redefinED roundup: charter school growth in N.C., legal battle in Alabama, Condoleezza Rice & more

MondayRoundUpAlabama: The state files documents to dismiss the Southern Poverty Law Center’s suit against the new school choice program (Al.com).

Florida: A new private school specializing in special needs education will open in Sarasota, with the state’s McKay scholarship program funding the $11,000 to $17,000 a year tuition (Bradenton Herald). After five years of declining enrollment, Catholic schools in Palm Beach County are seeing a rebound in student enrollment (Sun-Sentinel).

Indiana: Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks at a church in Indianapolis and calls for more options for students (Indianapolis Star).

Kentucky: With nearly 10,000 students, the Catholic Diocese of Covington would be the third largest school district in northern Kentucky.  The diocese would like to see a tax-credit scholarship program for low-income students (Cincinnati.com).

Louisiana: The Department of Justice’s lawsuit to block the voucher program is based on the enrollment of 570 of the 8,000 voucher students located in 22 districts under federal desegregation orders (Education Week, Washington Times, The Advocate). Gov. Bobby Jindal aired television ads slamming the anti-voucher lawsuit (Associated Press).

Maine: Three charter schools in the state claim success with their special needs student population (MPBN).

Mississippi: The state’s new charter school board will operate on 3 percent of the revenue collected from authorized charters but the board has no charter schools yet and the state didn’t appropriate a starting budget (Clarion Ledger, Fordham Institute).

North Carolina: The Charlotte area sees strong growth in charter school enrollment and has piqued the interest of more charter school operators (Charlotte Observer). Minority Democrats in the state legislature took a bold step supporting school choice, says Robert Danos, a former spokesman for the 11th District GOP (Blue Ridge Now). Continue Reading →

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Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: Loch Ness monster, DOJ spreadsheets & more

We’re trying something new today: an occasional report card that offers a quick analysis of education reform news from around the country. Who gets a satisfactory? Who’s in need of improvement? Read on.

MrGibbonsReportCard

Joy Resmovits, ed writer at Huffington Post

The Huffington Post is a fair news outlet when it comes to offering a broad range of view on education reform. But sometimes it voluntarily repeats the same bizarre or weak criticisms of school choice. Joy Resmovits’ most recent article on the DOJ suit against Louisiana vouchers gives added weight to bizarre, one-off criticisms while not giving enough weight to the evidence supporting vouchers.

Joy reports the “evidence on the value of vouchers is limited.” I’m not sure how she means to use the word “limited.” Results are “limited” in the sense that vouchers themselves are generally only available to a small group of highly disadvantaged students who then receive a relatively small scholarship to attend private schools. The value is usually around half the amount spent on a district public school. Even then, 11 of the 12 of the random assignment studies on the value of vouchers shows positive results for students using them.

gopplotIn another instance,  Joy references a private school which teaches that the Loch Ness monster is evidence in favor of the Young Earth Creationist theory. It’s a point of criticism Joy has raised in at least three  other  articles on vouchers, but it really doesn’t deserve the weight and attention she gives it. The use of the Loch Ness monster is so weird even other creationists make fun of it.

Using a rare and off-the-wall case in a private school to criticize an entire voucher system would be like me criticizing public education because a single district banned a lesbian girl from wearing a tuxedo for her senior portrait, or because a district has a high school named after one of the Ku Klux Klan founders, or because a district banned a book from the library - or any number of other examples of bad and/or discriminatory behavior in our nation’s schools.

Grade: In Need of Improvement

 

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Florida schools roundup: PARCC, Pam Stewart, teacher raises & more

School counselors: Palm Beach County elementary school counselors learn a new curriculum aimed at fourth- and fifth-graders called “Breaking The Silence: Teaching the Next Generation About Mental Illness.” Sun Sentinel.

florida-roundup-logoTeacher raises: The Orange County school district and its teachers union haven’t reached an agreement on pay increases, so the district has declared an impasse that ends months of negotiations. Orlando Sentinel.

Common Core: Gov. Rick Scott is concerned about the costs of measuring the new standards with PARCC, but most analyses shows the assessment costs about the same or less than what the state currently spends on FCAT. StateImpact Florida.

Pam Stewart: “Stewart does not inherit an easy job, but the broad support she has won early on offers reason to be optimistic about the future of education in Florida,” writes the Tallahassee Democrat.

Space project: Hillsborough County students are competing to see who gets to send their science project to the International Space Station, where it will be conducted by astronauts. Tampa Bay Times.

