A recent headline in the Charlotte Observer offers inspiration this season. “Compete and cooperate,” the newspaper wrote of charter, district and private schools there, “A new direction for Mecklenburg schools.”
This is not a fictional account and it turns on a basic truth about education reform: Despite the caverns that sometimes separate those who are loyal to the great institution of neighborhood schools and those who fight to expand the menu of learning options, the collective effort is still pulling in the same direction. Both believe in the social necessity of public education and both want to give every child the best chance to succeed.
So allow me to wish this season for fertile and productive common ground, and begin it with a salute to Kevin Welner, professor of education and director of the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His center is known for its allegiance to traditional schools and its steadfast rejection of most, if not all, alternatives to them. Welner is known, in part, for a book that treats tax credit scholarships for low-income schoolchildren as an assault on public education, that dismisses them as “a distraction away from proven solutions and real needs,” and includes the memorable line: “The inherent value of choice should … not be overstated.”
Needless to say, Dr. Welner has a different definition of public education than suits my tastes, but his recent column on Huffington Post made a perfectly legitimate point: Many politicians do use the term “school choice” as a catchall phrase that skips over the educational design and value of individual choice programs. Those on the extremes tend to view choice as though it is either an inherent blessing or evil.
As such, Dr. Welner writes: “There can be a true value in parental choice – matching, for example, a child’s interests with the focus of a school. But in making policy we shouldn’t assume school choice has some magical power. … Like most tools, school choice can be used in beneficial as well as damaging ways.”
In fact, Dr. Welner’s words sound so much like those of Howard Fuller, the former Milwaukee school superintendent and national leader in the arena of parental choice, that I share a few from redefinED last year: Continue Reading →
“Teacher bashing” and Newtown. Tampa Bay Times columnist Bill Maxwell sees a connection.
Advanced Placement. Is Florida’s approach worth it? asks the Miami Herald. (Here’s another stat worth considering: The number of passed AP tests in Florida has climbed from 87,852 to 136,265 – an increase of 55 percent – over the last five years alone.)
High school grades rise. But with changes in the formula, comparisons to past years are dicey. Miami Herald. South Florida Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Times Union. Lakeland Ledger. Fort Myers News Press. Naples Daily News. Florida Today. Pensacola News Journal. Gainesville Sun. Tampa Bay Times. State Impact Florida.
“Special education crisis.” That’s the term Tampa Bay Times columnist Sue Carlton uses to describe what’s happening in the Hillsborough school district.
More school security. State Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, wants more school resource officers in the wake of Newtown, reports the Tampa Bay Times. Similar talk in South Florida, reports the Sun Sentinel, and on the Space Coast, reports Florida Today. Absenteeism spikes Friday, the Times also reports. The Palm Beach Post takes a look at charter schools’ response to the tragedy. Don’t turn schools into forts, writes Orlando Sentinel columnist Beth Kassab.
Texas: State lawmakers propose an ambitious school choice expansion plan that includes a tax credit scholarship for low-income students and the lifting of a cap on charter schools (Dallas Morning News). More from the Austin American Statesman and San Antonio Express-News.
Tennessee: A key state lawmaker, House Speaker Beth Harwell, says the legislature will consider a statewide charter school authorizer (The Tennessean). Area businesses help push growth of charters in the Nashville area (The Tennessean). Gov. Bill Haslam gives mixed signals on the possibility of voucher legislation next year (Knoxville News-Sentinel). More from the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
Louisiana: The Recovery School District in New Orleans is moving towards an all-charter system (New Orleans Times Picayune). The latest enrollment counts show families who accepted vouchers are sticking with their schools (Alexandria Town Talk).
North Carolina: Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools superintendent Heath Morrison calls private, charter and traditional public school leaders together to discuss the possibility of partnerships (Charlotte Observer).
Indiana: A new study finds the state’s charter schools are among the best in the nation when compared to their traditional public school counterparts (Indianapolis Star). But the poor performance of many charters under one authorizer, Ball State University, drags down the overall results (Indianapolis Star).
Illinois: Members of the Chicago teachers union march to protest a wealthy charter school supporter and ally of Mayor Rahm Emanuel (Chicago Sun Times).
Ohio: Federal education officials are investigating whether charter schools in Ohio and three other states – Texas, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin - are discriminating against students with disabilities (StateImpact Ohio).
Wisconsin: Possible expansion of vouchers, extra pay for low-performing schools with improvement plans, and more education funding are all on tap for the next legislative session, Gov. Scott Walker says (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).
Georgia: A judge rules that the Atlanta school district must stop withholding money from the city’s charter schools to help pay for the district’s pension program (Atlanta Journal Constitution).
If there was one thing you could change to further the cause of parental school choice, what would it be? We posed that question to some of the folks at Step Up For Students and the American Center for School Choice, and over the next week or so we’ll be publishing their responses.
