Charter schools dragging down grad rates? Look closer

lee-corso1The Palm Beach Post reported yesterday on the graduation rate disparity between district and charter schools in Palm Beach County, one of the biggest school districts in the nation, and the numbers sure made charter schools look bad.

Though the district graduation rate was 76.3 percent, district-run schools had an 82 percent rate while charters had a 37 percent rate, according to an analysis by the district’s director of research, evaluation and assessment. He blamed charters for the 1-point drop in the district rate. “There aren’t as many students in charter schools,” he told The Post. “But there’s a distinct difference in what they do to our graduation rate.”

The disparity was so large our crack research team at redefinED took a dive into the state data to see what was going on. The first thing that stuck out about Palm Beach was the proportionally larger number of charter school students attending alternative, at-risk or special needs schools.

Including alternative and special needs schools in the graduation rate comparison isn’t fair since, according to the Florida Department of Education, transfer students are added to the same-grade-level cohort at their new school. For example, if a student enters X High as a freshman and transfers out to Y High just before the start of the senior year, the student would be added to the cohort of seniors at the new school. Thus, alternative schools are getting dinged on grad rates for enrolling students who transfer from other schools (while at-risk of dropping out) and then don’t graduate.

As it turns out, 57 percent of charter school students eligible for graduation in Palm Beach County appeared to be attending schools that identify themselves as alternative education or specializing in at-risk or special needs students. Only 2 percent of graduation-eligible students in the district-run schools were in a similar setting.

When you separate out these types of schools, the district graduation rate jump to 83.3 percent while the charter school rate jumps to 83.2 percent. In other words, when making an apple-to-apples comparison, charter schools in Palm Beach County don’t perform any different.


It should be noted that the “regular” charters serve more free- and reduced-price lunch students than their district counterparts, 55 percent to 37 percent. They also graduate 80 percent of their FRL students, compared to 74 percent within the traditional district schools.

Blaming charter schools for the 0.7 point drop in the overall district graduation rate is premature. This is especially true when you consider that Mavericks High School – a charter that serves at-risk student – is just two years old. Those students had to come from somewhere and it is highly likely the vast majority came from district-run schools. Had Mavericks never been founded, many of those kids (most of whom did not graduate with a four-year standard diploma) would have been counted against their district-run school. That alone would constitute up to a 2.2 point drop in the graduation rate of district-run schools.


Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: voucher lawsuit, charters, and schools of terror!

MrGibbonsReportCardNorth Carolina Justice Center

The North Carolina Justice Center, which bills itself as a civil rights advocacy organization for low-income families, has joined the North Carolina Association of Educators (a NEA affiliate) in a lawsuit to stop the state’s new voucher program, which ironically is for low-income students.

The lawsuit attempts to make a constitutional argument over the funding mechanism (which wouldn’t stop a tax-credit scholarship system like here in Florida) but the Institute for Justice, a civil rights and pro-school choice law firm, believes the voucher program will be ruled constitutional.

The Justice Center is supposed to fight for low-income families, not for a particular mode of educating them. According to plaintiff Mike Ward, a former state superintendent of public instruction in N.C., vouchers “tear away millions of dollars that are badly needed by the public schools” (emphasis added).

Worrying about students who remain in public schools is a valid concern. The good news is, there is no evidence that suggests those students are hurt by school choice. Heck, the public schools’ per-pupil funding doesn’t even go down because of vouchers.

The Justice Center, like the News & Observer editorial board, has its heart in the right place. But its focus should be on who is being educated, not how or where.

Grade: Needs Improvement


Charter schools

Charter school growth continues on a rapid pace across the nation, suggesting parents and students alike want something different. There is nothing stopping district schools from converting to independently operated franchises of the district where they operate, freeing teachers and principals to use their resources in more innovative way. (Well, nothing but the bureaucracy and other well-funded and entrenched special interests of education. But that’s another story.)

According to the latest market share report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, New Orleans charter schools have the highest market share in the country – at 79 percent – for the 8th year in a row. Detroit became the second city in the U.S. to have more charter school students than traditional public school students. The largest population of charter school students is in Los Angeles, with nearly 121,000, followed by New York City and Philadelphia.

Growth is going gangbusters in Florida, with Duval and Hillsborough counties exceeding 25 percent growth on the year. But the top two spots in growth rates go to Hall County, Ga., and San Diego.

Check out the full report.

Grade: Satisfactory

Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Digital learning, IB, school safety & more

Charter schools: The Hillsborough school district should expand its elementary on MacDill Air Force Base to accommodate middlerschoolers, and satisfy needs of a growing military population, writes Dan Ruth for the Tampa Bay Times. Leaders of The Schools of McKeel Academy say they do not need to rush into hiring a new superintendent. The Ledger. Officials with the JAX Chamber make an agreement with the Duval County school district to help find paid internships to high school juniors and seniors. Florida Times-Union.

florida-roundup-logoMagnet schools: Pinellas school board gives its initial approval to a district plan to reopen two shuttered schools as technology magnets. Tampa Bay Times.

