Florida must embrace alternate visions of public education. Now.


How much concern should the citizens of Florida have for the unprecedented change in store for the state’s age demographics? The chart below displays projected increase in youth and elderly populations by state, focusing on the top 10 states for youth population growth. Keep in mind these are increases, not totals.


Some of the smallest columns on the above charts should inspire the most fear. Nevada, for instance, has about 400,000 students in its public school system at the moment. Good luck with that. I’m sure the eyes of Floridians have already been drawn to what will appear to them as the most frightening column on the page – a 4.35 million increase in the elderly population. Notice that fellow mega-states California and Texas not only have smaller increases, but also start with much larger populations with which to attempt to wrestle with these problems.

Don’t get entirely distracted with the increase in the elderly population because it is only part of Florida’s challenge. As discussed in earlier posts, the percentage of the population that is working-age is set to shrink in all 50 states, and Florida has the problem in spades. This foretells a fierce, looming battle over scarce public dollars for health care and K-12.


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redefinED roundup: private school testing in Fla., ESA’s in Miss., virtual school in Maine & more


Alaska: Not all Republicans agree on changing the constitution to allow private school vouchers for students to attend religious schools (Anchorage Daily News, Education Week). Could private schools discriminate based on religious beliefs if they accept public funds (Anchorage Daily News)? The editorial board of the Anchorage Daily News argues that the constitutional amendment to allow public funding of private schools should be vetted in the state’s education committee.

Arizona: A proposed bill in the state legislature will allow students eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch access to Empowerment Scholarship Accounts and increase the household income cap by 15 percent per year (East Valley Tribune, Arizona Daily Sun). Opponents of school choice are upset that the state superintendent is making low-income parents aware of all of their educational options, including the right to attend a private school (Arizona Republic, Washington PostTucson Weekly, Tucson Weekly).

Arkansas: Americans United for the Separation of Church and State complains about two charter schools teaching creationism in biology class (Arkansas Times).

California: The superintendent of LA public schools speaks favorably of school choice (Joanne Jacobs). The state leads the nation in charter school growth and enrollment (Contra Costa Times). The school district in San Diego makes requirements for charter schools more difficult if the charters want access to public construction dollars approved by voters (The Voice of San Diego). A city employee who vandalized a public school, which was being taken over by a charter school, may lose her job (Hechinger Report).

Connecticut: Public support grows for a new charter school in Bridgeport (Connecticut Post).

Florida: After failing to get a public middle school built in the neighborhood, parents in Woodville now support a proposed charter middle school (Tallahassee Democrat). Some members of the Florida legislature want to add a FCAT testing requirement to school choice students (Orlando Sentinel). The state saw the 4th highest growth in charter school enrollment nationwide (Palm Beach Post). School choice and civil rights takes center stage at a debate on education (South Florida Times). The Palm Beach Post editorial board favors requiring charter schools to post a $250,000 bond in case they close or are shut down. U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) visits a private school serving low-income tax-credit scholarship students to talk about school choice (redefinED, Tampa Bay TimesTampa TribuneCreative Loafing). Potential changes to the state’s tax-credit program may be coming, including partial scholarships and sales tax credits (Tampa Bay Times). The state’s tax credit scholarship program provides opportunities to disadvantaged students in the state (WEAR TV). Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Vouchers, private schools, charters & more

Vouchers: Sen. President Don Gaetz says he supports private school vouchers, but that students who participate in the program should be subject to the same or similar standardized tests that public school students take. Miami Herald. More from Orlando Sentinel. School choice is becoming more valuable for parents, who are turning to Step Up For Students and the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship  for help in finding the right fit for their children.  WEAR TV Channel 3.

florida-roundup-logoPrivate schools: St. Thomas Episcopal in Miami gets on loan from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration a display of lunar rocks, soil and meteorites. Miami Herald. 

Charter schools: Oasis High School, part of the Cape Coral charter school system, win 14 awards at the International Model UN conference hosted by Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. Fort Myers News-Press. In Hillsborough County, more than half of the existing charter schools have banded together to create a choice fair for families to learn about their offerings. Tampa Bay Times. Palm Beach County School District officials are working with two local legislators to introduce a bill that would require new charter schools to put up a $250,000 performance bond before they can open. Palm Beach Post.

Magnet schools: Public school leaders in Miami and elsewhere are refocusing on magnet schools as traditional public schools come under increasing pressure from charter schools and vouchers for private schools. The New York Times.

