ALCU challenges Florida single-gender schools

The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging single-gender instruction programs in one of the Florida’s largest urban school districts, arguing they are run in a way that violates federal laws against gender discrimination.

The ACLU filed the federal administrative complaint Tuesday, the day after Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill creating a new framework for single-gender schools throughout the state.

The complaint asks the U.S. Education Department to investigate Hillsborough County’s single-gender instruction, which includes all-boys and all-girls magnet academies for middle school students and individual classes at other schools.

It argues the program violates Title IX of the federal education code. The law does not bar all single-gender education programs, but the ACLU contends that Hillsborough’s program does not meet federal  requirements and is “premised upon, and promotes, harmful stereotypes.”

“The truth is that every student learns differently, and our public schools should not be in the business of making crude judgments about children’s educational needs based solely on whether they are a boy or a girl,” Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, said in a press release announcing the complaint.

Hillsborough’s single-gender classes have been written up in the Tampa Tribune and could serve as a model for other districts.

The legislation approved by Scott on Monday is intended to create a framework for expanding similar programs around the state. It received bipartisan support during the recently concluded legislative session.

Two other urban school districts – in Broward and Duval Counties – could receive additional funding in the state budget to train teachers at single-gender schools.

The ACLU cites the recent legislative moves in a letter to the state Department of Education, in which it repeats a two-year-old request for, among other things, a “full investigation into existing single-sex programs operating within the state of Florida.”

School district spokesman Steve Hegarty said student performance was improving at the two single-gender magnet programs, which both improved their A-F grades by two letters last school year. The programs would not have grown if parents had not felt they were good options, he said.

“These are parent choices, and parents think it’s a very good decision,” he said.

Coverage elsewhere:

Gradebook

Tampa Tribune

Inconvenient truth: Progressives returning to roots on parental choice

freedom schoolEditor’s note: This post originally appeared in recent days as an op-ed in Context Florida and the Gainesville Sun in response to this piece. Since the draft was submitted to both publications, a rare bipartisan majority in the U.S. House of Representatives voted 360-45, over the objections of teachers unions, to support a major bill expanding charter schools.

Joe Trippi, the legendary Democratic consultant, is not part of any right-wing cabal. So it’s noteworthy that when it comes to private school vouchers and charter schools and other forms of parental choice, he says, “We should try them all.”

Trippi told me this in a recent interview, after describing how he grew up on the wrong side of a school zone, on the side where too many kids joined gangs and dropped out of school. The school board made an exception for him, but only because his mom raised hell. Now he’s haunted by those left behind.

I relay Trippi’s story in response to Daniel Tilson’s column, “Fight public school privatization.” A dominant thread in the piece is a common myth: that parental choice is the brainchild of the radical right.

The truth is, practical concerns of parents are driving the movement, not ideology. But because ideology is warping so much of the debate, I want to address that first.

Tilson is right that many conservatives like parental choice. He references George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, Neil Bush, “shadowy business interests” and the Republican Party of Florida. At least he didn’t throw in the Koch Brothers! But the inconvenient truth for this line of argument is growing numbers of progressives like parental choice, too.

President Obama loves charter schools. So does former President Clinton. A few weeks ago, Howard Dean told college students he was now a die-hard for charters because they’re “transforming inner city education.”

New Jersey’s new U.S. Senator, Democrat Cory Booker, unapologetically supports vouchers. So does Mike MCurry, Clinton’s former press secretary. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren may not, yet, but here is what she said about a universal system of public school choice: “An all-voucher system would be a shock to the educational system. But the shakeout might be just what the system needs.”

In these polarized times, it’s nice to see folks from across the political spectrum agreeing on anything. But contrary to Tilson’s characterization, progressives have long supported expansion of learning options.

During the civil rights movement, activists established alternatives to segregated, second-rate schools. In the 1960s, liberal intellectuals at Berkeley led the “voucher left.” The late Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once crafted a tuition tax credit measure that garnered 50 co-sponsors, including Sen. George McGovern and 23 other Democrats. In a fortuitous twist, parental choice dovetails as much with progressive values of equal opportunity as with conservative values of limited government.

But again, it’s not ideology that’s changing the education landscape. It’s parents.

