Religious schools should be a bigger part of the solution

Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court justice, might never have blossomed in the Bronx without the help of a faith-based school, a Catholic oasis called Blessed Sacrament. Sotomayor herself says so. Asked by Anderson Cooper if she would have become who she is without the school, Sotomayor said, “Doubtful.”

Sadly, Blessed Sacrament is closing this year, felled by the same social and economic forces – and education policies – that contributed to the shuttering of 1,300 Catholic schools in the past 20 years. There is tragedy and irony in its passing. You don’t have to be religious to feel it.

For most of this country’s history, faith-based schools have been a fundamental part of the American experience. But now, as the nation continues to wrestle with how best to get academic traction with poor and minority kids, its 21,000 religious schools continue to shrink, and continue to be mostly overlooked as a potential piece of the solution.

Here’s the tragic part. Eleven of 12 gold standard research studies find positive academic outcomes for students using vouchers to attend private schools, the vast majority of them religious schools. More recently, William Jeynes, a researcher at California State University, Long Beach, found via a meta-analysis of 90 studies that students in religious schools were on average seven months ahead of their peers in traditional public and charter schools. This was after controlling for race, gender, poverty and parental involvement.

Faith-based schools are a financial bargain, too – for all of us. Average tuition is thousands of dollars less than per-pupil funding for public schools, so collectively, taxpayers are saving tens of billions of dollars a year.

All this isn’t to say faith-based schools are the end-all, be-all. They range in quality just as charter and virtual and traditional public schools do. But in this era of customization, they offer more options, and in this time of desperation, more hands on deck. There is no good reason to bar them from the mix of educational alternatives that is helping parents and educators find the best fit for each and every child. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: laptops, gifted students, accelerated classes & more

School technology. StateImpact Florida takes a look at the One Laptop Per Child program.

florida roundup logoAccelerated classes. In Pasco, enrollment is climbing fast in AP, IB and dual enrollment. Tampa Bay Times.

FCAT. Gains not as good as they sound, writes Shanker Blog. Three Pinellas elementary schools have among the worst math scores in the state, reports Gradebook.

Parent trigger. A distraction and faddish. Sherman Dorn.

Superintendents. The new Lee super is Naples High Principal Nancy Graham, but it’s not clear whether she’s temporary, reports the Naples Daily News. Tony Bennett’s a fan of Pinellas’ Mike Grego, reports Gradebook.

Ed summit. Speaking of Grego, he’s among the speakers at the Florida Sterling Council’s annual summit. StateImpact Florida.

Gifted students. Pinellas is eliminating programs for gifted students at a few schools in lieu of offering gifted services at all elementary schools. Tampa Bay Times.

School spending. Broward gets no legislative funding help for its technology and building needs, reports the Miami Herald. More from the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Broward wants to charge a developer $3.6 million in impact fees for four students, the Sun Sentinel also reports. Continue Reading →


School choice voucher bill clears major hurdle in N.C.

From the Associated Press:

RALEIGH, N.C. — A North Carolina House panel on Tuesday narrowly backed a controversial bill that would give taxpayer money to North Carolina students to attend private or religious schools.

The House Education Committee voted 27-21 to recommend a school choice bill that would give annual grants of $4,200 each to students from low-income families. The bill has sparked a clash between advocates who call it a victory for school choice and opponents who say it marks the dismantling of public education.

The bill still has to go through another committee, which will discuss the financial impact, and the House floor. Full story here.


JROTC denied to private school student

Kevin Gines

Kevin Gines

Kevin Gines is 15 years old. He attends a private school on a publicly-funded scholarship for low-income kids. He wants to be a Marine.

He’s dying to get into a Junior ROTC program to start getting prepped. But there’s one big hitch.

His small school in north Florida doesn’t have a JROTC program. And he can’t get into the JROTC program at a nearby public high school because the school district says no.

A district administrator for Clay County public schools told Kevin’s father his son can’t participate because he’s not enrolled in the public school, Middleburg High.

“It’s not simply attending the after school drills,’’ wrote Lyle Bandy, director of exceptional student education, in an email to Jesse Gines (pronounced Hee-nez).

The program includes a sequence of Naval science classes during the school day that the student also must complete, Bandy said, citing the official Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps website.

That was the end of it for Bandy, who did not respond to our requests for comment. But not for Gines.

He reached out to another public school with a JROTC program, Mandarin High, about 25 miles away in neighboring Duval County. A JROTC official there told him Kevin was welcome to join JROTC.

“In the past, that has taken place,’’ said Lt. Evaristo Gines (no relation to Kevin and Jesse), who is awaiting final word from his district supervisors. “All I know is that we’re in the business of trying to help the students.’’

Kevin may be caught in a gray area as the once hard-and-fast lines of public education continue to blur. Tim Tebow was homeschooled, but starred on a public high school football team. Private school students can take classes through the public Florida Virtual School. They also can participate in public school gifted programs. So why can’t Kevin join JROTC at a public school?

Jesse Gines points to state statutes that allow private school students to participate in extra-curricular activities, such as sports, at public schools. He also looked at the JROTC website and noted the requirements include a provision that lets students not enrolled in the host school become special cadets.

