Prepping for the course choice wave

fordham report cover

Don’t look now, but a bigger, faster and potentially more far-reaching wave of educational choice is rolling in as we’re still grappling with basic questions about vouchers, tax credit scholarships and charter schools. Lucky for us, a new guide from the Fordham Institute offers a heads up on the complications with “course choice” so its promise can be fully realized.

Released today and authored by Michael Brickman, Fordham’s national policy director, “Expanding the Education Universe: A Fifty-State Strategy for Course Choice” arrives as school choice begins to give way to educational choice on a more fundamental level.

“Rather than asking kids in need of a better shake to change homes, forsake their friends, or take long bus rides, course choice enables them to learn from the best teachers in the state or nation,” Brickman writes. “And it grants them access to an array of course offerings that no one school can realistically gather under its roof.”

To some extent, course choice is already happening. Students in many places can take dual enrollment courses. Florida offers a vast course menu through Florida Virtual School. Louisiana adopted a course choice program two years ago. It’s just a matter of time before other states and/or school districts seize the day in a bigger way, and some, like Florida, are already taking a closer look.

The bottom line: students will increasingly be able to choose a course here and a course there, from an exploding number of providers. That will increasingly be true no matter what school they’re in.

That’s the upside. The downside? All kind of prickly questions have to be tangled with, from funding and access to eligibility and accountability. Brickman offers a rundown of five big ones, with potential directions, complications, tensions and tradeoffs. For example:

Who can be a provider: “Parents and kids will naturally want the widest possible range. Districts, however, will tend to favor tighter limits, whether out of concern for quality control or to minimize competition with their own offerings. States will also have to balance the desire to serve more children with the political headache that inevitably comes when ‘controversial’ course providers are included. Or they may leave such decisions to districts or entrust them to third parties.”

Who pays them: “Does the child’s school district pay the cost? Does the state? The parents? Who decides what price is reasonable? How many kids can take how many such courses? Who controls this money? Who generates it?”

Then there’s this fun one: “What if Molly takes all but one or two of her courses from course providers? Is she still a student of Madison High School? Does it still confer her diploma? Is it still the school’s job to determine whether she has truly fulfilled state or district graduation requirements? If not the school, then who?”

And some thought school choice was complicated. :)


Florida roundup: Single-gender, charter schools, teacher training and more

Single-gender schools. A federal complaint alleges discrimination at Hillsborough County single-gender programs. Tampa By Times. Tampa Tribune. redefinED. Sentinel School Zone.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. The Manatee County school district seeks detente with charters on transportation issues. Bradenton Herald.

Preschool. A new report looks at Florida’s preschool systems. Sentinel School Zone.

Teacher evaluations. Two new studies find fault with teacher evaluation systems similar to the one used in Florida. StateImpact.

Budgets. Brevard schools find a way to avoid cuts next year. Florida Today. Duval Schools may protect classrooms by focusing cuts on positions like clerks and security guards. Florida Times-Union.

Teacher quality. Pinellas County schools starts a new training program with St. Petersburg College. Tampa Bay Times.

Testing. Pasco schools may begin new tests for Kindergarten and first grade students. Tampa Tribune. A Collier County school board member complains of constant changes to the state’s standardized testing and grading systems. Naples Daily News.

Special needs. The Marion County School Board sides with a teacher accused of mistreating an autistic student. Ocala Star-Banner. Pinellas County schools plan to increase training for special education teachers. Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Tribune.

Teacher conduct. A P.E. teacher is accused of stealing money from student lockers. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

School days. Some Northwest Florida schools won’t have to make up days lost due to flooding. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Substitute teachers. The Polk County school district hopes to improve placement of substitutes. Lakeland Ledger.

School boards. A Manatee school board members avoids sanctions for controversial comments. Bradenton Herald.


ALCU challenges Florida single-gender schools

The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging single-gender instruction programs in one of the Florida’s largest urban school districts, arguing they are run in a way that violates federal laws against gender discrimination.

The ACLU filed the federal administrative complaint Tuesday, the day after Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill creating a new framework for single-gender schools throughout the state.

