National test scores mostly flat for Florida 12th-graders

Reading and math scores for Florida high school seniors remained flat between 2009 and 2013 on a respected national test, according to results released Wednesday.

NAEP chartFlorida’s reading scores moved from from 283 to 286 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, better known as “the nation’s report card,” while its math scores inched up from 148 to 149. Neither increase is considered statistically significant.

Nationally, NAEP scores were also flat in both subjects. In math, 25 percent of students tested at proficient or above; in reading, 36 percent. (The corresponding numbers for Florida: 19 percent and 36 percent.)

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called the results “troubling.”

“We project that our nation’s public schools will become majority-minority this fall – making it even more urgent to put renewed attention into the academic rigor and equity of course offerings and into efforts to redesign high schools,” he said in a written statement. “We must reject educational stagnation in our high schools, and as nation, we must do better for all students, especially for African-American and Latino students.”

Unlike NAEP results for fourth- and eighth-graders, which receive widespread attention when they are reported every two years, NAEP results for 12th graders come with significant caveats.

  • Only a handful of states volunteer to participate. Florida was among 11 states that participated in 2009, the first time state-by-state results were reported, and among 13 states that participated in 2013.
  • The data only extends back to 2009, so there aren’t any long-term trend lines yet.
  • And because it involves 12th-graders, the results can be impacted by graduation rates.

That could help explain why the national scores are stagnant at a time when graduation rates are climbing, said John Q. Easton, director of the Institute of Education Sciences.

The test sample now “includes more lower-performing students who would have dropped out in the past,” he told reporters in a conference call Tuesday. “So we’re sampling from a population that includes more weaker students than we had when the graduation rate was lower.”

Florida scores, then, would seem to be especially impacted. Over the past decade, it ranks No. 2 among states in improving grad rates, climbing 23 percentage points between 2000 and 2010, according to an Education Week analysis. Continue Reading →


‘No longer an experiment:’ FL’s parental choice debate is shifting with maturity

President Gaetz (left) and Speaker Weatherford

President Gaetz (left) and Speaker Weatherford

One called for more expansion. The other, for more accountability.

This spring, intentionally or not, Florida legislative leaders highlighted twin themes for the state’s parental school choice programs that not only marked the session that ended last week, but will define many more to come.

It was House Speaker Will Weatherford who stressed the former. He touched off one of the most rancorous debates of Florida’s 2014 legislative session when, more than a month before it began, he called for a “massive expansion” of education options for parents.

And it was Senate President Don Gaetz, halfway through the session, who offered the yin to Weatherford’s yang, explaining the Senate’s push for new accountability measures for the tax credit scholarship program.

“The program has grown to a place where it is no longer an experiment,” he told the Associated Press. “It is no longer a pilot. It is an accepted way for families to exercise choice in education.”

Whether they’re talking about charter schools or private-school scholarships, that’s been the reality for the past two legislative sessions under Gaetz and Weatherford: School choice is no longer an experiment. It’s now mainstream. It will continue to grow. But as it does, questions have shifted from whether parental choice programs should be allowed to expand to how best to regulate them, how to create more attractive options in the traditional public school system, and what the next phase of experimentation should look like.

These are questions that will increasingly emerge in other states, but Florida is ahead of the curve. It ranks at or near the top in enrollment for charter schools, virtual schools and private schools via vouchers and tax credit scholarships, and there are no signs of slowing.

Accountability and regulation

The shifting focus cuts across all sectors. Take charter schools.

This year, the Senate opted not to pass a major charter school bill. Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said that was in part because lawmakers were waiting to see the effects of changes they passed last year, including a bill requiring the Department of Education to create a model charter contract for school districts.

Last year’s law also brought charters under more financial scrutiny. The effort was supported by some charter school advocates who wanted to prevent cases, like a handful of high-profile ones from Central Florida, from damaging a movement that is getting more attention as it takes on a larger share of Florida’s school enrollment.

“I think the growth of charter schools is going to bring more scrutiny to the charter schools themselves,” Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, said in an interview. “They’re going to come eventually under the same microscope that we are.”

Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Budgets, Legislature, tax credit scholarships and more

Tax credit scholarships. The program is expanding, and more organizations are signing up to offer scholarships. Tampa Tribune. A Gainesville Sun guest column pans “privatization.” A Washington Post blogger pans the Florida Legislature. The program helps Jewish families afford private schools. The program is administered by non-profit organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.


Legislative session. Sen. John Legg  recaps the session for the Pasco County School Board, including a push to encourage a new collegiate high school in the district. Gradebook. The debate in Florida this year was about how to manage a panoply of parental choice options that has matured. RedefinED.

Budgets. School-related property taxes would increase under the budget that passed the Legislature. Tampa Tribune. The Palm Beach Post calls the education budget “a source of shame” in an editorial.

Merit pay. A federal judge upholds SB 736 in its last remaining constitutional challenge, but also says the evaluation system is unfair without tests in every grade and subject. Orlando Sentinel. Associated Press.

Charter schools. A Sarasota Military Academy teacher accused of shoving a student can resign rather than being fired. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Facilities. Broward schools seek an $800 million bond referendum. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald.

Turnarounds. The Pinellas school district intervenes at nine schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Closures. The Hernando County school board decides to keep an elementary school open. Tampa Bay Times.

Administration. A handful of Pinellas elementary school principals are changing schools. Tampa Tribune. Parents petition the school board over an administrator’s decision to discipline a popular athlete. Florida Times-Union.

Reading instruction. Zephyrhills athletes mentor younger students. Tampa Bay Times.

Transportation. The saga of Hillsborough’s bus system continues. Tampa Bay Times.

Volunteers. A 79-year-old school volunteer is honored. Tampa Tribune.


Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: Clueless in St. Louis, EPI ignores data, and are tax-credits tax dollars collected?

MrGibbonsReportCardSt. Louis Post-Dispatch

Missouri state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a Democrat and school board member from University City, Mo., supports allowing students in unaccredited public school districts (low-performing) to receive vouchers to attend private, non-religious schools. When she questioned the fairness of forcing parents to pay taxes to fund public schools and, at the same time, tuition to pay for their children’s private education, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch declared that to be a selfish motivation for school choice. (Note: students in University City would be ineligible for private vouchers based on the current proposal.)

The newspaper editors declared Sen. Chappelle-Nadal to be “clueless on the value of public schools.” They expounded on that value by discussing the ways public schools benefit the general public, including increasing home values, greater economic development, higher incomes and more. Naturally, an educated population improves the greater public good.

But those public benefits don’t magically disappear if more kids are educated at private schools using publicly funded vouchers (or even privately funded tax-credit scholarships). The benefit ensues WHEN students are educated, NOT because of WHERE they are educated.


Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal

If privately funded vouchers improve educational options for children (and the vast majority of research says they do), then society is better for it. Society is worse off if we eliminate options for students struggling in schools simply because newspaper editors and politicians are concerned about the geography of where the education occurs.

Ultimately, parents have another selfish motive beyond double paying tuition – they want the best education possible for their own children. That’s just good parenting. Why do these editors want to stand in the way of that?

Grade: Needs Improvement


Gordan Laffer – Economic Policy Institute

Last week Gordon Laffer, an associate professor at the University of Oregon and research fellow at the Economic Policy Institute, made a case against charter schools in a report titled “Do poor kids deserve lower-quality education than rich kids?”

Well obviously, the answer is “no,” but the title offers a clue as to how the report unfolds. The main thrust of the report is to study the impact of “privatization” (aka charter schools) on low-income students.

However, Laffer ignores what other researchers say about that subject. In fact, when he cites the CREDO report on charter school performance, he only mentions the results for all students of all income levels.

But what does CREDO actually say about the charter school impact on low-income students? Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Tax credit scholarships, teachers, Common Core and more

Tax credit scholarships. EdWeek writes up the legislation passed last week.

florida-roundup-logoOnline grading. A Miami-Dade student is arrested for trying to hack into the district’s grading system. Miami Herald.