“It does not state denial of enrollment,’’ said Gines, a security guard at Florida State College in Jacksonville. “It does state opportunity for all schools.’’ Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: FCAT scores, STEM teachers, super nerds & more

FCAT. FCAT writing scores up. FCAT reading and math scores flat. Miami Herald. South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Times UnionStateImpact Florida. Gainesville Sun. Ocala Star Banner. Associated Press. Naples Daily News. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald Tribune. Pensacola News Journal. Tallahassee Democrat. Panama City News HeraldStateImpact has more from Education Commissioner Tony Bennett.

florida roundup logoFCAT success. How a Tampa elementary magnet school got traction. Gradebook.

FCAT retakes. Daytona Beach News Journal.

Vals and sals. Backlash is growing to Hernando’s decision to ban vals and sals. Gradebook.

Nerds. Spelling bee champ Nupur Lala of Tampa helped make nerdy cool. Associated Press.

Turnaround schools. Hillsborough is proactive about trying to spark them. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher training. The Hechinger Report uses Florida to base a story about reformers’ aims with teacher training and recruitment. Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: Charter schools in Penn., Catholic schools in Washington, tax credit scholarships in Ohio & more

Washington, D.C.: District Mayor Vincent Gray plans to allow charter schools and community organizations to lease 16 public school buildings,  some of which were slated to close next school year (Washington Post). More from the Washington Examiner. The charter board approves two new schools, including one that helps adults learn to read (Washington Post).

MondayRoundUp_magentaNew Jersey: Charter school operators are finalizing plans for teacher and principal evaluations (NJ Spotlight).

Louisiana: A new state report finds that the education department had gaps in monitoring the academic performance of charter schools (Associated Press). More from the Times-Picayune. Khan Academy founder Salman Khan says virtual education may change the role of teachers, but it won’t make them obsolete (Times-Picayune). Superintendent John White is scaling back the course choice mini-voucher program (Times-Picayune).

Florida: Virtual school gives teachers more freedom with scheduling and, in some cases, more opportunities (redefinED).

Pennsylvania: Thousands of Mastery Charter School students gathered for a “college signing day” to celebrate the 450 graduating seniors continuing their education (Philadelphia Inquirer). Philadelphia charter school operators joined district leaders and Mayor Michael Nutter in calling for more education funding (CBS Philly). The Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools responds to complaints that its operators violate open records laws (The Sentinel).

Alabama: The Legislature rejects Gov. Robert Bentley’s proposal for a two-year delay on the school tax credit scholarship plan known as the Alabama Accountability Act (Montgomery Advertiser).

California: Dissatisfied parents use the state’s parent trigger law to remove a principal  from a Los Angeles elementary school (Education Week). Los Angeles’ Renaissance Arts Academy charter school offers string instruments and dance instruction in every-day curriculum to motivate students (Southern California Public Radio).

North Carolina: The House passes a bill that would make charter schools eligible for permanent license tags that exempt their vehicles from annual fees and inspections (WRAL). Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina creates a new program to open charter schools in rural areas (Education Week). The state assembly considers creating a charter school board (North Carolina Public Radio). The House Education Committee hears both sides of a fierce debate on school vouchers that has Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, weighing in (Associated Press). Continue Reading →


In honor of the fallen

arlington national cemetery


We’re off today, enjoying time with friends and family but also remembering what this day is about. We hope you’re doing the same. (Image from the Arlington National Cemetery website.)


A ‘whiny’ argument against voucher testing

The question of how to hold private schools academically accountable for publicly supported, school voucher students remains contentious and, frankly, unclear. But to oppose tests out of fear the opposition will twist the results is simply untenable.

Bob Smith

Bob Smith

In one of the latest venues where this debate played out, at the American Federation For Children policy summit this week on the banks of the Potomac River, part of the audience broke into applause when Bob Smith, the former president of Messmer Catholic Schools in Milwaukee, pushed back on testing. Smith and Messmer schools are both highly regarded, and he was not coy about his rationale.

“We have some enemies who have sworn they are going to destroy this program, beginning with two presidents of the United States, and a number of secretaries of education,” Smith said. “Until those people stand up, and with the same fervor, deny that they will use that data against private schools, I will not trust them.”

At least two of the panels during the two-day event revealed the ongoing split over how, or even whether, to test students on school vouchers and tax credit scholarships.

Not surprisingly, Robert Enlow, president of the Friedman Foundation For Educational Choice, made an eloquent and principled case for why the marketplace itself is a powerful force for assuring quality. Parents whose students are on scholarships, just like parents whose students are on private tuition, can and do walk away from schools that aren’t serving their needs – in some case putting schools out of business in the process.

Adam Emerson, director of parental choice for the Fordham Institute, made the principled case for why public is different. Public schools are under enormous pressure to produce results on state tests, with sometimes severe consequences for failure. To expect private schools serving publicly supported students to be immune from that system is unrealistic. It also denies elected policymakers who are paying the bill a test that they view as an important report card.

One slice of the divide that was hard to ignore was the contributions of the only current school administrator to serve on either panel. Continue Reading →