Fear of words unspoken



“Talk Scheduled at Catholic School in Bronx Promotes Fear of Anti-Gay Message.”

So read a headline in the New York Times back in November. The half-page article sounded an alarm that the scheduled speaker, a priest, just might give parents – and, through them, children – an understanding of good and evil that is plainly unacceptable to the Times and probably injurious to the child and society. The article was more an essay than reportage and, perhaps, a prototype of contemporary journalism on issues respecting personal behavior. The relevance of this professional bent for the promoters of school choice deserves a word.

Imagine the mind of the Times writers as they blow the cover on this looming mischief. What an exposé – Catholics are conspiring to discourage sodomy! Though this threatening message was to be delivered only to parents, the journalists know that some vulnerable gay child is sure to be injured emotionally in the fallout. Indeed, the particular priest scheduled to speak “has long been involved with the Courage organization, a spiritual support group to encourage men and women to remain celibate.” If there were concerns that this organization was pushing further, instead pursuing an unstated strategy of reprograming gay students, the writers provided no clues.

Hence, we were left to imagine this fear: A priest intended to “encourage” chastity. Such a threat; beware the Inquisition! Happily the reporters told us to take heart: “More than 200 people” signed a Facebook petition to cancel the meeting. Such a big number (and how many of them parents)? It is worth noting that the journalists failed to ask those parents they did interview just what it was they had expected when they freely chose a Catholic high school – nor, why they did not now simply transfer to P.S. 209 and save the tuition while getting the message they want.

Flagship journalism frequently feels this obligation either to diminish or dominate public (or, here, even private) discussion of certain moral issues that the editors and writers consider settled. Among these is consensual sex. What one does with his body by choice is, by definition, okay. All opinion to the contrary is irrelevant; hence the threatened expression by this would-be Bronx speaker should be treated like any public nuisance – as a threat to be exposed and denounced. He may have the legal right to speak, but to exercise First Amendment rights in this manner, seeking to discourage gay sex, is at best de trop and, at worst, dangerous to children. It should be hissed from the stage. Bless those 200 Facebookers.

The prevalence of this attitude among these bright minds is suggestive for the politics of parental choice. First, this bent is not likely to diminish soon, partly because it arises from well-intentioned ignorance and long-engrained habits. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charters, dual enrollment, accountability & more

Charter schools: A tumultuous year for Pembroke Pines charter schools leaves the system on rocky ground and facing major challenges in the new year. Sun Sentinel. South Tech Academy’s first Rock and Roll Academy class in Broward County is learning the music business and building self-confidence. Sun Sentinel. Golden Gate Scientific Leadership Academy in Polk County is appealing the school board’s denial of its charter. The Ledger. Five years ago, there were seven charter schools in Pinellas County. Now, there are 23 charters that have been approved by the school board. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoDual enrollment: Some seniors at Lely High in Collier County are logging in college credits and flight time through a dual-enrollment program with Emory-Riddle Aeronautical University. Naples Daily News.

District schools: The wife of Duval County’s schools superintendent makes her own mark on educational and human rights issues. Jacksonville Times-Union. During the winter break, Santa Rosa students are grappling with the murder of one teacher, her son charged in the slaying and another student gunned down by police. Pensacola News Journal. For four years, the Hillsborough County school district has been the subject of a federal review of its sexual harassment practices. Tampa Bay Times.

Lobbyists: A lobbyist who until recently represented a host of charter-school organizations is hired to do political work for the Senate’s top education budget-writer. Florida Times-Union.

School boards: Rodney Jones, an official at State College of Florida, files to run for the Manatee County School Board. Bradenton Herald. More from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Education matters: Accountability looms large in the New Year. Tampa Bay Times. More from StateImpact Florida.

Early learning: The Lew Williams Center for Early Learning in Pinellas County is on track to open in August. Tampa Bay Times.

Schoolhouse: Hernando Historical Museum Association members break ground on a one-room schoolhouse in Brooksville. Tampa Bay Times.


Andrew Campanella: Make 2014 a Year of New Opportunity for school choice

Editor’s note: Andrew Campanella is president of National School Choice Week. This concludes our #schoolchoiceWISH series.

Andrew CampanellaAs school choice supporters, we hope children who benefit from educational opportunity will “dream big.”

We tell students to aim for their loftiest goals and to never give up.

