redefinED roundup: Vouchers in Louisiana, rally in New York, blended learning in New Jersey & more

MondayRoundUp_magentaAlabama: The Alabama Education Association runs attack ads against a pro-school choice candidate during Republican special election primaries (

California: L.A.’s public school choice initiative became more about collaboration than competition (Huffington Post). San Fernando Valley Charter schools form an advocacy group (Daily News).

Colorado: School choice candidates win a majority on the Jefferson County School Board (Denver Post).

D.C.: Parents will be able to use one application to apply to many different schools of choice (Education Week, Washington Post). Bureaucracy, not school choice, was the problem in D.C. (redefinED). The district approves two Texas-based charter school operators to open new schools (Washington Post).

Florida: A bullied student finds a new home using a tax-credit scholarship to attend a private school (redefinED). With charter and private school options on the rise, the Pinellas County School District markets magnet schools to attract students back to the district (Tampa Bay Times). Robin Gibson, a prominent Democrat with close ties to former Govs. Bob Graham and Lawton Chiles, defends charter schools from critics (The Ledger). The superintendent of the Hillsborough County School District has reservations about allowing a competing charter school on MacDill Air Force Base (Tampa Bay Times).

Georgia: Parents choose private schools for many reasons other than high test scores (One News Now).

Hawaii: A charter school fires its principal after he is charged with the theft of more than $150,000 from the school (Hawaii News Now).

Indiana: Gov. Mike Pence wants to increase the number of charter schools in the state (Post Tribune).

Louisiana: Gov. Bobby Jindal and school choice supporters may be declaring victory against the DOJ’s anti voucher suit but the fight isn’t over yet (Education Week, Times Picayune, National Review, Wall Street Journal, Bayou Buzz, The Town Talk ). The judge in the DOJ’s anti voucher suit ordered both sides to come up with a plan to prevent racial segregation (Associated Press, Bloomberg, New York Times). A former Democrat and state legislature turns from voucher foe to voucher supporter (The Advocate). Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charters, magnet programs, school choice & more

Charter schools: A former chairman of the Florida Board of Regents and a founder of the Lake Wales Charter School System speaks out about the success of charters. The Ledger.

florida-roundup-logoMagnet schools: Students attending a Miami architectural magnet high school design homes for the homeless. Miami Herald. Increased competition for students, declining enrollment in the middle grades, and a need to offer more attractive options to families is leading Pinellas County Schools to open new magnet programs. Tampa Bay Times.

School choice: Parents and students tell Pasco school officials that the district needs to take into account student interests when preparing new academic offerings. Tampa Bay Times.

Academic gap: After years of struggling to close the achievement gap between black and white students, the newest round of SAT scores show signs of improvement. The Tampa Tribune.

GED: Starting Jan. 2, the new GED test will be offered only on the computer and will be nearly twice as expensive as the current one — $130 compared to $70. The Tampa Tribune. Continue Reading →


School choice scholarship helps student find safe niche, seek science

Kevin Rodriguez

Kevin Rodriguez

At 13, Kevin Rodriguez is an old soul. He does not talk much, but listens intently. He loves science, math and history, and hopes to be an architect one day. His interest in science, including figuring out how things work and how things change in different environments, sets an interesting parallel against Kevin’s educational experience.

“I’m interested in how houses and buildings are constructed and want to learn more about different designs,” said Kevin.

Growing up, Kevin was a quiet child always keeping to himself and spent a lot of time reading. Kevin attended his neighborhood elementary school and did OK mostly due to his slightly reclusive, yet inquisitive personality, his mom said. As he reached the higher-grade levels, Kevin started witnessing bullying and insolent activities such as vandalism and destruction of school property.

This was something Kevin’s mother, Sylvia Febus, feared because her older son had a similar experience when he was younger. At that time, Sylvia pulled her older son out of the school and enrolled him in a magnet school from which he graduated. But when Kevin had a similar experience, she could not find an easy solution for him.

“His entire demeanor changed,” said Sylvia. “He became even more reclusive than usual. He would not get out of bed in the morning. He started dreading the idea of going to school, and he lost an interest in learning about new things. This was alarming to me because Kevin had always been more of the bookworm in our family.”

Sylvia knew she would have to become her child’s strongest advocate. She needed to make sure Kevin remained interested in school and decided to seek out every available opportunity, even if it appeared to be financially out of reach. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charters, dual enrollment, state grades & more

Charter schools: Hillsborough County’s superintendent says she has reservations about Charter Schools USA’s proposal to operate a school on MacDill Air Force Base. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoDual enrollment: School district leaders plan to fight new dual enrollment legislation that calls for districts to pay for college courses their students take. They also say that the funding change discourages them from promoting dual-enrollment options. Tampa Bay Times.

State grades: Florida school superintendents are asking state leaders to revamp the state’s A through F school grading system — including eliminating the letter grades. StateImpact Florida.

PARCC: Florida gives up its role as the fiscal agent for the PARCC testing consortium to Maryland. Tampa Bay Times. 

Graduation requirements: A new study says Florida’s “standard” high school diploma doesn’t meet the “college and career ready” benchmarks promised by Common Core and will leave students ill-prepared. Sun Sentinel.

Governor’s race: St. Johns County school superintendent Joseph Joyner withdraws his name from Gov. Scott’s short list of possible lieutenant governor candidates. The Buzz.

Continue Reading →


In D.C., bureaucracy at issue, not school vouchers

Last Friday the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report highlighting flaws and failures in the oversight of Washington D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship program. But contrary to what you may have read in some newspapers and blogs (especially if you just skimmed headlines like this and this), the GAO’s findings were not an attack on vouchers or school choice.

