More charter schools for U.S. military bases?

There’s a noteworthy backdrop behind the tug-of-war over a proposed charter school for MacDill Air Force Base in Florida: The U.S. Department of Defense is re-thinking how its on-base schools serve military families. And charter schools are among the options being considered.

dodAs part of an ongoing assessment, the DOD is looking at the costs and operations of 60 schools, on 15 North American military bases, to see if it can better balance expenses with the educational needs of its military families. The study, conducted by the Rand Corp., will look at school programs and performance, and offer recommendations that could result in some DOD schools becoming charters.

Although eight military bases across the country already have embraced the model, the DOD is not advocating charters or any other option, said Elaine Kanellis, a department spokeswoman. The nontraditional public schools, which tend to have lower per-pupil costs, are just one idea among several being considered.

Other alternatives include leaving the schools as they are, or closing them and transferring students to local district schools. The department also could create a new public school district under state law.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution,’’ Kanellis said.

Rand will talk with focus groups of parents, teachers, military personnel and education experts. The nonprofit think tank also will compare the performance of DOD schools to surrounding schools. A final decision will be made at the Pentagon level when the study ends, sometime after the summer.  Continue Reading →


Survey: school vouchers in middle of Americans’ ed reform list

Friedman surveySo here’s a new finding from a leading school choice group that might make some school choice supporters sigh: When it comes to reforms they think will best improve schools, Americans put school vouchers in the middle of the pack.

School vouchers finished behind smaller class sizes, technology and accountability in the survey released Tuesday by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, but ahead of teachers’ unions, merit pay and a longer school day. The report notes respondents made those choices after generally rating public schools between poor and fair.

“The fact that respondents would rate schools so low but still show preference for the structural status quo indicates choice supporters have much work to do to overcome an ideology favorable to the types of the schools the vast majority of Americans attend and to which they send their children,” the report says.

On another interesting note, the report found Americans are more likely to favor private school tax credits and school vouchers for all over vouchers limited to low-income students or students with disabilities. That could mean a re-thinking, the report says, in how some school choice supporters have strategized the adoption of new choice programs.

“The first modern choice programs – in Milwaukee and Cleveland – were limited to urban, low-income families,” the report says. “But if the ultimate goal is universal choice – whether through vouchers or tax-credit scholarships – incrementalism may no longer be a necessary strategy, at least as measured by public support for reasons for choice.”

Like any survey, the latest from Friedman has a lot of nuance and caveats. It also offers a lot of worthy background about similar surveys. Check it out for yourself here. Press release here.


Florida roundup: Common Core, Florida Virtual School, mold & more

florida-roundup-logoCommon Core. Common Core opponents begin airing radio ads. Orlando Sentinel.

Virtual schools. Florida Virtual School adds some adult classes. Daytona Beach News Journal.

School choice. Application period for district choice programs in Pinellas begins Wednesday. Gradeboook.

School spending. Mo money, mo problems? Gradebook.

School boards. Politicking in Pasco. Gradebook.

School diversity. Community and advocacy groups in Palm Beach County need to better participate in district efforts. Palm Beach Post. The Palm Beach County School Board takes a look at a minority “equity audit” Wednesday. Palm Beach Post.

School facilities. Eight classrooms at a Polk County elementary are being closed because of mold. The Ledger.

School tragedy. Grief counselors help students after a Marion County biology teacher is murdered over the holiday break. Ocala Star Banner.

Science. Looking at “tuberous remains,” Flagler County elementary school students work to think like scientists. Daytona Beach News Journal. Leon County students prepare for a robotics competition. Tallahassee Democrat.

Teacher conduct. A Walton County teacher faces a 10-day suspension for alleged disparaging remarks to a student. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Cold. Columbia County schools closed. Gainesville Sun.


Charter schools for FL military bases may get expedited applications

Sen. John Legg

Sen. John Legg

Spurred by conflict over a proposed charter school at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida lawmakers will consider creating an expedited application process for on-base charter schools serving military families, an influential state senator said Monday.

“That’s a hard pill to swallow when a base commander is saying we want options and the local government, for whatever reason, has not allowed them to go down that path,” Sen. John Legg, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, told redefinED. “So as a result, we’re going to be looking at options to offer more choices to our veterans.”

