Why don’t states work together on new digital learning options?

Leading in an Era of Change

A new report says the time has come for states to work together to manage the mix of new options that could soon be available to students through digital learning.

The report by Digital Learning Now calls on state policymakers to “formalize the establishment of a multi-state network, focused on Course Access programs.”

“Course choice” or “course access” is the next wave in educational choice. In Florida, for example, it won’t be long before students who can’t take, say, a physics or calculus course at their local high school can browse an online course catalog, find a class that works for them, and enroll.

Some might already be able to do that with courses available through Florida Virtual School or a virtual program run by their district. But  the state Department of Education is developing an online course catalog that will allow them to choose from a wider range of options. Due to legislative changes approved in 2013, courses offered in other school districts could also be on the menu. And still other new providers could soon start offering classes through the state’s nascent course choice system.

Florida isn’t alone. States are developing new digital learning programs that expand education options in several ways, notes the report by Digital Learning Now (an effort of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which is chaired by former Gov. Jeb Bush).  As they do so, they can create new entrepreneurial opportunities for teachers, expand systems that allow students to learn at their own pace, and give school districts a new way to grow enrollment by attracting students outside their geographic boundaries.

Digital learning advocates have started to coalesce around the term “course access.” Only about half of U.S. high schools offer calculus, according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Education, and less than two thirds offer physics. If they’re managed properly, and made accessible to students who need them the most, new digital learning policies have the potential to allow students to take courses that aren’t available on their physical campuses.

The DLN report tries to push the discussion a step further. If blurring geographic boundaries between school districts can expand the number of options available, why not allow the programs to cross state lines too? Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: Charters, teachers, personal learning accounts and more

Personal learning accounts. The new scholarship option will help special needs children, a parent writes in the Orlando Sentinel. A Florida Channel news brief covers the opening of applications for the scholarship accounts, as well as the recently announced lawsuit challenging SB 850.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. A rural charter in Franklin County makes another A in the latest round of school grades. The Times. The application for a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base will be re-submitted, a Charter Schools USA executive writes in the Tampa Tribune, which adds coverage here. Another CUSA official writes  in the Orlando Sentinel that improving school grades show charter schools can succeed.

Campaigns. Charter school funding comes up in a forum for Palm Beach County school board candidates. Palm Beach Post. An Orange County group backs a pending sales tax referendum that would fund facilities. Orlando Sentinel. School board candidates in Sarasota debate their district’s tax referendum. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Open enrollment. The Marion County school board unanimously backs district-wide open enrollment. Ocala Star-Banner.

Advanced Placement. Scores are up in Hernando. Tampa Bay Times.

Enrollment. A historic Orlando high school struggles to attract students. Orlando Sentinel.

Continue Reading →

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Vagaries of Vergara

If the long-range outcome of Vergara were merely the death of tenure and LIFO, the servile posture of the lower-income family would be unaltered.

If the long-range outcome of Vergara were merely the death of tenure and LIFO, the servile posture of the lower-income family would be unaltered.

The recent opinion in Vergara v. California deserves the attention it has attracted – and more. It has implications – some good – beyond the weakening of public sector unions. The plaintiff child has successfully attacked both the state’s system for tenuring and de-tenuring teachers and also the LIFO (last in, first out) statute that, in case of layoffs, protects teachers by time of service. If upheld on appeal, that would be a heap of change in the structure.

The court says the tenuring process is too short to allow good administrative judgment – effectively one year and a half. Thereafter, the de-tenuring process is torturous, very long, unpredictable – and expensive – to the district (the union covers teachers’ defense costs). Both practices are held to impair the quality of instruction and to do so in a manner uneven from child to child, thus violating their “fundamental right to equality of the educational experience.” These systemic wrongs are aggravated in districts serving low-income populations, intensifying the violation of equal protection. The seniority system (LIFO) has similar effects with the same conclusion. The case involves state law only. In striking down the tenure part of the system, Judge Rolf Treu emphasized these two sections of the state constitution:

Article I, Section 7(a): “A person may not be … denied equal protection of the law.”

