I’m conservative, I’m for school choice and I back Common Core

Wendy Howard: Higher standards will mean our next generation is better prepared for college or the workforce. That’s good for kids, parents, taxpayers and our country.

Wendy Howard: Higher standards will mean our next generation is better prepared for college or the workforce. That’s good for kids, parents, taxpayers and our country.

Editor’s note: Wendy Howard is executive director of Florida Alliance for Choices in Education, a group that includes a wide range of school choice organizations, including Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog. A shorter version of this post ran this week as a letter to the editor in the Tampa Bay Times. Given Wendy’s conservative political bent, her staunch support for school choice and the concerns about Common Core, we thought it worthwhile to share a fuller version.

With attacks on the Common Core State Standards for education coming from both sides of the aisle, what are parents to think?

I’ve heard Common Core is Obama’s agenda to indoctrinate our children. I’ve heard it’s an unconstitutional federal takeover. I’ve even heard it’s a scheme to perform experiments nationwide on our next generation. After doing some research, I learned none of those concerns hold water. The bickering continues, however, while our children suffer the consequences.

The fact is, our kids need higher standards for education. Let’s look at a couple of disconcerting facts from the perspective of a parent with two children attending a public charter school.

Forty percent of Florida’s class of 2013 who took the ACT college entrance exam were graded “not college ready” in any subject, which is higher than the national average of 31 percent. As a parent, this has huge financial implications. If my children are part of these statistics, I will have to pay for remedial classes in college, something I simply cannot afford. As a taxpayer, I expect my child’s diploma to mean she actually succeeded in high school and can move right into college courses. As a nation, millions of kids and their parents are impacted each year when that turns out not to be the case.

Higher standards will mean our next generation is better prepared for college or the workforce. That’s good for kids, parents, taxpayers and our country.

Here’s another troubling statistic: Thirty percent of high school graduates can’t pass the U.S. military entrance exam, which is only focused on basic reading and math skills. At what point does the lack of high standards become a national security issue? If the learning gap between the U.S. and other countries continues to rise, which country becomes the next super power? What does our country look like in 20, 40, 60 years? I guess that depends on whether we look at the achievement gap between the U.S. and other countries as a crisis – or another issue we kick down the road. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: State grades, Common Core, mentors & more

Grade appeal: Two West Palm Beach County schools are among 12 in the state appealing their overall grades to the Florida Department of Education. Sun Sentinel.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools: Pinellas County’s newest charter school, University Preparatory Academy, draws complaints concerning students with behavioral problems. Tampa Bay Times.

Common Core: Will new Common Core standards mean less teaching to the test? StateImpact Florida.

Special needs: A Palm Beach high school culinary club partners with Autism Speaks to develop a cooking program that helps kids with autism make friends. Sun Sentinel.

Enrollment: Palm Beach County schools lose more than 1,000 students in official district count while charter school enrollment booms. Palm Beach Post.

Drop in: Orange County educators will visit former students who have dropped out of school to persuade them to return. Orlando Sentinel.

Mentors: What the Polk County School District needs now is more mentors, says the district’s Superintendent Kathryn LeRoy. The Ledger.

The arts: “Orange County has reached a milestone,” writes columnist Scott Maxwell. “We have at least one art or music teacher in every school. That is both impressive … and sad.” Orlando Sentinel.

Name change: A social media campaign gains steam toward changing the name of a Jacksonville high school named after the first grand wizard of the Klu Klux Klan. Florida Times-Union.

Continue Reading →

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Plenty of upside for AP push

Between 2003 and 2012, the number of low-income graduating seniors passing at least one AP exam climbed from 32,523 to 120,254. That’s an increase of 270 percent. That’s amazing.

Between 2003 and 2012, the number of low-income graduating seniors passing at least one AP exam climbed from 32,523 to 120,254. That’s an increase of 270 percent. That’s amazing.

Every few months, a major media outlet writes an expose about Advanced Placement classes. The stories (like this one and this one and this one) question the success of large-scale campaigns to expose minority and low-income students to the rigors of AP, using a jumble of numbers to make their case. Unfortunately, they’re often unfairly selective and tend to ignore an undeniably inspiring trend: More poor students are taking and passing AP courses than ever before.

I covered the AP push as a reporter in Florida. There’s plenty that merits scrutiny. I don’t think AP is the end-all, be-all. But on balance, the evidence suggests it has been a good thing – and the kind of good thing public school champions should be the first to highlight.

In the Florida case, public schools showed they can be responsive to low-income kids. For decades, and for no good reason, low-income kids were denied access to college-caliber AP classes, the nearly exclusive domain of white kids in the ‘burbs. So better late than never, schools in the Sunshine State opened the doors, raised expectations and gave students and teachers extra support.