District schools: Polk County principals work to bring improvement to local schools. The Ledger.  Withnew writing coach and weekly boot camps, Hernando schools hope to pull up state test scores. Tampa Bay Times.

Collegiate high schools: Sen. John Legg proposes a bill to expand collegiate high schools, and spur community and state colleges to make more of an effort to engage high-schoolers in college-level courses. The Tampa Tribune.

Eric Cantor: GOP House Majority Leader Eric Cantor visits Academy Prep Center of Tampa to stump for school choice. redefinED. The Republican congressman from Virginia said the private middle school, which serves children in low-income families, is an example of how school choice can succeed. The Tampa Tribune. More from the Tampa Bay Times.

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Eric Cantor pitches school choice as path to realizing dreams

Cantor asked Academy Prep students in an all-boys technology class what they liked most about the school, and what they wanted to be when they grew up.

Cantor asked Academy Prep students in an all-boys technology class what they liked most about the school, and what they wanted to be when they grew up.

The Congressman from Virginia asked the Florida boys in navy pants and green polos what they wanted to be when they grew up. All of them in this middle school classroom were black or Hispanic. All had been awarded school choice scholarships for low-income students.

One by one, they offered their answers.

Architect. Engineer. Paleontologist. The next student said he was gunning for the NFL first, with a transition later to entrepreneur.

“There you go,” smiled the lawmaker, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

The exchange came Friday, during Cantor’s visit to Academy Prep, a private school in Tampa that routinely sends its low-income, minority students to top-tier high schools, and from there, to 4-year colleges. After meeting with students and parents, Cantor praised the school as a model for how expanded school choice can help more kids realize their dreams.

“When I go around the country and see kids your age, most kids don’t have this kind of privilege to have a school like this,” Cantor told the students. “We’re hoping to make sure every student your age can have this kind of privilege. Because you know why?”

“Every one of you just had a dream. And you know where you want to go, and you’re going to go for it,” Cantor continued. “That’s what being here allows you to do.”

Cantor has become a leading Republican voice for choice, with visits in the last year to either charter or voucher schools in Denver, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. He and other Republicans are putting a lot more attention on school choice at the federal level. Continue Reading →


Military families: Charter school would be closer, better, more responsive

For retired Air Force Sgt. Greg Parmer, having a K-8 charter school at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., would give military families more and better options for middle school.

For Amanda Madden, who lives on the base with her husband, a technical sergeant, and two sons, such a school would also be an opportunity for something better at the elementary school level.

“I’m more trusting of a school on base as opposed to a public (district) school,” she said.

Quality, convenience, a better fit for military families – supporters of a proposed charter school at MacDill have raised those points repeatedly in recent months as one of the best-known military bases in the country squares off against one of the nation’s biggest school districts. But conspicuously absent from the debate has been the voices of military families themselves.

In interviews with redefinED, Parmer and Madden echoed many of the concerns that other supporters have already raised. At the same time, they offered more detail about frustrations they say led them – and perhaps other military families – to consider the possibility of a charter school.

Greg Parmer, far right, poses with his family recently at MacDill Air Force Base. Parmer is among supporters of a proposed charter school on the base.  PHOTO provided by family.

Greg Parmer, far right, poses with his family and Col. Barry Roeper, far left, recently at MacDill Air Force Base. Parmer is among supporters of a proposed charter school on the base. PHOTO provided by family.

“Most of our families live in Brandon and Riverview (on the other side of town),’’ said Parmer, a father of three who lives near the base. Having a K-8 on base would be a huge plus for them, he said.

The proposed MacDill Charter Academy would serve up to 875 students and is being considered as the base expands housing to accommodate 600 new families. The Hillsborough County School Board voted down the academy application in December, citing problems with the school’s governing structure and other issues. But the school’s backers have appealed, with the state Charter School AppealCommission set to consider the matter on Feb. 24.

Parmer’s concerns focus on middle school options.

MacDill families have few complaints about Tinker Elementary, the A-rated elementary school that’s run by the district on base. But there is some grumbling about Monroe Middle School, which is near the base and earned a C grade from the state this year.