Article IX, section (5): ‘The legislature shall provide for a system of common schools … supported in each district.”

He used both sources again in condemning LIFO. Favoring seniority, it is said, offends rationality and, like tenure, injures children without justification – especially the poor. Taken altogether, this is not equal protection.

I will address the two holdings in order, concentrating upon the tenure problem. As for the flaws in these statutes, Judge Treu relies on precedent construing the educational right of the child and the corresponding duties of the state. The (state) constitution “is the ultimate guarantee of a meaningful educational opportunity … to the student” who also enjoys a “fundamental right to basic equality in public education.” The court thus perceives the right, first, as one of peculiar weight and significance; hence, second, one that must be satisfied by education of basically similar and proper quality for children in similar circumstances.

The history of judicial response to this two-fold claim in the courts of California is instructive. Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: Lawsuits, magnet schools, school grades and more

Lawsuits. The statewide teachers union is fighting a new school choice law in court over the way the Legislature passed it. Associated Press. News Service of FloridaOrlando Sentinel. Saint Petersblog. Palm Beach PostMiami Herald. Daytona Beach News-JournalThe Tampa TribuneFlorida Times-Union,  NBC2 , WEARTV, and First Cost News talk to parents who hope the law will provide new options for their childrenThe Fort Myers News-Press and Naples Daily News focus on the local teacher who’s the lead plaintiff.

florida-roundup-logoMagnet schools.  Gradebook considers how a proposed Pinellas magnet could affect an existing program nearby. A Tallahassee arts magnet wins recognition. Tallahassee Democrat.

School grades. A Pinellas school improves its grade from and F to a C, but not before a turnaround effort brings a staff shakeup. Tampa Bay Times.

Superintendents. Appointed or elected? That’s the controversy before the Clay school board. Florida Times-Union.

STEM. Tougher math and science requirements can drive dropout rates higher. StateImpact. A Latino civil rights organization wants to eliminate ethnic disparities in science and engineering careers. Bridge to Tomorrow.

Budgets. The Okaloosa County school district saves millions with centralized budgeting, and plans to plow the proceeds into technology, transportation and other uses. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Summer. Students do custodial work and receive academic support during a Manatee summer program. Bradenton Herald.

Administration. The Manatee superintendent recommends back pay and benefits for a recently reinstated administrator. Bradenton Herald.

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Florida teachers union challenges school choice legislation in court

Florida’s teachers union announced a lawsuit Wednesday aiming to block a new law that, among other things, expands eligibility for tax credit scholarships and creates the second-in-the-nation personal learning scholarship accounts program.

The suit doesn’t argue the programs themselves are unconstitutional. Like a recent challenge of Alabama’s tax credit scholarship program, it focuses on how the law was passed.

The six-page complaint filed in Leon County Circuit Court argues lawmakers violated the state’s “single-subject” rule by combining the school choice measures into a larger education bill that expanded collegiate high schools, created an “early warning system” for struggling middle school students, and grew incentives for schools to offer career education programs.

“It is an outrage that corporate voucher expansion was tacked into an unrelated bill and slipped into law on the final day of session,” Florida Education Association Vice President Joanne McCall said, as reported by the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald.

The lawsuit drew a sharp response from Patricia Levesque of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, who tried to put the focus on the students who would benefit from the new options.

“There are those who believe families should have options and trust parents in those decisions for their kids,” she said in a statement. “And sadly there are those who find educational choices threatening to their political power.”

That’s what at stake. But since the lawsuit itself is about the nuances of legislative procedure, here’s some background.