I don’t know off-hand what the AP numbers are like from state to state; I don’t doubt some states have done a better job than others. But the national numbers, like the ones I got to know pretty well in Florida, suggest a lot of positive.

So I’m stumped as to why many stories are so negative – and why they leave out key numbers. The recent Politico story noted that between 2002 and 2012, the pass rate on AP tests fell from 61 percent to 57 percent. That’s true. But the story minimized the fact that because of vastly higher participation rates – and the success of so many of those new participants – hundreds of thousands of additional students are not just taking the tests every year, but passing them.

Forgive me while I highlight my own jumble of numbers: In 2002, 305,098 graduating seniors in the U.S. had passed at least one AP exam. By 2012, the number was 573,472. That’s an 88 percent increase. That’s excellent.

The numbers for low-income students are even more impressive. Between 2003 and 2012 (2002 figures were not available from the College Board), the number of low-income graduating seniors passing at least one exam climbed from 32,523 to 120,254. That’s an increase of 270 percent. That’s amazing.

Passing an AP test is a pretty good indicator those kids are college ready. More important, it shows they belonged in those classes all along. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Common Core, media specialists, enrollment & more

Common Core: The Florida Department of Education is tweeting a Standard of the Day to help the public understand the new Common Core State Standards. The Buzz. More from StateImpact Florida.

florida-roundup-logoMRSA rumor: An Orange County principal quells rumors of a MRSA outbreak at Boone High School when eight football players are sent to doctors because of skin infections. One student is diagnosed with a Staph infection. Orlando Sentinel.

Media specialists: Many Duval County high schools drop the media specialists while many elementary schools opt to have one part-time or full-time. Florida Times-Union.

Enrollment: Fewer students than anticipated are enrolled in Lee County schools. Fort Myers News-Press. The Hernando County School District has implemented a temporary hiring freeze after initial enrollment numbers fell below staff projections. Tampa Bay Times. Enrollment in Pinellas County Schools is down slightly again this year. Tampa Bay Times. Pasco County’s student population is definitely on the rise. Just not as fast as district officials originally thought. Tampa Bay Times.

Eligibility: Hillsborough County School Board Chairwoman April Griffin writes a letter to the Florida High School Athletics Association to reconsider a ruling that a student was ineligible to play sports at Plant High, despite her own district’s similar ruling. The Tampa Tribune. More from the Tampa Bay Times.

An “A” school: Pinellas County’s Lakewood High has never been rated an A before by the state – until now. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher pay: Pinellas County schools and the local teachers union tentatively agree to provide employees in that bargaining unit with 5 percent across-the-board raises. Tampa Bay Times.

Disaster plans: Florida is among states that lack disaster plans to protect children in school. Associated Press.

Ben Gamla: Ben Gamla Charter School parents are upset after comments by a civic activist renew the debate over whether or not the Broward County public school teaches religion. Sun Sentinel.

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Florida schools roundup: Holocaust studies, Ben Carson, teacher pay & more

Charter schools: Miami-Dade County school officials sign off on a $4.3 billion budget that for the first time includes $300 million for charter schools. Miami Herald. 

florida-roundup-logoHolocaust studies: For Broward and Palm Beach county students who face bullying, peer pressure and prejudice in school, learning about the Holocaust is becoming increasingly relevant. Sun Sentinel.

Ben Carson: The nationally renowned doctor turned public speaker shares his story of resilience and success with students of all ages at Lake Wales High School. The Ledger.

Tax credit scholarships: About half of the students in Flagler County’s private schools use Florida tax-credit scholarships to pay tuition; so do a quarter of the students in Volusia County’s private schools. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Teacher pay: Pinellas County schools and the local teachers union tentatively agree to a 5.6 percent average raise for teachers and a bump in starting teacher salaries. Tampa Bay Times. Salary negotiations hit a snag as officials look at tutoring vs. teaching. Tampa Bay Times.

Report cards: Palm Beach County second-graders will get new report cards without the traditional A through F grades. Sun Sentinel.

Common Core: Hernando County School Board members share concerns about the new standards, including the fear of losing local control, financial constraints and the possibility of excessive testing. Tampa Bay Times.

City post: Annmarie Kent-Willette, who teaches communications at Jacksonville University, is Jacksonville’s new education commissioner. Florida Times-Union. 

Continue Reading →

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The Sunshine State’s school spending data could use more sunshine

school spendingFlorida earns high marks for its innovative education reforms and strong academic performance, but its level of financial transparency leaves much to be desired. In a new report from the Cato Institute on financial transparency, the Florida Department of Education earned a D for the data published on its website.

