Florida roundup: Back to school, charters, choice and more

Charter schools. Pinellas plans to review charter contracts after a back to school “calamity” at one school. Tampa Bay Times. The Tampa Tribune editorializes in favor of a charter at MacDill Air Force Base. The first vote is coming soon on a planned municipal charter in West Palm Beach. Palm Beach Post. Charters are expected to enroll nearly 10 percent of the Palm Beach district’s students in the new school year, the Post reports.

florida-roundup-logoSchool choice. Miami-Dade’s superintendent says the district is riding a “tsunami’ of choice. Miami-Herald.

Dual enrollment. Daytona State College looks to boost the number of high school students taking classes. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Technology. An unexpected enrollment spike means there won’t be an iPad for every student at one Lake County high school. Orlando Sentinel.

Home education. It’s not back to school season for Florida’s ‘unschoolers.’ Tampa Bay Times.

Facilities. Lee County’s new lobbyist says he plans to wring more money, especially capital funding. out of the Legislature. Fort Myers News-Press.

Turnarounds. The Pinellas school district wants to expand a program that aims to increase parent involvement at struggling schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Campaigns. The Tampa Bay Times asks gubernatorial challenger Charlie Crist about education policies, including charters and choice, during a recent bus tour. It might not have been legal for him to campaign in a real school bus. Tampa Tribune. The Bradenton Herald looks at a group that aims to shake up the Manatee school board.

Superintendents. Senate President Don Gaetz debates industry certfications with the current Okaloosa County schools superintendent. Northwest Florida Daily News. More here. The Clay County Commission faces a lawsuit from the school board over an effort to switch to an appointed superintendent. Florida Times-Union. An emergency meeting on the issue is planned for today.

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Equality, ‘created equal’ & the case for school choice

created equalWhen the words fail the social critic, there always remains some “inequality” to be cursed. Our numberless differences provide the happy hunting ground for those us seeking either to praise or damn some aspect of American reality. The abstraction that is equality provides the gauge of justice for those differences we lament in the lives of Bill and Sally. Bill owns a plane; Sally, buses. Sally is robust; Bill is crippled. Bachelor Bill is a one-percenter; single mother Sally struggles. Bill is a man; Sally isn’t. Comes then The Word: Any difference in kind or degree can raise an issue of egalitarian injustice. It seldom occurs to us that, were we all to be made equally ill or impoverished, it would be difficult to claim that justice has advanced; the dead world of “On the Beach” was thoroughly equal. Equality of our objective condition is in itself, irrelevant.

Of course, early differences can, in fact, alert us to injustice, but not because we are, or should be, equal, but because some particular type and degree of difference merits that special regard that one owes his fellow human. The sceptic, of course, can doubt that one owes anything to anybody; but it is no answer to him that we are unequal. True, almost by definition, any duty to others will ordinarily involve differences of some sort; but nothing is clarified by invoking The Word. Mere difference is an empty moral vessel.

It may not in all cases seem an empty political or legal vessel. The state may act simply to reduce socioeconomic difference hoping, for example, to diminish hostility between groups. But notice that the word “thereby” signals a separate and immediate cause of the state’s concern quite distinct from inequality; the group antipathy may well have originated, not from difference, but from some irrelevant historic score. Quite the same holds in private law: A poor man recklessly injures me; our difference in wealth – and, perhaps, his jealousy – are irrelevant to the issue of his responsibility.

Equality, simply as such, has been hard for the critic to defend as a demand of justice. Seeking coherence, some philosophers would substitute “fairness” as the goal; that word may not tell us much, but at least it rejects sheer difference as our favorite object of suspicion. If we could distinctively improve the condition of the most miserable citizen by simultaneously making Bill Gates richer, even John Rawls might be satisfied.

Were the Founders, then, engaging in mere word play when they declared us “created equal.” Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Charter schools, private schools, campaigns and more

Charter schools. Citing a lack of space with a building unfinished, a Pinellas charter turns away students and holds a new lottery days before school starts. Tampa Bay Times. A charter school opens in a former airport facility. Panama City News Herald. The Tampa Bay Times editorial board weighs in the Hillsborough charter school conflict.

florida-roundup-logoPrivate schools. A new private school will cater to children with autism and other special needs. Tampa Bay Times. Elite private schools in Miami-Dade get new leadership. Miami Herald.

School choice. Do private school choice programs obliterate public school enrollment? No, Matthew Ladner writes on Jay P. Greene’s Blog.

Career education. A Hernando aviation program hopes to attract more students. Tampa Bay Times.

Campaigns. Charlie Crist talks education on a statewide bus tour. Tampa TribuneNaked Politics. WFTV. The Tampa Bay Times compares his positions with Democratic primary challenger Nan Rich. The Palm Beach PTA surveys school board candidates. Palm Beach Post. A crowded field vies for a Volusia school board seat. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Retirement. Experienced Sarasota teachers are headed for the exits. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Facilities. Hillsborough opens a new LEED-certified elementary school. Tampa Bay Times. Brevard schools upgrade their security systems. Florida Today.