The single-subject rule. Florida’s constitution requires every law to “embrace but one subject and matter properly connected therewith, and the subject shall be briefly expressed in the title.” The union’s legal complaint argues the various provisions of SB 850 “are not related to each other, except in the broad sense that all have something to do with education.” Continue Reading →

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Surging applications shows why parental choice movement is here to stay

big waveYesterday, at 4 p.m., Step Up For Students stopped accepting tax credit scholarship applications for the 2014-15 school year. We had almost 120,000 low-income students start applications for the new school year, but we’re only able to serve about 67,000 because of a state-imposed fundraising cap. Continuing to accept applications throughout the summer would have given later-applying families false hope.

During the last legislative session, we told state officials we thought there were about 120,000 low-income children statewide who would be on scholarship if there was no cap. Maybe that guess was too low. We’ve received 26,000 more student applications this year than last, and we’d probably have at least another 20,000 applications in the system if we stayed open all summer. To be sure, not all the students who start an applications finish the application, and not all of them who do are eligible. But when the number begins to reach 140,000, it certainly gets our attention.

Every year, we have a few thousand children return their scholarships during the school year. We started a waiting list last night and as students give back their scholarships we will give the remaining portion of their scholarships to students on this wait list. This will allow us to serve an additional three or four thousand students by the end of the 2014-15 school year. Hopefully, the Florida Legislature will eventually allow us to serve every low-income child who wants a scholarship.

Much was written last spring about the Legislature’s decision to allow working-class families earning up to 260 percent of poverty to receive partial scholarships beginning with the 2016-17 school year. The Legislature did this, at least in part, because of data showing a drop of 85,000 private-paying students in K-12 private schools since 2004-05. Some private school administrators have told us and legislators that much of this drop is from working-class families who make too much to qualify for tax credit scholarships but not enough to afford private school tuition and fees. Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: School choice, lawsuits, facilities and more

School choice. Responding to parent demand and competition from charter and private schools, the superintendent in Florida’s seventh largest district plans to add five new magnet programs in the coming years. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoLawsuits. The Florida Education Association says it will challenge this year’s major school choice legislation in court. The union will release specifics today, but says the lawsuit will focus on “the way it was passed.” Sentinel School Zone. Times/Herald. Education Week.

Facilities. An Okaloosa charter school eyes a new location. Northwest Florida Daily News. Seminole County schools weigh potential uses of local construction revenue. Orlando Sentinel.

Administration. Alachua County swears in a new superintendent. Gainesville Sun. The departure of a Lee County principal stirs controversy. Fort Myers News-Press.

Religion. An atheist group is allowed to distribute materials in Orange County schools, ending a lawsuit. Sentinel School Zone.

Teacher pay. Pasco schools pare back pay raises as other expenses rise. Tampa Bay Times.

School safety. The Flagler school board proposes changes to its student conduct policies. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Transportation. Hillsborough officials say they are improving the district’s bus system. Tampa Tribune.

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Spending per pauper: An education funding stat that makes no sense

price per pauperThere are many in Florida who believe the state doesn’t spend enough supporting K-12 education. It wouldn’t be too difficult to make such a case given the fact that the U.S. Census Bureau ranks Florida 39th for per-pupil spending (table 11, page 11) while the U.S. Department of Education places Florida 38th.  Florida’s ranking even falls to 42nd if you include capital and debt expenditures.

So why are some critics ignoring those straightforward “dollars per student” statistics in favor of more convoluted measurements like “education revenues per $1,000 of personal income”?

Several groups in Florida use that statistic to claim the state ranks 50th in education spending. The U.S. Census Bureau’s measurement of “education revenues per $1,000 of personal income” (table 12, page 12) does place Florida 50th, but it is fairly meaningless measurement if your goal is to prove not enough money is spent on K-12 education. This is best demonstrated by the fact that the last-place region on this statistic is Washington, D.C.

Being 51st (D.C.) should be worse than placing 50th (Florida), but when looking at straightforward “dollars spent per student” figures, D.C. spends over $28,000 per pupil (including capital funds and debt). That is nearly three times more than Florida. If the goal is to get Florida to spend more, why cite a statistic that has the biggest education spender dead last?

So how can a region be ranked No. 1 on one measurement, but dead last on another at the exact same time? Continue Reading →

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