In parent choice suit, U.S. Department of Justice on wrong side of history

Editor’s note: This piece is in response to the U.S. Department of Justice’s legal action against the voucher program in Louisiana. It is co-authored by Howard Fuller, board chairman of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, and Kevin Chavous, executive counsel of the American Federation for Children.

Fuller and Chavous: The DOJ has wrongly decided that allowing these children a life line to getting a better education must take a back seat to whether or not they impact desegregation. (Image from baeo.com)

Fuller and Chavous: The DOJ has wrongly decided that allowing these children a life line to getting a better education must take a back seat to whether or not they impact desegregation. (Image from baeo.com)

It is easier to say we must take the long view when grappling with the issue of social justice than it is to actually practice it. Such is the problem the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has today as it wrongly inserts itself in the effort to give low-­‐income children in Louisiana an opportunity to get a better education. DOJ is suing the state of Louisiana, more specifically 34 parishes in the state that are still under a desegregation law, claiming that the state’s school choice scholarship program unlawfully allows students to leave failing public schools and go to high-­‐performing private schools by way of a scholarship. DOJ thinks it’s wrong and illegal to allow that to happen.

When one takes the long view, it’s necessary to understand the moment in history in which you exist and what is the primary problem being faced at that particular moment in the continuum of the struggle for social justice over time.

In America today the primary problem facing children from low-­income and working class families is getting a quality education. The Louisiana Scholarship Program was created to give these students a way to escape failing schools. It allows them to apply for a scholarship and choose a school that for them holds the promise of a better education.

The DOJ has wrongly decided that allowing these children a life line to getting a better education must take a back seat to whether or not they impact desegregation. No one with any sense of history will deny that at one point in time the state of Louisiana used this power to fund schools that were for whites only.

But that was then and this is now. In this instance, the state of Louisiana is on the right side of history because its actions are giving children the best chance to ultimately participate in mainstream American society by giving them access to better educational opportunities. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Florida Virtual, STEM, mentoring & more

Florida Virtual: Virtual school enrollment has shifted from the state’s online provider to district franchises following a legislative funding change. Tallahassee Democrat. FLVS sues K12 Inc. for infringing on the Florida Virtual trademark and causing market confusion. Education Week.

florida-roundup-logoCareer Ed: JetBlue agrees to partner with three Polk County high schools, mentoring students interested in aviation and allowing them access to the national airlines’ training facilities in Orlando. The Ledger.

STEM: Local civic and business groups are working on outfitting Sarasota schools with technology to help promote STEM education. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Digital learning: A $20,000 grant from the Comcast Foundation will kick-start a new digital learning initiative for young people in Sarasota County. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. 

Common Core: The Foundation for Florida’s Future and Foundation for Excellence in Education, influential supporters of the new standards, likely won’t be participating in the upcoming public meetings debating the new measures. StateImpact Florida.

Mentoring: Brevard County parents and children learn tips to maintain a balanced childhood from the father of NBA star Vince Carter. Florida Today.

Bullying: Lee County students learn life lessons from a retired New York City police officer. Fort Myers News-Press.

Conduct: A third-grader brought a loaded gun to a Sarasota elementary school. Associated Press. A Manatee County high school cafeteria manager kept his job for more than a year after having sex with a student. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School construction: Pasco school officials consider a plan to build more schools to ease crowding. Tampa Bay Times.

Band aid: The Fort Myers community steps up to provide instruments for a struggling high school band. Fort Myers News-Press.

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Florida Virtual School tells lawmakers about enrollment dive

Reeling from big drops in student enrollment, officials with the nation’s largest provider of online learning noted their woes Wednesday before the Florida lawmakers who inadvertently set the decline in motion.

Holly-Sagues-Pic1

Holly Sagues

Holly Sagues, chief policy officer for the state-funded Florida Virtual School, told the Senate Appropriations Subcomittee on Education that the highly regarded program, growing steadily until a few months ago, experienced a 32 percent drop in pre-enrollments in July, compared to the previous summer.

In August, course requests continued to fall, dropping 10 percent to 15 percent compared to the same time period a year ago. The decline is tied to a new legislative funding formula, approved in the spring, that cut state dollars to both school districts and Florida Virtual School. FLVS anticipates a $40 million loss.

“We are still estimating where we are going to wind up,’’ Sagues said.

Lawmakers offered little comment. They expect to get more specific enrollment numbers for Florida Virtual School and other online providers in January.

Under the old funding formula, districts received their full per-student allocation even when that student was taking one course through Florida Virtual, which also received funding for the student. Now, the district receives six-sevenths of the allotment and FLVS gets one-seventh. The pie gets even smaller when students take more online courses.

Lawmakers, including Sen. Bill Galvano, who chairs the subcommittee, have defended the new formula, calling it more prudent and equitable. But they also have asked the Department of Education to look into whether the change has caused some unintended consequences.

Sen. Bill Galvano

Sen. Bill Galvano

Sagues contends it has. She listed examples from even before the new formula went into effect July 1. That’s when some students were told they couldn’t sign up for FLVS classes, and others were told they would have to pay for the courses. “There was kind of a stop of students enrolling across the state because no one really knew how it was going to work,’’ she said.