The complaint asks the U.S. Education Department to investigate Hillsborough County’s single-gender instruction, which includes all-boys and all-girls magnet academies for middle school students and individual classes at other schools.

It argues the program violates Title IX of the federal education code. The law does not bar all single-gender education programs, but the ACLU contends that Hillsborough’s program does not meet federal  requirements and is “premised upon, and promotes, harmful stereotypes.”

“The truth is that every student learns differently, and our public schools should not be in the business of making crude judgments about children’s educational needs based solely on whether they are a boy or a girl,” Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, said in a press release announcing the complaint.

Hillsborough’s single-gender classes have been written up in the Tampa Tribune and could serve as a model for other districts.

The legislation approved by Scott on Monday is intended to create a framework for expanding similar programs around the state. It received bipartisan support during the recently concluded legislative session.

Two other urban school districts – in Broward and Duval Counties – could receive additional funding in the state budget to train teachers at single-gender schools.

The ACLU cites the recent legislative moves in a letter to the state Department of Education, in which it repeats a two-year-old request for, among other things, a “full investigation into existing single-sex programs operating within the state of Florida.”

School district spokesman Steve Hegarty said student performance was improving at the two single-gender magnet programs, which both improved their A-F grades by two letters last school year. The programs would not have grown if parents had not felt they were good options, he said.

“These are parent choices, and parents think it’s a very good decision,” he said.

Coverage elsewhere:


Tampa Tribune


Inconvenient truth: Progressives returning to roots on parental choice

freedom schoolEditor’s note: This post originally appeared in recent days as an op-ed in Context Florida and the Gainesville Sun in response to this piece. Since the draft was submitted to both publications, a rare bipartisan majority in the U.S. House of Representatives voted 360-45, over the objections of teachers unions, to support a major bill expanding charter schools.

Joe Trippi, the legendary Democratic consultant, is not part of any right-wing cabal. So it’s noteworthy that when it comes to private school vouchers and charter schools and other forms of parental choice, he says, “We should try them all.”

Trippi told me this in a recent interview, after describing how he grew up on the wrong side of a school zone, on the side where too many kids joined gangs and dropped out of school. The school board made an exception for him, but only because his mom raised hell. Now he’s haunted by those left behind.

I relay Trippi’s story in response to Daniel Tilson’s column, “Fight public school privatization.” A dominant thread in the piece is a common myth: that parental choice is the brainchild of the radical right.

The truth is, practical concerns of parents are driving the movement, not ideology. But because ideology is warping so much of the debate, I want to address that first.

Tilson is right that many conservatives like parental choice. He references George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, Neil Bush, “shadowy business interests” and the Republican Party of Florida. At least he didn’t throw in the Koch Brothers! But the inconvenient truth for this line of argument is growing numbers of progressives like parental choice, too.

President Obama loves charter schools. So does former President Clinton. A few weeks ago, Howard Dean told college students he was now a die-hard for charters because they’re “transforming inner city education.”

New Jersey’s new U.S. Senator, Democrat Cory Booker, unapologetically supports vouchers. So does Mike MCurry, Clinton’s former press secretary. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren may not, yet, but here is what she said about a universal system of public school choice: “An all-voucher system would be a shock to the educational system. But the shakeout might be just what the system needs.”

In these polarized times, it’s nice to see folks from across the political spectrum agreeing on anything. But contrary to Tilson’s characterization, progressives have long supported expansion of learning options.

During the civil rights movement, activists established alternatives to segregated, second-rate schools. In the 1960s, liberal intellectuals at Berkeley led the “voucher left.” The late Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once crafted a tuition tax credit measure that garnered 50 co-sponsors, including Sen. George McGovern and 23 other Democrats. In a fortuitous twist, parental choice dovetails as much with progressive values of equal opportunity as with conservative values of limited government.

But again, it’s not ideology that’s changing the education landscape. It’s parents.

Over the past 15 years, arguably no state has made more academic progress than Florida. In 1998, Florida’s low-income fourth-graders ranked No. 35 among states in reading. In 2013, they ranked No. 1. Yet being No. 1 still means only 27 percent are proficient.

Studies show, again contrary to Tilson’s characterization, that the students who access tax credit scholarships in Florida are the ones who struggled the most in public schools. Their parents are desperate. That’s why they’re lining up in droves.

There are fair questions about school choice. But I hope people will take a clear-eyed view, and not make snap judgments based on political labels that aren’t accurate.

Before the scholarship bill passed last week, Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Broward, reminded fellow lawmakers that he once opposed the scholarships, but changed his mind after visiting schools that served children from “terribly impoverished backgrounds.” What he saw, he said, were kids thriving.

“So,” he continued, “I for one am going to ignore the politics of this.”


Florida roundup: Charter schools, Common Core, desegregation and more

Common Core. Gov. Rick Scott signs a suite of bills aimed at responding to the controversy around the standards, as well as a school grading overhaul. Associated PressNews Service of Florida. Reuters. Jeb Bush pushes back against Common Core critics – again– during an appearance in New York. The Buzz.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. Dual enrollment programs at some Miami-Dade charter schools allow students to graduate high school with a more advanced degree already in hand. WLRN.

Virtual schools. Pasco eSchool teachers seek relief from large classes. Gradebook.

No Child Left Behind. Officials defend the learning goals in the state Department of Education’s strategic plan, which have come under fire from activists. Tampa Tribune. Sentinel School Zone.

Valedictorians. “With honors” and “with distinction” are set to replace the more exclusive honors once bestowed on Bay County high school graduates. Panama City News Herald.

Reading instruction. A shortage of books can be a limiting factor for students. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Desegregation. StateImpact recalls its early days in Florida.

School safety. A state Representative who sponsored a bill that would have allowed certain school employees to carry guns said he intends to focus on adding resource officers at more campuses. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Arts. A private grant helps fund art, music and drama programs for low-income students. Sun-Sentinel. A high school band teacher joins students rallying to preserve a middle school program. Tampa Bay Times.

Transportation. Crowded bus rides to an International Baccalaureate campus are the latest flashpoint in the controversy over Hillsborough’s bus system. Tampa Bay Times.

Pay raises. Orange County teachers begin voting on a new contract. School Zone.


Customization in education will become the new normal

customized apple 2This spring’s legislative sessions have not been kind to the parental choice movement. Important bills have died in New York, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arizona, and a modest Florida bill had a bumpy ride before clearing the Legislature last week.

But while choice advocates fear these setbacks signal that the movement is losing momentum, I don’t. Parental choice in K-12 education is part of a larger cultural transition that is rooted in new digital technologies.

As Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee explain in their recent book, “The Second Machine Age,” we are living through a second, technology-driven industrial revolution. The first industrial revolution made urbanization and mass production possible, and led to the creation of our current one-size-fits-all, assembly line model of public education.

This second revolution is being driven by new digital technologies that are changing how we organize and manage ourselves and our organizations. These changes include increased customization of products and services, more decentralized management systems, and greater empowerment of workers and consumers.

Because they are government monopolies, school districts have been able to resist these systemic changes better than others. But ultimately, public education will succumb to the transformational powers of digital technology, and customization will replace uniformity as public education’s primary organizing principle.

Magnet schools, charter schools, vouchers, open enrollment, virtual schools, dual enrollment, tax credit scholarships and homeschooling are all part of public education’s embracing of empowerment and customization. But despite all the contentious debate around parental choice programs, the new online state assessments are the primary vehicles that will drive public education’s digital and organizational revolution. As formative and summative online assessments become ubiquitous, teaching and learning will become more digitally embedded since we can’t teach students in non-digital environments and then assess them digitally. This digitalization of teaching, learning and assessment will then lead to greater customization.

As this shift to customization accelerates, many current ways of work will be redesigned. Continue Reading →


Democrat: Party insisted I vote against school choice scholarships

Rep. Campbell

Rep. Campbell

Editor’s note: Florida state Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, was the only House Democrat  to vote this month for a school choice bill to strengthen and expand tax credit scholarships. In an op-ed over the weekend for the Miami Herald, she writes that the Florida Democratic Party pressured her to vote against it. She asks, “If not for these desperate underprivileged families, for whom does my party expect me to fight?” Here’s some of Rep. Campbell’s piece:

Florida offers a scholarship just for low-income children, and my party this year insisted that I vote against it.

Never mind that it gives these children some legitimate learning options. Never mind that the beneficiaries are mostly black or Hispanic and live barely above poverty. Never mind that I’m a Haitian-American nurse and lawmaker who represents a North Miami district that is almost 90-percent black and Hispanic.

My vote recently to strengthen Tax Credit Scholarships for these students was treated as an act of defiance by the state House Democratic Caucus. The whole episode makes me wonder: If not for these desperate underprivileged families, for whom does my party expect me to fight?

This scholarship is an alternative for the children who tend to struggle the most in education, and it is serving 59,765 students in 1,425 private schools this year. The news about the program is uniformly good: Their standardized scores show us they are achieving the same gains academically as students of all incomes nationally; the public schools most affected by the loss of students to the scholarship are themselves showing impressive academic gains; and the scholarship is small enough, $4,880 this year, that it saves tax money that can be spent on traditional public schools.

In my own district, I have seen some of these schools turn around the lives of children who were headed in the wrong direction, and I proudly helped Ebenezer Christian Academy build a new facility that furthers its mission in the community.

None of this seemed to matter to the party this session. Nor did it matter that Democrats have routinely voted for the scholarship in the past, including nearly half the caucus for a major expansion in 2010. Instead, I was accused of being anti-public education. The reality is that I was parting ways with the Florida Education Association, which threatens Democrats with primary opponents if they support any school option that is not under the union’s collective bargaining agreement.

This is most unfortunate, because parents don’t care so much about who runs the school or whether the teachers are union members. They’re simply looking for options that work best for their own children and, in this environment, there is no conflict between public and private.

Read the full op-ed here.


redefinED roundup: charter schools, charter schools, charter schools …


Arizona: A former school teacher criticizes the state superintendent of public instruction for his support of Common Core and school choice (East Valley Tribune). The Sierra Vista Herald editorial board says the state superintendent’s support of ESAs hurts public schools. Applications for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts doubles (Heartlander). The Arizona Republic editorial board opposes allowing public funding to go to private schools, especially now that the state support for ESAs exceeds the state support for public schools (note: the editorial board’s calculation excludes local support for public schools). A consultant at a scholarship organization is indicted for stealing $529,000 in scholarship money (Arizona Republic).

California: Vanila Singh, a professor and physician at Stanford University and congressional candidate, says school choice is the key to student success (Mercury News). The California Charter Schools Association has sued the West Contra Costa School District for withholding tax revenue intended to fund charter schools (Contra Costa Times). Charter schools struggle with online assessments (FSRN Radio).

D.C.: Two charter schools allegedly under federal investigation for possible discrimination say they have never received a complaint from a student or parent (Washington Post). President Obama sends his daughters to Sidwell Friends, an elite private school that refuses to release information on student course completion and graduation rates (Washington Post).

Florida: The tax-credit scholarship expansion will allow the program to serve higher-income families (Education Week, Tampa Tribune, WJHG TV). More low-income families will benefit from the tax-credit scholarship program if the Governor signs the bill into law (Florida Times-Union). The state  passes the nation’s second education savings account program (Foundation for Excellence in Education). Daphne Cambell (D-Miami-Dade) says she voted to expand the program because giving poor kids more options is the right thing to do (Miami Herald). The Tampa Tribune editorial board says the scholarship expansion is justified because every student deserves to find a school that works well for them. Brian Tilson, owner of a communications firm in Boca Raton, says the scholarships are unpopular and are hurting public schools (Gainesville Sun). Ron Matus, the editor of redefinED, says more progressive Democrats support parental choice (Gainesville Sun). The scholarship program helps families afford Jewish day schools (Chabad News). State Impact talks with Sen. John Legg about the legislative session including the passage of the scholarship bill. Marc Yacht, a retired physician, say charter schools should be more regulated and held to the same standards and rules as traditional public schools (Sun Sentinel).

Georgia: The Southern Education Foundation helps file a suit to overturn the state’s tax-credit scholarship program (Watchdog). A former reporter sends her daughter to a charter school and says each school is so different it is difficult to compare them to each other let alone public schools, and that is a good thing (Atlanta Journal Constitution). Continue Reading →