redefinED roundup: vouchers in Wisconsin, charters in Georgia, course choice in Louisiana & more


Alabama: The Alabama Policy Institute opposes the state proposed rules for the education tax-credit program. The think tank says the law does not prohibit tax credits from being used by students already enrolled in private schools, so long as the student is assigned to attend a school labeled as “failing” (Education Week).

Arkansas: School districts are declaring themselves exempt from a school choice law because they are still under court desegregation orders, leaving many parents unable to choose new schools for their children (

California: The Brandon Board of Education votes against busing 200 students who opted into a public school choice program to another school district (The Oakland Press).

Florida: Charter schools in the Tampa Bay area give parents lots of school choices (Tampa Bay Times). Florida’s K-12 tax credit scholarship program (administered by Step Up for Students, which co-hosts this blog) saw a 25 percent growth in enrollment last year, while a new study by Northwestern University professor David Figlio shows students in the program annually gain a years worth of learning (Heartland News). More on the study from redefinED here and here. Rapper Pitbull started a new charter school in Miami in order to make education “sexy”  and “cool” again (The Atlantic Cities, NBC News).

Georgia: The Atlanta superintendent of public instruction recommends against authorizing new charter schools but is overridden by the Board of Education (Education News).

Indiana: Private schools near Connersville have seen a dramatic increase in students using vouchers since the program expanded (The News Examiner). Scholars in Indiana are still debating the constitutionality of the state’s voucher program (The Times of Northwest Indiana).

Louisiana: The state’s “Course Choice” program will receive an extra $1 million to eliminate the wait-list as the enrollment continues to rise (Associated Press, The Advocate). Continue Reading →


Churches and charter schools

Sugarman: "contrary to today’s conventional wisdom, allowing religious schools to become charter schools is not clearly a violation of the 'establishment clause.' "

Sugarman: “contrary to today’s conventional wisdom, allowing religious schools to become charter schools is not clearly a violation of the ‘establishment clause.’ “

The connection between charter schools and religion continues to generate the occasional headline, with the most recent coming last week when the New York Times carried a Texas Tribune story about Texas charter schools leasing space from churches. Some of those interviewed objected to the entanglement of the schools with the churches and the “benefits” that churches were gaining from these arrangements.

I think these concerns are misguided, given the state of charter facilities funding and the facts on the ground about most of these relationships. At the same time, I think the legal door is open in some states for the possibility of faith-based charter schools, which would be a step forward for school choice and education reform. Let me explain.

1. The Present

At the moment, in all states that permit charter schools as part of their public school system, charter schools may not be religious schools. Put simply, this means that religion may be no more a part of these schools than it is in other (traditional) public schools. School prayer is prohibited. Students and teachers may not be selected on the basis of their or their family’s religious beliefs. The curriculum must be secular.

Finding a suitable place to locate charter schools is a widespread problem. Those who run charter schools have to pay for their facilities from the same funds that also pay for all the academic and other financial obligations, whereas public school facilities are financed separately, usually through general obligation bonds, paid by property owners in the school district until the facility is fully paid for. Many charter schools are in leased premises, unlike traditional public schools. This generally puts charter schools at a substantial financial disadvantage compared to their other public school counterparts.

In some places, as here in California, the local school district is supposed to offer suitable facilities to charter school operators, but in practice that often is a hollow requirement as the place or places offered are locations that are actually quite unsuitable. Sometimes school district leaders have nothing better to offer; other times, it seems they deliberately offer what they know will be rejected because they are hostile to charter schools taking away “their” pupils. Many instances of protracted litigation have occurred before charter schools have been able to secure facility agreements from school districts.

As a result, it is natural that charter school operators frequently turn to churches as potential landlords. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Back pay, literacy coaches, first days & more

Libraries: Five Miami-Dade County technical school libraries will open to the public starting the first day of school to offset expected budget cuts. Miami Herald.

florida-roundup-logoBack pay: An arbitrator tells the Broward school district it owes high school teachers hours of back pay for teaching an additional class period last school year. Sun Sentinel.

Higher ed: Florida’s next higher education Chancellor will inherit a job that requires a soft touch, keen political savvy and the dexterity to manage many bosses. Miami Herald.

Tony Bennett: His last-minute changes to Indiana’s school grading formula benefitted 165 Indiana schools. StateImpact Florida.

School support: Hernando County parents support Eastside Elementary as it works to improve its F grade from the state this year. Tampa Bay Times.