My #schoolchoiceWISH is that school choice organizations do the same – dream big – and turn 2014 into a Year of New Opportunity for children across America.2013WISHLISTFINAL

This isn’t mere rhetoric. We can do this.

Support for school choice in all of its forms is at an all-time high. This support is evidenced not just by public opinion polls, but also in the scores of school choice and education reform organizations that exist today. These groups are doing remarkable work at the state and national levels, and they’re working together and collaborating more effectively than ever.

But for school choice to become an even more powerful movement, and for 2014 to become a Year of New Opportunity for families across America, these groups can forge even closer partnerships, either by planning joint events or partnering on projects designed to educate and empower parents and families.

To individual parents – “school choice” is not just about charter schools, or private schools, or traditional public or magnet schools, or online learning and homeschooling. It’s about having a choice of all of these options, being able to make a choice, and selecting the learning environments that are right for their individual children.

When school choice organizations work together, the collective messaging of these partnerships and this broad, familiar definition of school choice resonates with families.

It goes without saying that a charter school association and a private school choice group might not agree on every policy issue, or that a homeschooling organization and a magnet school consortium will not always find common ground. And yes, organizations do compete for scarce funding — that’s an undeniable fact.

But National School Choice Week is one proof point that collaboration is possible, and that despite differences on specifics, school choice and education organizations can come together on the basics. Later this month, hundreds of organizations, thousands of schools, and millions of Americans will join together at 5,500 events across the country to celebrate all types of effective education options for children. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Gifted students, middle school math & more

Gifted needs: Central Florida school districts have few options to challenge young, highly gifted students. Orlando Sentinel.

florida-roundup-logoLiteracy: A Polk County high school senior loves reading so much, she spends her free time collecting and distributing books to elementary school students struggling with reading. The Ledger.

Math: Florida’s most critical K-12 need is improving middle school math, writes Paul Cottle for the Tallahassee Democrat.

Obama: A group of Broward County elementary students gets to see President Obama during a White House visit. Sun Sentinel.

School funding: Florida is among states that have yet to spend the bulk of their Race to the Top grants. Education Week.

Athletics: The Florida High School Athletic Association surveys school administrators and coaches and finds about 75 percent say the so-called “follow-the-coach” rule should be changed so kids who switch schools can continue to participate in sports. Florida Current.

GED: The new GED test gets an overhaul in some states, including Florida. Associated Press.

Finance figures: Costs for requiring every high school student to take a financial literacy course vary from less than $140,000 for an online class to more than $11 million to offer it in the classroom with a book for every student. The Tampa Tribune.

Continue Reading →


Florida scholarship program has only enriched its students

Editor’s Note: Alabama’s new tax credit scholarship for low-income students has created a stir among opponents, including the state teacher union, and one of the latest attacks was aimed at Florida and its scholarship program. Doug Tuthill, redefinED blog host and president of the nonprofit that administers the Florida scholarship, responded in an oped published today in the Birmingham NewsHuntsville Times and the Mobile Press-Register.

By Doug Tuthill

As Alabama introduces a scholarship program that empowers low-income parents to choose a school that best fits their children’s needs, the apprehension of traditionalists in public education is understandable. But allow me to rebut a false accusation launched at your neighbor to the south: no one who administers Florida’s scholarship for underprivileged children is profiting from it.

I should know. I am the president of the only remaining nonprofit organization still administrating tax credit scholarships in Florida. We originally had eight nonprofits doing this work, but Florida’s scholarship funding organizations get no reimbursement until they operate for three years with clean audits, and then they can only keep up to 3 cents on each tax-credited scholarship dollar they collect. Little wonder that only one has been able to raise sufficient funds to survive.

Our nonprofit, called Step Up For Students, has raised dollars privately to help keep its doors open for 12 years. So I laughed when I read that at least one newsletter columnist and some public educators in Alabama think our nonprofit has enriched John Kirtley, the Tampa businessman who has personally funded much of our efforts. The columnist was particularly blunt: “This man Kirtley down in Florida has made $6.3 million last year managing that fund.” The scholarship, he wrote, “has resulted in a very lucrative business for him.”  How absurd.

Pick up any of the publicly available state-mandated annual audits of Step Up or any of its annual IRS nonprofit tax returns, and it is clear that Kirtley, our board chairman, has never received a penny in compensation. In fact, these statements show he has repeatedly opened his wallet to keep the scholarship operation alive.

Read the whole commentary here at AL.com.


Hello 2014!