Legg’s comments come in the wake of last month’s decision by the Hillsborough County School District, the eighth-largest in the nation, to deny a charter school sought by MacDill, home to U.S. Central Command. The base commander and other supporters said a charter school could better serve the needs of military children, but district officials said they were concerned about the proposed school’s governing structure. The decision is being appealed.

Legg, R-Lutz, said he doesn’t have the details on any proposed legislation yet, and is unsure when it may be filed. He said it’s likely the bill will encompass a variety of proposals to benefit military families, and not be limited to education. He also said such a bill is a priority for Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, whose district is near Eglin Air Force Base in the Panhandle and home to a high number of military retirees.

The bill is likely to include a measure to create a separate application process for charter schools that are sought by military bases on the grounds of military bases, Legg said. It’s also likely to include language that would give military families priority with the enrollment process for such schools, as well as similar, military-themed schools off base. “Rational minds I think would agree that military family needs are different than other family needs,” said Legg, who works as a charter school administrator.

Legg said he didn’t want to “cast aspersions” on the charter school denial in Hillsborough, and he praised Hillsborough Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, who led the charge against the application. But he said the decision did prompt he and other lawmakers to “examine this process.”

Legg also said other lawmakers who represent districts near military bases have heard similar concerns about tensions between base and school district leaders over the education of military children. “This issue is not an anomaly,” Legg said. “This has been an ongoing discussion recently and the overarching consensus is we need to find more options for our military service students.”


FL charter high schools outperform district high schools

Like their elementary and middle school counterparts, Florida charter high schools earned higher concentrations of both A and F grades than district schools, according to the state’s latest school grades report.

Just how much higher depends on how you slice it. Bear with us.

The latest report, released Dec. 18, shows 63 percent of charter high schools earning A’s for the 2012-13 school year, compared to 46 percent of district high schools. But there’s a caveat.

The December report excluded at least 31 high schools (most of them charter schools) because the grades were reported last summer with the elementary and middle school grades. According to Cheryl Etters, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education, some high schools were graded on an 800-point scale because the school was missing one or more data points for a complete evaluation. For example, a charter school without a senior class would not be able to calculate a graduation rate. Such a school would be unfairly treated under the full 1600-1700 point evaluation for high schools.

When combining high schools from the DOE’s two databases, the percentage of A charter high schools drops from 63 to 55. When A and B grades are combined, district high schools lead 78 percent to 66 percent.


Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Common Core, Tony Bennett, school choice & more

florida-roundup-logoTax credit scholarships. A growing option for families in Pinellas. Tampa Bay Times.

Charter schools. The proposed charter school at MacDill Air Force Base sparks a debate over charter school governance. Tampa Tribune. Polk State College aims to help high school dropouts with a new charter school. The Ledger.

School choice. The Pinellas County School District kicks off its application process this week for district school choice programs such as magnets and career academies. Tampa Bay Times.

Virtual schools. Florida Virtual School and other quality online providers are innovative, accountable and getting good results, writes FLVS President & CEO Julie Young in an op-ed for the Fort Myers News Press.

Testing. What’s going to replace the FCAT? Education Commissioner Pam Stewart is expected to shed some light on that this week. Florida Current. More from the Tampa Bay Times.

Common Core. Common Core critic Sandra Stotsky is right that Common Core won’t prepare students for college majors in science engineering and math, writes FSU Physics Professor Paul Cottle, but saying it shouldn’t be implemented because of that is “like saying that you shouldn’t purchase an automobile because it can’t fly.” Bridge to Tomorrow. Common Core is among the top issues to watch in 2014. News Service of Florida (via The Buzz).

Tony Bennett. How the charter school grading story unfolded in Indiana. Indianapolis Monthly. (Hat tip: StateImpact Florida).

Teacher pay. The Pasco County School District gets criticized by state auditors, again, for failing to establish differential pay for teachers and administrators. Gradebook. Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: Charter fraud in CA, vouchers under fire in LA, charters worried in NYC but hopeful in NJ

MondayRoundUp_magentaAlabama:  Former Gov. Bob Riley becomes chairman of the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund (Southeast SunEducation Week). Step Up for Students President Doug Tuthill sets the record straight regarding false accusations about the program (

California: Money may be the real motivator behind charter school conversions (Education Week, Hechinger Report). A man pleads guilty to stealing $7.2 million by establishing fake charter schools (Seattle PI). A charter school in LA partners with homeschool parents (Education Week).