Teachers: StateImpact Florida looks at why teachers leave the classroom.

Business help: Polk County schools Superintendent Kathryn LeRoy pushes businesses to get involved with improving district schools. The Ledger.

School board: Former Duval County School Board member Betty Burney is cleared from any wrongdoing in a vote benefitting a company that once employed her sister. Florida Times-Union. Continue Reading →


Can teachers unions adapt to the changing public education landscape?

In June, Ron Matus introduced a short series of entries responding to his question, “Can teachers unions adapt?” Responses came from anti-union writers Gary Beckner and Terry Moe, from DFER staff member and former journalist Joe Williams, and from former Pinellas County Teachers Association head and current SUFS president Doug Tuthill.

Sherman Dorn

Sherman Dorn

I am a current member and former officer in the United Faculty of Florida (Florida’s college and university faculty union), but I think the most useful approach I can suggest comes from my role as an education historian. The reality is that teachers unions (or any organizations tied to schooling) have a long record of varied change in response to circumstances.

Despite occasional crass claims about an educational status quo and “industry-era education,” rough stability is a more useful concept for education history than absolute fixedness. As David Tyack and Larry Cuban argue in their wonderful history of school reform, Tinkering toward Utopia, change often happens through long-term trends rather than through the more visible and cyclical rhetoric of the reform du jour.

More importantly, the sources of relative stability derive more from shared values and long-term social dilemmas than come from either self-interest (as Joe Williams claims) or from bureaucracy. Bureaucracy has its influences and people include material self-interest as part of their identity and their role in organizations like unions. But schools have social scripts for all sorts of reasons, including our country’s bundling of education with citizenship and the common experiences adults remember from their time in schools.

Understanding that mix of change and stability requires that we give up slogans about both schools and teachers. For example, rural schools both face concrete difficulties in managing their workforce because of local labor markets and also have changed in significant ways despite the stability of some conditions. The Hendry County Education Association is not the main reason why it would almost always be difficult to hire and retain physics teachers in that rural Florida county, or the reasons why a principal of Clewiston High School (or any rural high school) might be unable to offer physics or be hesitant to fire a poor science teacher. Hiring and keeping good science teachers would be a challenge even if the Hendry schools paid science teachers more than other teachers: fewer than 10% of Hendry County adults have a bachelors degree, let alone one in science or science education.

Yet rural high schools still change across years and decades, and pretending they do not is not accurate history. For example, Clewiston High School serves around 1,000 students, not only much larger than rural high schools 50 years ago but a larger population than many suburban high schools today or in the past. Despite its rural nature, Hendry County’s school system parallels other county schools in Florida as much as it can, including schools larger than one would have found in the vast majority of Florida’s school districts 50 or 60 years ago. That parallel structure has helped Hendry County address the shortage of teachers in general, if not making principals’ hiring or retention decisions easy in a rural area.

So too with teachers unions: Change in many areas, stability in others. While some individual locals may be remarkably stable in character and priorities, many state affiliates and both national teachers unions (the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers) have changed significantly over the long term, and they change in response to both external conditions and internal debates. The existence of public school choice and private-school voucher policies change the external conditions but not the fact that national unions respond to them. The interesting question for an historian is what factors shape changes in unions, not whether they change. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Common Core, charter schools, budget woes & more

Common Core: The St. Johns County Republican Assembly is the latest GOP group to question the new education standards adopted by Florida and 44 other states. StateImpact Florida.

florida-roundup-logoSchool grades: StateImpact Florida asks parents what a school’s grade means to them.

Debit cards: Sen. Darren Soto, R-Kissimmee, comes up with a counter plan for helping teachers buy school supplies: debit cards preloaded with state dollars that arrive two weeks before the start of school with more money for middle and high school teachers. The Buzz.

Weather alert: The Broward County school district will use new Android-based phones in its schools to track lightning, heat index, wind speed and other severe weather. Sun Sentinel.

Charter schools: Ivy Academies won’t be able to open next week in Lauderdale Lakes in Broward County after city commissioners vote to rezone the building. Sun Sentinel. This school year, 42 charter schools will educate nearly 14,000 Hillsborough County students. Tampa Bay Times.

New ride: A group of Boca High students start a campaign to raise $11,000 to buy an electric wheelchair for a fellow student. Sun Sentinel.

