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 →


Florida Shine Awards recognize private school educators and advocates

Gov. Rick Scott, center, recognizes the contributions of educators and advocates during a recent Florida Cabinet meeting. From left, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Andrea Sherman, Glen Gilzean, Merili Wyatt, Sue Mattson, Lauri Curri and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

Gov. Rick Scott, center, recognizes private school teachers and education advocates during a recent Florida Cabinet meeting. From left, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Andrea Sherman, Glen Gilzean, Merili Wyatt, Sue Mattson, Lauri Curri and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

Florida’s Shine Awards for public school teachers are now casting a spotlight on private school teachers as well.

The breakthrough came last week during a Florida Cabinet meeting, as Gov. Rick Scott honored four private school educators for their contributions to learning. Shine Awards are presented by the governor to Floridians who have had a positive impact on children through education. The awards typically are given to public school teachers who’ve shown creativity and resourcefulness when encouraging students to do their best and learn. However, this most recent group of educators are private school teachers.

“Education is critical to providing opportunities for Florida’s future generations,” Gov. Scott said. “That’s why it’s so important that we recognize the contributions of educators who are building a Florida that provides limitless opportunities for our children.”

Including private schools in the celebration is one way to acknowledge that excellent teachers in a variety of settings deserve honor and praise. It is also another way to break down unnecessary barriers between types of schools as we rightfully place the emphasis on all those who teach our children.

In addition to being outstanding educators, the teachers recognized last week also have been instrumental in an empowerment project for low-income parents whose students receive Florida Tax Credit Scholarships to attend private schools. The project is centered around a “Learning Compact” between schools and parents that is intended to strengthen the relationship so they can focus together on the academic progress of the child.

The following teachers were recognized: Continue Reading →


Context matters: racial segregation in American schools

BrownBill Maxwell, a highly regarded African-American columnist with the Tampa Bay Times, has used a new Hechinger Report to argue that charter schools are introducing a second wave of “white flight” in public education. His argument tracks the work of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, which has called charter schools a “civil rights failure” and echoes the assertion of University of Minnesota researcher Myron Orfield that charters are “an accelerant to the normal segregation of public schools.”

Some of these findings are certainly cause for concern. But racial integration in American education is rooted in nearly a half-century of social policy and federal court intervention, which makes isolated conclusions about the new role of charter schools problematic. Yes, it could be that charter schools cause more racial segregation. It is also possible something else could explain the racial demographics. It could be, for example, that charter school enrollment merely reflects the racial makeup of the neighborhoods in which they operate.

In that sense, examining the racial ratios in charter schools is but one part of a much larger equation.

Maxwell’s column was inspired by an article in the Hechinger Report that began with an anecdote about a very white elementary charter school south of St. Paul/Minneapolis, Minn. The charter school, Seven Hills Classical Academy, was 82 percent white while the surrounding Bloomington Public School District averaged 57 percent white.

However, the school district obscures the vast range within the public schools themselves. Among Bloomington public elementary schools alone, the ratio of white enrollment ranged from 15 percent to 81 percent. In other words, there are also public schools with similar degrees of racial segregation.

Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Religion, Randi Weingarten, Common Core & more

Lawsuit: The Palm Beach County School Board faces a lawsuit from two students and their rabbi/attorney/father that charges the district fails to teach evolution and truths about religions. Sun Sentinel.

florida-roundup-logoProtest: Parents protest the Lake County school district’s planned busing cuts that will force some elementary and middle-school students to walk to school when classes start Monday. Orlando Sentinel.

AFT: American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten blasts former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Education Commissioner Tony Bennett during a speech where she called the state “ground zero for every single market-based experiment that has been done to our children.” Miami Herald.

Accountability: StateImpact Florida looks at what the switch to Common Core State Standards would mean for Florida’s school grading system.

2016: A-F grades, Florida’s school grade results and Common Core – that’s how StateImpact Florida ranks talking points for Jeb Bush’s possible 2016 presidential run.

Working: Polk County’s Summer Youth Employment Program gives almost 400 teens and young adults work experience with businesses and public organizations before heading back to school or into a new career. The Ledger.

Homeless: Children from the Sulzbacher Center for the homeless in Jacksonville get a school bus ride to Old Navy and a gift certificate to buy new school clothes. Florida Times-Union. Pinellas County school officials look to a Hillsborough County program that helps homeless students. Tampa Bay Times. 

Teachers: Nearly 5,000 educators head back to school this week in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Pensacola News-Journal.

