Florida can’t ease up on ed reform

14Ladner1I recently wrote a piece for redefinED about how the Census Bureau projections spell troubled times ahead for Florida. Specifically, the Census Bureau projects a large increase in the youth population to coincide with an explosion in the elderly population. The Cliff Notes version: trouble ahead. Both the young and old consume state services in heavier amounts than average (primarily education and health care respectively) and tend to pay less in the way of taxes on average. The percentage of Florida’s population that will be in the working age population in the years ahead will bear what looks to be a crushing burden in paying for most of this.

The Census Bureau has more detailed projections that give more of a blow by blow of how the forecasts this will play out. First, let’s follow the blue columns. This is the Census Bureau projections of the 5-17 population. Note this figure underestimates the potential size of the school age population increase in several ways. First, Florida 4-year-olds can and do use the Voluntary Pre-K (VPK) program. Second, 18-year-olds are often still in high-school. Finally, some children with disabilities remain in public schools until age 21.

With those caveats in mind, note that Florida’s 5-17 year old population goes from around 2.9 million in 2010 to a projected 3.2 million next year, then to 3.5 million in 2020, 3.8 million in 2025 and to a rather alarming 4.1 million in 2030.


So let’s just use rough numbers and say Florida has well over 1.2 million additional students on the way. Fortunately, there are options to deal with this, some or all of which may be used. Florida districts can surround existing school buildings with dozens of portables. At considerable expense, they can build new district schools. They can start running shifts at existing schools.

Perhaps Florida lawmakers will be wise enough to strengthen choice laws to help take the edge off of district enrollment growth. Today a combined 86,000 Florida students attend private schools under the Step Up for Students tax credit and the McKay Scholarship Program for students with disabilities.

The private choice programs represent an especially strong value to taxpayers because they allow students to be educated without the public expense of building new buildings. These costs prove quite considerable. Island Coast High School in Cape Coral, which opened in 2008, cost $63,000,000 to provide learning space for 2,000 students. Florida has far more than 1.2 million students projected to be on the way in the next decade and a half. A project like Island Coast High School can accommodate .0017 percent of that cohort.

I am confident a great many construction firms and bond brokers would love to either pave Florida over with new district schools or die trying. The red columns, however, show rather conclusively that is not a really an option. Florida’s elderly population is set to more than double between 2010 and 2030. This will translate into a greater demand for a variety of public services, strains on pension funds, and less in the way of tax revenue.

Absent some implausible spike in economic growth, these projections foretell fierce competition for limited public dollars between old and young. Note the elderly tend to be better organized and vote in much greater numbers than public school interests. Place your bets accordingly. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Magnet and private schools, digital learning & more

Magnet schools: A new Polk County policy guarantees current students at Winston Elementary a spot next year at the magnet school, Winston Academy of Engineering. The Ledger.

florida-roundup-logoDigital learning: The Hillsborough County School Board moves closer to allowing students to use their own Internet devices while at school. Tampa Bay Times. More from The Tampa Tribune.

School choice: With a marketing campaign and several new middle school options, Pinellas County schools see a dramatic increase in the number of students applying for choice programs. Tampa Bay Times.

Private schools: Tampa’s Jesuit High is ranked No. 1 among all boys athletic programs in Class 5A as the Florida High School Athletics Association’s Academic Team Champion. The Tampa Tribune. Tampa’s Hillel Academy students create their own tech projects. The Tampa Tribune.

Common Core: Will Florida continue to be part of the Common Core initiative? The answer isn’t clear. The Gradebook. Florida Department of Ed officials propose changes to the standards, from requiring fourth-graders to master cursive writing to re-codifying learning requirements for calculus. Tallahassee Democrat. Many questions focus on copyright issues and the so-called “15 percent” rule for adding changes to the standards. StateImpact Florida. More from The Florida Current.

Class size: The penalties may soon be less severe for school districts that fail to meet state-mandated class-size limits. The Buzz. The Broward school district expects to pay a $200,000 penalty for not meeting the caps, even after the state allowed schoolwide averages for magnet schools. Sun Sentinel.

STEM: Educators from across the country visit a Sarasota County school STEM program. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Continue Reading →


It’s not easy balancing school choice and regulatory accountability

tight ropeAs public education increasingly organizes itself around customized learning, determining how best to regulate this expanding diversity is a challenge. Fortunately, the Fordham Institute has been a thoughtful participant in this discussion over the last several years, and it made another valuable contribution today by releasing a policy toolkit to assist those of us on the front lines.

Fordham’s policy recommendations are based on three assertions.

1)      Students who use vouchers or tax credit scholarships to help pay tuition and fees at non-district schools should participate in the state assessment system.

2)      School test results should be publicized, except in cases where a school enrolls fewer than 10 testable voucher or scholarship students.

3)      The regulatory consequences of a school’s test results should be related to how much voucher or tax credit revenue the school is receiving. More revenue should lead to more regulatory control.

As a nonprofit organization responsible for helping to manage Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, Step Up For Students has been in dialogue with our state’s elected leadership about these types of regulatory issues for more than a decade now, and we have often relied on Fordham’s insights to help inform these discussions.

