What’s your #schoolchoiceWISH? (the blog version)

2013WISHLISTFINALThis week, we posed that question to many of you on Twitter and got an amazing response: more than 1,000 tweets!

In the meantime, we also posed it to some stalwarts in the school choice movement, and asked them to write a short blog post in response. Next week, we’ll begin publishing their fun, thoughtful and provocative answers.

Here’s the all-star line-up:

Monday, Dec. 23: Jon Hage, founder and CEO of Charter Schools USA.

Tuesday, Dec. 24: Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

Thursday, Dec. 26: Joe McTighe, executive director of the Council for American Private Education

Friday, Dec. 27: Dr. Howard Fuller, board chair, Black Alliance for Educational Options

Monday, Dec. 30: Julio Fuentes, president and CEO, Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options

Tuesday, Dec. 31: Peter Hanley, executive director, American Center for School Choice

We hope you enjoy the posts as much as the #schoolchoiceWISH event. It was a hit! Continue Reading →


Mr. Gibbons Report Card: A Mencimer Minced and More!

MrGibbonsReportCardStephanie Mencimer – Mother Jones

To advertise her latest article on Mother Jones, Stephanie Mencimer takes to Twitter and tweets:


If this fairly characterized the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Act, then, indeed, the law needs to be immediately repealed or amended. But what Stephanie offers by way of proof is essentially a grandmother who currently teaches three children in her rural Thomasville home.

That private school was described in an NC Policy Watch report that included the woman’s embrace of the A Beka Christian curriculum. A Beka Book, along with Bob Jones University Press, publishes textbooks with a focus on fundamentalist Protestant religious views. The companies, which publish dozens of different textbooks, have come under criticism in Louisiana, California and Florida over the last decade for selected portions of their textbooks.

Whether the woman will ever teach an actual scholarship student in North Carolina, or whether any of her current charges are learning, is immaterial if the point is merely to paint with a broad, condemning brush. That’s unfortunate because, Mencimer’s distortions aside, the issue of public oversight of scholarship schools is a legitimate one.

What constitutes appropriate regulation and curriculum? With traditional public school education, the state provides extensive control over teachers, curriculum, pedagogical methods and lesson plans, and it measures student achievement by a standardized test. Most publicly supported learning options in private schools impose much less in the way of regulation, in part because the point of education alternatives is to be different. Regulating them in precisely the same way defeats that purpose.

So these private scholarship schools are owed some freedom, and the fair question is how much. Their students will be tested to gauge their progress, but do they need to adhere to square footage requirements for classrooms or specific curriculum dictates in math? In devising the right type and amount of regulation on scholarship schools, we also can’t forget that one of the most powerful forms of accountability is the parental choice itself. No parent is forced to take a scholarship and, more importantly, any parent can leave any school that he or she thinks is not serving his or her child.

I don’t have all the answers myself, but this is the informed debate we should be having.

In the meantime, I do know students in North Carolina’s voucher system will be tested. And they won’t be forced to attend schools that use A Beka textbooks and might teach young-earth creationism.

Grade: Needs Improvement


Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Dual enrollment, virtual school, grades & more

Dual enrollment: Florida school superintendents want to convince the Legislature to stop charging school districts tuition and other state college costs for dual-enrollment students. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoVirtual school: Florida Virtual School’s full-time high school was two points away from earning an A this year, netting a B the first time the online school qualified for a grade under Florida’s annual A-to-F report card. Orlando Sentinel.

Charter schools: Hillsborough school officials meet to discuss options to head off a charter school on MacDill Air Force Base. The Tampa Tribune.

School grades: Schools superintendents for Escambia and Santa Rosa counties are among those weighing in on Florida’s current accountability system before the state’s education commissioner. Pensacola News-Journal.

School safety: Leon County teachers and district officials seek to end rumors about school violence. Tallahassee Democrat.

Teacher pay: The hearing that may resolve the impasse between the Orange County teachers union and district over raises gets off to a rocky start. Orlando Sentinel.

Class size: All Central Florida traditional public schools met the state’s class-size rules this year. Orlando Sentinel.

After school: The Salvation Army of Naples acquires 3 acres on Airport-Pulling Road South for a new youth center and gymnasium to provide at-risk children with a safe after-school environment. Naples Daily News.

School calendar: The Pasco County School Board signs off on next school year’s calendar, which includes the entire week off for Thanksgiving. The Tampa Tribune.

Lawsuit: The Lake County School Board faces a federal lawsuit again accusing the district of violating students’ freedom of speech and federal rights by not allowing a middle-schooler to start a gay-straight club. Orlando Sentinel.

Conduct: A Tampa police school resource officer who had sex at least eight times over nearly two months with a teenage student is arrested and fired. Tampa Bay Times.


Time to recognize the value of faith-based schools

This op-ed, written by John E. Coons and Peter Hanley with the American Center for School Choice (which co-hosts redefinED), was published in today’s USA Today.

Image from www.privateschoolreview.com

Image from www.privateschoolreview.com

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was asked recently by CNN’s Anderson Cooper whether she’d have become who she is without the help of a faith-based school, Blessed Sacrament in the Bronx. Sotomayor said, “Doubtful.” In an interview with The New York Times, she said the school was “a road of opportunity for kids with no other alternative.”

Now it’s gone. Like more than 1,300 other Catholic schools in the past 20 years, Blessed Sacrament fell victim to sweeping social and economic forces — and to education policies that blind themselves to the value of faith-based schools.

The U.S. lacks a surplus of high-quality schools, especially that serve the urban poor. Yet year after year, we have watched as thousands of faith-based schools have been forced to close. America is losing a valuable national asset — not because it has become obsolescent or because the demand for it has disappeared, but because of a needlessly narrow view of which families should have the choice in education that is so dear to the middle class.

Charter and magnet schools have diversified public schools. Parents in select states and areas can opt for schools that stress language immersion, math and science, the arts. But parents who cannot afford a faith-based education routinely are told the state will offer no support. Only 16 states and Washington, D.C., have scholarships that empower parents to choose a faith-based school, and most of those are small and targeted. This is a costly mistake. Full column here.


Group to appeal denial of charter school at MacDill Air Force Base

The group that wants to open a charter school on MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., plans to fight the local school district that rejected the proposal.

The Florida Charter Educational Foundation, a volunteer board based in South Florida, voted unanimously Wednesday to appeal the Hillsborough County School Board’s decision to deny the charter application.

“We believe that the application we submitted is solid and the Hillsborough School District’s denial is completely without merit,” foundation chairman Ken Haiko said in a written statement. “We are deeply committed to seeing this through to the end. Our military service men and women deserve our unrelenting determination to provide an educational option that makes sense for their families and we are not willing to be deterred by nonsensical political grandstanding.

The foundation had hoped to open the MacDill Charter Academy, a K-8 charter school serving 875 students, next fall.

“We were asked to locate a school on base to provide military students an opportunity to gain additional support and resources and be surrounded by their peers,” Haiko said in the statement. “Military students must face challenges civilian students do not, such as deployment of parents and frequent moves. The Charter Schools USA model offers flexibility to adapt to the unique needs of the base and provide an academic and social structure that focuses on what’s best for the students and their families.” Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: School grades, charters, private schools & more

School grades: None of Broward County’s high schools received poor grades, and all but three received A’s or B’s. Sun Sentinel. Fewer Palm Beach County schools got A’s and B’s this year and more got D’s and F’s. Sun Sentinel. Miami-Dade schools received many A’s and no F’s. Miami Herald. For the first time since Florida started grading schools in 1999, no Polk high schools got a grade of D or F. The Ledger. florida-roundup-logoHigh schools across Central Florida and the rest of the state earned more A’s and B’s this year than ever before. Orlando Sentinel. Space Coast high schools earn A’s and B’s. Florida Today. Among the 44 high schools on the First Coast, 33 received an A or B. Florida Times-Union. More high schools than ever — 240, or 48 percent — earned A grades, while the number of F-graded schools rose from 3 to 8. Tampa Bay Times. All 16 Pinellas County public high schools got A’s or B’s. The Tampa Tribune. Fourteen of Hillsborough’s traditional high schools earned the top grade, nine received B’s and four received C’s. The Tampa Tribune.

Urban assessments: New testing data shows Hillsborough County schools beat the performance of other large urban school districts in math and reading. Miami-Dade fourth grade readers outscored other large urban districts, but were on par in eighth grade reading and fourth and eighth grade math. StateImpact Florida.

Charter schools: Supporters of a charter school for MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa plan to appeal the Hillsborough school board’s decision to deny the proposal. redefinED.

Private schools: A Palm Beach Christian high school faces closure if organizers can’t solve a financial dilemma. Palm Beach Post.

Magnet schools: JetBlue Foundation awards Polk schools, including the Central Aerospace Academy, with a $25,000 grant. The Ledger.

School spending: Lake County School Board members approve a plan to redirect $21 million of district cash over the next three years to help struggling students and improve teaching programs. Orlando Sentinel.

School safety: Hillsborough County School Board members approve having armed guards in elementary schools. Tampa Bay Times. More from The Tampa Tribune.


FL urban districts in top tier on NAEP

place ribbonsFlorida got mixed news from the latest results on the “nation’s report card,” which looked at student achievement in some of the nation’s biggest, urban school districts.

On the one hand: Flat scores.

On the other: Top-tier scores.

Released Wednesday, the 2013 math and reading scores on the closely watched National Assessment of  Educational Progress didn’t budge much for the two Florida school districts, Miami-Dade and Hillsborough, that were among 21 that participated nationwide. The tests are given every other year to representative samples of fourth- and eighth-graders.

Six districts saw statistically significant increases in math scores in at least one grade level since 2011, the last time they took part. Five scored higher in at least one grade level in reading. Miami-Dade and Hillsborough, which includes the city of Tampa, were not among them. The Washington D.C. district was the only one with gains in both subjects and both grades.

On the upside, the Florida districts outpaced most of the others with results for black, Hispanic and low-income students and students with disabilities.

Hillsborough’s students with disabilities ranked No. 1 on all four tests. Their counterparts in Miami-Dade finished No. 2, No. 3, No. 3 and No. 4, respectively. Those eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch in Hillsborough scored in the top four on all four tests, while those in Miami-Dade did so on three of four.

“With Hillsborough and Miami Dade students far outpacing other urban districts across the country, it’s clear that our teachers and schools are continuing to succeed,” Gov. Rick Scott said in a written statement. “This is just the latest in a number of national comparisons that demonstrate our teachers and schools are helping to make Florida the nation’s best place to pursue the American Dream.”

The percentage of poverty in the 21 districts varies considerably, with the number of students eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch averaging 73 percent. In Miami-Dade, it’s 74 percent; in Hillsborough, it’s a second-best 58 percent.

Florida has been a national leader in NAEP gains for the past 15 years, an era marked by tough, top-down accountability measures like school grades and an explosion in school choice options. At the same time, its overall proficiency rates remain cause for concern.

The same goes for the districts. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charters, armed guards, class size & more

Charter schools: The Miami-Dade school district rejects a charter application for a public safety-themed high school. Miami Herald.

florida-roundup-logoSchool safety: Hillsborough County school leaders continue to debate having armed guards at schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher pay: Raising the starting salary for new teachers is one of the best ways to boost the public schools, says the Palm Beach Post. Orange County is the only large school district without a teacher-raise plan. Orlando Sentinel.
Name change: StateImpact Florida talks to two students whose Duval County high school is getting rid of its name because it honors a Confederate soldier and member of the Klu Klux Klan.
Class size: Duval County Superintendent Nikolai Vitti believes the school district will pay less than a million dollars this year for its oversized classrooms. Florida Times-Union. While many districts have seen a drop in their enrollment, St. Johns County continues to grow but stays within class size limits. Florida Times-Union.
Community service: Escambia County middle school students make quilts for homeless people. Pensacola News-Journal.
Cell towers: The Pasco school board approves a cell phone tower on the campus of a local elementary school, despite parents objections. Tampa Bay Times.
Conduct: A Lee County high school student is arrested on charges of kicking a 72-year-old man and slapping an 89-year-old man. Fort Myers News-Press.