Summer reading: About half of Pinellas elementary school students improve their reading skills after attending a first-time summer program for struggling learners, while 47 percent stay at level or lose ground. Tampa Bay Times.

Bullying: Duval County Public Schools re-launches its anonymous tip hotline with a new feature to help encourage reporting of incidents: texting. Florida Times-Union. A Dallas-based motivational speaker tells Sarasota County high school students about being the target of bullies. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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A closer look at cherry pickin’ – and who’s doing it

no_cherry_pickingCharter schools are often accused of cherry picking students by expelling the lowest performers – a misleading claim I wrote about last week. But another recent example, this time in our backyard, offers a prompt to underscore another point: public school districts either transfer or assign troubled, low-performing, and special needs students out of district schools, and into specialty schools, all the time.

In this latest case, the Pinellas County School District began fielding complaints just a few weeks into the school year that a new charter school was kicking out kids with behavioral issues. As it turned out, the district was unable to find evidence this was happening. But what’s still noteworthy is how often districts take similar actions

Last year, the Pinellas district placed 1.2 percent of its low-performing and chronically disruptive students in special schools. When including schools for “exceptional students” (which includes special needs as well as mentally disturbed students) the enrollment is 2 percent of the district’s entire student population. The vast majority of these kids are nonwhite and low-income, as this chart shows:

charterperspective

For many possible reasons, traditional schools were not a good fit for these students, so the district either assigned them to another school in the beginning or transferred them later. Of course, no one is criticizing school districts for moving these students. And I don’t think they should.

In fact, we should celebrate the fact that districts are using specialty schools to meet the unique needs of these disadvantaged and troubled students.

We should remember this before jumping to conclusions about charter schools too. Charters don’t have a network of specialty schools to fall back on like public schools. So when a student is chronically disruptive or violent, or when the school simply doesn’t have the means to serve that student’s needs, it may not have any other choice but to expel the student or recommend a transfer.

Barring a much more detailed analysis, using transfer, suspension and expulsion rates to criticize charter schools simply isn’t fair. That’s especially true if you jump to conclusions and assume charter operators have the worst motivations.

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Florida schools roundup: Jeb Bush, Rick Scott, Common Core & more

Common Core: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush confronts criticism of Common Core, blasting it as “purely political.” The Buzz. Florida Gov. Rick Scott considers an executive order to address the growing controversy with a move that might involve new assessments. Miami Herald. A vote to support the new standards shows the Board of Education is still doing its job of looking out for schoolchildren, writes the Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoTrayvon Martin: The slain teen’s mother speaks to a group of students at a Broward County alternative education center: “I need to tell you all how special you are and how very much needed you are.” Sun Sentinel.

Charter schools: The Palm Beach County School Board officially closes iGeneration Academy charter school, after a student goes missing on a field trip. Sun Sentinel. More from the Palm Beach Post.

School boards: School Board members in Orange, Lake, Seminole, Volusia and Osceola counties are getting nearly 4 percent raises this year. Orlando Sentinel. The Hernando County School District has missed out on roughly $2.2 million while impact fees were reduced, then suspended in recent years. Tampa Bay Times.

Early learning: Education experts, senior White House officials, and business and nonprofit leaders from across the country meet in Miami to discuss early learning within the Hispanic community. Miami Herald.

Achievement gap: Pinellas County will roll out a new plan called Bridging the Gap that targets the academic differences between black students and other groups. Tampa Bay Times.

STEM: A Hillsborough County private school opens up a wing with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math. Tampa Bay Times.

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Scholarship student & dad overcome struggles, graduate together

Demonte Thomas and his father, Mario, at graduation.

Demonte Thomas and his father, Mario, at graduation.

On graduation day 2013 for Franklin Academy in Tallahassee, the sanctuary at Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church was packed with 1,500 guests who came to support the small private school’s 24 graduates.

But there were two students who brought the guests to their feet.

School Principal and Founder Margaret Franklin told the crowd, she had never done this before, and then called Demonte Thomas, 18, and his father, Mario, 40, to walk together down the aisle to receive their diplomas.

“As they marched down together it was just awesome,” recalled Franklin. “The crowd stood up and they were just roaring.”

It was a day for Mario that was a long time coming, and one that almost didn’t come for Demonte.

By 11th grade, Demonte was failing at his neighborhood school, which led his parents to secure a Step Up For Students Scholarship for him to attend Franklin Academy, where his brother was already attending and thriving. (The tax credit scholarships are sometimes called private school vouchers; they’re administered by Step Up, which co-hosts this blog.) But Demonte was still not committed to his future, and when his father tried to give him advice, he’d brush it off.