Parmer said he and his wife, Kimberly, who works as a secretary on the base, weren’t necessarily expecting a private-school atmosphere when they learned their daughter and son, and a nephew who lives with the family, would attend Monroe in 2011. But the school turned out to be culture shock for the Parmer kids, who had gone to U.S. Department of Defense schools in Germany and Japan. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Career tech, STEM ed, Eric Cantor & more

School choice: Florida’s changing educational landscape requires policymakers to strike a balance when it comes to school choice offerings, writes Duval County School Board member Jason Fischer for Context Florida.

florida-roundup-logoCareer tech: Five high schools around Orange County will get $1 million to expand career and technical programs on their campuses thanks to a grant from Dr. Phillips Charities. Orlando Sentinel. Students get to show off their techie skills in a recent regional competition. Tampa Bay Times.

STEM ed: A national nonprofit called Girls Who Code is working to grow the next generation of STEM–science, technology, engineering and math–stars in South Florida. StateImpact Florida.

Eric Cantor: U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor will tour Academy Prep Center of Tampa today. ABC Action News.

Legislation: StudentsFirst is pushing a bill that would require the state to create a statewide return on investment index and rating system for all schools. Tampa Bay Times. U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has introduced legislation that ends the practice of restraining or secluding students with disabilities who become out of control, something Florida has considered. Tampa Bay Times. A proposed bill would give school districts full control over textbook selection, removing the state from the process completely. Tampa Bay Times.

Common Core: The Orlando Sentinel provides readers with a Q&A on the new education standards.

Superintendents: Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has been named the country’s top schools chief. Miami Herald.

Teachers: Thomashefsky, or “Mr. T” as he’s called by his students, is the 2014 Lee County Teacher of the Year. Fort Myers News-Press.

State testing: Parents and teachers worry over heavy testing schedule. Orlando Sentinel.

School grades: Florida’s A-to-F school grading formula could be simplified this year with high school grades available months earlier. Orlando Sentinel.

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Balancing school choice, testing and accountability in FL

Editor’s note: Jason Fischer, a pro- school choice school board member in Duval County, Fla. penned an op-ed for today’s Context Florida in response to criticism of the testing requirements for students in Florida’s tax credit scholarship program. Here’s a snippet (and, full disclosure, the tax credit program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog):

Jason Fischer

Jason Fischer

Tax Credit Scholarships serve underprivileged children. The scholarship serves 59,674 students in 1,414 private schools this year. What we know at this point is that the students come from homes that struggle, with incomes on average that are only 9 percent above poverty, and with the majority headed by a single parent. We know more than two-thirds are black or Hispanic.

More importantly, we know the students who choose the scholarship are among the lowest performers in the public schools they leave behind. And we know this: these same students achieve the same gains in reading and math as students of all incomes nationally.

That’s encouraging data, but detractors call it irrelevant and “inscrutable” simply because the students don’t take the state FCAT. While it would be simpler if all students in all schools took the same test, the nationally norm-referenced tests required of scholarship students are undisputed tools of academic measurement. Also undisputed is their ability to gauge whether students are gaining or losing ground to their peers nationally.

So policymakers are sometimes required to strike a balance. Full op-ed here.


School choice opposition too often mired in myths

also a myth...

Bigfoot…also a myth…

Education is a complex and nuanced issue, and advocates on all sides need to be mindful not to overreach. Supporters of school choice sometimes overpromise the benefits of vouchers and tax-credit scholarships, leaving them open to attack. On the other side, school choice critics sometimes appeal to a mythical concept of the common/public school that never really existed.

Edward B. Fiske, a former New York Times education editor, and Helen F. Ladd, a professor at Duke University, demonstrate exactly this in a recent op-ed in the News & Observer. Fiske and Ladd keep their arguments simple: school choice is unconstitutional because it “destroys” the state’s ability to provide a free uniform system of education that is, as they say, “accessible to all students.”

Their argument may sound reasonable to a school choice critic, but the reasoning is grounded in mythology. Understanding this mythology exposes the underlying contradictions with the opposition to school choice.

First, it is a myth that common/public schools are open to every student. Students are assigned to schools and those schools are free to reject any student not within the school zone.

As Slate columnist Mathew Yglesias recently noted, the word “public” in public school really only means the school is government-owned and operated. He correctly observes that “a public school is by no means a school that’s open to the public in the sense that anyone can go there.”

Yglesias isn’t a school choice fanatic but he isn’t blind to the results of a zone-based attendance policy. The result turns neighborhood schools into a “system of exclusion.” Continue Reading →