Perhaps the most egregious offender published a headline which read “Report slams D.C’s federally funded school voucher program,” with the author also incorrectly stating “public money shouldn’t be used for tuition at private schools where there is no public oversight.”

The D.C. voucher program has, on paper, considerable public oversight (three layers, in fact). The problem is, the government agencies responsible for that oversight fell woefully short.

First, a little background: The U.S. Department of Education is required to appoint a non-profit organization to administer the program. The department is responsible for helping the non-profit develop policies and procedures to accomplish that task. The District of Columbia is responsible for inspecting private schools to ensure compliance with federal law.

In 2010, the Obama administration’s education department selected the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation, a government-affiliated non-profit, to administer the program. The non-profit is not without its own prior controversies, including having $350,000 of its money embezzled by an elected D.C. politician, but that is another story.

In 2011, Congress passed the SOAR Act, keeping the voucher program alive and funded for another five years. According to the GAO, new regulations were added that required the non-profit administrator to provide parents a directory of participating schools; ensure participating private schools were compliant with the law; ensure private school teachers had a bachelor’s degree or higher; and advertise the program to prospective students in public schools designated as “needs improvement.” The non-profit’s original duties included verifying household income for students to ensure eligibility and administering a lottery to award scholarships.

But as the GAO report point out, the non-profit administrator fumbled many of those tasks: Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Magnet schools, charters, achievement gap & more

Charter schools: The Lake Wales Charter School system is creating a new position to help with private fundraising. The Ledger.

florida-roundup-logoMagnet schools: Beginning next school year, Hernando County’s magnet schools will be able to send students with attendance problems, excessive tardiness, behavior issues or poor grades back to their zoned schools. Tampa Bay Times. Pinellas County School District officials want to add more magnets, fundamental programs, career academies and other options to the district’s school choice mix. The Tampa Tribune.

Achievement gap: Two prominent community leaders say Pinellas County schools could do more to close the achievement gap between black and white students. Tampa Bay Times.

School safety: Pinellas considers scaling back five school police officers’ schedules by June 2014. Instead of working 12 months, these officers would work 10, aligning with the school year. Tampa Bay Times.

School nurses: The Palm Beach County School District plans to ask the health care district for help finding as much as $600,000 for eight additional school nurse positions this year. Palm Beach Post.

Continue Reading →


Smarick: In new era, faith-based schools need more transparency, accountability



Few people in the field of education bring the kind of credibility to a debate on faith-based schools that Andy Smarick brings. So his keynote speech Tuesday to the American Center for School Choice’s Commission on Faith-based Schools in New York was all the more riveting for his decision not to preach to the choir. His message – that to reverse the decline, faith-based educators need also to look in the mirror – amounted to a family intervention.

“Without putting too fine of a point on it,” Smarick said, “an H.G. Wells quote seems particularly fitting: ‘Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.’ ”

Smarick criticized faith-based schools – and private schools in general – for not adapting to a new educational environment driven by regulatory accountability and performance measures, and for not being more transparent about their academic performance. He challenged a passage in the commission’s report:

“The following paragraph from your report is particularly instructive: ‘America is losing a valuable national asset — not because it has become obsolescent, not because the demand for it has disappeared, not because the need for it has been satisfied by other entities, but because we have a misguided public policy … ‘

“It is my humble contention that these policies are misguided as much because of our behavior as anyone else’s. I’m sad to say, most believe we currently don’t deserve better policies. Our elected officials are understandably making education decisions based on the conditions of 2013, and we’re acting like it’s 1963.”

The public and charter sectors are transparent in ways that better inform parents and satisfy the demands of those in government who pay the bills, Smarick told the audience. So private schools that want to constitute a viable third sector need to embrace the reality seen in most Western nations: Continue Reading →


All aboard for Catholic schools

Members of the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education are taking turns traveling cross-country by bus to raise awareness about Catholic schools and faith-based education.

ACE Academies national bus tour

ACE Academies national bus tour

It’s part of a 50-city tour, dubbed Fighting for Our Children’s Future, that’s aimed at highlighting how a Catholic education can have an impact not only on individuals, but on society as a whole.

“It’s an opportunity to celebrate the community treasures that we have in Catholic schools,’’ Christian Dallavis, senior director of leadership programs for ACE, told redefinED. “It’s also a chance to recognize people doing heroic work.’’

Much of that work is tied to keeping Catholic schools relevant, vibrant – and open. In the past 20 years, as other school choice options have grown, including tuition-free charter schools, more than 1,300 Catholic schools have closed.

ACE is devoted to saving Catholic schools and helping them fulfill their mission of providing children from all walks of life with a high-quality education. Through graduate level programs, ACE is training the next generation of Catholic school teachers and leaders.

ACE graduates and current leaders are among the contingent participating in the tour, which kicked off in Dallas last month with a forum at the George W. Bush Institute on the campus of Southern Methodist University. That’s where the Rev. Timothy Scully, ACE’s founder and director of Notre Dame’s Institute for Educational Initiatives, spoke about the role of faith-based schools in America.

“At a time when the dialogue about K-12 education often seems unnecessarily polarized and stultifying, this is an opportunity for leaders across the political and ideological spectrum to re-imagine what faith-based schools can mean to our cities,” said Scully, who recently won the William E. Simon Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Social Entrepreneurship by the Manhattan Institute for his work with ACE. Continue Reading →