Florida roundup: Lawsuits, testing, private schools and more

CAPE. High school welding programs provide a direct pipeline to jobs in the Tampa Bay region. Tampa Tribune.

Private schools. The former head of a Jacksonville private school files suit after his firing. Florida Times-Union.

florida-roundup-logoLawsuits. Parents protest a lawsuit challenging tax credit scholarships at a Duval school board meeting. WJCT. Other parents arrive at a gathering of the Florida School Boards Association. Indian River Press Journal. An Indian River school board member writes a guest column opposing the lawsuit. A Republican state Senator offers to work with the statewide teachers union amid the lawsuit. Gradebook. Lawyers for the state say a separate challenge to this year’s school choice legislation should be dismissed. Saint Petersblog.

Single-gender. The ACLU files legal complaints against more school districts’ single-gender programs. StateImpactDaytona Beach News-Journal. Sentinel School Zone.

Testing. Miami-Dade school leaders push for changes to the state accountability system. Miami Herald. The Palm Beach Post runs a guest column on testing by parent activist Kathleen Oropeza.

Teachers unions. The Palm Beach County union may at long last have elected top officers, though a lawsuit is still proceeding. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel.

Growth. The Tampa Tribune writes up the first-in-a-decade enrollment increase in Pinellas public schools.

Safety. A Hillsborough school goes on lockdown and a student is found with a knife and bullets. Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Tribune.

Administration. Florida TaxWatch honors top Florida principals. Miami Herald.

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FL school board dodges vote on lawsuit against school choice program

About a dozen tax credit scholarship parents, including this one, attending the Duval County School Board meeting.

About a dozen tax credit scholarship parents, including this one, attending the Duval County School Board meeting.

School board members in Duval County, Fla., blocked a motion Tuesday night that would have forced them to vote on a resolution opposing a lawsuit that seeks to end the nation’s largest private school choice program.

Board member Jason Fischer, who crafted the resolution, tried to add it to the agenda, but could not get a second. Two of his six fellow board members, Becki Couch and Paula Wright, are in leadership positions in the Florida School Boards Association, which, along with the Florida teachers union, Florida PTA and other groups, filed suit last week against the state’s 13-year-old tax credit scholarship program.

Fischer couldn’t bring the resolution forward sooner because the agenda was published before the suit was filed. But with the FSBA board of directors meeting Wednesday in Vero Beach, and the families of more than 60,000 scholarship students in limbo, Fischer said it couldn’t wait.

“We are dues paying members of FSBA and as you know if their lawsuit is successful it would deny low-income children, some of the poorest children in our community, their right to attend a school of their choice,” said Fischer, who vowed to try again with the resolution next month. “This is an issue that has unnecessarily created concern and chaos in the lives of tens of thousands of disadvantaged families across the state of Florida, almost 5,000 in Duval County alone. It is appalling. It is shameful.”

“Why in the world would anyone attack the students who are the most vulnerable and the most struggling?”

Couch’s response: The program doesn’t come with enough regulatory accountability.

“That doesn’t mean that there aren’t schools that accept the scholarships and do a great job because there are,” she said, according to WJCT News. “But it’s having that consistency across the state to ensure that all children receive a quality education and that there’s accountability for that.”

About a dozen tax credit scholarship parents attended the board meeting, and a half-dozen spoke to board members.

“I totally believe in what the public school has to offer, but as parents, we have the right to choose what is best for our children,” said parent Tiffany Clark, according to WJCT. Continue Reading →

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Citing Catholic ties, plaintiffs want judge off FL school choice, funding lawsuit

The plaintiffs in a wide-ranging lawsuit that challenges multiple aspects of Florida’s education system argue that the current judge should be disqualified from hearing the case because of her involvement with Catholic organizations.

Oropeza

Oropeza

The lawsuit, which we’ve written about before, attacks school choice programs and other policies while making a sweeping argument that the state has not lived up to its constitutional obligation to support public schools. (Its targets include the state’s tax credit scholarship program, which this blog’s co-host, Step Up For Students, is authorized to administer.)

Kathleen Oropeza, of the group Fund Education Now, is now among the most outspoken plaintiffs. She points out in court papers filed last week that the judge, Angela Dempsey, is on the board of a Northwest Florida arm of Catholic Charities and has spoken at a Catholic school in Tallahassee.

The first version of Oropeza’s motion to disqualify Dempsey drew a strongly worded response from the state’s lawyers, and has been criticized on other blogs, which argued the judge was being singled out because of her religious affiliations.

That criticism was making the rounds when Oropeza filed an updated motion on Tuesday. The new filing is stripped of references to a “Catholic strategy” to support voucher programs around the county, and no longer mentions comments a member of the Catholic clergy made during a television appearance.

Oropeza has maintained all along that she is not asking for the judge’s recusal based on the Dempsey’s religious beliefs. But Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute summed up her original  argument this way:

The judge belongs to a Catholic charity and has spoken at a Catholic school, the local Catholic Conference took a position in the original lawsuit, and a cardinal in another state said nice things about school choice on TV, therefore the anti-school choice activists want her to recuse herself. In other words, they want her to recuse herself because she’s Catholic.