Most of us at redefinED will be off until after New Year’s, so the blog will be a little less tended to than usual. But we hope the wish posts still give you something thoughtful to chew on between sips of egg nog and forks full of stuffing.
Thanks so much for reading us. Happy holidays!
Race-based achievement goals. Florida voters don’t like them, according to a new Quinnipiac poll, but … how much of that is based on widely circulated misinformation about them? Coverage from The Buzz, Orlando Sentinel, Palm Beach Post, News Service of Florida, StateImpact Florida.
Newtown plus doomsday. Prominent Tampa attorney Barry Cohen sparks a feud with the elite Berkeley Preparatory School over what he sees as shortcomings in security, reports the Tampa Bay Times. The state needs to better fund school resource officers, Leon County Superintendent Jackie Pons tells Gov. Rick Scott, reports Gradebook. Mayan calendar doomsday fears add to Newtown jitters at schools across the country, reports the New York Times. Lots of rumors and fears in Florida: Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel. A gun instructor in southwest Florida offers free gun training to any interested teacher, reports the Fort Myers News Press.
Charter school funding. Don’t force school districts to subsidize charter schools, editorializes the Palm Beach Post.
Class size penalties in Duval. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says the $7.4 million penalty – the highest in the state – should be dropped on appeal, reports the Florida Times Union.
High school grades due out this morning. SchoolZone.
A 73-second exchange between Gov. Rick Scott and capital reporters last week has raised the profile of testing in Florida’s scholarship for low-income children, but done little to deepen the debate. The question of testing is a legitimate one, but cannot be separated from the educational context.
Gov. Scott had no time to deal with such complexity. He was fielding rapid-fire questions after a state Cabinet meeting when he was asked whether students on vouchers should take the same test as those in public schools. His first answer: “Look, if you’re going to have state dollars, you’re going to have similar standards.” On followup, he said: “I believe anybody that gets state dollars ought to be under the same standards.”
The governor’s instinct is strong, but the statement took on a life of its own, spurring news coverage, editorials and a distinguished post from the Fordham Institute. Not surprisingly, much of the reaction was one-dimensional, focused on apples and oranges and what Ralph Waldo Emerson might have called a “foolish consistency.” So allow me, as policy director for Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that oversees the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for 50,812 low-income students this year in Florida, to try to paint the broad landscape.
Under Florida’s scholarship program, students are required to take nationally norm-referenced tests approved by the state Department of Education. More than two-thirds take the Stanford Achievement Test. Another fifth, which comprises mainly the Catholic schools, take the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. The test-score gains are then reported publicly each year by an independent researcher, respected Northwestern University professor David Figlio. Starting this year, those gains are also reported for every school with at least 30 students who have current- and prior-year test scores. The validity of these testing instruments is not really in dispute, which is why it is more than a little disconcerting that their results have been scarcely mentioned. The state’s leading newspaper managed to write an entire editorial directive, “Holding voucher schools to account is overdue,” without a single reference.
So, for the record, the state so far has issued five years of test reports for the tax credit scholarship, and two findings have been persistent: 1) The students choosing the scholarship were the lowest performers from the traditional public schools they left behind; and 2) On the whole they are achieving almost precisely the same test gains in reading and math as students of all incomes nationally. For the 70 schools that met the disclosure threshold this year, 50 kept pace with the national sample, eight exceeded and 12 fell short.
Not incidentally, these results provide the kind of data that is needed to judge whether students are making academic progress. Continue Reading →
Sadly, if we hear even once about a tragedy like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings last week in Newtown, Conn., it is once too much. We all want answers to ensure parents can take their children to school each day and remain confident that learning will occur in a safe environment.
Yet our beloved Sunshine State – and every state in the nation – is not immune from seeing a similar tragedy in one of our own schools, though God forbid such a day happens again anywhere. As recently as March, we learned about a dedicated Episcopal high school administrator in Jacksonville, Fla. who was shot and killed by a disgruntled former teacher. The massacre at Columbine High School in Denver back in 1999 led to intense national scrutiny, followed by efforts like “Rachel’s Challenge” to promote a more civil society. (It was named in honor of Rachel Joy Scott, one of the slain students). These events show student safety is a top priority for public and nonpublic schools alike.
Against this backdrop, many news articles have suggested actions that should be considered by the Florida Legislature during the upcoming 2013 session. One idea which could be a “no brainer” for lawmakers is to secure final passage of a long-awaited “student safety/ notification” bill. It’s a non-controversial and bipartisan measure that has been under consideration for the past two sessions – and even passed unanimously from the Florida House floor – but fell short of final passage in the Senate.
During the 2012 session, Senate Bill 494 and House Bill 273 regarding student safety were based upon a key proposal reintroduced from the 2011 session. The proposal would require response agencies that already notify public school districts about local emergencies – such as bomb threats, natural disasters and fires – to also notify nonpublic schools. The bills provided an “opt-in” method for nonpublic schools to determine whether to receive such alerts. Continue Reading →