Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: Entitled editors, Swedish meatballs and test scores, and the charter critic Cook

MrGibbonsReportCardNews & Observer Editorial Board

There is a right way to criticize school choice programs and a wrong way. The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. chose poorly. While arguing against vouchers for low-income students, the editorial board wrote,

“Advocates hailed this “opportunity scholarship” program as a way to help poor families, a group Republicans have shown little interest in otherwise. But in this case, those families are a convenient political tool for conservatives …”

poorlyReally? Arguing that low-income people are tools if, and only if, they ally with your political opponents, sounds a bit elitist and entitled. Progressives do not own a monopoly on serving the interests of disadvantaged families (and frankly, believing that conservatives never care about the poor demonstrates a sophomoric understanding of politics). If the current education model doesn’t work, low-income families are under no obligation to support a side that wants to maintain the status quo.

Besides, this isn’t a Democrat vs. Republican issue. Democrats in North Carolina are already joining forces to support school choice programs throughout the state.

Grade: Needs Improvement


chef1Andrew Coulson

Critics of school choice have been pummeling Sweden for the last year as if it was some sort of smoking gun that proves vouchers don’t work. Two things are at play: Sweden has universal school choice. And among other developed nations, it has seen some of the sharpest declines in international test scores.

Some very simplistic analyses, including a recent Slate article by an economist at Columbia, saw the correlation and concluded private schools and school choice were at fault.

Not so fast. That conclusion turns out to be the result of some bad research methods: correlation is not causation. Continue Reading →


Strong demand for Florida’s new educational choice option

Parents are definitely interested in Florida’s latest educational choice program.

The Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts are for students with significant special needs, including autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. And since applications became available a week ago, more than 1,200 parents have started the process. (As of 6:46 a.m. Friday, the number stood at 1,250.)

Not every applicant will qualify. But the initial burst suggests real demand.

The numbers jibe with the enthusiastic comments we’re hearing from parents. And they seem even more notable given that applications opened just two days after the state teachers union sparked widespread publicity by filing suit against SB850, the bill that created the PLSAs. (Step Up For Students, which is authorized to administer the program, and co-hosts this blog, includes a notice about the lawsuit on its application site.)

Florida’s PLSA is the second of its kind in the nation, passed by the Legislature last spring and signed into law last month by Gov. Rick Scott. The state set aside $18.4 million for the first year of the program, enough for an estimated 1,800 students.

Last week we noted a steady stream of stories about PLSAs that thankfully included the voices of parents. More continue to trickle in. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Special needs, preschool, campaigns and more

Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts. Hundreds of parents have started applications for Florida’s newest school choice option for special needs students. Gainesville SunGradebook.


Lawsuits. The Washington Examiner takes on the Florida Education Association’s lawsuit over school choice legislation.

Early learning. PolitiFact checks Gov. Rick Scott’s claims about preschool funding.

Campaigns. Scott is among the Republican governors being targeted by national teachers unions. Politico, via StateImpact. Rival Charlie Crist continues to talk about education issues during campaign stops. Naples Daily News. Fort Myers News-Press. Sarasota school board candidates debate Common Core. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Arts. Hernando schools will allow students to transfer out of schools that lack music programs. Tampa Bay Times.

Budgets. Digital learning, a new program for children with autism and an expansion of district choice options are part of the funding proposal in Miami-Dade. Miami HeraldWPLG. Supporters are gearing up for an Orange County sales tax referendum. Orlando Sentinel. Manatee schools are trying to find money for new initiatives. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Proposed schools budgets will lower the property tax rates slightly in Okaloosa and Manatee Counties. Northwest Florida Daily News. Bradenton Herald.

Special needs. The Orlando Sentinel visits summer camp for special needs students.

Continue Reading →


School choice scholarships shoring up FL private school enrollment

private schools 2Students using school choice scholarships now make up nearly a third of K-12 students in Florida private schools.

According to final state figures released last week, 88,192 students attended private schools last year using McKay scholarships for students with disabilities or tax credit scholarships for low-income students. That’s 31.2 percent of the total private school enrollment, up from 28.4 percent in 2012-13 and 8.6 percent a decade ago.

Does it matter? At the least, the numbers help paint a more complete portrait of private schools in Florida. As we reported last month, overall private school enrollment in Florida is up slightly for the third straight year. But once Pre-K enrollment and school choice scholarships are factored out, the trend lines show the number of private-paying students in private schools declined for the ninth straight year.

Why are the numbers falling? We touched on this a bit last year. Could be lingering effects of the Great Recession. Could be growing numbers of middle-class families are priced out of private school tuition. Could be more of them are turning to charter schools. According to Florida Department of Education data requested by redefinED, 5,426 students left private schools for charter schools during the 2012-13 school year.

We don’t have data for other years, so we can’t be sure of the trend lines there. But all of this seems worthy of a closer look by all who value a strong public education system.

Here’s a quickie spreadsheet with the numbers. Here’s a few charts with highlights: Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Charter schools, testing, campaigns and more

Charter schools. Two Collier County School Board candidates have ties to a local charter school. Naples Daily News.

florida-roundup-logoTesting. A Pinellas magnet school faces an FCAT cheating investigation. Tampa Bay Times.

Open enrollment. The Ocala Star-Banner criticizes the Marion County district’s plan in an editorial.

Reading. Pasco schools attempt to add a state-mandated extra hour of reading within the school day, rather than extending it. Tampa Bay Times. Dozens of Broward schools prepare to extend their school day. Sun-Sentinel.

Campaigns. Gubernatorial challenger Charlie Crist meets with Sarasota teachers. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Two Hillsborough school board candidates attract record-setting contributions. Tampa Tribune. Two Manatee school board candidates debate. Bradenton Herald.