2014 florida new year


Happy New Year’s, everybody! Enjoy the fresh start to an awesome new year. We’ll be back blogging tomorrow …


Peter Hanley: Wishing for a realistic view of testing

Editor’s note: Peter Hanley is executive director of the American Center for School Choice.



I wish we could have a more sophisticated, more realistic discussion of testing in our education reform debate. We do not yet have testing right, but the noise, much of it irrelevant to constructive dialogue, is making it difficult to determine if we are making much progress.

For all the imperfections of No Child Left Behind, the evidence seems clear that focusing even imperfectly on achievement and academic outcomes, as well as highlighting key subgroup performance, made a difference. Testing was clearly a key part of NCLB and plenty of room for legitimate debate exists about the amount and use of those tests. But the ongoing campaigns to nearly abandon testing, especially standardized testing, seem an overreaction and ill-advised.2013WISHLISTFINAL

The progress could have been greater. We could have been smarter and not allowed politics to put so many states in a race to dumb down the definition of “proficiency” so they could appear academically stronger than they were. The Fordham Foundation still rates only 10 states with history standards at an “A” or “B” level. Most of the science standards are mediocre to poor. The English/language arts standards improved little between 2005 and 2010. So in much of the country, even assuming the tests were aligned to the standards, we were starting with many defects built into the assessment system. If the standards did not ask for much critical thinking, problem solving, or teamwork skills, testing for them was highly problematic from the start. Yet this fundamental flaw is seldom a factor in any conversation about testing.

Nevertheless, the system broke through some stagnation despite NCLB’s shortcomings. Installing a testing and accountability system, however flawed, played a significant part. After treading water or deteriorating for 30 years, the high school graduation rate improved between 2000-10, even for African-Americans and Hispanics. To be sure, we are not anywhere close to where we need to be, but we got better. The focus on reading and math, on testing and then publishing the results, seems likely to have contributed to materially higher NAEP scores in the 2000 decade than over the previous period of the late 1980’s and 90’s. The result: greater numbers of better prepared freshmen entering high school, in turn leading to higher percentages of them graduating. This increase occurred even though 70 percent of high school students by 2010-11 had to pass some sort of exit exam to receive a diploma.

For all the continuous complaining about “teaching to the test,” where the standards were high and the tests were aligned, that did not seem to be a bad thing. In California, with which I am most familiar and whose standards are Fordham-rated at mostly the “A” level, academic progress has been steady. In 2013, the majority of students were “proficient” in math, English and science compared with one-third 10 years earlier. Unquestionably, many issues still remain in California – performance of subgroups, especially Latino students, and performance at the high school level, which is much lower than at the elementary level, to name just two of the most worrisome. But until California put in place its own stricter accountability system in 1999, tied heavily to testing and then coupled with NCLB, education outcomes had deteriorated markedly. Continue Reading →


Julio Fuentes: Wishing for a bipartisanship approach to ed reform

Editor’s note: Julio Fuentes is president and CEO of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options. This is the fifth post in our #schoolchoiceWISH series.

Julio Fuentes

Julio Fuentes

K-12 education is one of the hottest issues during every state’s legislative session. But when it comes to ed reform, bipartisanship does not come easy. Too often, when that reform bill hits the floor, whether it’s on accountability, choice or funding, civility goes out the door and the mentality of “us against them” takes over.

The nasty and insulting remarks that are hurled would send any child in school straight to the principal’s office. But bickering over whose agenda is more robust won’t get things resolved. And at the end of the day, we all want the best for our children.

So this is my school choice wish for the year 2014: I wish legislators across the country would work together to approach education reform with a bipartisan mindset. I wish for them not to let their party’s viewpoints blind them from making the best decisions that are beneficial for our children.2013WISHLISTFINAL

It’s clear that’s what the public wants.

According to the Pew Research Center’s recent policy survey, “Overall, 66% [of Americans] say either that the education system in this country needs to be completely rebuilt (21%) or that it requires major changes (45%).” When the findings are narrowed down to political parties, they show “about two-thirds of Republicans (65%), Democrats (67%), and independents (67%) agree that the education system needs at least major changes.”

Our legislators need to react to these numbers. They represent us. We elect them and rely on them to make decisions that will ensure a better future for our students. Education reform is not just a Republican agenda; Democrats too want to see changes in America’s neighborhood schools. Instead of all this fighting on the floor, our leaders need to change to make real transformation. Continue Reading →