Charters: Steele-Collins All Male Charter Academy starts the school year with a new focus, a new curriculum and new students. Tallahassee Democrat. A state report shows more Florida charter schools had operating deficits at the end of fiscal 2012, compared to the previous year. Tampa Bay Times.

Fix it: The Hillsborough County School Board and administrators need to re-examine the district’s staffing levels and training to ensure its special needs students are adequately served, writes the Tampa Bay Times editorial board.


A math teacher for the 21st Century

Twenty years ago, Dennis DiNoia taught middle school math in typical classrooms, in typical Florida public schools. Now his classroom is a local church, or bookstore, or online. Students come from public schools, private schools, and homeschooling co-ops. Lessons are based on a curriculum he designed and put on video.

teachers and choice logoDiNoia even has a toehold in the growing market of charter school consulting, explaining math and test-taking skills to students and teachers at a conversion charter school in Hawaii.

School choice has opened up a whole new career track for DiNoia, allowing the business school graduate to earn enough money to remain in a profession he loves while giving him the satisfaction of helping students master his favorite subject.

“A lot of people don’t go into teaching because they don’t think they can make a living at it,’’ said DiNoia, a father of three who lives in Sarasota, Fla. “If you go into it with that mindset, you’ll be right.’’

Dennis DiNoia

Dennis DiNoia

DiNoia went into the field thinking that one day he would have a successful business. Apparently, he was right, eventually figuring out how to grow his tutoring company from a sideline that supplemented his district paycheck to a full-time endeavor to support his family.

It serves as yet another example of how having more education options not only meets the different needs of children, but can benefit educators, as well.

“Everybody has different vehicles to educate students,’’ said Clayton Snare, a former principal who worked with DiNoia in the Pinellas County, Fla., school district. “Some people are good in a classroom. Some people are better online. Others are better one on one.’’

DiNoia “defined what I thought a successful teacher was all about and it truly starts with developing a rapport with your students,’’ Snare said. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Tutors, single-gendered schools, Jeb Bush & more

Tutoring: A Tampa Bay Times investigation finds that one in four public educators made money from a taxpayer-funded program by tutoring children from their own schools.

florida-roundup-logoEducation crisis: Nothing less than a community-wide commitment and expectation of excellence can turn the tide for children in St.Petersburg, writes the Tampa Bay Times editorial board.

Single-gendered: Hillsborough County’s two single-gendered middle schools find success, see state grades rise. The Tampa Tribune.

Tony Bennett: Before resigning as Florida’s Education Commissioner, Bennett emails former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, and describes his last few days on the job as a “living hell.” The Buzz.

GEDs: South Florida is seeing a spike in applicants rushing to earn their GEDs before tougher new standards kick in. Sun Sentinel.

Overcrowding: West Boynton Beach is growing – too much and too fast for some parents in the Palm Beach County school district. Palm Beach Post.

Back to school: Palm Beach County hands out backpacks and other school supplies at six free community events. Palm Beach Post. Seminole County’s nearly 64,000 public school students head back to classes this morning. Orlando Sentinel. Churches and community agencies help outfit students with new supplies. Florida Today. Lincoln Park Elementary, the turnaround school in Escambia County, starts the new year with new teachers. Pensacola News-Journal.

Special needs: A teacher’s emails to Hillsborough County district administrators reveal problems months before a special needs student dies. Tampa Bay Times.

Jeb Bush: Bush backs Common Core State Standards while speaking at the ALEC conference in Chicago. Associated Press.Educational scandals cast a cloud over the former Florida governor’s presidential prospects, writes the Miami Herald.

School grades: A Miami Herald analysis of A-F grades shows the wealthiest schools never get Fs, and schools with high populations of poor students face an uphill battle to get even a C. Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho lauds student achievement while criticizing the state’s A-to-F school grading system as “dysfunctional.” Miami Herald. Clay County kindergarteners through second-graders no longer get A-F grades. Florida Times-Union.

Student conduct: St. Lucie County public schools have more than 100 arrests a year, reports the TCPalm.

New super: The St. Lucie County School Board continues its search for the district’s next superintendent. TCPalm.

Principal conduct: Four years after Journeys Academy shut down in Lee County due to its principal embezzling more than $360,000, the school’s owner is waging a legal battle for reimbursement from two banks. Naples Daily News.

Common Core: Pasco County schools move ahead with preparing for the new education standards. The Tampa Tribune.