We agree tax credit scholarship students should take a standardized test to help gauge their academic progress, but schools that cater mostly to private-paying students seldom take the state-approved assessment and making the conversion is no easy chore. Often, the parents who are paying for tuition prefer a nationally norm-referenced test such as the Stanford Achievement, which means these schools might be forced to give two different tests to two different sets of students. That’s a tall order, and one where the incremental benefits of having scholarship students take the same state test as public school students are not great enough to justify the cost.

Florida requires that scholarship students take approved nationally-normed referenced tests yearly, and issues an annual report on how the students are performing. This report includes comparisons with students nationally, as well as comparable students in district schools. Allowing students to choose from a list of state-approved assessments, which includes the FCAT (the state’s standardized test), has never seriously hindered the state’s ability to gauge how well scholarship students are performing.

Step Up is now working with more than a hundred private scholarship schools that are voluntarily implementing  the new Common Core standards, which Florida district schools are also implementing.  Consequently, we can foresee a future in which district and non-district students might one day be voluntarily taking the same state assessments. Continue Reading →


Common Core could spur school choice, survey suggests

surveyccA new survey from Education Next suggests conservatives interested in expanding school choice may be shooting themselves in the foot by opposing Common Core.

The reason? According to the survey results, Americans become more favorable to school choice (and other education reforms) when they are better informed about the relative achievement of students at local schools.

Released Tuesday, the survey by researchers Michael B. Henderson, William G. Howell and Paul E. Peterson divides respondents into two groups – the informed and the uninformed. It then asks questions related to how the public feels about local schools, teachers, teacher unions, standardized testing and school choice. Informed responders were made aware, by the authors, of how well local students performed relative to their peers statewide or nationally.

Consistent with other surveys, the public held fairly high opinions of their local schools but low opinions of all other schools. Opinions of local school performance fell when the public was made aware of local student achievement. Informed Americans did not change their already favorable opinion on testing and standards in general, but did have an increased preference for high-stakes testing tied to third-grade promotion and high school graduation.

In regards to school choice, Americans actually become less supportive of “targeted vouchers” (vouchers for low-income students) and more supportive of “universal vouchers” (voucher for all) when informed of relative student achievement. Residents living in below-average school districts were significantly more supportive of universal vouchers.


With more information about how local students perform relative to their peers, Americans do appear to become more supportive of school choice and other policies supported by the education reform community. It is entirely possible that Common Core could make Americans more informed about student achievement. As the authors’ note, “there is a certain irony in the fact that CCSS’s opponents favor many of the reforms that seem primed for winning greater public approval should the standards be fully implemented.”

However, not all opponents of Common Core are in the ed reform camp. I don’t expect the teacher unions and their supporters to jump with excitement at this survey’s findings. Read the full survey here.


Florida schools roundup: Common Core, school choice, audits & more

Common Core: State education officials release 98 proposed changes to the controversial national education standards. The Buzz. More from the Tallahassee Democrat, Orlando Sentinel, StateImpact Florida. And the insanity over Common Core continues, writes Beth Kassab for the Orlando Sentinel. State education officials “sorta rubber-stamped the whole shebang,” writes John Romano for the Tampa Bay Times. Florida activists are not satisfied with proposed Common Core changes. StateImpact Florida.

florida-roundup-logoSchool choice: Pinellas County scores in the top 20 nationwide for school districts with the best choices for parents. Tampa Bay Times.

H.S. diplomas: Thousands of students across Florida are being told to take end-of-course exams in subjects they’ve already completed if they want “scholar” on their high-school diploma. Orlando Sentinel.

School audits: A panel of state lawmakers blasts the Manatee County school district for what they call a “radioactive” audit of the school system’s finances. Miami Herald. More from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Rankings: StudentsFirst ranks Florida No. 2 in the nation for instituting new school policies to improve student achievement. Sunshine State News.

Parent trigger: StudentsFirst will not push legislators to adopt the school takeover plan in 2014. Tampa Bay Times.

Class size: Marion school administrators defend their decision to intentionally violate the state class-size amendment. Ocala Star-Banner.

Raises: The Palm Beach County School Board prepares to vote on raises for principals, assistant principals and other non-unionized employees. Palm Beach Post.

Principals: In an effort to improve the academic performance at some of Jacksonville’s most fragile schools, Duval County’s superintendent swaps principals at 11 schools. Jacksonville Times-Union. 

Continue Reading →


Another school choice option blooms in Florida: Cambridge

Move over AP and IB. Another rigorous college prep program is catching on in high schools across Florida and adding to the state’s pace-setting expansion of school choice.

cambridge 3The nonprofit Cambridge International Exams, now in more than 100 Florida schools, is tied to the prestigious University of Cambridge in England. That makes it attractive to parents and students looking for a competitive edge in college admissions offices. It also sounds good to education leaders wanting to promote their schools in an environment where more than 40 percent of Florida students now attend a school other than their zoned school.

Cambridge students are exposed to an international curriculum and can earn up to 45 college credits with an “AICE diploma,’’ an Advanced International Certificate of Education that is recognized by all Florida public college and universities, and some private schools.

