Wide variation in private school enrollment in Florida school districts

Slightly more than one in 10 Florida students attends private school, but like other school choice options in Florida, the proportion of private school enrollment varies widely from one school district to the next.

That diversity can serve as a reminder that there a complex set of factors that drive parents’ decisions about where to send their children. Take a look, for example, at the proportion of students enrolled in private schools, according to the Department of Education’s latest report on private school enrollment:

Click a district to show the percentage of students attending private school.

Two rural North Florida districts – Calhoun and Liberty – report zero private-school students. But that same region is home to an outlier at the opposite end of the spectrum: Jefferson County, where more than one in four students attends private school – a share of total enrollment that exceeds the next-highest district by 10 percentage points.

One obvious explanation: The district’s performance in the state’s accountability system (Jefferson’s F grades are frequently cited by parents asking the school board to transfer their children to neighboring school districts).

Another contributing factor could be the lack of charter schools, magnet schools, and other choice options in a district with a single public elementary school and one middle/high school. Private school enrollment plummeted this year in neighboring Madison County, the same year two new charter schools opened.

But those factors still don’t tell the whole story. Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: Campaigns, charters, school boards and more

Tax credit scholarships. WFTV airs criticisms of school choice programs by Central Florida Democrats.  A Heartland Institute fellow supports the program in an Orlando Sentinel guest column. An administrative law judge supports the state’s decision to keep a private school with an administrator who previously mishandled funds from participating in the program. Tampa Bay Business Journal.

florida-roundup-logoCampaigns. Charlie Crist makes changes to the state’s teacher evaluations a central part of his campaign for governor. Sentinel School Zone. A former porn star makes headlines running for school board on a platform of “technology, innovation, equality, sex education, and secular values.” Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel.

Charter schools. Sarasota County grapples with a raft of charter applications. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A Mavericks charter school appeals a district’s effort to dock it for hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding. Palm Beach Post. Outgoing lawmaker Seth McKeel becomes chair of a Polk County charter network’s board. Lakeland Ledger.

School boards. A Duval school board member wants to create a self-defense policy for students. Florida Times-Union. Manatee board members debate giving themselves a raise. Bradenton Herald. A Palm Beach board member takes a new leadership post.  Palm Beach Post.

Reading instruction. More schools will add an extra hour for struggling students. Tampa Tribune.

Continue Reading →

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Florida private schools see slight enrollment increase

More students attended Florida private schools this year than in any year since the onset of the economic downturn, and there are now more private schools operating in the state than in any year on record.

But Florida’s private school enrollment is still less than it was 10 years ago, according to the state Department of Education’s latest annual report on private schools, released this month.

DOE Pirvate school enrollment

Chart by Florida Department of Education

Let’s break down some of the trends highlighted by the report.

Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: Test results, charter schools, performance pay and more

Test results. New end of course exam results largely show improvement over last year. StateImpactTampa Bay Times.  Orlando Sentinel. Florida Times-Union. Florida Today. Fort Myers News-Press. Bradenton Herald. Thousands of students still struggle in algebra. Miami Herald. Tampa Bay students improve in history, the Tampa Tribune reports here and here. South Florida students improve in algebra. Sun-Sentinel. More from the Palm Beach Post.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. The Palm Beach school district withholds hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Mavericks school after and audit raises questions. Palm Beach Post.

Special needs. An embattled school for children with autism in Polk County is creating a new option in Pasco County. Lakeland Ledger.

Vouchers. The next political fights over school choice will be over regulation, The Federalist writes. The analysis incorrectly posits that the state’s “Blaine Amendment” is what bars traditional school vouchers in Florida.

Performance pay. Gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist takes aim at Florida’s teacher evaluation laws. Gradebook. More on education and gubernatorial politics from the Halifax capital bureau. Manatee administrators begin learning a new evaluation model. Bradenton Herald.

Common Core. Jeb Bush takes heat from conservatives over his support for the standards. Wall Street Journal.

STEM. Is Florida’s science sequence “out of order?” Bridge to Tomorrow.

School safety. Hillsborough students do not always know to report sexual harassment. Tampa Bay Times.

Continue Reading →

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Arnett: Better tests will yield better accountability in education

Arnett

Arnett

Editor’s note: This is the sixth and final post in our series on the future of parental choice and accountability.

The issue of standards and test-based accountability has been an important topic in education reform for more than a generation. With the passing of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2001, it became a central component of our education policy. In the intervening years since Congress signed NCLB into law, we have been able to observe both its benefits and its flaws.logo bigger

Test-based accountability has been extremely important for raising awareness of the achievement gaps between low-income and minority students and their more affluent peers, and it has led to notable gains in closing those gaps. But at the same time, critics have virulently attacked high-stakes testing for putting undue performance pressure on teachers and students, and for incentivizing schools and teachers to narrow their curriculum to the exclusion of non-tested subjects. Aside from these debates, there has been a simultaneous and separate strand of education reform centered around educational choice options – such as charter schools, voucher programs, tax credit scholarships, education savings accounts, and more recently, full-time virtual schools and online courses – that move beyond school choice to allow any student within any school to have nearly unlimited educational options. These moving pieces need to be at the forefront of our minds as we ask ourselves how accountability should evolve over the next decade.

