On choosing and not choosing

“I can; can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.” – G.M. Hopkins, “Carrion Comfort”

School choice student

If students and their families actively choose their schools, could that have implications beyond the classroom?

The Duke Law Review of 2014 includes an essay by Harvard professor Cass Sunstein entitled “Choosing Not to Choose.” By example and analysis its author spells out the importance — for good or ill — of systems providing individual choice of various goods.

Among such systems are options for the chooser to forego making any specific choice thus, either keeping the status quo, assigning the decision to someone else or triggering some pre-fixed default outcome.

The essay is rich in hypotheticals of such devices. Sunstein, for example, analyzes the choice to let a bookseller who knows your tastes to send, and bill you each month, for a book of his selection (with and/or without the options to return the book and/or to bail out); he notes too the Affordable Care Act with its imposition of economic penalties upon those failing to choose among approved outcomes. He strives throughout to unsettle the apparent “opposition between paternalism and active choosing.” This supposed antinomy does not, for him, account for all the authentic stakes, economic and personal, in a variety of settings involving choice.

What Sunstein never touches in this tour of freedoms to choose or not is their role in the 50 American systems of public education — not even a footnote. This intellectual snub itself moves me to recommend this essay to all committed to universal parental empowerment in education.

Sunstein’s very avoidance  of school choice as a subject invites us to ask: Just how would this taxonomy from so resourceful a mind help us to parse and predict the effects of empowering lower-income parents to choose or not to choose their child’s educators?

That liberation is plausibly within reach of the next generation.Schooling will remain compulsory, as it should. The well-off will continue to have their choice, as they should. The new choice offered to lower-income parents by charter schools will very probably grow — as surely it should. And the subsidy of the ordinary family to choose private school has already crept on stage in D.C. and a number of states for our common consideration.

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Florida schools roundup: Private schools, testing, teacher pay or more

florida-roundup-logoPrivate schools. A private school in an economically depressed Tampa neighborhood helps strengthen the surrounding community and educates low-income students who rely on tax credit scholarships. Mindshift. The Tampa Tribune profiles Academy Prep Center, which caters to low-income students in St. Petersburg. More on the school from StateImpact.

Digital learning. The Tampa Bay Times looks at the “flipped classrooms” and other forms of blended learning.  Alachua schools roll out reading software. Gainesville Sun.

Special needs. A Broward student is allowed to bring his service dog to school, a Broward judge rules. Miami Herald. The Marion County school district settles a lawsuit brought by the family of a child with autism who said he was mistreated by his teacher. Ocala Star-Banner.

Lawsuits. The lawsuit against Florida’s tax credit scholarship program is a “dead bang loser,” a separate Saint Petersblog guest post argues. The program is administered by organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog and employs the author of this post. The Lake County school board faces a lawsuit after thwarting middle school students’ attempts to create a gay-straight alliance. Orlando Sentinel.

School grades. A South Florida charter school gets an A after an appeal. Sun-Sentinel.

Testing. Unlike some districts, Manatee schools officials say they’re ready for new state assessments. Bradenton Herald. A Saint Petersblog guest post takes a jab against vouchers while talking about testing. Leon County parents and teachers react to testing changes. Tallahassee Democrat.

School boards. Volusia school board members should understand each others’ viewpoints before hiring a new superintendent, a Daytona Beach News-Journal columnist writes.

Teacher pay. St. Johns teachers try to negotiate raises amid the shift to a performance pay system. St. Augustine Record.

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Which school districts help parents make the best school choice?

School Choice Index Top 10School choice is more than just having educational options. The availability of quality schools, information about them and access to them are essential to making choice work.

With that in mind, the Brookings Institute’s 2014 Education Choice and Competition Index, by Russ Whitehurst and Ellie Klein, ranks the largest U.S. school districts and grades them from A to F on thirteen categories related to creating a strong school choice marketplace.

Some of the rankings might appear counter-intuitive to people familiar with the school choice landscape in Florida.

Although 52 percent of students in Miami-Dade are attending schools of choice, the state’s largest school choice district was bested by Pinellas County School District, where just 39 percent of students were enrolled in schools of choice.

That’s because the Brookings researchers looked at factors beyond participation in choice programs. The differences come down to district policies and transparency of information.

Ellie Klein

“We wanted to look at this from a parent perspective,” says co-author Ellie Klein. Simply making choices available isn’t good enough. To score well on the Brookings’ Index districts needed to have meaningful options and relevant information about the options. Parents also need to be able to access the options.

Keeping parents informed about their rights to school choice is very important, says Klein, but some districts use a variety of tactics to make school choice difficult to access or understand. Klein highlighted one school district in Fort Worth that used the phrase “Gold Seal” as a code word for public school transfers.

