report called “front-end charter school screening”) and before their contracts come up for renewal (what the report calls “term-length oversight).”

The state could also start evaluating the quality of charter school authorizing in individual districts, and publishing information on the performance of the charters each district approves.


Florida roundup: Charter schools, corruption, bullying and more

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. Saying it wants to “test the statutes,” the Palm Beach school board rejects a charter school for not being sufficiently “innovative.” South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. The city of Lauderhill proposes a moratorium on new charter schools and private schools. Sun-Sentinel.

Corruption. A former Broward school board member is sent to jail after being found guilty of official misconduct. Sun-Sentinel.

Administration. The Lee school board hires a lawyer to investigate complaints against their superintendent, but are skeptical about their credibility. Naples Daily News. A Hernando principal is nominated for a statewide honor. Tampa Bay Times.

Nutrition. Students cook up new, healthier menu items for school lunches. Orlando SentinelMiami-Dade schools begin serving only anti-biotic-free chicken. Miami Herald.

Teacher pay. The Palm Beach Post drills into a study of teacher earnings.

Employee conduct. A Lake Wales bus attendant faces abuse charges after slapping a child with autism. Lakeland Ledger. A former Manatee administrator resigns from the district while facing termination. Bradenton Herald.

Bullying. An app allowing students to post anonymous messages causes tears and angst among high school students. Northwest Florida Daily News.



Blue-state lawmakers look to Florida’s model of educational options

New York State Assemblyman Marcos Crespo talks about the importance of educational opportunity.

New York State Assemblyman Marcos Crespo talks about the importance of educational opportunity.

Valentin Mendez said his struggles began when he moved into sixth grade at public middle school in Miami.

He was bullied. He couldn’t focus. He began to flounder academically. His mother, Jeannethe Ruiz, said he also struggled with English. His problems got so bad at one point that she pulled him out of class for two weeks, and started casting about for other options.

That’s when she found out about La Progresiva Presbyterian School in Little Havana, and the Florida tax credit scholarship program  a model that policymakers around the country are learning about during a two-day gathering for education advocates in Miami.

Without the scholarship, tuition would likely have been out of reach for their family. Mendez said his mother works at a gas station, his father at a tire shop, putting in long hours that have motivated him to perform in school.

“They want me to have a better life,” he said. “I’m glad that I’m in a school now where I can make them proud.”

Ruiz and Mendez spoke at a press conference at the start of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options’ annual summit, which has drawn lawmakers, including some from deep-blue states, who say they’re intent on expanding educational options back home.

Illinois state Sen. Martin Sandoval called the Florida program, which is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog, “a national model, one that I am going to be studying for the next few days and weeks.”

Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Tax credit scholarships, virtual school, A-F and more

florida-roundup-logoTax credit scholarships. The Miami-Dade school board declines to hold a debate on the program and the lawsuit challenging it. Miami HeraldredefinED. Step Up For Students’ Doug Tuthill responds to criticism of the program in the Sun-Sentinel. The organization co-hosts this blog.

Virtual school. The director of FLVS Campus, Florida Virtual School’s new blended learning initiative, explains why one of the country’s largest virtual schools is creating a physical learning space. Virtual Voice.

Teacher evaluations. The Palm Beach County school district proposes an evaluation system that would give all teachers positive evaluations. Palm Beach Post.

School grades. A survey finds parents in Jacksonville rely on things like test scores and school grades to judge schools, but don’t understand all the changes to the system. Florida Times-Union.

School info. Design can increase parents’ ability to get information about their schools, Omid Jahanbin writes on the EdFly.

Testing. The Lee County school board takes aim at testing with its legislative platform. Fort Myers News-Press.

Teacher pay. Bay County teachers are in for a raise. Panama City News Herald. Pasco teachers may be, as well, after protracted contract negotiations finally close. Tampa Bay Times.

Continue Reading →