Digital learning: Students at two Orange County elementary schools will begin toting their own laptops and tablets to school in January as the district tries out a “Bring Your Own Device” program. Orlando Sentinel. Collier County’s implementation of Bring Your Own Device has been deemed a success by administrators. But some parents still are resisting the move. Naples Daily News.

IB: Another Sarasota County high school will offer an International Baccalaureate diploma program. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

District schools: Manatee County looks to streamline its operations. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School safety: A year after 20 children and six adults were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., Central Florida school districts say their heightened security efforts have become the new normal. Orlando Sentinel.  Rhema Thompson honors those who lost their lives at Sandy Hook by remembering the “acts of love by individuals in our community.” Pensacola News-Journal.

Audits: The latest review of Manatee County school district’s finances turns up more problems. Bradenton Herald.

Tony Bennett: ACT hires former Florida education commissioner Tony Bennett as a consultant for the new test tied to Common Core standards the company is developing. Education Week.

Student arrests: Pinellas school officials follow their Broward counterparts and look at a new policy that results in fewer students getting arrested. The Tampa Tribune.

Teacher awards: Pinellas County Schools announces 10 finalists for the annual teacher of the year award. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher raises: The Palm Beach County School District and its teachers finally reach a tentative agreement to give teachers raises averaging about $2,200 this year. Palm Beach Post.

Conduct: A Santa Rosa County high school is arrested for bringing a toy handgun on campus that leads to a lockdown. Pensacola News-Journal. A Lee County middle school student is suspended after another student reports that he touched her inappropriately. Fort Myers News-Press. A Manatee County substitute teacher is arrested after he allegedly grabbed a student and dragged him out of a classroom. Bradenton Herald.


Mostly agreeing with Andy Smarick, but …

In his keynote speech to a national gathering of faith-based educators in New York City last month, Andy Smarick offered several thoughtful ideas about how to regulate and expand access to faith-based schools. I agree with some of these ideas. I disagree with others.

agree disagreeHere’s a rundown. I paraphrased Smarick’s positions for the sake of brevity.

Smarick: Faith-based educators need to assume some responsibility for the decline in student enrollment in their schools. Families today have many schooling options and faith-based schools need to become more effective and efficient if they are to survive.

Me: I agree. Many of the faith-based schools our nonprofit, Step Up For Students, works with in Florida excel at providing children with safe and loving environments, but they need to improve their instructional practices. We recently launched an ambitious statewide partnership with scholarship schools and families to enhance their teaching and learning.

Smarick: Faith-based schools need to be more transparent with their student achievement data and do a better job using these data to help communicate their schools’ effectiveness.

Me:  I agree, but I also think faith-based schools and parents need to better integrate standardized test results into their improvement efforts.

Every Florida tax credit scholarship student is required to take a nationally normed standardized test yearly. But faith-based schools seldom, if ever, use these test results to inform instruction, and parents in faith-based schools seldom, if ever, review their children’s results, either. The limitations of standardized test data are well documented, but these limitations do not justify ignoring these data.

Smarick: Faith-based educators must become more politically engaged if they want government to enact public policies making faith-based schools more accessible to low-income and working-class families.

Me: I agree. Money to pay tuition and fees is the primary obstacle blocking low-income and working-class families from accessing faith-based schools. Thanks, in part, to the political engagement of Florida’s Catholic and Orthodox Jewish communities, Florida is slowly eradicating this impediment through two voucher programs (i.e., Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten and McKay Scholarships) and a tax credit scholarship. Florida’s faith-based school enrollment is increasing as a result. The tax credit program is serving 30,000 more low-income students this year than it did just four years ago.

Smarick: The school should be the unit of analysis and improvement. Our goal is not to create great school systems, but great systems of schools.

Me: I agree and disagree. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charters, virtual schools, grad rates & more

Charter schools: The Orange County school district ties for 10th nationally for “highest growth” in charter school enrollment the past two years. Orlando Sentinel.

florida-roundup-logoCareer academies: The Clearwater Aeronautical Space Academy will allow Pinellas high school students to earn 30 college credits from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and complete Private Pilot Ground School. The Tampa Tribune.

FLVS: Florida Virtual School offers students flexibility when they need it. Florida

Private schools: St. John’s Episcopal Day School in Tampa donates 3,200 pounds of food to a local shelter. The Tampa Tribune.

Standardized tests: Creating an environment where students are expected to stretch their performance is the best way to assure that our nation will not be at risk, writes Michael A. MacDowell for the Fort Myers News-Press.

Achievement gaps: Florida has strong gains among White students and even stronger gains among Black students, proving once again that the Florida reform cocktail is as a highly beneficial beverage, writes Matthew Ladner for EdFly.