Over the past 15 years, arguably no state has made more academic progress than Florida. In 1998, Florida’s low-income fourth-graders ranked No. 35 among states in reading. In 2013, they ranked No. 1. Yet being No. 1 still means only 27 percent are proficient.

Studies show, again contrary to Tilson’s characterization, that the students who access tax credit scholarships in Florida are the ones who struggled the most in public schools. Their parents are desperate. That’s why they’re lining up in droves.

There are fair questions about school choice. But I hope people will take a clear-eyed view, and not make snap judgments based on political labels that aren’t accurate.

Before the scholarship bill passed last week, Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Broward, reminded fellow lawmakers that he once opposed the scholarships, but changed his mind after visiting schools that served children from “terribly impoverished backgrounds.” What he saw, he said, were kids thriving.

“So,” he continued, “I for one am going to ignore the politics of this.”

Florida roundup: Charter schools, Common Core, desegregation and more

Common Core. Gov. Rick Scott signs a suite of bills aimed at responding to the controversy around the standards, as well as a school grading overhaul. Associated PressNews Service of Florida. Reuters. Jeb Bush pushes back against Common Core critics – again– during an appearance in New York. The Buzz.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. Dual enrollment programs at some Miami-Dade charter schools allow students to graduate high school with a more advanced degree already in hand. WLRN.

Virtual schools. Pasco eSchool teachers seek relief from large classes. Gradebook.

No Child Left Behind. Officials defend the learning goals in the state Department of Education’s strategic plan, which have come under fire from activists. Tampa Tribune. Sentinel School Zone.

Valedictorians. “With honors” and “with distinction” are set to replace the more exclusive honors once bestowed on Bay County high school graduates. Panama City News Herald.

Reading instruction. A shortage of books can be a limiting factor for students. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Desegregation. StateImpact recalls its early days in Florida.

School safety. A state Representative who sponsored a bill that would have allowed certain school employees to carry guns said he intends to focus on adding resource officers at more campuses. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Arts. A private grant helps fund art, music and drama programs for low-income students. Sun-Sentinel. A high school band teacher joins students rallying to preserve a middle school program. Tampa Bay Times.

Transportation. Crowded bus rides to an International Baccalaureate campus are the latest flashpoint in the controversy over Hillsborough’s bus system. Tampa Bay Times.

Pay raises. Orange County teachers begin voting on a new contract. School Zone.

Customization in education will become the new normal

customized apple 2This spring’s legislative sessions have not been kind to the parental choice movement. Important bills have died in New York, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arizona, and a modest Florida bill had a bumpy ride before clearing the Legislature last week.

But while choice advocates fear these setbacks signal that the movement is losing momentum, I don’t. Parental choice in K-12 education is part of a larger cultural transition that is rooted in new digital technologies.

As Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee explain in their recent book, “The Second Machine Age,” we are living through a second, technology-driven industrial revolution. The first industrial revolution made urbanization and mass production possible, and led to the creation of our current one-size-fits-all, assembly line model of public education.

This second revolution is being driven by new digital technologies that are changing how we organize and manage ourselves and our organizations. These changes include increased customization of products and services, more decentralized management systems, and greater empowerment of workers and consumers.

Because they are government monopolies, school districts have been able to resist these systemic changes better than others. But ultimately, public education will succumb to the transformational powers of digital technology, and customization will replace uniformity as public education’s primary organizing principle.

Magnet schools, charter schools, vouchers, open enrollment, virtual schools, dual enrollment, tax credit scholarships and homeschooling are all part of public education’s embracing of empowerment and customization. But despite all the contentious debate around parental choice programs, the new online state assessments are the primary vehicles that will drive public education’s digital and organizational revolution. As formative and summative online assessments become ubiquitous, teaching and learning will become more digitally embedded since we can’t teach students in non-digital environments and then assess them digitally. This digitalization of teaching, learning and assessment will then lead to greater customization.