Back to school. Hundreds of first-year teachers gear up in Volusia. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Miami-Dade bus drivers prepare for the new year. Miami Herald. School staring means less crowded beaches in the Panhandle. Northwest Florida Daily News. Bay County teachers collaborate. Panama City News Herald.

Teacher conduct. A teacher who came to school drunk resigns. Tampa Tribune.


Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: Rules for thee but not for me; vouchers, charters and choice

MrGibbonsReportCardJulian Vasquez Heilig, associate professor, University of Texas, Austin

I am not sure whether Julian Vasquez Heilig wanted readers to laugh or cry when he published his latest brief on voucher research.

Vasquez Heilig sets up his paper by describing the attitudes, beliefs and motivations of voucher supporters. So who does he cite to provide a fair and accurate description of the beliefs of voucher supporters? None other than the National Education Association, the nation’s single largest voucher opponent (this is the actual citation).

To build a case against vouchers, he tries to show consensus among researchers, yet he provides few academic citations. The sources he does cite are over a decade old or inexplicably limited in scope. He even allows a blogger at an advocacy organization to summarize voucher research … twice. Interestingly, that blogger doesn’t have a single citation to back up her own single sentence summation.

NEAprofessorPadding the support for his own argument is bad enough, but Vasquez Heilig ignores whole swaths of voucher research, claiming much of the research was either not published in peer-reviewed academic journals, or was funded by pro-voucher groups.

Of course, Vasquez Heilig publishes this claim in a non-peer-reviewed outlet in the same week he tweets about his NEA Foundation trip to China. It is also worth noting he’s a research fellow for the union-backed National Education Policy Center and, contrary to his accusations of corporate influence corrupting research, lists himself on his resume as a former Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Young Researcher.

Grade: Needs Improvement


Rep. Geraldine Thompson and Bill Sublette

o-POT-MEET-KETTLE-570Charter schools in Orange County, Fla. are increasing racial and economic segregation, or so say state Rep. Geraldine Thompson and Orange County School Board Chair Bill Sublette.

They make this accusation after finding a handful of charter schools with demographics at odds with the district-wide average. But averages mask extremes on one end or the other, so comparing a single school, or even a handful of schools, to the average of a large district is not only unfair but inappropriate.

According to data from the Florida Department of Education, district schools in Orange County range from 26 percent to 100 percent minority. Charter schools range from 24 percent to 100 percent minority. Not much difference.

The same is true for economic segregation. District schools run from 7 percent free- and reduced-price lunch (FRL) eligible to 100 percent. The charters run from 0 percent to 93 percent.

It is worth noting that district-run schools seem more likely than charters to have extreme concentrations of minority or low-income students. Forty-four district schools in Orange – nearly a quarter of all schools – are 90-percent-plus minority, while 40 schools have a student body that is 100 percent FRL eligible.

Charter schools in Orange are drawing students from local neighborhoods much in the same way as district schools. Rather than pointing fingers at the 19 charters where students voluntarily enroll, Thompson and Sublette might want to scrutinize the 183 district schools where students are zoned.

Grade: Needs Improvement


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Florida Roundup: Tax credit scholarships, school board races and more

Tax credit scholarships. Education Week looks at the latest evaluation of Florida tax credit scholarships.

florida-roundup-logoTesting. The Fort Myers News-Press looks at the complications of the Lee school district’s discussion of opting out. More from the Naples Daily News.

Technology. Duval schools pour millions into upgrades. Florida Times-Union. WJCT.

Acceleration. Polk students may soon have more chances to skip grades or take advanced courses. Lakeland Ledger.

Facilities. The Pensacola News-Journal tours a school construction project.

Campaigns. The AFL-CIO gets involved in a Collier County school board race. Naples Daily News. Collier candidates respond to Daily News surveys.  Common Core is an issue in Seminole school board races. Orlando Sentinel.

STEM. Miami-Dade students are poised for publication in a scientific journal. Miami Herald.

Administration. The Manatee district faces withering criticism from a former coach in the wake of a sex abuse case. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. It also faces a separate lawsuit by the accuser. Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald. A Marion County administrator is a finalist for principal of the year. Ocala Star-Banner. Southwest Florida school officials convene to talk standards, employee benefits and more. Bradenton Herald. A former Hernando administrator sues over a job transfer. Tampa Bay Times.

Back to school. Brevard outfits teachers with donated supplies. Florida Today. Manatee schools hand out teacher grants at a back-to-school rally. Bradenton Herald. Pasco kindergartners get a jump on the new year. Tampa Bay Times.

Discipline. Bay County adds “pop tart” protections to its code of conduct. Panama City News Herald.

