Faith leaders must mobilize to stem crisis with faith-based schools

Hanley (left) and Aguirre

Hanley (left) and Aguirre

Bad public policy has exacerbated the crisis with faith-based schools in America’s inner-cities, and it’s likely to get worse unless religious leaders, parents and the schools themselves get better at raising awareness about the value of such schools and advocating for expanded school choice, two school choice leaders said Tuesday.

“Faith-based education is under attack on so many levels from the government and others with an anti-faith agenda,” said Robert Aguirre, who chairs the new, national Commission on Faith-based Schools. “It is easy to see the result and the implication of such a crisis. It is much harder to explain the lack of a national outcry.”

“If the organizations who operate faith-based schools don’t get to work to organize their parents/families,” Aguirre continued, “things will get much worse, much quicker, over the next 25 years than they have over the past 25!”

Aguirre’s comments came during a live, written chat on redefinED that also featured Peter Hanley, executive director of the American Center for School Choice. The center, which co-hosts the blog, formed the commission last year to raise awareness about the plight of faith-based schools and spur action towards their revival. The commission’s first leadership summit is set for next week in New York City.

Wrote Hanley during the chat: “The Commission was formed to challenge the complacency that closing religious schools, especially in urban areas where there is little educational choice and where these schools have served communities for years, is just a result of natural evolution rather than bad public policy. We want to create a national consensus that these schools are a national asset that millions of American families value and should be able to access as part of our educational system.”

Aguirre and Hanley also:

  • Stressed the need to accentuate the moral case for school choice over the financial benefits.
  • Said we should stop regarding public and private schools as part of an either/or system.
  • Called it “especially disappointing” the Obama Administration has not been more supportive of faith-based schools, given their track record with traditionally underperforming students.

You can read the entirety of the chat through the transcript below.


Florida schools roundup: Private schools, charters, district choices & more

Private schools: Pinellas County school leaders want private schools that accept tax credit scholarships to participate in Florida’s accountability system and use certified teachers. They also want the new education funding formula to go back to the way it was last year. Tampa Bay Times. St. Anthony Catholic School in Pasco plans a $3 million expansion. The Tampa Tribune. A Boca Raton Catholic schoolteacher is tapped to teach a professional development course to teachers all over the world. Sun Sentinel.

florida roundup logoCharter schools: A new Palm Beach County charter school is planned for a county “learning cluster” among two biotech giants and a state university and community college. Sun Sentinel. An independent investigation finds complaints about McKeel charter schools’ superintendent are generally valid. The Ledger.

District teachers: New research shows dozens of struggling Miami-Dade schools benefited in recent years from the forced transfers of hundreds of teachers. Miami Herald.  The Pinellas County school district still needs to hire about 300 more substitute teachers this school year. The Tampa Tribune.

New tracks: A handful of niche programs at Duval County high schools are axed to make room for new programs in culinary arts, information technology and health sciences. Florida Times-Union.

Achievement gap: The Hillsborough County School Board plans to discuss the disparities in achievement and discipline between white and minority students. Tampa Bay Times.

School arrests: Broward County’s superintendent says new procedures limiting the number of campus arrests are a common- sense approach that will give students the benefit of the doubt. StateImpact Florida. Continue Reading →


What’s the best state for poor students?

The late Harvard philosopher John Rawls stands to this day as a titan of left-of-center political thought. Like other great thinkers, his perspective changed over time, and almost certainly was misused by more than a few. In the interest of full disclosure, your current author finds Rawls fascinating but ultimately less than fully persuasive depending on which version of Rawlsianism we’re talking about.

Many trees died to carry out debates over Rawls and his ideas, but with those caveats aside, I’ll do my best to sum up Rawls’ philosophy in two sentences (at least the version I find most persuasive.) First, policy should be made as if the world were to start again with you having no knowledge of who you would be in the next life. Second, if you accept this premise, then it follows that you should support policies that create a path out of poverty for those starting with the least.

In years past I entertained myself with a Rawlsian thought experiment based upon NAEP data: The world was starting over. You had no idea what condition you might find yourself. You could be the child of a crack-cocaine addict, a doting and virtuous billionaire, or anything in between.

So the mysterious POWERS THAT BE inform you that you have one day to live, but they are going to let you pick an American state in which to be reincarnated in the next life. So…


what do you do?

Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: reformers win in Colorado, school choice and NAEP gains & more


Arizona: A school board member in Gilbert proposes a district-wide voucher program (East Valley Tribune).

California: Charter schools now enroll 8.4 percent of the state’s student population (Ed Source).

Colorado: Big bucks back education reformers in school board races (Denver Post, Daily Sentinel, Politico). Education reformers in Douglas County and Denver win re-election (Denver Post, Education Week, Our Colorado News). Voters turned down a tax increase that would have allowed non-profit charter schools to share in capital funds (New York Times). Could the Douglas County School Board move school choice mainstream (Daily Caller)?

D.C.: School choice is changing one life at a time (Daily Caller). D.C. charter school rankings have been released, showing 12 percent are low-performing with more than a third scoring as top performers (Washington Post).

Florida: Education reform and school choice may have played a role in Florida’s continuing improvement on the NAEP test (redefinED, redefinED). Low-income children attending Florida’s charter schools outperformed the statewide public school average for their peer group (, Edfly). 10 lessons from Florida Virtual School (Education Week). Online courses with unlimited enrollment, called MOOCs (massive open online courses), are becoming popular in Florida (Tampa Bay Times). The state run Florida Virtual School is suing Florida Virtual Academy, arguing the similar name will confuse parents and students (WFTV).

Hawaii: An audit revealed the Department of Education was wasting millions on the food service program so the state told charter schools to find their own source to provide nutrition programs for low-income students (Huffington Post).