The hit came in the spring, at the peak of FLVS’ pre-enrollment season for fall.

“We have had to cut back quite a bit for course development and offerings so that we could meet our budget,’’ Sagues added. The program also cut 177 full-time teachers and support staff in August. Since then, the program’s predicament has attracted national attention, with experts pointing to a new trend in online education that has states moving away from funding a single virtual school to allowing students to choose from multiple providers.

It’s not yet known whether overall student enrollment in online options is down, or whether students previously in Florida Virtual School have migrated to other providers. DOE officials are looking at online enrollments for Florida Virtual and the districts, some of which have contracted with FLVS to operate franchise programs.

Lawmakers expect to review a report in January that tracks the numbers.

“I want to revisit this and make sure we are identifying the trends properly,’’ Galvano said during the meeting.

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Florida schools roundup: Florida Virtual, McKay scholarships, charters & more

Charter schools: The Pasco County school board will consider charter applications, including one aimed for low-income elementary students at risk for dropping out. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoPrivate schools: A Tampa Islamic school simulates the hajj to teach children about the rite. Tampa Bay Times. The McKay Scholarship helps more than 27,000 children with disabilities attend private school. Tallahassee Democrat.

Virtual schools: Florida Virtual School leaders tell lawmakers that a shift in funding has hurt enrollment in the online learning program, especially in rural districts. Florida Current. 

Teacher raises: Only 13 districts have negotiated pay increases with their unions, with the average raise ranging from $1,500 to $2,900. The Buzz. More from the Palm Beach Post and Naples Daily News.

School security: The Broward County school district agrees to spend $555,000 for 12 officers to patrol elementary schools in six cities. Sun Sentinel. Instead of hiring armed security officers all at once for 144 elementary schools, Hillsborough’s latest plan would phase them in over four years. Tampa Bay Times.

Safety net: The State Board of Education will vote again on a “safety net” for school grades that would extend the controversial measure through 2014. Orlando Sentinel.

Outsourcing: The Miami-Dade school district may look to privatize its vast fleet of school buses and transportation employees. Miami Herald. The Polk County School District is looking into outsourcing the management of its substitute teachers. The Ledger.

Board view: Clay County school board members say their superintendent didn’t tell them he was authorizing $2,037 to  reserve a meeting room and amenities for an “American exceptionalism” conference. Florida Times-Union. Continue Reading →

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Reporting on school choice lacks nuance, perspective

PoliticoPolitico has built an impressive audience by bringing intellectual heft to pinched political debates, but Stephanie Simon’s treatment of school vouchers followed a more predictable narrative: left vs. right, public vs. private, us vs. them. Not surprisingly, the result was tendentious.

Though the original headline’s claim that vouchers offer “no proof they help kids” was later amended to allow that “vouchers don’t do much,” the account was infused with the kind of righteous attitude that mars our political discourse. By paragraph three, Simon was presenting the “inconvenient truth,” as if to signal her impatience with complexity.

Cory Booker D-NJ

Cory Booker D-NJ

Yes, it is true that “Jindal, GOP allies back vouchers,” but it is also true an increasing number of Democrats are joining the fight. Louisiana’s voucher expansion had the support of 19 Democrats (a third of all Democrats) in the state legislature. In Florida, nearly half the Legislature’s Democrats, and a majority of the Black Caucus, supported a major expansion of tax credit scholarships for low-income students in 2010. In North Carolina, a new voucher plan enacted this year was introduced with bipartisan sponsors. One of the Democratic Party’s rising stars, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, came to the vigorous defense of private options when challenged on the issue in his U.S. Senate primary.

Yes, some voucher students have produced what Simon called “miserable” scores on standardized tests, but that doesn’t necessarily distinguish them from some students in traditional public schools. Students who come from impoverished homes face enormous challenges, and their educational success is an obligation we face collectively as a nation. The test is whether each school is helping or hurting that progress, not whether it is run by public or private educators.

Adrian Fenty D-DC

Adrian Fenty D-DC

Yes, voucher students in some states don’t take the same standardized test as district students, but that does not make it “impossible to compare academic results.” In Florida, noted Northwestern University researcher David Figlio has used various techniques – including concordance and regression models – to compare between nationally norm-referenced tests and the state test. In 2010, he wrote of low-income scholarship and public students: “The results are consistent with a finding of small but positive differences between program participants and non-participants.”

By seeing mostly through the lens of good and evil, Simon robbed readers of the kind of nuance that enriches political debate. Her reporting on testing data suffered accordingly. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Charters, Common Core, teacher pay & more

Charter schools: Hillsborough School Board officials should ease anxiety for MacDill Air Force Base families when they consider a proposal for a new charter school at the base, writes The Tampa Tribune. The Orange County school board denies Renaissance Charters’ application for three K-8 schools, but approves Advantage Academy of Hillsborough, Inc. – a math and science charter school. Orlando Sentinel.  An 8-year-old  Miami-Dade charter school that gave hundreds of young adults a second chance at a high school diploma suddenly closes. Miami Herald. The Polk County school board votes down a maritime charter school application, fearing the school won’t be able to fill seats in a community that already has schools with low enrollment. The Ledger.

