Supply, demand and school choice

AEI report coverThe American Enterprise Institute is out today with a paper on improving the school choice marketplace.

The basic idea is that for choice to truly drive improvements in the education system, market forces need a chance to work. For that to happen, parents need to be able to select schools based on quality, and new, better schools need to be able to meet their demand.

The “demand” side of the equation begins with making scholarships and vouchers available. It also depends on giving parents the ability to make informed choices, and removing other barriers. The author of the paper, Mike McShane, recently edited a volume on the “supply” of new schools, which hasn’t always gotten the attention it deserves.

“Questions of whether or not vouchers or tax credits ‘work’ are becoming less important than understanding how they work and what can be done to make them work better,” McShane writes.

It’s worth checking out the report in full, but here are a few choice excerpts:

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Florida magnet, charter schools score high in national rankings

The Washington Post recently released its annual list of America’s most challenging high schools, and like in previous years, dozens of Florida schools land high in the rankings.

Almost all of the top-rated Florida schools are magnet schools, charter schools, or International Baccalaureate academies — in other words, schools of choice.

There’s a notable newcomer: The Orlando Science Charter School, which we’ve visited twice recently, and which has vaulted into the top 100 schools in the country.

Duval County’s elite magnets continue to find themselves in and near the top 10. Several Hillsborough magnets also do well. MaryEllen Elia, the district’s now-former superintendent, was a longtime magnet supporter and just won an award from the national magnet school association, where she previously served as president.

The Post‘s ratings are based on the percentage of students who took exams that could qualify them for college credit, so these rankings complement the recent promising statistics on Florida’s Advanced Placement results. (See a fuller description of the methodology, which screens out certain elite, limited-admissions schools, here.)

Of course, like the AP numbers, there are likely important issues the top-line numbers obscure. For example, if a school like Gainesville’s Eastside High School lands high in the rankings while half its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, how many of those low-income students are actually enrolled in the IB program that contributes to its high ranking?

Below is a list of the top 20 Florida schools in the Post’s rankings. All of them are also in the top 100 nationwide. Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: School choice, testing, legislation and more

florida-roundup-logoSchool choice. School choice helps low-income students succeed, former Gov. Jeb Bush writes in a Medium post with a Florida shout-out.

PLSAs. The Senate sends legislation expanding Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts to an empty House, likely sealing its fate. redefinED. Times/Herald. The program is administered by organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog and employs the author of this post.

Tax credit scholarships. Florida’s largest private school choice program gets a hefty boost. Gradebook. Lakeland Ledger. Step Up also administers this program.

Charter schools. The parent company starts its own investigation of an Escambia charter facing scrutiny. Pensacola News-Journal. Charter schools are public schools, a Naples Daily News letter-writer reminds readers.

Legislation. A bunch of school choice bills and other issues are likely dead this year. Gradebook. Early learning advocates are frustrated. Florida Times-Union. A safe-walks-to-school bill survives. Naples Daily News. A contentious high school sports bill is likely done for. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Testing. How will the state’s new testing system affect third-grade retention decisions? Tampa Bay Times. Hillsborough teachers say they don’t get testing data quickly enough to use it. Gradebook. Bay’s superintendent holds out for more testing changes. Panama City News Herald. More on testing from the Naples Daily News.

Digital learning. Schools should use technology to make “time the variable and learning the constant,” Patricia Levesque writes in Ed Next. Continue Reading →

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Expansion of Florida special needs accounts caught in legislative standoff

An expansion of Florida’s newest parental choice program for special needs students may be among the casualties of the standoff between the state House and Senate, despite versions of the bill passing both chambers unanimously.

The Senate today rejected the House’s version of legislation expanding access to Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts for special needs students, sending a revised version back to the other chamber, which has already adjourned for the current session. The state’s usual 60-day session is expected to end on Friday.

Sponsor Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville objected to changes the House made to the scholarship account bill the Senate passed earlier this month. Among other things, the revisions would have removed auditing provisions the Senate supported and deleted language intended to help families use the accounts to fund their Florida Prepaid College plans.

Gaetz said the House amendment could have resulted in administrative costs for the program being deducted from scholarships, rather than funded separately, as they were in the version the Senate approved. He said those changes did not meet the “moral standard” set by the upper chamber.
The fees would allow organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog and employs the author of this post, to cover their costs administering the program.

