Democrats divided on ed reform shouldn’t forget Republican inroads



Earlier this year, during the last week of Florida’s legislative session, House Speaker Will Weatherford stood in the rotunda of Florida’s Capitol, posing for pictures with student activists who thanked him for helping push through a bill that had divided legislative Republicans. Earlier that day, the Senate had teed up a vote to grant in-state tuition to immigrants who had come to the country illegally as young children.DONKEY1a

The activists, many of them Latinos, were now posing for pictures with the Republican Speaker, who, still in his thirties, may have a long political career ahead of him and who, at the same time, was helping to push separate legislation to expand school choice. It was possible in that moment to imagine the self-described acolyte of Florida’s “education governor” rebuilding a more diverse, right-of-center coalition like the one that helped Florida elect two Bushes but frayed in two straight presidential elections as the state backed Barack Obama. It was possible to see him laying the groundwork for an equal opportunity platform in which education would be a key plank.

This week, it also became possible to envision Democrats seizing that mantle – if they can resolve their own internal feuding enough to beat Republicans to it. The timing turned out to be ideal for “Dem Divide,” a series of redefinED posts that explored Democrats’ current divisions on ed reform and parental choice – and ways they might be overcome.

As Dana Goldstein noted last Sunday on MSNBC, “the politics have changed.”

The Obama administration is at odds with the two major teachers unions on charter schools, teacher tenure and other issues, with tensions that trace back to the 2008 campaign, when the unions supported Hillary Clinton. But, as Goldstein suggested, Clinton may be preparing to triangulate toward an embrace of charter schools, too, as her husband already has. Why? Because from New York to Indiana to Florida, the news is increasingly Dem vs. Dem.

It’s worth recapping what the voices in the redefinED series had to say about it.

Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Single-gender schools, testing, accountability and more

Single gender. The Hillsborough District responds to an ACLU complaint. Tampa Tribune.

Tax credit scholarships.Sunshine State News reports on the latest evaluation of student results.

florida-roundup-logoDigital learning. A Collier bring-your-own device policy proves popular. Naples Daily News.

Testing. The Lee County School Board discusses a district-wide testing boycott. Fort Myers News-Press.

Accountability. Brevard’s superintendent discusses falling school grades. Florida Today.

Budgets. The Manatee school district faces an investigation into bond funding it could not account for. Bradenton Herald.

Campaigns. A “contract” between voters and five school board candidates stirs controversy in Collier. Naples Daily News. The Tampa Bay Times profiles a three-way race for an open school board seat in Pinellas while a columnist looks at a controversial incumbent in Hillsborough. The Tampa Tribune profiles a different Pinellas race, while the Bradenton Herald looks at one in Manatee.

English language learners. Pinellas looks to review its policies for students who need help learning English. Tampa Tribune.

Superintendents. Hillsobrough’s MaryEllen Elia gets a contract renewal. Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Tribune.

Facilities. Polk County delays the release of impact fee revenue to the local school district. Lakeland Ledger.


Study: Florida tax credit scholarship students continue to keep pace

The low-income students who participate in the country’s largest K-12 private school choice program are keeping pace with students of all income levels nationally, according to the latest independent evaluation.

The latest annual report, released Tuesday, tracks learning gains for participants in the Florida tax credit scholarship program in the 2012-13 school year.

Overall, the results are similar to previous years. The report shows students who participate in the program are among the state’s most disadvantaged, and that on average, they meet one of the most basic expectations for student learning: A year’s worth of growth after a year’s worth of instruction.

Each year, schools that serve students on the scholarship program report their test scores to an independent research team led by David Figlio of Northwestern University, who analyzes their performance on national norm-referenced tests and compares the results to students nationwide.

This is the seventh such report, and the bottom line is familiar. As Figlio writes, tax credit scholarship “participants on average keep pace with national norms, suggesting that they neither gain ground nor lose ground on average relative to a national peer group that includes not just low-income families but also higher-income families.”

The report also finds:

  • Students who participate in the program, which is expected to serve 67,000 next year, tend to be among the most disadvantaged, not only compared to public school students as a whole, but also among the low-income students who qualify for scholarships.
  • They come disproportionately from low-performing schools, and tend to be among the lowest performers on standardized tests, a tendency Figlo notes is “becoming stronger over time.” Similarly, students who leave the program and return to public school tend to be the lowest performers among scholarship students.
  • The typical student in the program scores in the 47th percentile nationally in reading, and in the 45th percentile in math – numbers Figlio notes have changed very little over time.

Data on student learning gains have more or less held constant from one year to the next, though the report notes wide variation among students in the program. More than one in 10 students fell behind by more than 20 percentile points in reading, while exactly one in 10 made outsize gains of the same amount. The numbers for math were similar.