Cambridge is promoted as somewhat less costly and time-intensive for schools to implement than International Baccalaureate, the larger, better-known program with a similar design. With its focus on critical thinking, in-depth problem-solving and strong writing skills, supporters say Cambridge also dovetails nicely with the state’s newly-adopted education standards.

“We are attempting to spread the word,’’ said Sherry Reach, Cambridge’s international manager for the Americas, who is based in Panama City. “The course and assessment program we are offering helps develop skills important in the language arts for Common Core.’’

Bay County was the first Florida district to try Cambridge in 1994. In 2000, after the state Department of Education studied it, the Legislature deemed it effective for use statewide the following year. Since then, more than 100 Florida schools have signed on with Cambridge, which offers programs for students ages 5 and up. Of those, 78 are high schools, said spokeswoman Jamie Mongiovi. Nationally, the program is in 240 elementary and secondary schools in 27 states, up from 80 schools in 2009.

“A lot of that growth has happened the last few years,’’ Reach said. Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: ESAs to grow in AZ, DOJ in LA and Cantor vs. de Blasio


Alabama: The state’s new tax-credit scholarship program has nearly reached the $25 million cap (AL.com). A councilman of Birmingham says the Alabama Accountability Act must be repealed (AL.com).

Alaska: The state should abolish the Blaine Amendment and allow private school vouchers (Daily News Miner).

Arizona: Education reformers plan to rapidly expand the Education Savings Accounts program if the state Supreme Court approves (Arizona Daily Sun). The Arizona Daily Sun editorial board takes a stand against expanding Education Savings Accounts, instead arguing that the state should spend more money on traditional public schools. A Republican state senator owns businesses that have financial dealings with his own tax-credit scholarship organization (CBS 5).

California: Gloria Romero, a Democrat and former state senator, argues school choice is a parent’s right (OC Register). Some public schools that convert to charters are seen as charter schools in name only (Seattle Times, Joanne Jacobs). Market competition leads to collaboration in L.A public school choice (EdSource). The California Charter Schools Association calls for the closure of a low-performing charter school managed by UC Davis, Sacramento City College and the Washington Unified School District (Sacramento Bee). Will the state embrace charter schools (San Diego Tribune)? San Diego earns low scores on the Brookings Institution’s school choice index (Press Telegram).

D.C.: Thousands of parents attend a school choice convention to find the right school for their child (Washington Post). Democracy Prep, a charter school from New York City, will be taking over an Imagine charter school in the district (Washington Post).

Delaware: A judge blocks the closure of an all girls charter school on 14th Amendment grounds (Education Week).

Florida: Four school districts in the state rank in the top 25 for school choice according to a new Brookings Institution report (redefinED). Virtual charter schools grow (redefinED). The Duval County School District holds an expo to advertise public school choice options to parents (Action News Jacksonville). Legislators propose two competing charter school bills, one creating a standardized contract to make it easier to form charter schools and the other to require surety bonds before a charter school can open (Sun-Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times). Another proposed bill would allow charter schools to share space with district schools (Miami Herald).

Georgia: New rules require charter schools to score as well as or better than the state and district averages on the state’s 110 point grading scale, or risk having their charters revoked (Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

Illinois: An op-ed writer says Chicago has too much school choice (Chicago Business). Six Catholic elementary schools are slated to close by next year (Chicago Tribune).

Louisiana: Gov. Bobby Jindal asks the court to reconsider the decision to allow federal monitoring of the voucher program to ensure racial balance (Times-Picayune). The U.S. Department of Justice is asking the court for the power to veto any voucher award (Cato Institute, National Review, Catholic Online). A state panel suggests a new way to fund the Course Choice program (Shreveport Times). New Orleans tops the Brookings Institution’s school choice index (Watchdog). School choice empowers parents (Business Report). New Orleans shows how urban districts can create real achievement growth through school choice (US News and World Report). Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charters, magnets, Common Core & more

Charter schools: The Legislature considers proposals that would make it easier for the nontraditional public schools to open and provide more oversight. Sun Sentinel. Renaissance Charter Inc., one of the largest charter school operators in the country, is growing in North Florida despite a mixed record of achievement. Florida Times-Union. Lawmakers look at changes to the charter school process, including state review of applications. The Tampa Tribune.

florida-roundup-logoMagnet schools: Turning three Polk County schools into magnet schools next fall leaves some students traveling farther to a new school. The Ledger.

Same-sex schools: WLRN in Miami looks at the latest legislative proposal to create more single-gender classrooms in Florida.

Teachers: In a year when Florida’s public school teachers are getting substantial raises, substitutes will see no bump in their paychecks. Orlando Sentinel.

School safety: St. Lucie County School District students will see new deputies in their schools, thanks to a national grant allowing the school resource officer program to expand. TC Palm. School mental health workers grapple with the best way to offer students such services in a patchwork, underfunded system. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Common Core: Republican Party of Florida activists vote  to oppose the Common Core education standards in a sign of growing anger over the national school benchmarks. News Service of Florida. Gov. Rick Scott says the state will unveil its revisions to the standards next week. News Service of Florida. More from The Florida Current.

Continue Reading →