“We believe that a student should receive 100 percent of his or her PLSA scholarship to access necessary educational supports that are tailored specifically to his or her needs and academic success,” Senate President Gardiner, a supporter of the program, said in a statement released afterward. “Returning to the Senate’s version of the language ensures that the administrative fee is not taken from a child’s funds.”

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Why Florida gets top marks nationally for digital learning policies

Florida gets the highest marks in the country for its digital learning policies, according to a report released Tuesday by an advocacy group.

Florida has typically gotten strong grades from Digital Learning Now in its annual report cards. This year, the state leapfrogged Utah to claim the top score, thanks in part to digital classrooms legislation that increased planning and funding for technology in the state’s public schools.

“Florida has a lot to be proud of, and it reflects a commitment not just to digital learning, but creating more options for kids,” John Bailey, a vice president at the Foundation for Excellence in Education and the director of the digital learning group, said in an interview.

Among the state’s policies that drew praise: Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Testing, superintendents, charters and more

florida-roundup-logoTesting. More districts cut back end-of-course exams. Gainesville Sun. Bradenton Herald. Some Tampa Bay districts hesitate to follow suit. Tampa Bay Times. Others try to reduce testing stakes for students. Orlando SentinelFort Myers News-Press. A Senator proposes amendments to a school choice bill that would cancel the state’s education standards and testing contract. Orlando Sentinel. One district gets approval for extra testing time. Orlando Sentinel.

Charter schools. The state, not districts, should fund charter school facilities, the Tampa Tribune argues in an editorial.

Magnet schools. Hillsborough’s ousted superintendent wins a national magnet school award. Tampa Tribune.

Superintendents. Hillsborough’s new superintendent outlines his goals. Tampa Tribune. Manatee’s Rick Mills gets school board approval to step down. Bradenton Herald. Palm Beach’s incoming superintendent will likely start his real job early rather than begin with a $40,000 consulting contract. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel.

School boards. A dissident Volusia school board member says district officials harassed his family and associates as he mounted his campaign. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Special needs. A student’s injury at a district ESE center prompts formal complaints. Lakeland Ledger. College opportunities for special needs students are among the likely casualties of the Florida House’s abrupt departure from Tallahassee. Times/Herald. Continue Reading →

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The redefinition of public – and private – schooling in Florida

The impact of scholarship programs on Florida’s private schools, recently portrayed in the Orlando Sentinel, should be seen in the context of a larger transformation of public education. It brings to mind a revealing exchange in a gubernatorial debate two decades ago.

Floridians have been debating the redefinition of public education since the '94 governors race.

Floridians have been debating the redefinition of public education since the ’94 gubernatorial campaign.

In that 1994 debate, the final one between Gov. Lawton Chiles and challenger Jeb Bush, moderator Tim Russert was trying to pin down the future governor on the implications of his proposed voucher plan: How would it change the ratio of students attending public schools to the students attending private ones? What did he think the ideal ratio would be?

Bush rejected Russert’s premise. It wouldn’t matter if the proportion of students attending private schools reached “50 percent” of all K-12 students, “or if it was 5 percent,” he said. He added, to applause: “We would have redefined what public education is.”

These comments have largely been lost to history, overshadowed by Chiles’ famous retort after being accused of being a liberal defender of the status quo: “Let me tell you one other thing about the old liberal. The old He-Coon walks just before the light of day.” (See the full exchange in this video excerpt.)

Ironically, though, Chiles signed a law during his second term, creating charter schools in 1996, that helped set into motion the redefinition of public education Bush had predicted.

What has gotten less attention less attention to date is that the role of private schools has since been redefined, as well. Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: Testing, Catholic schools, graduation and more

florida-roundup-logoTesting. More districts cut back local end of course exams. Tampa Bay Times. Palm Beach PostTallahassee Democrat. Former Education Commissioner Tony Bennett recalls the testing dilemma Florida faced during his tenure. Gradebook. The anti-testing movement has reached a tipping point, a guest columnist writes for the Florida Squeeze.

Catholic schools. Educators say their schools will benefit from the Notre Dame ACE Academies’ expansion into Central Florida. Florida Catholic. A Catholic school administrator is moving on after a lengthy tenure leading a Miami all-girls school. Miami Herald.

Graduation. How do reading scores, retention, discipline and other issues correlate with high school completion? Gradebook. It’s part of a search for answers on legging graduation rates in Hillsborough schools. Tampa Bay Times.

College readiness. Fordham’s Chester Finn notes Florida’s recent changes to remedial courses in a look at the meaning of college readiness. Flypaper.

Superintendents. Manatee’s embattled superintendent plans to step down this summer. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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