Lessons from school choice in Florida

lessons learnedFor the last month, the North Carolina legislature has been debating whether to create a scholarship program to help low-income families pay the tuition and fees at qualified K-12 private schools. Since this proposal closely parallels Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, I’ve traveled to Raleigh three times in recent weeks to discuss what we’ve learned in Florida about school choice over the last 10 years and how these lessons might apply to the North Carolina program.

Below are the lessons learned I’ve shared with supporters and opponents:

  • All parents want to match their children with the schools that best meet their needs. This is not a political or ideological decision for parents. They just want to do what’s best for their children.
  • Low-income parents have fewer schooling options than more affluent parents. Scholarships provide low-income families with more options. Scholarships don’t level the playing field, but they move us toward greater equality of opportunity for disadvantaged children.
  • Low-income parents don’t have a bias for or against neighborhood schools, magnet schools, charter schools, virtual schools or private schools. Their schooling decisions are pragmatic. They just want access to schools that work for their children.
  • Every child and every school is different. Schools that work great for some children fail others. The challenge for parents is matching each child with the school that works best for him or her.
  •  Children and schools are constantly changing. A school that works for a child one year may not work for this child the next year. When the relationship between a child and a school is no longer successful, low-income parents with scholarships find another school. Low-income parents without scholarships don’t have this option. Continue Reading →


Father Andrew Greeley, choiceniks’ ally



Editor’s note: Among many other things, Father Andrew Greeley, who passed away last week, was a champion of Catholic schools. According to the New York Times obituary, “His research debunked the received view at the time that Catholics had low college attendance rates. He found instead that white Catholics earned bachelor’s degrees and pursued advanced degrees at higher rates than other whites, and he attributed their success to the quality of education in parochial schools, a controversial assertion in a time of public school ascendancy.” As John E. Coons writes in this post, the school choice movement also considered him one of its own.

Andrew Greeley was a friend and a puzzle. We first met in 1978 at a conference of the National Catholic Educational Association. James Coleman – that other splendid Chicago sociologist – had written the introduction to a new book of Steve Sugarman’s and myself; it was about school choice, and Coleman thought Andy and we should connect. Sporadically, over the next 30 years we enjoyed a rather lively reciprocity.

I had known Greeley’s work on Catholic schools and their role in the larger civic order. His 60’s book with Peter Rossi – “The Education of Catholic Americans” - was suggestive to anyone hoping to liberate the inner-city child from a public system that only helped secure his permanent dependence. Sugarman, William Clune, and I took added confidence in arguing (1968, 1970) that any constitutional solution to our warped and irrational distribution of support among public schools not foreclose the state’s assistance to families to make their own choice – including private religious schools.

In respect of school choice Greeley contributed principally – but very effectively – as an intellectual source. His work in the 80’s with Michael Hout on the social picture of life in Catholic schools and their intellectual and social payoff was, I think, a constant resource for those more on the front line. He was emotionally committed to the institution and publicly regretted what he saw as the shameful and unnecessary closing of parish schools in Chicago. All choiceniks saw him as an ally. If not a spear carrier, he was the ideal quartermaster. His relative distance from politics preserved his academic stature, and – prudently – he stayed in the intellectual background and fed the troops. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Common Core, teachers, Manatee school district & more

Teachers. Either masochists or saints. StateImpact Florida.

florida roundup logoTeacher conduct. The Gilchrist County teacher  of the  year is put on leave following allegations of inappropriate conduct with female students. Gainesville Sun.

Teacher pay. The chair of the Marion County School Board says 160 first-year teachers will be spared their jobs if all teachers forgo their state bonus money. Ocala Star Banner.

Teacher protest. Two Manatee High teachers unveil a mural replica of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” – their version made from garbage because the district did not have money for materials – to protest budget cuts. Bradenton Herald and Sarasota Herald Tribune.

Subs. Recent graduates from a Palm Beach County high school give back – by returning as substitute teachers. Palm Beach Post.

Charter schools. A struggling charter in Deland is fighting to stay open. Daytona Beach News Journal.

Common Core. Will Common Core state standards undermine school choice? Jay P. Greene: Yes. Checker Finn: No.

School spending. Small towns in Miami-Dade chip in to pay for a school nurse. Miami Herald.

School districts. Manatee is in a crisis “more dire than anticipated,” new Superintendent Rick Mills says, according to the Bradenton Herald. District officials release an economic recovery plan, reports the Sarasota Herald Tribune. Continue Reading →


Leaving public school to follow her faith

After 13 years teaching in the public school district, Merili Wyatte went to work for a private school. It was a chance to see her own children, who attend the school. And an opportunity to work in an environment where her religion was a part of the curriculum.

After 13 years teaching in the public school district, Merili Wyatte went to work for a private school. It was a chance to spend more time with her son and daughter, who attend the school. And to work in an environment where her religion was part of the curriculum.

This is the second story in an occasional series that looks at teachers and school choice. Read our first story here.

For years, Merili Wyatte was a special needs pre-kindergarten teacher at a perpetually A-rated traditional public school in Tampa, Fla. She loved the Title I school, her coworkers and her students. “My experience in public school was really good,’’ she said.

But the Seventh-Day Adventist and her husband sent their two children to Tampa Adventist Academy, a 155-student private school with prekindergarten through the 11th grade where Jesus is a big part of the daily lesson.

“I wanted my kids to be surrounded by that … kind of like a filter,’’ Wyatte said.

teachers and choice logoOne day, she found herself longing for that same environment.