The updated filing notes Dempsey’s involvement with local Catholic Charities, and says the president of the national Catholic Charities organization is also involved with a separate group that put out a policy paper supporting school choice programs in 2011. It notes the judge spoke at a recent event hosted by a Tallahassee Catholic school. Some students at the school participate in school choice programs.

Based on those relationships, “Plaintiff does not believe the Judge can be impartial in determining whether Florida’s private voucher programs are unconstitutional,” the updated court papers state.

Part of the response by the state’s lawyers to her original motion is still worth quoting at length, with some emphasis added.

Continue Reading →

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Carvalho: Florida needs to hit pause on school accountability

Superintendent Carvalho

Superintendent Carvalho

It is not lost to anyone these days that when it comes to educational accountability and more specifically, assessment, public opinion is being influenced by a number of factors and entities that, in some cases, merit consideration, understanding, and acceptance, and, in others, outright rejection.

First, we need to recognize that assessment, as a legitimate tool of accountability, exists only to inform and improve the teaching and learning process. Its use beyond that most legitimate purpose lends itself to misinterpretation of results, erroneous conclusions, perversion of the system itself, and potential harm to students, teachers, schools, and communities. These potentially unintended consequences are accentuated further when the accountability system itself is not inclusive of factors that intuitively and scientifically influence student and teacher performance.

Florida is currently one of many states facing educational reform debates, seen by some as driven too far by policy and ideology more imbedded in influential think-tank pronouncements than in common sense and peer-reviewed, research-based findings. Like a pendulum swung too far, the bounce back from that intentional push is now being felt with equal vigor and repercussion. In question here is nothing less than the validity, reliability, and even viability of the state’s accountability system.

The litany of changes in just a few years with irresponsible and uninformed implementation, devoid of consideration for the multi-stacked impact of so many simultaneous modifications, has left the public confused about the true performance of students. Meanwhile, educators at all levels are concerned, doubtful, and skeptical about both policy and its rollout timeline. The recent disconnect between reports of sinking school-grade performance, alongside improved student outcomes, has only added to the confusion and the heartbreak; particularly as it is the result of a simplistic view of student achievement amidst implementation of new standards, scale and cut scores, and end-of-course exams, all either introduced or deliberately modified with predictable consequences.

Some, in an expected defensive position, will say this is a necessary evolution for the sake of educational and economic competitiveness. Others will even suggest the push back is driven by special interest, or fear of change. To that, I submit that what is in question is not the need for better and more complex standards, or assessments better aligned with the needs and demands of the new economic reality. The debate is not reform, but the form and vehicle of this reform, and even the agents behind it. If there ever was a case of the “ends justifying the means,” or better, “by all means necessary,” one would find it through an honest observation of the educational policy, standards implementation, and assessment decisions made in Florida over the past few years. Simply put, the “What” has trumped the “How” with dramatic and unfortunately, avoidable consequences.

So, on the eve of the most dramatic shift since the inception of the FCAT or the transition to FCAT 2.0 in terms of standards and assessment, we ought to pause. We need to take time to honestly reassess previous and recent decisions and their consequences and have the courage to proceed on a path that is student- and teacher-centric. A path that can and must be a both and not an either-or proposition, unlike what the for-hire pundits say. A path that excludes politics, influence, ignorance, and extremism.

How shall we proceed then? Abandon accountability and assessment altogether? Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: Tax credit scholarships, testing, lawsuits and more

Tax credit scholarships. Duval school board member Jason Fischer writes about the benefits of the program in the Florida Times-Union.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. Two South Florida charter schools close suddenly, sending parents scrambling. Sun-Sentinel. As West Palm Beach prepares to open a municipal charter, it can draw lessons from successes and failures elsewhere. Palm Beach Post. The Duval School Board may close a struggling charter school. Florida Times-Union. Bay County charters are hiring drivers for their new bus system. Panama City News Herald.

Lawsuits. The Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson explores the lawsuit challenging Florida’s tax credit scholarship program in Education Next.

Testing. The Lee County School Board backs away from a decision to “opt out” of all state standardized assessments. Times/Herald. Fort Myers News-Press. (More here). Naples Daily NewsAssociated PressSentinel School Zone. StateImpact. Tampa Tribune. The testing debate moves to Brevard. Florida Today.

Special needs. The Orlando Sentinel visits the Conductive Education Center of Orlando, which provides special services to children with special needs.

Teachers. A Broward teacher wins the national Teacher of the Year award. Sun-Sentinel.

College readiness. A Palm Beach Post columnist provides a grim read of Florida students’ results on college entrance exams.

Continue Reading →

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A little context for Al Shanker’s “original charter school vision”

Al ShankerAgain on Sunday, the pages of the New York Times managed to confuse the nature and history of school reform. The op-ed by Richard Kahlenberg and Halley Potter credits the late Albert Shanker with “The Original Charter School Vision.” Now, however one judges the weight of Shanker’s nimble ideology, charters were not his baby until late in the game. Nor do the authors appear to grasp even what the idea of charters was – and is. They see this “vision” as “freeing up teachers and integrating students”; an apparition said to have been delivered to Shanker during a 1987 visit to Germany.