Common Core. StateImpact looks at recent public opinion surveys on the standards.

School boards. This year’s elections could change the makeup of the Pinellas board. Tampa Tribune. A former teacher enters a Palm Beach County race. Extra Credit.

Bible. A student contends he was barred from reading the Bible during class. Sun-Sentinel. More from Fox News. Miami Herald.

Teachers. A Pinellas County band director is a finalist for Teacher of the Year. Tampa Bay Times. Manatee County teacher is under investigation for comments she made to students about a possible sale of park land. Bradenton Herald.

Transportation. The Tampa Tribune writes about the problems facing Hillsborough’s bus system.

Start times. The Legislature has asked for a study of high school start times. Gradebook.

Teacher appreciation week. Teachers take to Twitter to explain their profession. StateImpact.


What school choice bills passed this year in the Florida Legislature

thumbs up thumbs downWe followed a number of school choice issues during the course of Florida’s 60-day legislative session, and most of them were resolved during the last few days. Here’s a look at which choice-related bills and ideas are making their way to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk, and which are not.


Personal learning accounts:  Florida could soon become the second state in the nation (after Arizona) to offer students an account-based school choice option. The state budget sets aside $18.4 million for scholarship accounts, which would be aimed at special needs students and administered by scholarship funding organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog. The accounts could be used to reimburse parents for therapies or other educational needs for their children.

Tax credit scholarships: The same piece of legislation that would create personal learning accounts, SB 850, would expand eligibility for tax credit scholarships by creating new partial scholarships for students with household incomes up to about $62,000 for a family of four. It would also create new accountability requirements for scholarship funding organizations.

Collegiate high schools: SB 850 would also expand collegiate high schools, which allow students to complete up to a year’s worth of college credits though dual enrollment. Community colleges would be required to offer a collegiate high school program through each school district in their service area.

Career education: The same legislation would also do away with the $60 million statewide cap on bonuses for schools where students earn industry certifications, increasing the financial incentive for school districts to expand career academies. It also expands industry-certification opportunities for students in elementary and middle school.

Digital learning: This year’s education funding legislation would overhaul the way the state plans and pays for school technology. It would require school districts and the state to come up with five-year technology plans, which will be tied to student performance and used to guide their spending of a new $40 million “digital classrooms allocation” – an amount that could increase in future years.

Single-gender schools: Lawmakers approved legislation creating requirements for single-gender school programs, and provided some seed money to help them train teachers and prepare for an expansion around the state.

Did not pass

Charter schools: This wasn’t the year for a bill aimed at requiring standard charter-school contracts and bolstering efforts to attract new charter operators from outside the state. It passed the House but not the Senate. The bill foundered in part because some lawmakers in the Senate wanted to give the state more time to implement last year’s charter school bill.

Dual enrollment: Last year’s push to overhaul the way the state funds dual enrollment courses created a financial dilemma for private schools. Efforts to address that issue by exempting private schools from payment requirements did not make their way into law.

Virtual school: A proposed overhaul of Florida Virtual School’s funding model did not make its way into law, and no bill passed this session would address the funding of virtual courses taken by students with McKay scholarships. Virtual schools are expected to receive a slight funding increase in next year’s budget.

Extracurricular activities: A House bill opening more school district extracurricular activities to home-school, private school and virtual school students did not pass the Senate.

Early learning: Legislation creating tighter regulations for early learning providers died in the waning hours of the session after volleying between the House and Senate, despite passing both chambers unanimously at different points. Voluntary prekindergarten – the state’s largest private school choice program – did receive a slight funding increase, its first in nearly six years.


‘I am going to ignore the politics of this’

Editor’s note: Legislation to expand and strengthen the Florida tax credit scholarship program, and to create education savings accounts for special-needs students, cleared the Senate Friday on a 29-11 vote and is now headed to Gov. Rick Scott. Three Senate Democrats voted yes for parental choice, despite tremendous pressure this year to tow the party line: Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate; Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami; and Sen. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee. In his remarks on the Senate floor, Ring noted the pressure but said he was proud and thrilled to support the bill. Here are his remarks in full. (The scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.)