As this shift to customization accelerates, many current ways of work will be redesigned. Continue Reading →

Democrat: Party insisted I vote against school choice scholarships

Rep. Campbell

Rep. Campbell

Editor’s note: Florida state Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, was the only House Democrat  to vote this month for a school choice bill to strengthen and expand tax credit scholarships. In an op-ed over the weekend for the Miami Herald, she writes that the Florida Democratic Party pressured her to vote against it. She asks, “If not for these desperate underprivileged families, for whom does my party expect me to fight?” Here’s some of Rep. Campbell’s piece:

Florida offers a scholarship just for low-income children, and my party this year insisted that I vote against it.

Never mind that it gives these children some legitimate learning options. Never mind that the beneficiaries are mostly black or Hispanic and live barely above poverty. Never mind that I’m a Haitian-American nurse and lawmaker who represents a North Miami district that is almost 90-percent black and Hispanic.

My vote recently to strengthen Tax Credit Scholarships for these students was treated as an act of defiance by the state House Democratic Caucus. The whole episode makes me wonder: If not for these desperate underprivileged families, for whom does my party expect me to fight?

This scholarship is an alternative for the children who tend to struggle the most in education, and it is serving 59,765 students in 1,425 private schools this year. The news about the program is uniformly good: Their standardized scores show us they are achieving the same gains academically as students of all incomes nationally; the public schools most affected by the loss of students to the scholarship are themselves showing impressive academic gains; and the scholarship is small enough, $4,880 this year, that it saves tax money that can be spent on traditional public schools.

In my own district, I have seen some of these schools turn around the lives of children who were headed in the wrong direction, and I proudly helped Ebenezer Christian Academy build a new facility that furthers its mission in the community.

None of this seemed to matter to the party this session. Nor did it matter that Democrats have routinely voted for the scholarship in the past, including nearly half the caucus for a major expansion in 2010. Instead, I was accused of being anti-public education. The reality is that I was parting ways with the Florida Education Association, which threatens Democrats with primary opponents if they support any school option that is not under the union’s collective bargaining agreement.

This is most unfortunate, because parents don’t care so much about who runs the school or whether the teachers are union members. They’re simply looking for options that work best for their own children and, in this environment, there is no conflict between public and private.

Read the full op-ed here.

redefinED roundup: charter schools, charter schools, charter schools …

MondayRoundUp_red

Arizona: A former school teacher criticizes the state superintendent of public instruction for his support of Common Core and school choice (East Valley Tribune). The Sierra Vista Herald editorial board says the state superintendent’s support of ESAs hurts public schools. Applications for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts doubles (Heartlander). The Arizona Republic editorial board opposes allowing public funding to go to private schools, especially now that the state support for ESAs exceeds the state support for public schools (note: the editorial board’s calculation excludes local support for public schools). A consultant at a scholarship organization is indicted for stealing $529,000 in scholarship money (Arizona Republic).

California: Vanila Singh, a professor and physician at Stanford University and congressional candidate, says school choice is the key to student success (Mercury News). The California Charter Schools Association has sued the West Contra Costa School District for withholding tax revenue intended to fund charter schools (Contra Costa Times). Charter schools struggle with online assessments (FSRN Radio).

D.C.: Two charter schools allegedly under federal investigation for possible discrimination say they have never received a complaint from a student or parent (Washington Post). President Obama sends his daughters to Sidwell Friends, an elite private school that refuses to release information on student course completion and graduation rates (Washington Post).

Florida: The tax-credit scholarship expansion will allow the program to serve higher-income families (Education Week, Tampa Tribune, WJHG TV). More low-income families will benefit from the tax-credit scholarship program if the Governor signs the bill into law (Florida Times-Union). The state  passes the nation’s second education savings account program (Foundation for Excellence in Education). Daphne Cambell (D-Miami-Dade) says she voted to expand the program because giving poor kids more options is the right thing to do (Miami Herald). The Tampa Tribune editorial board says the scholarship expansion is justified because every student deserves to find a school that works well for them. Brian Tilson, owner of a communications firm in Boca Raton, says the scholarships are unpopular and are hurting public schools (Gainesville Sun). Ron Matus, the editor of redefinED, says more progressive Democrats support parental choice (Gainesville Sun). The scholarship program helps families afford Jewish day schools (Chabad News). State Impact talks with Sen. John Legg about the legislative session including the passage of the scholarship bill. Marc Yacht, a retired physician, say charter schools should be more regulated and held to the same standards and rules as traditional public schools (Sun Sentinel).