Kansas: The Friedman Foundation and Kansas Policy Institute testified before the state board of education on the need for school choice and education reform (Topeka Capital Journal). Continue Reading →


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

Charter schools: Pinellas County could get its first Montessori charter school next school year. Tampa Bay Times. Collier County School Board members vote to close an Immokalee County charter school, iGeneration Empowerment Academy. Naples Daily News. Ten teachers quit their jobs at a Broward County charter, saying they weren’t paid for the first few weeks and students didn’t have books. Sun Sentinel. St. Johns County school leaders worry standard charter school contracts will take away local control. St. Augustine Record.

florida-roundup-logoPrivate schools: Saint Paul’s School, a private Episcopal school in Clearwater, names Samantha Kemmish as the new head of the school. Tampa Bay Times. A private school specializing in helping kids with special needs, has closed its doors, after the state suspends the school’s McKay scholarships. WPEC-TV.

Magnet schools: The Polk school district is changing the way it gets magnet and choice school students to school, and parents are being forced to adjust. The Ledger.

Dual enrollment: The new law that requires school districts to cover the costs of high school students taking college courses could cost the Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River districts a combined $1.5 million annually. TC Palm.

Teacher evals: A series of teacher evaluation glitches in Santa Rosa County leaves confidence in the system’s validity shaky. Pensacola News-Journal.

Social media: Parents get lessons on talking to their children about social media from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Tampa Bay Times.

Athletic policy: One year into a new athletic transfer policy, the Hillsborough County school district is defending itself in a lawsuit that argues the whole process is illegal. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →


Proposed charter school contracts draw fire from Florida school districts

School districts continue to raise concerns about proposed, statewide uniform charter school contracts that are set to be in place next year.

Three district representatives appeared this week before the Florida House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee to share their worries about the contracts, which were mandated by new legislation passed last spring and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott. Meanwhile, a published report suggests mounting opposition in some districts.

Mike Grego

Mike Grego

“If charter schools desire to fill a niche or an innovative purpose in a community, we ought to be able to evaluate what that niche is,” said Pinellas County Superintendent Mike Grego, according to The Tampa Tribune. “A standardized contract does not allow local school boards to do that, which is shortsiding the whole purpose of charter schools, which is to stand out and be different.”

Ruth Melton of the Florida School Boards Association told redefinED it’s still too early in the process to say whether the group opposes the standard contract, but “we are legitimately concerned and these concerns are very real.’’

While the association can appreciate the need to streamline the process, every district is different, Melton said, and every charter school has different needs. It really comes down to whether the agreement can be amended. “If yes, good. They’re on the right path,’’ she said.

But if it means the district or the charter school has to justify their reasons to amend the contract to any outside parties (such as the Florida Board of Education), then the process gets complicated, expensive and, possibly, violates the district’s constitutional right to bargain and negotiate.

“We would not be comfortable with any legislation that violates the constitution,’’ Melton said. “And I don’t think legislators would, either.’’

The idea behind standard contracts, state officials have said, is to streamline the contract process, set a baseline for expectations so both sides have the same starting point, and create an opportunity for more meaningful negotiations. The contract, if approved by lawmakers next spring, will go into effect until next year.

Charter school supporters, who also testified before lawmakers this week, have raised concerns about the new contracts, too. But generally, they support the idea.

A draft contract now on the table took four months to create with input from both charters and districts, said Adam Miller, who oversees school choice at the Florida Department of Education.  While the contract shortens timelines for negotiations, it does not mean changes can’t be made, he said.


Florida’s long-term NAEP gains easily outpace the nation’s

Hanging Boxing GlovesFlorida made small gains over the last NAEP cycle, but how does its growth compare over the long haul? Pretty good.

If you go all the way back to the beginning of NAEP time (which can vary from 1990 to 2003 depending on the grade, subject and sub-group), Florida’s gains since then best the national gains in 38 of 40 categories. If NAEP gains were heavyweight boxing, Florida’s career record would be 38-2 with 11 KO’s (beating the average by 10 or more points).

Florida’s average gain per category is 21.5 points (about two grade levels worth of advancement). Its average spread over the national gain is 7.1 points (nearly a grade level).

One caveat: In the two areas where Florida was beat by the national average (4th grade math by English Language Learners (ELL) and 8th grade math by low-income Hispanics) the results may be biased because so few states had enough ELL and Hispanic students to compare.



Florida schools roundup: Florida Virtual, MOOCs, private schools & more

Florida Virtual: Tom Vander Ark gives his 10 lessons from the nation’s largest provider of online learning. No. 1 – Big vision. Education Week. The lead attorney for the state-run FLVS argues K12, Inc. tried to trick parents by using two similar names, Florida Virtual Academy and Florida Virtual Program. WFTV.

florida-roundup-logoMOOCs: Massive Open Online Courses – it’s the latest trend in education and it’s coming soon to a school near you. Times/Herald.

Private schools: St. Thomas Aquinas High School, a private school in Fort Lauderdale, makes its mark as a digital innovator with a $1.6 million classroom renovation. Sun Sentinel.

Charter schools: The superintendent of The Schools of McKeel Academy works off-site for a week during an investigation into a grievance against him. The Ledger.

Common Core: A Florida teacher talks about his experience reviewing the new standards. Education Week. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education reform think-tank, tells Florida lawmakers to stay on track with Common Core. Tampa Bay Times. More from the Orlando Sentinel.

 NAEP: Reading and mathematics achievement of the country’s eighth-grade students improved in the last two years, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. But fourth-grade performance remains stubbornly mixed. Education Week. Florida’s average fourth-grade reading score remained, as it has been for a decade, above the national average.  Orlando Sentinel. More from the Pensacola News-Journal, Tallahassee Democrat, and The Tampa Tribune. Continue Reading →