Mario was terrified his son would end up on the street where as a younger man he spent many years as a member of a local gang, and survived being shot twice before realizing he had to change his ways or end up dead.

Mario looked to the school for help with his son, and Principal Franklin reached out to Demonte regularly, but her words didn’t seem to be getting through.

“Demonte came in as a child not really respecting his father,” she said. “He kept saying he (his father) didn’t even have a diploma.”

And that was all about to change. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Pam Stewart, Rick Scott, teacher raises & more

Education Commissioner: Florida Board of Education leaders appoint interim Commissioner Pam Stewart to the permanent post. The Buzz.  Outgoing board member Kathleen Shanahan blasts department leaders for not giving clear direction on the new Common Core State Standards, and delaying a decision on which exams will replace FCATs. The Buzz. More from the Sun Sentinel, Palm Beach Post, StateImpact Florida, Associated Press, Florida Times-Union.

florida-roundup-logoRick Scott: Two State Board of Education members criticize Gov. Rick Scott’s leadership on education issues, highlighting a rift between Scott and former Gov. Jeb Bush. StateImpact Florida.

Teacher raises: More than four months after Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature approved $480 million in raises for educators, teachers in South Florida have yet to see a dime. Sun Sentinel.

Charter schools: The Board of Education closes a Broward County charter school that received two F grades in a row, leaving parents of 249 children scrambling to find a new school. Sun Sentinel. More than 250 Broward charter school students are roaming the palatial halls of the chandelier-laden Signature Grand – the school’s new home. Sun Sentinel. After years of watching students opt for private or charter schools, the  superintendent of Duval County Public Schools says it’s time to fight and  recapture those children. Florida Times-Union. Sarasota County School Board members criticize some applications for new charter schools, calling them “bizarre” and “disrespectful” and accusing one of plagiarism. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Only months after its elementary school was closed due to poor performance, Imagine Charter School’s middle school  in St. Petersburg may face a similar fate. The Tampa Tribune.

Dual enrollment: The Martin County School Board reluctantly approves the first local dual enrollment agreement with Indian River State College. TC Palm.

School spending: Months after cutting educators and tightening spending in the name of financial stability, the Manatee County School Board approves a final spending plan that calls for more teachers because of enrollment increases. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The district is in the midst of hiring the teachers and moving students into new classrooms after the final count of students came in at 46,008. Bradenton Herald.

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Florida chooses a new education commissioner: Pam Stewart

Stewart

Stewart

Florida has a new education commissioner: Pam Stewart, a career educator widely viewed as capable and accomplished but not a crusader.

The state Board of Education voted 7-0 Tuesday to hire Stewart to replace Tony Bennett, the nationally known former commissioner who resigned abruptly last month after media reports suggested he rigged school grades in Indiana to benefit a politically connected charter school.

For a full decade, Florida education leaders flexed their ed reform muscles when it came to landing commissioners, choosing either big names or politically potent ones or both. But with Stewart, they opted for a more low-key leader – one they hope will offer a steady hand during a turbulent time.

“We’re at a pivotal time in Florida education, and so we’re going to look to you to work diligently to lead us through,” said BOE Chairman Gary Chartrand.

“I’m cognizant of the times that we’re in and the critical nature of the work that we’re doing,” Stewart said immediately after the vote. “We’ve got to get it right. I am committed to getting that right.”

Stewart, who was appointed interim after Bennett’s departure, is the fourth permanent commissioner under first-term Republican Gov. Rick Scott. She is arguably the least polarizing schools chief since Florida went to appointed commissioners in 2003; the one with the deepest ties to what reformers sometimes call the “education establishment”; and the one with the least direct connections to former Gov. Jeb Bush. In Florida, commissioners are technically appointed by the BOE but none have been hired without the blessing of the sitting governor.

Unlike with the last three commissioners, the board opted Tuesday not to do a national search. The past two searches yielded fields that many education observers considered weak, and a third sub-par pool would have put a deeper stain on Florida’s ed reform rep. Over the past 15 years, Florida students have netted some of the sharpest gains in the country with NAEP scores, AP results and grad rates. But in recent years, their often-overlooked rise has been further overshadowed by high turnover in the commissioner’s office and highly publicized problems with the state’s accountability system.

“This is a critical year. We’ve had our changes and some people might want to call it turmoil,” said board member Barbara Feingold. “I think you can get us with stability and with clarity to the right place.”

Stewart faces serious challenges. Continue Reading →

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