There was also major variation between schools.  Continue Reading →


Money leads Democrats to put teachers unions over poor kids

Gloria Romero

Gloria Romero

Editor’s note: This is the last post in our series on the Democratic Party’s growing divide over ed reform and ed choice.

While in the belly of the beast of government, I had a front row seat on how the wheels of government are greased to function for politically connected interests. Over time, I chose not to just be a cog in the ever-churning wheel of special interests and status quo, from both the left and the right. I saw a political system, led by Democrats, that was all too willing to ignore the needs of ordinary citizens, particularly the poor and minority kids I represented in East Los Angeles.DONKEY1a

There is no aspect of state government operations or public policy in California, particularly education policy and budgeting, that is untouched by the power of the California Teachers Association (CTA) and its affiliates in Sacramento. With approximately 300,000 members, each paying some $1,000 a year in dues, it commands the most powerful war chest in California, raising over $300 million annually to finance its operations. From 2000-2010, CTA spent over $210 million on political campaigning — more than any other donor in the state, even outspending the pharmaceutical, oil, and tobacco industries combined.

Its political war chest is legendary. It dominates elections, including school board races in which voter turnout is anemic, often less than 10 percent. Political consultants fear crossing them because of the potential to be “blacklisted.” Almost half the entire California budget funds education thanks to Proposition 98, a 1988 initiative crafted by CTA. Democratic legislators fear interfering with it even though few understand how the formula functions.

Former Democratic Senate President Don Perata was one of the few to challenge it, comparing it to a “runaway escalator.” In retribution, CTA ran ads against him. It was not interested in “taking him out”; rather, the message was akin to sending dead fish to fellow caucus members so they would have to choose loyalty: their own president or CTA.

Former CTA staffers are ensconced in legislative leadership offices. Legislation benefiting their membership flies through the Capitol. Indeed, class size reduction was sold to voters as “benefiting kids.” In fact, it has more so grown the numbers of dues-paying members rather than improved the academic skills of, particularly, poor and minority children.

California teachers are amongst the highest-paid in the nation; yet, there is little accountability for student achievement or teacher performance. Laws make it almost impossible to fire teachers for incompetence or misconduct. Charter schools, mostly non-union, are attacked by the teachers unions. Any hint of privatization, including opportunity scholarships for kids in failing schools, are “off the table.” The 2010 Parent Empowerment Act I wrote, giving parents unprecedented tools to fight for their kid, like parent trigger and open enrollment, continues to be vilified.

Money flows to those who control the levers of power, and in California that means Democrats. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Charter schools, campaigns, facilities and more

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. Charters in conflict with the Hillsborough school district say they want the matter brought to a hearing. Tampa Tribune. Gradebook. Conflict is brewing over a proposed municipal charter school in West Palm Beach. Palm Beach Post.

Back to school. Frank Biden rallies charter school educators as they prepare for the new year. Palm Beach Post. Seminole, the third district to open for classes, sees a smooth start. Orlando Sentinel.

Acceleration. Alachua schools will allow some eighth graders to take Advanced Placement Physics. Gainesville Sun.

Graduation. New rules, including an online course requirement, take effect for the Class of 2015. Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers.

Campaigns. The Tampa Tribune looks at a crowded field and an ethnic attack in Hillsborough school board races. Brevard holds a forum on a tax referendum. Florida Today. The superintendent looms large in Clay County school board elections. Florida Times-Union. The Bradenton Herald profiles two Manatee County School Board races. Collier school board candidates take part in a forum. Naples Daily News. The Northwest Florida Daily News offers a voters guide.

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Customization now among education’s fundamentals

Sen. John Legg

Sen. John Legg

As summer comes to a close and school doors get ready to open, one needs to simply walk into our classrooms to see how much has changed and continues to change in Florida’s educational system. The “one-room school house” is obsolete. The demands of the economy and the challenges that face our state and nation require new skills. Today students must learn not only the three R’s but also master the five C’s: creativity, content, customization, collaboration, and character.

Now, more than ever, our students need to utilize their creativity. The rigid, traditional methods of problem solving are insufficient. Today’s economy requires an ability to process and understand multiple variables. Students must be able to respond to new and unique problems facing our vibrant, rapidly changing communities. They must ask probing questions, consider options, investigate, test ideas, fail, learn, adapt, try again, and succeed.

Content matters, and it must be rigorous. More will be expected from our students as they pursue higher education or careers. No longer are classmates merely competing with one another. They are now being compared to their peers statewide, across the county, and around the globe. As Florida moves to elevate standards, it is essential that rigor be heighten in our classrooms. Content must be mastered by students in order to be competitive.