Teacher conduct. A former private school teacher faces professional sanctions. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.


Democrats divided on ed reform shouldn’t forget Republican inroads



Earlier this year, during the last week of Florida’s legislative session, House Speaker Will Weatherford stood in the rotunda of Florida’s Capitol, posing for pictures with student activists who thanked him for helping push through a bill that had divided legislative Republicans. Earlier that day, the Senate had teed up a vote to grant in-state tuition to immigrants who had come to the country illegally as young children.DONKEY1a

The activists, many of them Latinos, were now posing for pictures with the Republican Speaker, who, still in his thirties, may have a long political career ahead of him and who, at the same time, was helping to push separate legislation to expand school choice. It was possible in that moment to imagine the self-described acolyte of Florida’s “education governor” rebuilding a more diverse, right-of-center coalition like the one that helped Florida elect two Bushes but frayed in two straight presidential elections as the state backed Barack Obama. It was possible to see him laying the groundwork for an equal opportunity platform in which education would be a key plank.

This week, it also became possible to envision Democrats seizing that mantle – if they can resolve their own internal feuding enough to beat Republicans to it. The timing turned out to be ideal for “Dem Divide,” a series of redefinED posts that explored Democrats’ current divisions on ed reform and parental choice – and ways they might be overcome.

As Dana Goldstein noted last Sunday on MSNBC, “the politics have changed.”

The Obama administration is at odds with the two major teachers unions on charter schools, teacher tenure and other issues, with tensions that trace back to the 2008 campaign, when the unions supported Hillary Clinton. But, as Goldstein suggested, Clinton may be preparing to triangulate toward an embrace of charter schools, too, as her husband already has. Why? Because from New York to Indiana to Florida, the news is increasingly Dem vs. Dem.

It’s worth recapping what the voices in the redefinED series had to say about it.

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Florida roundup: Single-gender schools, testing, accountability and more

Single gender. The Hillsborough District responds to an ACLU complaint. Tampa Tribune.

Tax credit scholarships.Sunshine State News reports on the latest evaluation of student results.

florida-roundup-logoDigital learning. A Collier bring-your-own device policy proves popular. Naples Daily News.

Testing. The Lee County School Board discusses a district-wide testing boycott. Fort Myers News-Press.

Accountability. Brevard’s superintendent discusses falling school grades. Florida Today.

Budgets. The Manatee school district faces an investigation into bond funding it could not account for. Bradenton Herald.

Campaigns. A “contract” between voters and five school board candidates stirs controversy in Collier. Naples Daily News. The Tampa Bay Times profiles a three-way race for an open school board seat in Pinellas while a columnist looks at a controversial incumbent in Hillsborough. The Tampa Tribune profiles a different Pinellas race, while the Bradenton Herald looks at one in Manatee.

English language learners. Pinellas looks to review its policies for students who need help learning English. Tampa Tribune.

Superintendents. Hillsobrough’s MaryEllen Elia gets a contract renewal. Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Tribune.

Facilities. Polk County delays the release of impact fee revenue to the local school district. Lakeland Ledger.


Study: Florida tax credit scholarship students continue to keep pace

The low-income students who participate in the country’s largest K-12 private school choice program are keeping pace with students of all income levels nationally, according to the latest independent evaluation.

The latest annual report, released Tuesday, tracks learning gains for participants in the Florida tax credit scholarship program in the 2012-13 school year.

Overall, the results are similar to previous years. The report shows students who participate in the program are among the state’s most disadvantaged, and that on average, they meet one of the most basic expectations for student learning: A year’s worth of growth after a year’s worth of instruction.

Each year, schools that serve students on the scholarship program report their test scores to an independent research team led by David Figlio of Northwestern University, who analyzes their performance on national norm-referenced tests and compares the results to students nationwide.

This is the seventh such report, and the bottom line is familiar. As Figlio writes, tax credit scholarship “participants on average keep pace with national norms, suggesting that they neither gain ground nor lose ground on average relative to a national peer group that includes not just low-income families but also higher-income families.”

The report also finds:

  • Students who participate in the program, which is expected to serve 67,000 next year, tend to be among the most disadvantaged, not only compared to public school students as a whole, but also among the low-income students who qualify for scholarships.
  • They come disproportionately from low-performing schools, and tend to be among the lowest performers on standardized tests, a tendency Figlo notes is “becoming stronger over time.” Similarly, students who leave the program and return to public school tend to be the lowest performers among scholarship students.
  • The typical student in the program scores in the 47th percentile nationally in reading, and in the 45th percentile in math – numbers Figlio notes have changed very little over time.

Data on student learning gains have more or less held constant from one year to the next, though the report notes wide variation among students in the program. More than one in 10 students fell behind by more than 20 percentile points in reading, while exactly one in 10 made outsize gains of the same amount. The numbers for math were similar.

There was also major variation between schools.  Continue Reading →