Advanced Placement. Duval’s pass rate improves, though fewer students take AP tests. Florida Times-Union.

Continue Reading →


Some new FL charter schools raise their grades, others struggle

The latest release of school grades was cause for celebration at some of Florida’s charter school networks, which saw substantial improvements over last year.

At other schools, though, it brought bad news. Ramz Academy Middle School, a charter school in Miami-Dade, sent a letter to parents, informing them it would not be open next school year and offering to help them find another option. At the opposite end of the state, near the Georgia border, Shining Star Academy of the Arts in Columbia County was rallying parents, pursuing an appeal of its F grade, and preparing to seek a waiver allowing it to remain open next school year.

Charter school grades

More Florida charter schools received grades this year, bringing an increase in the number of A’s and the number of F’s.

Florida statutes require most charter schools that receive F’s in two straight years to close. In many cases, low test scores can either force them to shut down, as Hoggetowne Middle School in Alachua County announced before grades were released, or prompt efforts, like one now underway at Shining Star, to look for waivers or exceptions that can give them another year to improve.

In all, the double-F rule could affect an unprecedented eight elementary and middle schools around the state this year. Still more charter schools could face that reality next year, after 42 charters received F’s, the highest single-year total ever. That number rose in part because there are more charter schools, and in part because a change in state law led to more charters being graded.

Most of this year’s F-rated charters were receiving grades for the first time, either because they were new schools or too small to receive a grade the year before. Among the first-year charters that struggled was University Preparatory Academy, a high-profile effort to bring more education options to southern Pinellas County.

For many new charter schools – especially those that serve overwhelmingly low-income or minority students – it’s common to receive poor grades in the early going, and then improve over time.

KIPP Impact Middle School in Jacksonville was struggling with an F four years ago. This year, it posted some of the highest scores in its history, and snared a B. Two other charter schools received F’s as their first-ever grades in 2013, only to climb all the way to B’s this year.

Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: School choice, charter schools, Common Core and more

School choice. In an editorial, the Florida Times-Union criticizes the way school choice legislation passed this year, but also argues school districts should offer students more options. The Pinellas school board agrees to expand its magnet offerings but shelves a plan to add more fundamental schools. Tampa Bay Times. A federal grant could help the district diversify its offerings. Tampa Tribune.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. Students at an Alachua County charter school are headed back to school. Gainesville Sun.

Common Core. Glenn Beck leads a national event mobilizing people against the standards. Sunshine State News.

Safety. A lawsuit contends an inflatable sumo match gone wrong led to child’s brain injury at a Miami-Dade charter school. Miami Herald.

School grades. Parents rally around an IB program despite the school’s grade falling to a D. Miami Herald.

Funding. Polk Schools see a slight funding boost. Lakeland Ledger. Manatee schools project a surplus. Bradenton HeraldSarasota Herald-Tribune.

Minority students. Duval schools support a national effort to close the achievement gap. Florida Times-Union.

Continue Reading →


Study: Charter schools get more bang for the buck

A study released Tuesday finds charter schools as a whole are more cost-effective than district schools.

The study by researchers at the University of Arkansas has produced the first national comparison of the “relative productivity” of the two sectors, drawing on school budgets and student performance data from 27 states and the District of Columbia. The study concludes “charter schools are consistently more productive than traditional public schools” for all of the states it covered.

The researchers gauged school productivity by two measures: Cost-effectiveness, based on student scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress per $1,000 in per-pupil revenue, and return on investment, which is based on predictions of students’ future earnings. To score better in either analysis, charters would have to either produce better results for students, receive less funding, or both.

The results may not come as a total surprise to many who follow education policy in Florida, where charter schools generally perform comparably to district-run schools, but do so on smaller budgets.

Charter performance matrix

The study finds charter schools in various states tend to either bring better student achievement, receive lower funding, or both.

An earlier study, also by the University of Arkansas’s Department of Education Reform, found charters typically operate on substantially fewer funds than their district-run counterparts.

The newest findings could lend more fuel to the debate over equitable funding for charter schools. The researchers sound a note of caution on that point, pointing out that while more funding per student is associated with better results, the effect of additional funding tends to be small. They do note that “much of the basis for the higher productivity of public charter schools rests on the fact that they receive less funding and therefore are highly disciplined in their use of those education dollars.”

Although an argument can be made that students in public charter schools should be funded at a level that is more equal to the student funding levels in (traditional public schools), and we make that very argument in our revenue study, that argument is grounded in the issue of fairness more so than any empirical certainty that charter schools would continue to be more productive than traditional public schools were all public schools funded equally.

On the measures examined in the study, charters in Washington, D.C. stand out: They outpace traditional public schools by a wider margin on both measures of productivity than those in any of the states. The researchers rank Florida fourth of 22 jurisdictions for cost-effectiveness, and 14 of 21 areas examined for return on investment.

Albert Cheng, a University of Arkansas doctoral fellow and one of the study’s authors, said there are strengths and weaknesses in both measures, one of which is closely tied to student NAEP scores and one that projects further into students’ futures.

“We felt that both would be valuable pieces to include in debates,” he said. “The bottom line is that both have the same result” — a greater bang for the buck in charter schools.

In nearly half the states included in the study, charters serve greater proportions of students who qualify for the federal school lunch program, which indicates they serve more disadvantaged populations. That is not the case in Florida.

Still, the researchers took steps to control for student characteristics. They also note that many of the states where charters do serve disproportionate numbers of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches perform relatively well on their productivity measures. As a result, they write: “Any claim that the higher productivity of charters relative to (traditional public schools) is because charters serve a more advantaged population would be undermined.”