Finances 101: A coalition of Florida lawmakers says money matters and schools need to do a better job teaching students about finances. The Florida Current. “The Money Course” will require a half-credit, full semester financial literacy course starting next fall. Sun Sentinel. More from the Tallahassee Democrat.

Grad rates: Broward County’s high school graduation rate dropped slightly in 2013, from 76.4 to 75.3. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach County’s overall graduation rate was 76.3 percent, compared to 77 percent the year before. Statewide, 75.6 percent of students graduated. Sun Sentinel. The slight drop in graduation rates for Palm Beach County is at least partly on the shoulders of the charter schools. Palm Beach Post. Polk graduated 69.4 percent of its seniors in school year 2012-13, a 2.6 percent increase over 2011-12′s rate. The Ledger. More from the Orlando Sentinel, Florida Today, Florida Times-Union, Tallahassee Democrat and the Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →


What’s your #schoolchoiceWISH?

2013WISHLISTFINALIn the spirit of the holidays, the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, the Black Alliance for Educational Options and the redefinED blog are partnering on something a little bit different this year to raise awareness: A fun, one-day Twitter campaign.

We need you to help us. All you have to do is tweet.

Just think of one thing you wish would change to help the cause of vouchers, or charter schools, or parental empowerment, or anything else related to parental school choice. Then, on Wednesday, Dec. 18, tweet it out with #schoolchoiceWISH as a hash tag.

It can be personal. It can be political. But whatever it is, make it heartfelt.

If you’d like, attach a photo. We might even put it up on our facebook page.

We’ll be following everyone’s #schoolchoiceWISH tweets all day, and retweeting and replying. Please join us. Happy tweeting!

On a related note, we’ll soon be running a series of special guest blog posts on the wish list theme, too. More details soon.


Catholic schools: Don’t forget about us

If Florida’s Catholic schools and their 84,000 students were part of a public school district, they’d be the ninth largest in the state. They’d generate scores of news stories every year. Have powerful interests battling on their behalf. Win praise for saving taxpayer money. But like other private schools, they’re often out of sight, out of mind.

Sen. Altman: “If we’re going to meet the future needs of society, we have to have a viable private, parochial and faith-based education system” in addition to public schools,

Sen. Altman: “If we’re going to meet the future needs of society, we have to have a viable private, parochial and faith-based education system” in addition to public schools,

In Tallahassee Tuesday night, Florida’s Catholic school superintendents led a meet-and-greet with a handful of state lawmakers to send a polite but direct message: Don’t forget about us.

“The impact of Catholic education in our state can never be underestimated,” Bishop Gregory L. Parkes of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee told about 100 people gathered on the top floor of the Capitol.

Catholic schools have long enjoyed a reputation for serving low- and middle-income families and setting a high academic bar. For taxpayers, they offer financial benefits, too. Florida’s Catholic schools save the state at least $435 million every year, according to new calculations by the Florida Catholic Conference. That’s how much it would cost to educate Catholic school students in public schools, less the cost of publicly funded school choice programs.

Tuesday’s event, which included brief remarks by Gov. Rick Scott, was not a knock on public schools. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Career academies, charters, districts & more

Career academy: Some Pasco County high school students will learn to fly drones when their school launches an aviation career academy in conjunction with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. The Tampa Tribune.

Charter schools: Pinellas County school board members approve the school district’s first virtual charter school. The Tampa Tribune. Hillsborough school officials vote down a charter school for MacDill Air Force Base. redefinED. More from The Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times. The Hillsborough County School Board made the correct decision in denying an application for a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base, writes the Tampa Bay Times. florida-roundup-logoAs the Miami-Dade School Board looks to improve its grip on charter schools, a new national report shows that Florida’s network of independent schools is expanding faster than anywhere else in the U.S. Miami Herald. Orange County school district ties for 10th nationally for “highest growth” in charter school enrollment the past two years. Orlando Sentinel. School board members receive a recommendation to deny approval of the South Lee County Florida High School for Accelerated Learning, but they vote to wait another month on a final ruling. Naples Daily News.

District schools: To help compete with a growing array of school options, Broward County plans its first online technical high school, three new preK-8 schools, and an overhaul of six failing elementary schools. Sun Sentinel. Four struggling Lee County schools get an extended school day starting in the new year. Fort Myers News-Press.

Honors classes: Starting next school year, incoming freshmen in Pinellas County high schools may find that honors classes carry less weight for their GPA than AP, IB and dual-enrollment classes. The Tampa Tribune.

Teacher evals: Calls to push back the deadlines are getting louder. Tallahassee Democrat.

Common Core: The Pasco County school district plans a series of 13 community meetings to educate parents about the Common Core State Standards. The Tampa Tribune. Continue Reading →