Collaboration is also essential, not just in the classroom but in the workplace. The days of listening to the “sage on the stage” has come and gone. Today’s students must work to identify problems, formulate solutions, build consensus and discover … together.

In all aspects of our lives we prosper as a result of customization, and achievement in learning is no different.

Across Tampa Bay the benefits and success of customization in education is evident. In Hillsborough, single-gender schools have prospered in areas where low achievement was the norm. Technology-focused schools, arts-themed academies, and medical and business industry certification programs have all been developed to nurture students’ inquisitive interests. Pasco County is soon to be home to a STEM-focused, aeronautic regional academy, the first of its kind. Special needs students will flourish at the new Pepin Academy, a celebrated charter school with a customized approach. Pinellas’ collegiate high school partnerships with St. Petersburg State College, veterinarian sciences schools, a graphic arts academy, and engineer-themed schools are the inspiration for what is now a statewide strategy.

These are just some of the latest innovations along with options for virtual education, themed-based schools, magnet, charter, and other opportunities that can be molded to students’ unique learning needs. Continue Reading →


Democratic leaders will follow parents on ed reform, eventually

Editor’s note: This is the sixth post in our series on the Democratic Party’s growing divide over ed reform and ed choice.



One of my first jobs after graduating from college was working on the 1992 Clinton campaign, then working in the Clinton White House. As a young adult, I saw Democratic and progressive politics as a vital path to transformative change. Two decades later, I still do.

I am a Democrat because I believe government must play a central role in providing opportunity and hope for all Americans, especially low-income communities and communities of color who are falling farther and farther behind in the new economy.DONKEY1a

Over the past few years, the debate over parent empowerment laws – commonly known as “parent trigger” laws – has highlighted the rift within the Democratic Party about how to address a public education system that continues to fail countless low-income students and students of color every year. This debate highlights a pivotal crossroads that the Democratic Party faces over the coming decade. When it comes to educating the next generation of children in this country, are we going to be the party of 20th Century ideologies and rigid top-down initiatives, or are we going to be the party of pragmatism, empowerment and solutions for kids?

Parent empowerment laws are based on the simple idea that parents whose children are trapped in systemically failing schools should have real, legal power to create changes at their children’s school. This gives organized, informed, and engaged parents historic new leverage to force the system to serve the interests of their children, and helps to enfranchise a class of our society that has been systemically shut out of decision making within public education.

Because this is a fundamentally progressive idea – giving power to parents in predominantly low-income communities to advocate for the interests of their children – it has been strongly endorsed by a number of high-profile, progressive leaders within the Democratic Party, including ranking Democratic House Education Committee member Rep. George Miller, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, current mayor Eric Garcetti, and the entire United States Conference of Mayors.  It is equally popular amongst progressive voters. In a recent poll of California voters, 76 percent of voters overall and 82 percent of Latinos support the California parent empowerment law. In PDK/Gallup’s annual education poll in 2012, 70 percent were in favor of parent empowerment laws.

Unfortunately, powerful elements of the Democratic Party’s traditional 20th Century coalition, most notably the leadership of the largest teachers unions in America, have decided to treat parent power as a threat to their own power.  They have consistently fought against giving parents power from the beginning of this movement. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Charter schools, turnarounds, back to school and more

Charter schools. The boards of three schools threatened with losing their charters offer to meet with Hillsborough district officials. Gradebook.


Parental choice. The parent of a child expected to benefit from a Personal Learning Scholarship Account criticizes the Florida Education Association’s lawsuit against parental choice legislation in a Tallahassee Democrat guest column. The Naples Daily News looks at Charlie Crist’s past positions on charter schools and tax credit scholarships.

Campaigns. A district manager for Florida Virtual School is mounting a viable campaign against a Broward school board incumbent dogged by controversy over a racial slur. Miami Herald. The Tallahassee Democrat endorses the challenger in Leon County’s only contested school board race. A Hillsborough candidate faces an ethnically charged attack. Gradebook. The Daytona Beach News-Journal catches two Flagler candidates plagiarizing.

CAPE. Walton High School adds aeronautics lessons through a dual enrollment program. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Early learning. Pinellas prepares to open a district-run early learning center. Tampa Tribune.

Turnarounds. The Volusia school district focuses on three schools identified as needing intervention. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Back to school. Manatee teachers are overhauling their lessons as they get ready for new state standards. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.The Orlando Sentinel runs down what’s new in Central Florida. Tampa children prepare for the new year. Tampa Tribune. A picnic helps prepare homeless students for the school year in St. Johns. St. Augustine Record. The Bradford school district is staggering start times to help kindergarteners adjust. Gainesville Sun. Duval officials christen the renamed Westside High School. Florida Times-Union.

Continue Reading →