Sen. Rg

Sen. Ring

So I’m going to take this a little bit out of Republican versus Democrat discussion, and talk a little bit about generational issues. Some of us in this room are at that age where we have young children. And we’re seeing an epidemic that I think hasn’t been addressed on the cure and why, that some of us older probably couldn’t imagine what our world can be like today. Some of you have grandkids and you can understand it from that standpoint. But as parents today, young children, their life is very different. Fifteen, 20 years ago, autism in this country was 1 in 15,000. For whatever reason, and this is not part of the debate, today it’s down to 1 in 50 on the spectrum. That doesn’t include kids with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy … ADHD, and any other development disorder that has become prevalent and epidemic in our society.

We’re at a point where things change. And the word voucher is such an ugly word but it doesn’t need to be. Because it’s not about that. It really isn’t. It’s about where we are in our world today, or what we as parents of young children have to face every single day. You know, to me, progressive means we change with the times. And changing with the times is being realistic of what we as parents have to face daily with our kids and these sorts of challenges.

I can’t, no matter what the political ramifications may be, the thought of going home and voting against a bill that puts these children on a path for equalization, for normalization, to get a degree – no matter what the political ramification is, to me this is where policy outstrips politics every single time. You know, my first year here I voted against a corporate income tax (scholarship program). And I got home, and I was invited by a number of the schools to come visit. Come see. Not spend a lot of time like you do in the public schools, but come visit our school.

And I went to visit a lot of schools. And I saw a lot of these kids. Many of them had, you know, profound developmental disabilities. Many of them came from, weren’t developmentally disabled, but they came from terribly impoverished backgrounds. And all of these kids were at one point in the public school system. And as far as I could see, every kid I saw was thriving.

I came back after that, and vowed I’d never vote against the corporate income tax (scholarship program) again. And I haven’t. And I’ve had a couple elections since then. It’s not been an issue. Hasn’t been an issue one bit for me. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Tax credit scholarships, legislation, testing and more

Tax credit scholarships. Florida lawmakers close out their 2014 session by approving legislation that would expand eligibility for the scholarship program and increase regulation of non-profits that administer it, including Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog. Times/Herald. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. WFSU. Florida Current. St. Augustine Record. Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano pans the program in another column. Paul Cottle argues he program’s lack of testing in science furthers the erosion of Florida’s science standards. Bridge to Tomorrow.

florida-roundup-logoEducation savings accounts. The bill would create a personal learning scholarship account program for special-needs students, the second of its kind in the county. RedefinED. More from Jay P. Greene’s blog.

Legislature. It was a good session for Florida’s schools. Times/Herald. The final budget would boost education funding. Scripps/Tribune.

Charter schools. Fox News highlights Charter Schools USA’s efforts to start a charter school on MacDill Air Force Base.

Open enrollment. Marion County schools consider universal choice. Ocala Star-Banner.

Testing. Some students pass their time during FCAT season by watching movies or playing games. Miami Herald. Florida prepares for the FCAT’s replacement. Gainesville Sun. Storm-battered Panhandle schools get extra testing days. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Teacher quality. The Tampa Tribune tracks down Hillsborough’s “highly effective” teachers.

Special needs. Special needs students in Flagler County perform better in math than in reading. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Graduation requirements. One bill passed this session would clear up confusion over high school graduation requirements. StateImpact.

Budgets. Brevard school closure plans are not yet contained in public records. Florida Today. Manatee Schools officials need to come up with $9.3 million to shore up their reserves. Bradenton Herald. Hernando schools officials plan a sales tax referendum to fund facilities. Tampa Bay Times.

Year-round school. An idea worth considering, Palm Beach County school board members say. Palm Beach Post.

Gardens. Students at a Manatee County high school growth their own salad. Bradenton Herald.

Transportation. A district consultant says Hillsborough’s school bus system is at a “breaking point.” Tampa Bay Times.