Bring up school choice, and most people focus on what it means to parents and students. But as the school choice movement continues to grow, teachers are searching for options that work better for them, too.

Nationally, there are 602,900 private school teachers, 3.2 million district school teachers and 72,000 charter school teachers, according to the most recent figures available. There aren’t statistics, though, that track whether teachers leave public schools for private school, or explain why educators choose a charter or virtual school over a traditional one.

Anecdotal evidence points to a variety of reasons, from a desire for better pay or hours, to an opportunity to try something new or, as in Wyatte’s case, to follow personal convictions and be closer to her children.

Wyatte has a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida in specific learning disabilities and is half way to a master’s. After 13 years in the system, she left the Hillsborough County school district three years ago to teach kindergarten at Tampa Adventist. There she can interact with her son, 8, on the playground or at lunch, and keep an eye on her 15-year-old daughter.

“There’s a boy she likes,’’ Wyatte said. “I like that I can look out my door – and they know I’m looking.’’ Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charter schools, career academies, dual enrollment & more

Bang for the buck. Florida’s education system gets a lot of it. Florida Watchdog.

florida roundup logoCharter schools. Broward sees its eighth charter school close this year, raising questions about accountability, reports the South Florida Sun Sentinel. The Imagine charter schools network will close its struggling elementary school in Pinellas, but keep its middle school open, reports Gradebook. The C-rated Athenian Academy charter school in Pasco is suing the school district for barring its plans to grow enrollment, reports the Tampa Bay Times.

Career education. A Pasco student in Wiregrass Ranch High’s information technology career academy highlights the potential of choice and career education. Tampa Bay Times. The Tampa Tribune writes up the changes in graduation requirements that put more value on career education.

Dual enrollment. The Palm Beach County school district and Palm Beach State College are hoping to hash out an agreement over dual enrollment costs in the wake of a legislative change. Palm Beach Post.

FCAT. More results coming this week. Gradebook. Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: Charters in Texas, dual enrollment in Arizona, school choice in Arkansas & more

North Carolina: The private school voucher bill continues to raise questions as it moves through the Legislature (Winston-Salem Journal).

MondayRoundUpTexas: The Legislature passes a bill that gradually expands the number of charter schools from 215 to 305 by 2019 (Associated Press). A new bill would expand the virtual school program and let high school students take up to three online courses a year, paying for additional classes if they choose (The Dallas Morning News).

Utah: Highmark Charter School offers basic business skills, including entrepreneurship, to students in K-8 grades (Education Week).

Alabama: Democrats say they’ll use the education act, which included new school choice tax credits to help parents pay for private school, to get Republican supporters voted out of office (Associated Press).

Arizona: A growing number of students are earning high school diplomas and college credits through dual-enrollment programs (Arizona Republic).

Michigan: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush talks about the need for parents and students to have more school choice options (Detroit Free Press).

Wisconsin: Lawmakers back away from Gov. Scott Walker’s plans for a statewide charter school board and voucher expansion (State Journal). Republicans are working on a deal that would increase funding for public schools and extend a school voucher program (Journal Sentinel).

Louisiana: Students using private school vouchers performed worse on state standardized tests than their public counterparts (Times-Picayune). Continue Reading →


Parent: Charter school conversion idea sparked by frustration with school district

The former superintendent abruptly resigned amidst a budget shortfall. The new superintendent came under fire immediately for alleged plagiarism. Now teacher positions are being cut.

Given that backdrop, some parents at one of the most popular magnet schools in Manatee County, Fla., say it’s obvious why they want to convert the district school into an independent charter.

They’re worried Rowlett Elementary will lose the special programs and dedicated teachers that made it so successful. And they don’t believe district leaders, mired in a budget crisis that promises drastic cuts, know what they’re doing.

Asked if she had doubts that district administrators could keep Rowlett a top performing school and properly run the district, parent Jessica Nehrboss said this: “Absolutely. I have no doubt in my mind. I have no doubt in my mind and it’s more apparent than ever that they can’t. The county has absolutely proven they cannot handle it.’’

Nehrboss is a mother of four with a fourth-grader at the school and a rising kindergartner. She and other parents will be voting next month on whether to convert Rowlett. Teachers will also be voting. If a majority of each group says yes, the school will apply to the district for a charter.

If Nehrboss’ assessment sounds harsh, consider this: The 44,000-student district is under a spending freeze that has at least one middle school principal so desperate, he is asking parents for donations to make it through the end of the school year. Meanwhile, the proposal to eliminate 182 teaching positions next fall has prompted a petition from a parent who doesn’t believe the district’s projections are accurate. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: bullying, teacher conduct, eyeball scanners & more

Bullying. Gov. Rick Scott signs the anti-bullying bill into law. Gradebook.

florida roundup logoTeacher conduct. A private school teacher in West Delray is under investigation for allegations of sex with a student, reports the South Florida Sun Sentinel. State officials are investigating whether a Collier County teacher verbally abused students, reports the NBC-2. A fired Duval teacher appeals, claiming age discrimination, reports the Florida Times Union.

Gays and lesbians. A federal judge rules in favor of a Lake County middle school student who wants to create a Gay Straight Alliance at her school. Orlando Sentinel.

K-8 schools. Orange County is going to create more of them. StateImpact Florida.

Spelling bee. A home school student from South Florida makes it to the semifinals, reports the Miami Herald. The winner, Arvind Mahankali of New York, is the sixth straight Indian-American to win and the 11th in the last 15 years. Continue Reading →