As a helpful starting point, we should reframe the way we look at these challenges. Rather than viewing school choice as a reform issue separate from school accountability, we should recognize that choice is a powerful mechanism for providing bottom-up accountability. Kathleen Porter-Magee, a policy fellow at the Fordham Institute, expertly conveyed this point in a recent blog. She argues that we need to “broaden our conception of accountability to include parental choice” and that “parent choice provides a much-needed counterbalance to the potential excesses of standards-driven reform.” Parental choice gives us a way to hold schools accountable for the aspects of education that are hard to quantify, such as the quality of non-academic programs, school culture, and the relationships between teachers and students.

To make this kind of bottom-up accountability work, parents need good information about their choices. In this regard, standardized assessments are actually an important mechanism for informing parents. Continue Reading →

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redefinED roundup: de Blasio to the rescue? Vouchers increase property values and more news

MondayRoundUp_magentaAlabama: Judge Gene Reese issues a stay on his own injunction against the Alabama Accountability Act school choice program (AL.com, Montgomery Advertiser, redefinED, American Federation for Children). The decision to lift the injunction takes uncertainty away from low-income families (AL.com). Jeff Reed, public relations director for the Friedman Foundation, says school choice thrives in the state even with the lawsuit (One News Now).

Arizona: Eileen Sigmund, president of the Arizona Charter Schools Association, and Glenn Hamer, the association’s vice chairman, say charter schools provide some of the best education in the state and are still looking to improve (Arizona Republic).

Connecticut: Education leaders in Bridgeport drop the idea of suing the state over approving six charter schools in the area after the city attorney says the district has no basis for a lawsuit (Stamford Advocate).

Delaware: Lawmakers debate education savings accounts (JayPGreene.com, Choice Media, Education Week). The News Journal editorial board supports school choice if parents pick charter schools but not if parents want vouchers or education savings accounts to choose private schools.

Florida: The Florida PTA, state teachers union and Florida NAACP urge the governor to veto a school choice bill that includes expansion of tax credit scholarships (the scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog). (Tampa Bay Times, Orlando Sentinel).

Idaho: Terry Ryan, president of the Idaho Charter School Association, says over 19,000 children attend charter schools in the state, making support for it a winning proposition for elected Republicans (Idaho Education News). Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: School choice, digital learning, special needs and more

School choice. Florida’s major school choice legislation officially lands on the governor’s desk. Tampa Bay Times. Sentinel School Zone.

florida-roundup-logoDigital learning. Pasco Schools plan to expand a competency-based blended learning program after seeing promising results. Tampa Tribune.

Turnarounds. Struggling schools subject to state intervention see mixed results in their first year of turnaround efforts. Tampa Bay Times.

Testing. End-of-course results are expected later this morning. School Zone. Schools prepare for life after the FCAT in math and English. Tampa Tribune.  Marion County has a six-part plan to raise scores. Ocala Star-Banner.

Special needs. District officials complain about inadequate funding for students with disabilities. Palm Beach Post. The parents of a special needs student who was slapped by his bus driver speak out. Pensacola News-Journal.

Teacher quality. Duval schools struggle to keep some of their most highly rated teachers. Florida Times-Union.

Continue Reading →

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Aldis: Better facilitating the school choice marketplace

Aldis

Aldis

Editor’s note: This is the fifth post in our series on the future of parental choice and accountability.

The last 20 years indicate that simply creating a school choice program does not guarantee widespread improvements in student achievement. Just come to my home state of Ohio. Despite a rapidly growing number of students exercising school choice (in its variety of forms), statewide achievement on NAEP has been largely flat for a decade, and 40 percent of the state’s college-bound high-school graduates require remedial coursework as freshmen.logo bigger

The next generation of accountability should focus on identifying and improving upon those areas where the education arena is not operating as a well-functioning marketplace. Here are some areas of focus to get us started.

Ensure there isn’t a monopoly

In order to utilize market forces to drive quality, it’s essential that there isn’t an all-powerful monopoly that dominates the market. The growth of school choice in many places has weakened the monopoly that traditional school districts have enjoyed for generations, but there are still too many places (especially suburbs and small towns) where the only publicly funded educational option is the assigned district school. For consumer choice to drive quality, it’s essential that public policy enable the number of school options to continue to grow and ensure that all students have a variety of choices. While private school choice options will undoubtedly be a part of this growth, the choice ecosystem must continue to expand and should include inter-district and intra-district open enrollment, virtual and hybrid schools, and charter schools whenever possible.

Level the playing field

While additional educational options are undeniably important, school choice policy must be done in a way that levels the playing field, particularly when it comes to funding. The battle for equitable funding is a given and must be fought for. Long-term, the education system should move toward a weighted student funding system where the money follows the child. The politics of passing school choice programs has given us a host of choice programs where the traditional public school district keeps a significant amount of the per-student funding for those who exercise a school choice. This lessens the market effect as it ameliorates the need for the district to change and improve as the true cost of the parent’s dissatisfaction isn’t felt by the district. If the money followed the student to the new school, the school of choice would be able to compete on more level terms and the traditional public school would have even more reason to improve its services to keep (or win back) students.

Make high-quality information widely available

An efficient market requires that consumers have high quality information to make purchasing decisions. One of the benefits of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has been the increased amount of school performance data. Parents have never had more information available – ranging from proficiency and value-added data to overall school letter grades – in order to choose the right school for their child. That being said, the quality, content, and ease of use of the information available can still be improved. There isn’t a perfect delivery system (yet) of this information, and state departments of education historically have done a poor job of presenting user-friendly information to parents.

All is not lost though, as GreatSchools seems to be on the right path. Continue Reading →

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