Budgets: Palm Beach County school administrators share concerns about a $252 million hole in the district’s capital budget plan. Palm Beach Post. Continue Reading →


The students who come and go from Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship

factsThe latest report on academic performance in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program devotes historic attention to evaluating the students who enter and, later, leave. This is the first time this subset has been thoughtfully and empirically analyzed to determine who these students are, why they leave and how they perform once they return to public schools. The researcher’s findings lend credible support to common sense: students who struggle seek other options.

The reasons that students transfer schools and how they perform can be overstated by supporters and opponents of the scholarship program alike. It is important to clarify the contradictory claims in this debate as more than 60,000 students enter the scholarship program this fall. The report, written under contract with the state by respected Northwestern University researcher David Figlio, faults neither the public schools nor the private schools, and simply asserts that students seek new schools because their prior option didn’t work for them.

For example, Figlio reports that for six consecutive years the students entering the scholarship program “tend to be the lowest performing students in their prior (public) school” and this is a “trend that is growing stronger over time.” This is not to say the public schools as an institution are failing low-income students, but more likely that the particular public school didn’t meet the unique learning needs of the child who chose the scholarship. Parents are seeing their child struggle and they are using scholarships to pursue new options.

The same could also be true for students who return to public schools. Continue Reading →


Annual study on Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program released

Northwestern University researcher David Figlio has released his sixth annual report on Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship program. Figlio conducts this research through a contract with the Florida Department of Education (DOE).

David Figlio

David Figlio

Tax credit scholarship students are required to take a DOE-approved standardized test every year, and their results are sent to Figlio for analysis. Most students take the Stanford Achievement Test (57.7 percent), but the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (22.5 percent) and Terra Nova (12.1 percent) are also popular.

The 2011-12 school year results, which are covered in this latest report, are similar to what Figlio found in his four previous studies (the first report created the baseline year). In terms of the scholarship students’ characteristics, he reports they tend to “come from less advantaged families than other students receiving free or reduced-price lunches … come from lower-performing public schools prior to entering the program … be among the lowest-performing students in their prior school, regardless of the performance level of their public school.”  As he has in prior years, Figlio also found that “the tendency for the weakest prior performers on standardized tests to choose to participate in the FTC Program is becoming stronger over time.”

Figlio reported scholarship students returning to district schools also “tend to be those who were struggling the most in their private schools.” Apparently parents are more apt to change schools when their children are struggling academically, which makes sense.

The typical scholarship student “scored at the 46th national percentile in reading and the 45th percentile in mathematics, about the same as in the last several years.”  These year-over-year achievement gains show “the typical student participating in the program gained a year’s worth of learning in a year’s worth of time.” This is significant because the national comparison group is comprised of students from all income levels. Usually low-income students lose ground when compared to the annual gains of more affluent students.

Figlio makes reference to a separate study he conducted that shows the tax credit scholarship program is improving the achievement of public school students:  “There exists compelling causal evidence indicating that the FTC Scholarship Program has led to modest and statistically significant improvements in public school performance across the state.”

Figlio concludes his report by stating that, “a cautious read of the weight of the available evidence suggests that the FTC Scholarship Program has boosted student performance in public schools statewide, that the program draws disproportionately low-income, poorly performing students from the public schools into the private schools, and that the students who moved perform as well or better once they move to the private schools.”

The full report can be found on the Department of Education website:


Florida schools roundup: Debit cards, ESE crisis, state school grades & more

Debit cards: Only seven of 67 Florida school districts have taken Gov. Scott’s offer of a $250 debit card for school supplies. Why? The cards won’t be distributed until late next month – well after the start of school. The Buzz. More from the News Service of Florida.

florida-roundup-logoHiring: Only days away from the start of school, the Palm Beach County district still needs transportation and safety directors. Palm Beach Post.

ESE crisis: Hillsborough County school officials say they responded to concerns an ESE teacher shared with them months before a special needs student died while in school care. Tampa Bay Times. Columnist Sue Carlton says Hillsborough district leaders ought to be saying something like this: “Something went horribly wrong. We messed up. And we should be looking hard at the bigger picture to keep it from ever happening again.” Tampa Bay Times.

Club control: Lake County School Board members vote to only allow middle school clubs that promote critical thinking, business, athletics and the arts. That upsets some students as they try to form a Gay-Straight Alliance to deter bullying. Orlando Sentinel.

Priorities: Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublette set goals for the coming year that include changes to career and technical education, magnet programs and gifted education. Orlando Sentinel.

75th anniversary: The Miami Country Day private school that opened in 1938 celebrates its diamond anniversary. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →