Florida schools roundup: Magnet schools, private schools, teacher evals & more

School choice: Pinellas County schools Superintendent Mike Grego pushes to expand educational opportunities to woo back parents and students. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoMagnet schools: A Polk County middle school for the arts class tries seating kids on bouncy exercise balls instead of a traditional desk and chair to help them focus better. The Ledger. 

Private schools: Academy of the Holy Names in Tampa invests in technology to foster better collaboration and critical thinking among students. Tampa Bay Times.

Certificates of Completion: The not-quite-a-diploma certificate cripples career opportunities, writes the Fort Myers News-Press. Hillsborough County students look to the ACT to get their diplomas. Tampa Bay Times.

Common Core: The new education standards, state grades and teacher evaluations and pay are among the education issues to watch for in 2014. StateImpact Florida.

School funding: The Palm Beach County School District should lobby legislators to restore the 50-cent millage rate, writes Rick Christie for the Palm Beach Post.

Teacher evals: The TC Palm looks at the state’s new system of rating teachers. Continue Reading →


Howard Fuller: More parental choice, more hope for black children

Editor’s note: Dr. Howard Fuller is board chair of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. This is the fourth post in our #schoolchoiceWISH series.

Dr. Fuller

Dr. Fuller

My parental school choice wish this year is to see substantive and real improvements in the life chances of all of our children, particularly those who come from low-income and working-class Black families in America.

For them, the realization of the promise of the American dream remains largely elusive. The crushing impact of poverty with all of its manifestations is the primary reason they face huge odds in their quest for a better life. For them, the only chance they have to improve their individual lives is to have access to a quality education. Yet, in America today, 42 percent of black students attend schools that are under-resourced and performing poorly. Forty-three percent of African-American students will not graduate from high school on time with a regular diploma.2013WISHLISTFINAL

These horrific data will not get better without empowering parents to be able to choose better options for their children. Yet, opponents of parent choice and other transformational education reform initiatives continue to place one obstacle after another in the path of parents seeking the power to choose the best educational environment for their children and/or to fundamentally change some of the systems that purport to educate their children. While cloaking their arguments against these reform efforts in the rhetoric of protecting democracy, ensuring equity, and supporting social justice, they are in fact this generation’s protectors of the status quo. Many of them were at one time opponents of the bureaucracy that now stands in the way of fundamental change, and fighters to empower the people. Now, they ARE the bureaucracy and no longer interested in giving power to the people!!

Throughout history, black people have waged a continuing struggle to educate themselves and their children. Time and again, black people have been in a position where others have had the power to make fundamental decisions about the education of their children. While those in power have employed very different means, the net result has left low-income and working-class African-Americans with fewer high-quality educational options. Continue Reading →


Joe McTighe: Wishing for two front teeth & a level playing field

Editor’s note: Joe McTighe is executive director of the Council for American Private Education. This is the third post in our #schoolchoiceWISH series.

Joe McTighe

Joe McTighe

As children, my sister Moo and I were regularly prompted at holiday gatherings to sing “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth,” a crowd-pleasing performance made even more so by our mangling all instances of the “s” and “r” sounds in the song and strategically placing a wad of Black Jack chewing gum to simulate missing teeth. As best I can recall, that was the last time I was ever asked to announce a Christmas wish in a public forum – until now.

My school choice wish is simple:  a level playing field.2013WISHLISTFINAL

It’s no longer a secret that charter schools are taking a toll on private schools. The evidence is overwhelming. A study by Abraham Lackman, published earlier this year in the Albany Government Law Review, estimates about one-third of students in charter schools in New York State come from Catholic schools. The results have been a slew of Catholic school closings, a drain on government budgets, and an enormous cost to taxpayers.

At the national level, a report last year from the Cato Institute estimates that at the elementary school level in highly urban districts, about 32 percent of charter students come from private schools.

Religious and independent schools are accomplishing here and now what everyone wants: low drop-out rates, high college-going rates, above-average student performance.  It makes no sense whatsoever to let these schools fade away. Their closings represent an astounding loss of opportunity for families and children.

Understandably, the private school community has mixed emotions about charter schools. Charters advance school choice, enabling some parents to make a better match between the needs of their children and the offerings of a school. And, after all, a pillar of private education is the protection of a parent’s right to choose a child’s school.

But another pillar is the preservation of pluralism in education, which ensures a variety of truly distinctive schools from which parents can make that match, including faith-based schools, which offer a dimension of education unavailable in any public school. Continue Reading →


Robert Enlow: Wishing for more choice, less regs

Editor’s note: Robert Enlow is the president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the school choice legacy foundation of Milton and Rose D. Friedman. This is the second post in our #schoolchoiceWISH series.

Robert Enlow

Robert Enlow

Google “Top Christmas Toys of 2013” and you’ll find the first result, Target, allows users to search potential presents by age, gender, price, category, and even brand. To make education just as customizable, I have two items on my policy wish-list this holiday season.

First, increase the size and permissible uses of school choice.

Take Arizona’s education savings accounts (ESAs), which families can use to cover private school tuition, tutors, therapies, online courses – or a combination of those tools – and even college expenses. As the Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke found, 34.5 percent of ESA recipients used their funds for multiple education services, proving many kids need dramatically different learning environments beyond just existing public, and private, schools.2013WISHLISTFINAL

Unfortunately, Arizona’s ESAs continue a trend of missed opportunity in the school choice movement: making programs open to a select few. ESAs are available to only 20 percent of Arizona students. School choice is about much – and many – more.

Milton Friedman wrote in 2000, “I have nothing but good things to say about voucher programs…that are limited to a small number of low-income participants. … But such programs are on too small a scale, and impose too many limits, to encourage the entry of innovative schools or modes of teaching. The major objective of educational vouchers is…to drag education out of the 19th century – where it has been mired for far too long – and into the 21st century, by introducing competition on a broad scale. Free market competition can do for education what it has done already for other areas, such as agriculture, transportation, power, communication and, most recently, computers and the Internet.”

That leads to my second hoped-for policy present: Parent-driven accountability.

To make Milton Friedman’s desired outcome a reality, accountability cannot mean solely the application of, and performance on, standardized tests. Imposing “too many limits” on private schools discourages the creation of new educational models and encourages educators to mimic the decades-old public institutions many families want to escape.

Parents are up to the challenge when it comes to holding schools accountable. Continue Reading →


Jon Hage: Wishing education reform a Scrooge-like self-examination

Editor’s note: Jon Hage is founder and CEO of Charter Schools USA. This post is the first in our #schoolchoiceWISH series.

Jon Hage

Jon Hage

Now that the education reform movement has grown to nearly 2.3 million students in charter schools and hundreds of thousands more in other reform alternatives, it is my wish that education reformers avoid becoming like the very system we want to transform.

We don’t want to be driven by adult interests. Nor do we want to become just another blob of regulation and red tape filled with political subterfuge that closely resembles the current broken K-12 traditional education system. The Ghost of Ed Reform Past would remind us that the traction the movement gained was due to the unwavering focus of putting students first; serving parents; our fortitude to challenge the status quo; and the determination to compete, grow and replicate no matter how hard the battle.2013WISHLISTFINAL

That wise old ghost would remind us of our nation’s founders, who empowered the individual citizen to control government, not the other way around. Our past reveals hard-fought battles to protect the right of students to receive a great education regardless of economic status or geographic challenges.

The Ghost of Ed reform Present shows us current realities we don’t want to admit. Arguments about who is right are trumping arguments about what is right. Millions of students every year miss out on a better educational option because the progress of reform laws and regulations lags far behind demand, with little outcry or protest from reformers themselves. It’s as if we have our schools now and are afraid to risk fighting the next level of conflict for more choices, more funding and more educational freedom. Tragically, there are millions of students who will never recover from that missed opportunity. Even still, the ed reform movement grows, but only because destiny is set by the potential of our children. We owe it to them to reaffirm that the possibilities of education reform match their limitless potential.

So, what does the Ghost of Ed Reform Future have to say? Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: LA voucher audit, TX charter school shutdown, Walton donation & more

MondayRoundUpAlabama: $19.5 million in tax credit donations have been made to scholarship organizations (Yellowhammer News).

Arizona: A public school district leader says “choice is here to stay” and argues school districts need to highlight options available to students (Arizona Capital Times). Wealthier public schools may be getting a much larger benefit from the tax-credit donation program (Arizona RepublicKTAR). A study by the Goldwater Institute found that district schools were converting to charter schools for the monetary benefits and not to offer new options to students (Sonoran News).

California: Support school choice, the gift that keeps on giving (Capital News and Views). The California Charter School Association calls for the closure of six charter schools for poor performance (National Alliance for Public Charter Schools).

D.C.: Black, low-income and disabled students attending charter schools outperform their peers in traditional district schools (Washington Post).

Florida: The state’s virtual high school earns a B (Orlando Sentinel). A Hebrew charter school gets approval in Hollywood (Miami Herald). Miami-Dade rejects a North Miami charter school application because the school would compete with district schools that recently received $200 million in renovations (Miami Herald).

Hawaii: Charter schools are good but they need better oversight (Star Advertiser).

Idaho: An online technical charter school plans to open in the state (Idaho Statesman). A popular charter school plans to expand into high school grades over the objections of the local school district (Statesman Review).

Illinois: Last year Chicago closed 52 schools but now charter schools wish to open in the district (Chicago Sun-Times). The Chicago Sun-Times supports charter schools, but worries that too many charter school openings may harm already cash strapped school districts. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visits a Chicago area public school but refuses to answer comments about 21 potential charter schools wishing to open in the city (Chicago Sun-Times). To improve education in Chicago the money has to follow the student and parents must be able to pick the school (Chicago Tribune).

Indiana: The Kokomo Tribune believes the public needs access to information about how voucher dollars are spent, including the names of students and their scholarship award amounts. Christel House, the charter school at the center of the Tony Bennet grading scandal, sees its grade drop from an A to an F (Indianapolis Star).

Louisiana: A state auditor says the government doesn’t provide enough information about private schools to voucher parents, while 41 percent of schools received improper payments (Education Week, Times-PicayuneTimes-Picayune, The Advocate, Shreveport Times). The state releases a database on participating private voucher schools (Times-Picayune). Editorial writers argue vouchers are no guarantee of quality education and that schools need more regulation (The Advocate, The Advertiser). The U.S. Department of Justice’s voucher suit could end up making segregation worse (Daily Caller). Recovery School District will be the nation’s first all-charter school district in the 2014-15 school year (Times-Picayune). Charter schools refusing to rejoin their old school districts may signal distrust in locally elected school boards (The Lens). Journalists covering the voucher audit missed one important story: the program is growing rapidly (The Advocate). Two New Orleans area public schools are accused of cherry-picking their own students (Hechinger Report).

Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charters, virtual schools, science ed & more

Charter schools: Pinellas County School Board members give district attorneys the go-ahead to look into suing the state for a new law that creates uniform charter school contracts. The Tampa Tribune. 

florida-roundup-logoVirtual schools: Starting next month, after 16 years of providing a distance-learning option to students in kindergarten through 12th grade, Florida Virtual School will offer several courses for adults. The Tampa Tribune.

Science ed: Polk County’s public and private schools take different routes when teaching the concepts of evolution, creation. The Ledger. Even as politicians and educational leaders pledge allegiance to science, many Americans are skeptical about key tenets of scientific orthodoxy. The Ledger. A Cocoa science teacher is named by President Obama as one of 102 teachers in the country to receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Florida Today.

School safety: Since the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy and the 27 school shootings that followed, Escambia and Santa Rosa county school officials are trying to restore a sense of security to parents, teachers and students. Pensacola News-Journal.

Name change: An about-face decision by a new seven-member Duval County School Board to drop the name of a high school that honored a Confederate soldier and former Klu Klux Klan member leaves activists wondering what other changes are possible now. Florida Times-Union.

School grades: When the state reworks its school grading system, Collier County’s superintendent is hopeful the bar will be raised and fairness also will prevail. Naples Daily News. All five Hernando County high schools saw their grades drop. Tampa Bay Times. It is time to overhaul Florida’s school grading system, which has been so tweaked and massaged as to be divorced from reality, writes the Tampa Bay Times.

Pay raises: An increase in administrator pay recently approved by the Santa Rosa County School Board is not sitting well with some teachers in the district. Pensacola News-Journal. Treasure Coast school leaders struggle to overhaul teacher pay based on performance. TC Palm.

Tony Bennett: The Indianapolis charter school at the center of Indiana’s grade-changing scandal saw its grade drop from an “A” to an “F.” Associated Press.

The best of 2013: StateImpact Florida looks at the year’s top education stories.
Continue Reading →