Florida schools roundup: Charters, magnet schools, digital learning & more

Charter schools: The Schools of McKeel Academy board takes no formal action against the charter’s superintendent following an investigation into employee grievances. The Ledger.

florida-roundup-logoMagnet schools: Duval County Public Schools strikes out on a $12 million federal grant that would have helped create five new magnet schools. Part of the reason was due to the district’s desire to create two single gender schools. Florida Times-Union. A Lee County high school teams up with Chico’s to create the Cambridge AICE Art and Design program. Fort Myers News-Press.

Digital learning: The first phase of a $63 million rollout of digital equipment in Miami-Dade schools is pushed back. Miami Herald. Pinellas County School Board members vote unanimously to hire a new technology chief and change the job’s qualifications simultaneously, without any discussion. The Tampa Tribune.

Fun and math: A baseball themed math game endorsed by Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. could be a new teaching tool in Manatee County Schools. Bradenton Herald.

School safety: The Polk County Sheriff’s Office partners with the school district, assigning a captain to oversee the Safe Schools program. The Ledger.

Pay raises: Collier County school support employees are upset about proposed raises that are less than what teachers will receive. Naples Daily News.

Start times: High school start times in Okaloosa County likely won’t change anytime soon. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Deaths: Lou Eassa, a former Palm Beach County School Board member from 1978 to 1986, dies during a cruise to Panama. He was 74. Palm Beach Post.


The high school choice that Michelle Obama made

Michelle-ObamaPresident Obama may need a dose of his wife’s popularity at the moment, but don’t discount the importance of her visit to some fortunate sophomores at Bell Multicultural High School in D.C. on Tuesday. This is a first lady from a tough part of Chicago who beat the odds to Princeton University, to Harvard Law School, and to corporate executive offices. And her high school choice, to which she spoke, is worth underscoring.

“Even though my parents didn’t have a lot of money, they never went to college themselves, they had an unwavering belief in the power of education,” Mrs. Obama told the students. “… So when it came time for me to go to high school, they encouraged me to enroll in one of the best schools in Chicago. … My school was way across the other side of the city from where I lived. So at 6 a.m. every morning, I had to get on a city bus and ride for an hour, sometimes more, just to get to school. And I was willing to do that because I was willing to do whatever it took for me to go to college.”

The school was Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, opened in 1975 as Chicago’s first public magnet school.  It was ranked this year by Newsweek as fifth-best high school in the Midwest. A fourth of the students are black, two-thirds are minority, and just under 4-in-10 are on free or reduced-price lunch. The academics speak to excellence: 82 percent of students take Advanced Placement classes with an 80 percent pass rate; the average ACT score last year was 27.1, with four students scoring a perfect 36; every single one of its 2012 graduates was accepted into a four-year college.

While much has been made about the private school choice the Obamas made for their daughters in D.C., Mrs. Obama’s own choice for high school is at least as relevant. She wanted a different future for herself at a time when she says some of her own teachers were telling her that Princeton was an unrealistic dream. So she chose a public school outside her neighborhood that she saw as worth the hour bus ride each way. This was the late 1970s, don’t forget, at a time when children in American public education had precious few options. But Michelle Obama found one, and it worked for her.

Forget the political backdrop here. Her message, particularly to students of color, is compelling.


Survey: Parents pick private schools based on learning environment, not test scores

When it comes to reasons why parents move from public to private schools, standardized test scores are nowhere near the top of the list, but concerns about classroom discipline and atmosphere are, according to a new report from the Friedman Foundation For Educational Choice.

Based on a survey of 754 parents of tax credit scholarship students in Georgia, “More Than Scores” finds the five top reasons are better discipline, better learning environment, smaller class sizes, improved safety and more individual attention. When asked the single most important reason for choosing a private school, 28.2 percent of parents said a “better education.” In second place, 28.1 percent said a “religious education.”

No parents chose “higher test scores” as their top reason. Only 4.2 percent listed the reason in their Top 3 and just 10.2 percent listed it in their Top 5.

When given a list of 21 possible reasons why they chose a private school, parents most often chose “better learning environment” (85.1 percent). “Religious education” came in at No. 5 (64.1 percent). “Higher standardized test scores” came in at No. 15 (34.6 percent).

The relatively low regard for test scores led the authors to conclude that “public officials should resist the temptation to impose national or state standards and testing on private schools or demand that private schools publish ‘report cards’ emphasizing test score performance.”

Full disclosure: I’m also a research fellow for the Friedman Foundation.

Other coverage: Rick Hess at the American Enterprise Institute weighs in here. The report’s authors weigh in at Jay P. Greene’s Blog here.




Florida schools roundup: Magnet schools, charters, teacher evals & more

Magnet schools: Seminole Ridge High School Construction Academy students build a modular home for Habitat for Humanity of Palm Beach County – turning in their assignment five months ahead of schedule. Palm Beach Post.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools: The Pinellas County School Board votes unanimously to approve an application for the district’s first Montessori charter school, which would serve about 200 students. Tampa Bay Times. More from The Tampa Tribune.

Teacher evals: A panel of appellate judges orders the state Department of Education to release controversial teacher performance data. The Buzz. More from the News Service of Florida and Florida Times-Union. Nearly 68 percent of Seminole County teachers earned top-notch, “highly effective” evaluations last year compared to fewer than 7 percent in Orange County. Orlando Sentinel. If the purpose of revamping teacher evaluation is to improve teaching and learning, then it’s worth it for states and school districts to take time to get it right, writes Laura Bornfreund for the Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher pay: Duval County teachers and other school workers will receive about $18.9 million in bonuses. Florida Times-Union.

Teacher of the year: Thirty-three Santa Rosa County teachers are up for the title of the district’s Teacher of the Year. Pensacola News-Journal.

Conduct: The state has disciplined eight area teachers and former teachers for incidents that allegedly happened both inside and outside their classrooms. Sun Sentinel. Continue Reading →


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 (Jaypgreene.com, 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 →