D.C.: An official at the DC Charter School Board is accused of accepting $150,000 to help managers of Options Charter School avoid oversight (Washington Post).

Florida: More students than ever use tax-credit scholarships to attend private schools (Tampa Bay Times). The number of charter schools has tripled in Pinellas County over the last five years (Tampa Bay Times). Julie Young, president of Florida Virtual School, says virtual schools are sustainable and accountable (News Press). Florida Virtual School offers students flexibility if they need it (Watchdog). A Polk County charter school applicant appeals to the state, arguing the local district’s rejection was arbitrary and “disrespectful” (The Ledger).

Georgia: School choice is more than just test scores (News-Times). Some Georgia lawmakers want charter schools to help pay for public school pension debt (Cherokee Tribune).

Idaho: A nature-oriented charter school becomes Blaine County’s first charter (Magic Valley Times-News).

Illinois: Charter school critics in Chicago still oppose charter schools after the board takes community input from supporters and opponents alike (Chicago TribuneChicago Reader).

Indiana: The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette gives former state superintendent of public instruction Tony Bennett an “F” grade.

Kentucky: School choice leads to more local control and more fiscal responsibility says Jim Waters, president of the Bluegrass Institute (Paducah Sun).

Louisiana: Columnist James Gill says private schools which teach creationism should be banned from accepting vouchers (The Advocate). The state auditor says vouchers do not ensure a quality education for students (Daily World, The Town Talk, Education Week). Gov. Bobby Jindal criticizes the Justice Department’s report on vouchers and racial segregation (The Advocate). A school choice opponent argues that choosing a school is too difficult so it shouldn’t be an option (The Advertiser). A group in Lafayette forms to oppose charter schools (The Advertiser). Continue Reading →


On school choice, teacher unions & McDonald’s franchises

While doing my end-of-the year inbox purge, I came across a few interesting items.

In a Sept. 30 column in Human Events, Jeb Bush offered the nation’s teacher unions a grand bargain: “If unions released their grip on political levers, and parental choice was absolute, many public school reforms would be unnecessary because the desired results would be achieved through market forces.”

Eventually, teachers unions will accept this deal and embrace full parental empowerment in exchange for full teacher empowerment, but only after membership nationally slips below 25 percent. With market share in the low twenties, financial necessity will force unions to expand their business model to include educators working in charter, private and virtual schools. And once they develop successful business relationships with educators in these non-district schools, the unions will be fully supportive of parents using public funds to access these schools. The unions already support students using public funds to attend unionized private colleges and universities, and unionized private pre-K programs.

In a somewhat related event, last September AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka convinced fellow labor leaders to invite “millions of non-union workers into the labor movement even if their own workplaces are not unionized.” Trumka called for the AFL-CIO to become a place where progressive organizations and individuals come together to develop and promote a common agenda.

Trumka’s vision provides teacher unions with an excellent rationale for dropping their opposition to full parental choice and forming partnerships with parents and educators in non-district schools.  Empowering low-income and working-class parents to access the schools that best meet their children’s needs is a necessary step toward reducing our country’s widening inequality gap, and progressives say reducing inequality is one of their top priorities. Nonetheless, as I previously mentioned, teacher unions will put inequality concerns on the back burner and refuse to find common ground with parents and educators in non-district schools until forced to by internal financial vs bk

There was more evidence from my local school district last month that district school superintendents are increasingly thinking and acting like McDonald’s franchise owners. The Tampa Bay Times reported that Pinellas County Superintendent Mike Grego is “studying the number and location of charter and private schools” in the district to fine tune his strategy for recapturing lost market share. “I believe as a public school system we ought to compete,” he said.

Part of Grego’s strategy includes putting new magnet programs in closed school buildings so he won’t be pressured to sell these buildings to charter school operators. That this will waste tax dollars by creating excess capacity in several neighboring district schools is apparently not a concern.

School districts should not be competing for market share. Continue Reading →