Charters, of course, do “free up” teachers, but only insofar as they free up parents to choose them. They are merely an obvious (and much older) suggestion of one legal form that “voucher” schools may take. They are, first and foremost, about lower-income families and the crying need to give back to them the authority and liberty enjoyed by the best of us. Charters are a way to privatize schools that nominally remain in the public sector and – so far – are forbidden to teach religion.

Schools that are privately owned and operated in the “public” sector were part of the discourse of the 1960s. Their specific terms and structure were exemplified in a 1971 volume by Stephen Sugarman and myself, published by the Institute of Government Studies. There ensued a sad story that is worth a brief telling.

Following the passage of California’s Proposition 13, in the early summer of 1978, a Democratic congressman who had read our new volume, “Education by Choice,” invited Steve and myself to dinner to discuss the political possibilities for school vouchers. That evening we agreed to draft a family choice initiative for the 1978 California ballot; he would do the necessary political stuff and raise the money after the campaign for the November elections. We completed the drafting. Leo Ryan did get re-elected. But then he was murdered in Jonestown.

Already deeply committed, we proceeded on our own, imagining that the libertarians at least would finance the effort. To our dismay, Milton Friedman effectively opposed our effort as being overregulated and our own initiative evaporated as a political possibility.

Who should care about such a scrap of history? Continue Reading →

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Soldiers and school choice

soldiers in prayerLong long ago I spent two years stationed at the Pentagon as a JAG officer. Early on I discovered that, daily at noon, a cadre of my fellows attended mass down the hall where a proper room had been set aside for the purpose. I was not surprised; even as a draftee in 1953 I had learned the Army provided opportunity, not only to visit the various chaplains, but for communal worship according to individual religious commitment. This was not just “released time”; the Army paid for it all. In 1985, a federal court of appeals held this to be a constitutional duty of government.

So far as I can see, little of this policy has changed in the military, though its justification today is supported as much by the free contract that constitutes enlistment; access to religious practice is a promise of the government that is a basic tool of recruitment. In my day, the military draft made this policy of the Army imperative, not only as a First Amendment responsibility but simply as a matter of justice. No Western nation would pluck a person from his home and family to serve any civic imperative without assuring that – as the requirements of his particular task allowed – he could pursue and perfect his own religious commitment through counsel, study and communal devotion.

Or would it? Consider the American system of state-imposed education and specifically the “public” school. Schooling is compulsory; the child is drafted to serve a civic imperative. It may not be full-time duty; but for the most receptive hours of the child’s days, for 12 years, the experience of being educated by unchosen strangers is intellectually and emotionally preemptive – and even dominant. Nor is there any lack of homework to conscript what remains of the day – and all of this for 12 years, a tour of duty three times that of all but a few soldiers. Schooling in this environment approaches a conscription of the mind; indeed, that is its point. Paradoxically, the experience can eventually be liberating, but within state schools it can be so only within a vision of life’s purpose narrowed by the absence of transcendence. Many Americans do not regard this as liberation.

By contrast to the Army – both that of 1953 and now — these state schools provide their intellectual draftees neither chaplains nor invitations to pray together in the manner of their parents (or even of their own). Nor do they receive instruction in the content of their own family’s beliefs. If the parents can afford it, the opportunity for a more inclusive curriculum is available in a less conscriptive private school. But for the rest of American families, there is only the daily seven hours absorbing the wisdom of the intellectual descendants of John Dewey.

The charter school, though a salutary reform, is no exception; the mind of the child is still to be carefully insulated from any suggestion that the good life implicates the transcendental or even that there is such a dimension to human existence. The school may teach that some people believe such things, but it may not prefer any such idea even in the ways so familiar to the soldier. It lacks even foxholes.

The public school draft could end its undemocratic and class separative effect with the most simple adjustment – the option for the charter school to teach religion. Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: Lawsuits, campaigns, tax credit scholarships and more

Lawsuits. Writers in the Tampa Tribune and National Review Online sharply criticize the lawsuit challenging Florida tax credit scholarships. A Tampa Bay Times columnist criticizes Gov. Rick Scott for opposing the lawsuit.  State Sen. John Legg declines an award from one of the groups suing. Gradebook. redefinED.

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Tax credit scholarshipsMy Fox Tampa Bay highlights a student attending a military-oriented private school his family feared would be out of reach.

Testing. The Lee County School Board may be poised to reverse its decision to “opt out” of standardized assessments. Fort Myers News-Press. More from the Orlando Sentinel and Miami Herald. The Palm Beach Post editorial board weighs in. The News-Press has live coverage of the school board’s meeting this morning. New state tests will change the way students are asked to write. Florida Times-Union.

Campaigns. School choice, Common Core, and partisan politics converged in Indian River school board campaigns that ousted incumbents. Indian River Press Journal.

Private schools. A private school adds a STEM center with the help of some high-profile donors. Bradenton Herald.

Charter schools. Bay County charter schools are preparing to set up their own shared busing system. Panama City News Herald. A rare charter conversion comes to Manatee. Bradenton Herald.

Continue Reading →

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