The report, “Cracking the Books: How Well Do State Education Departments Report Public School Spending?”, examines the spending data that all 50 state education departments make available to the public on their websites. The report reveals that very few state education departments provide complete and timely financial data that is understandable to the general public.

As in school, these grades are intended to be informative, not punitive. Since Florida has a record of striving to improve, here are a few ways the FLDOE could be more transparent with its data:

1) Report total per pupil expenditures, not just operating. Half of all state education departments publish total per pupil expenditure (PPE) figures but Florida does not. At present, the FLDOE’s “Financial Profiles of Florida Districts” only includes “current expenditures per UFTE (unweighted full-time equivalent),” which excludes expenditures for capital projects and debt service. While these expenditures are reported separately, citizens looking for the total cost per pupil would have to break out a calculator.

The differences between total and operating PPE can be quite significant. According to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics (2009-10), Florida’s total PPE was $10,283 on average that year while Florida’s Financial Profiles reported that operating PPE was only $8,578.

Moreover, citizens looking for the change in PPE over time would have to gather the data from multiple reports since the FLDOE does not provide a single chart or table displaying that data. By contrast, the FLDOE does provide a table showing the change in average employee salaries over time.

2) Break down total salary data and publish average employee benefits. Continue Reading →

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Next week: A live chat with Rick Hess

Hess

Hess

Nothing gets critics of school choice and education reform more riled up than the specter of privatization. The response from Rick Hess: It’s complicated. For-profits in education can bring problems, he says. But they can also be a big help.

Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, is co-editor (along with Michael B. Horn of the Christensen Institute) of a new book on the subject, “Private Enterprise and Public Education.” He’ll be our guest next week, in a live chat, to talk about it.

“Of course, the record of private ventures in education, as in other sectors, is mixed. It’s no wiser to romanticize for-profit providers than to demonize them,” says the book’s introduction. But, it continues, “For-profit enterprises have brought innovative power to an array of sectors. Given sensible policies and quality-control mechanisms, the particular strengths of for-profits can make them an invaluable part of the education tapestry.”

The chat isn’t limited to the book. Among many other hats, Hess is executive editor of EducationNext and author of the “Straight Up” blog at Education Week. He frequently weighs in on a wide range of ed topics, and doesn’t fit neatly into anybody’s ed reform box. So, ask away.

It’ll help to send some questions in advance. You can post them here, or on the redefinED facebook page, or tweet them to us @redefinedonline.

To participate in the chat, just come back to the blog on Monday, Sept. 9 at 1:30 p.m. You’ll have a full hour to ask away.

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Florida KIPP still looking for traction

One of the most celebrated charter school outfits in the country has yet to hit its stride in Florida. The KIPP Impact Middle School in Jacksonville saw its school grade fall from a B to a C this year, and it was spared from sliding further by a state “safety net.”

Tom Majdanics

Tom Majdanics

Still, organizers are optimistic that great things are still to come.

“There is a sort of tortoise and hare component to this work,’’ said KIPP Jacksonville Executive Director Tom Majdanics. “We realize we certainly have a lot more work to do, but we’re still in the early innings.’’

KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) schools are nationally renowned for focusing on high-poverty students and setting the bar high for academic success. When the Jacksonville KIPP opened in 2010 to 80 fifth-graders – a model favored by KIPP – U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan cut the ribbon.

“I want every child in the country to have these kinds of opportunities, where there are such high expectations, where there’s a college going culture from day one,’’ he said at the time.

In 2010, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan cut the grand-opening ribbon at KIPP Impact Middle School.

In 2010, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan cut the grand-opening ribbon at KIPP Impact Middle School in Jacksonville, Fla.

Despite the high hopes, the school ended its first year with an F. The next year, it rebounded to a B, with progress fueled in large part by big learning gains for sixth-graders in reading and math. But even with those sixth-graders moving on to seventh-grade last year, KIPP fell to a C.

The school would have earned a D without a provision the state Board of Education passed in July to keep schools from falling more than one letter grade. Gary Chartrand, BOE chairman, is a member of the KIPP Impact board of director and helped bring the school to Florida.

The cushion affected hundreds of schools, with district schools benefitting at a higher rate than charters.

“We still made gains, but not as eye-popping as the year before,’’ said Majdanics, who noted a few factors that influenced the grade.

Because KIPP Impact didn’t have eighth-graders last year, school grading rules required it be given the average writing score for the school district it’s located in – and Majdanics suggested KIPP would have scored higher. The school also didn’t have the opportunity to earn extra points, like other middle schools did, by enrolling eighth-graders in Algebra I.

“That would have been a healthy boost to our grade’’ and landed the school a solid C without the safety net, Majdanics said.

Continue Reading →

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