Another district in Brownsville, TX only allowed public school transfers on one single day and only if parents filled out the correct form, in person, at a district office.

“Obviously that’s not acceptable,” Klein said. School choice is ineffective if parents are unaware of the options or unable to take advantage of them because the choices are costly or difficult to make.

Russ Whitehurst

Overall, five of the thirteen categories focus on school information and student performance data and this may lead to some counterintuitive rankings for some school choice advocates. For example, New York City, with just 17 percent of students attending schools of choice, ranks second on the index while Orleans Parish School District, where 70 percent of students attend schools of choice, ranks 29. The difference lies largely with the information made available to parents in New York City.

Florida districts see their own intriguing results within the index.

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Florida roundup: Charter schools, testing, teacher pay and more

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. Charter school advocates are on board with measures to keep out unqualified charter operators. Sun-Sentinel. WUFT talks to charter school critics about capital funding. St. Johns County school officials say they’re taking a critical eye toward new charter schools. St. Augustine Record. A network of charter schools with a history of failures got approval to open more schools. WPTV.

Testing. The Badass Teachers Association is wrong about the amount of time students spend testing. PolitiFact. Pasco schools say they’re not ready for the new state test. Tampa Tribune. A meeting on testing was helpful to lawmakers. Gradebook. Democrats say GOP Gov. Rick Scott is starting to see things their way. Political Fix.

Safety. A federal complaint is filed over a middle school’s handling of a girl’s alleged sexual assault. Tampa Bay Times.

Awards. The Tampa Bay Times looks at finalists for educator awards in Hillsborough and Pinellas. A teacher who led the charge against a state test that was later suspended wins Teacher of the Year in Alachua County. Gainesville Sun.

Digital learning. Miami-Dade schools make use of digital math lessons. StateImpact.

Teacher pay. Broward teachers rally for raises. Sun-Sentinel. The Volusia school district remains deadlocked with its union over pay raises. WFTV. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WMFE.

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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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Florida roundup: Testing, tax credit scholarships, class sizes and more

Testing. Florida has released the results of its testing investigation, and Gov. Rick Scott plans to issue an order paring back some state tests while lawmakers grapple with the issue. Tampa Bay Times. Tampa TribuneOrlando Sentinel. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Sun-Sentinel. Naples Daily News (more here). Fort Myers News-PressTimes columnist John Romano rants about testing issues. A Palm Beach teacher protests testing in song. Palm Beach Post.

florida-roundup-logoTax credit scholarships. Former president Bill Clinton’s press secretary calls Florida’s program a “national model.” Tallahassee Democrat. The program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog and employs the author of this post.

Speech. A student is given the OK to use the phrase “God bless America” in the face of legal threats from a “humanist” association. First Coast News.

Administration. The Leon County school district moves to fire a principal accused of stealing and misusing district funds and property, who claims he’s the victim of political retribution. Tallahassee Democrat.

Class size. Parents complain about large class sizes in some South Florida schools. NBC Miami.

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Senate panel approves expansion of Florida special needs scholarships

Sen. Don Gaetz

Sen. Don Gaetz

A Florida Senate panel on Wednesday unanimously approved legislation making tweaks to the state’s second-in-the-nation program that provides scholarship accounts for students with special needs.

Key changes in SB 602 would make Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts, which were signed into law eight months ago, available to more children with conditions on the autistic spectrum and speed the flow of money into the accounts.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, indicated more changes could be ahead, like requiring more detailed reporting on the program’s results.

Several Democrats who supported the legislation sought other changes to the program. Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, wanted assurances that parents, especially those of children with the most severe conditions, would be informed about the program so that “everyone will have access, especially those with greatest need.” He also proposed an amendment requiring annual reports on the program’s effectiveness.

“We know it’s helping those students who are probably most in need, but it would be amazing if we have (more transparency and) some level of reporting done,” Bullard said. Continue Reading →

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Florida Board of Education to hear two charter school appeals

Two proposed charter schools that were rejected by their local school boards will get to make their cases to the Florida Board of Education.

A panel that vets charter school appeals has sided with one of the prospective charters, but not the other. The state board is set to have its say at its meeting next week in Tallahassee.

The Florida Charter School Appeal Commission voted unanimously to support Discovery High School in Polk County after finding the school board did not show the alleged flaws in the school’s plans justified the rejection of its charter application.

The proposed charter school would grow out of the existing Discovery Academy of Lake Alfred, which last school year was the only Title I charter in Polk County. The middle school received a C rating from the state in 2013-14, while serving one of the highest proportions of low-income students of all the charters in the district.

The Winter Haven News Chief reported this summer that the new charter school proposal has the backing of Lake Alfred’s mayor, who said the town has long yearned for its own high school.

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