Georgia: The Southern Education Foundation helps file a suit to overturn the state’s tax-credit scholarship program (Watchdog). A former reporter sends her daughter to a charter school and says each school is so different it is difficult to compare them to each other let alone public schools, and that is a good thing (Atlanta Journal Constitution). Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Tax credit scholarships, turnarounds, budgets and more

Tax credit scholarships. Legislation could soon expand eligibility for Florida’s tax credit scholarship program to middle-class families. Florida Times-Union. The Tampa Bay Times editorializes against the bill. The lone House Democrat to support the legislation details her stance and her party’s internal politics in the Miami Herald.

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Charter schools. The Manatee County school district considers ending bus service for charter schools. Bradenton Herald. Officials talk charters in the Keys. Keys News.

School choice. Palm Beach Post commentary criticizes the legislation, notes demand is rising for choice programs offered by school districts, and appears to confuse a proposed new scholarship account program for special-needs students with the existing McKay Scholarship program.

Prom. Students at charter schools and technical institutes organize their schools’  first proms. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Ocala Star-Banner.

Turnarounds. Mandatory school turnaround efforts can bring staff shakeups, even if administrators are reluctant. Tampa Bay Times.

Budgets. The Palm Beach County school board could soon ask voters to extend a tax dedicated to special areas of instruction like the arts. Palm Beach Post. The district’s budget looks bleak, both for capital and operating expenditures, the Post reports. St. Johns County schools will see a smaller funding increase than they expected. St. Augustine Record. Volusia schools officials expect the business community will back  proposed sales tax extension. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Magnet schools. Students at a veterinary medicine program in Miami-Dade are scrambling to find homes for dogs as the school prepares for renovations. Miami Herald.

Teachers. StateImpact examines teachers’ use of social media. The Tampa Bay Times posts the results of a Hillsborough teacher survey. The Winter Haven News Chief profiles an International Baccalaureate teacher. A Hillsborough middle school teacher gets a $10,000 bonus. Tampa Bay Times. Two Palm Beach County teachers plan to retire together. Palm Beach Post.

Pay raises. Monroe County teachers are a ratification vote away from a new contract agreement with the district. Keynoter.

Bullying. An anonymous messaging app fuels concerns. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A Hillsborough cheerleading coach is cleared of bullying allegations. Tampa Bay Times.

Transportation. Focus groups detail worker complaints with Hillsborough’s bus system. Tampa Bay Times.

STEM. Collier County students compete in gadget-building and geocaching. Naples Daily News.

No Child Left Behind. Civil rights groups continue to take aim at Florida’s learning objectives adopted as part of its waiver agreement with the federal government, which set different objectives for groups of students – including racial groups. Gradebook.

Dual enrollment funding for private school students remains unresolved

Despite the efforts of private schools and some lawmakers, the Florida Legislature this spring didn’t resolve concerns that more private schools could end up paying for their high school students’ dual enrollment courses.

Last year, the Legislature changed the way the state funds dual enrollment courses, requiring school districts to pick up the tab for courses their students took on college campuses. That led to concerns that private schools could face similar charges, potentially reducing their students’ access.

Potential remedies were floated during the recently concluded session, but didn’t stick.

The House, for example, proposed adding language to state law ensuring private schools would be exempt from any of those payment provisions.

Private-school supporters spent the final week of the session emailing and calling legislators. But in the end, the plan to exempt private schools from the payment requirement did not prevail, nor did separate 
legislative efforts by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland.

The final legislation did make some tweaks, though. It provided, for example, that the Legislature could cover the cost of dual enrollment courses taken over the summer.

While it’s not clear what the impact will be for private school students, James Herzog, the associate director for education at the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he was worried it could create a “chilling effect” if more colleges start billing private schools for the costs of dual enrollment courses.

Howard Burke of the Florida Association of Christian Colleges and Schools said parents of private school students should be able to enroll their children in the same college-credit courses as their public school peers.

“They’re paying the same taxes the public school child’s parents are paying that have dual enrollment,” he said. “They should have equal access.”