Private schools: After some tough economic times, Hernando County’s private schools report slight increases or steady enrollment numbers for the 2013-14 school year – and they attribute as a major factor greater awareness among parents of Florida’s tax credit scholarship. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoCommon Core:  Members of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition are worried they won’t get a chance during the upcoming public hearings to voice their concerns. StateImpact Florida. A new survey shows almost three-quarters of teachers in the subjects of English and math think the standards will have a positive effect on students. StateImpact Florida. Education Commissioner Pam Stewart has been crafting a plan to transition the state away from the FCAT to Common Core. Tampa Bay Times.

Biz ed: The Young Entrepreneurs Academy, or YEA!, prepares the next generation of CEOs in Pensacola by helping sixth- through 12th-grade students start their own successful businesses. Pensacola News-Journal.

Pay bumps: Hillsborough County school support workers get raises, with higher amounts going to bus drivers and cafeteria workers. Tampa Bay Times. A new plan for paying Broward’s principals factors in a school’s size and its number of low-income or special needs students. Sun Sentinel. With $30 million of state-allocated money hanging in the balance, the teachers union and Palm Beach County School District have yet to reach an agreement on raises. Palm Beach Post.

Future teachers: Valencia College adopts an Orange County elementary school, where most students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. to attract future educators – and college students. Orlando Sentinel.  Continue Reading →

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School choice will revive parental responsibility

parental responsibilityTeacher union sentinels warn us that school choice will rescue only the more promising students from a rejected public school, damaging that school further by their absence. The parents most likely to exercise their new authority – say the critics – will be those more concerned and sophisticated. In any case, the private schools chosen will then cull and reject the less attractive applicants; this predicted behavior is labeled “creaming,” “cherry-picking” and the like. Empirical study of private school admission practices puts this latter rap in serious question. Further, the design of state systems of choice in years ahead seem increasingly likely to assure fair inclusion of the poor without threatening the school’s identity.

But private school behavior will not be my subject. My focus, rather, will be the likelihood of change over time in the behavior of those parents who do not participate in the first round of choice and who seem out of the game. Will these fathers and mothers in due course become aware? And, once they grasp that they have authority, will they use it? What will be the effect on child and society?

One begins by asking: How do residents of lower-income neighborhoods today learn about change in the life styles of their neighbors? The urban sociologists whom I know seem to this day to recognize the efficacy of the grapevine. Its enhancement by the Internet is hard to estimate, but surely the overall effect of the modern organs of scuttlebutt will be to increase connectivity. Together, these social twines should be sufficient to spread the word in the neighborhood that Alice’s kid has left P.S. 99 for St. Mary’s.

But the most effective messengers of this sad news will be children themselves. The departing student’s stay-behind friend will be disappointed; his or her mother will get the message at dinner. Indeed, once defection has begun, there will be no hiding the new game, even from the duller parent. In addition one must remember: once choice has at last created competition for less well-off students, it will behoove every school to advertise its special charms in the most inventive ways to all families.

It is highly improbable that the slower-motion parent, once she really knows, will forever sit on her hands. She will, instead, begin to fumble and stumble toward participation. She will make mistakes, and there will be no want of charlatans and incompetents who, on occasion, will get the advantage of her. There will, in short, be a burst of variety, good and bad; and if – in the long run – one brand proves ideal for all of us, we will be happily surprised. However, there could well be one best educational recipe for that very specific person, little George. Experimentation by his parent may work its discovery for him; and that would now be possible for every child.

But is this a good idea? Society has for very long trusted only the haves among us with their own child; yet should that trust be extended to the have-nots? Apart from test scores, what will be the social and civic consequences?

As the nation gradually faces this issue, what is often overlooked is the positive effect of empowerment upon the parent herself. She becomes the groping, striving hopeful creature that is the rest of us. She can at last seek her own child’s way like the luckier among us. And, if she is not presently their equivalent in savvy, here is her opportunity – if only gradually – to become so by steady application of the three qualities that are unique to parents: love, insight and personal responsibility. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Charters, Pam Stewart, student data & more

Charter schools: Pivot Charter Schools backs away from its application after Volusia County school officials prepare to reject the charter because it doesn’t fill a unique niche, among other concerns. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

florida-roundup-logoCommon Core: Palm Beach County parents sound off during a public meeting about the new standards. Palm Beach Post. Florida superintendents want to move forward with implementing the Common Core. Tampa Bay Times.

Pam Stewart: The career educator has proven to be the “go-to” person in Florida education leadership. Florida Times-Union.

New bills: State Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, files two bills to prevent some of students’ personal information from being gathered. Tampa Bay Times.

High-tech: A Lee County technical high school turns around its rough image with a diverse STEM program. Fort Myers News-Press.

Teacher pay: The Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association proposes raises that reward experienced teachers. Palm Beach Post.

FCAT: An Orange County third-grader held back because she failed the FCAT by one point may be the impetus for a legislative push to change the state’s decade-old retention law. Bay News 9. Continue Reading →

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