Florida roundup: Courts, dual enrollment, private schools and more

Courts. Citing disproportionate impacts on poor and minority students, a California judge strikes down that state’s teacher tenure laws. Associated Press. EdWeek.

florida-roundup-logoDual enrollment. The Brevard school district prepares to scale back its program that allows high school students to earn college credit. Florida Today.

Private schools. The Miami Herald highlights private school valedictorians.

Administration. An administrator with a struggling Fort Lauderdale elementary school does battle with the district office. Sun-Sentinel. The Collier County superintendent receives a glowing evaluation, and a contract extension to boot. Naples Daily News.

Budgets. The Hernando County school board teams up with the county government to promote a sales tax referendum. Tampa Bay Times.

Early learning. Duval County is poised for a new Head Start center. Florida Times-Union. Orange County plans to open a new Pre-K center. Orlando Sentinel.

Books. Emails show an Escambia principal pulled a book from the summer reading program because it’s about “questioning authority.” Pensacola News-Journal.

Special needs. Manatee school officials look to reduce the number of minority students classified as having disabilities. Bradenton Herald. A bus assistant accused of slapping an autistic child resigns. Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Tribune.

Teacher evaluations. Alachua County teachers appeal a decision upholding Florida’s evaluation system. Gainesville Sun.

Accountability. Florida is one of several states making changes to its school accountability system amid the switch to new standards. EdWeek.

Transportation. The Hillsborough school board voted to buy new buses. Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Tribune.

Middle school. The Duval school board looks for ways to improve middle school instruction. WJCT.

School safety. A Polk County climate survey finds bullying is a concern. Lakeland Ledger.

School boards. A Hernando assistant principal withdraws from a school board race. Tampa Bay Times.

McShane: Accountability regs for me but not for thee?



Editor’s note: This is the second post in our series on the future of parental choice and accountability.

As Kathleen Porter-Magee wrote in National Review earlier this year, for almost three decades conservatives have pursued a two-pronged strategy for education reform. One prong relies on standards and accountability, holding schools and teachers accountable for their results. The other relies on school choice, using the pressures of the marketplace to encourage improvement.

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As school choice grows around the country, there are increasing calls for the prongs to twist into each other, with schools of choice (and the teachers within them) being held to the same or similar benchmarks as their counterparts in traditional public schools.

This manifested itself in numerous state Race to the Top applications. From New York to South Carolina, states promised that their new teacher evaluation systems would apply to public and charter schools alike.

It has also been a flash point in debates about school voucher programs. In Indiana, Louisiana, and Wisconsin, students participating in voucher programs have to take the same tests as their public school peers, and their schools are held accountable in ways similar to traditional public schools.

Many choice advocates and school leaders push back against this development. But such a stance begs the question: How can someone advocate for standardized test-based school and teacher accountability systems in traditional public schools while at the same time advocating for a parallel system free from any such oversight? It’s a fair question.

One answer: If we’re going to have a system that residentially assigns students to a school free from any competitive pressure, and we’re going to make attendance at that school legally compulsory, we have an obligation to regulate it (This is not a new argument, by the way; Jay Greene has made a variation on it for a while now).

At the same time, conservatives and their school choice allies can work to create a new and better system.  This system, driven by parental choice and flexibility in funding, does not have to play by the same rules as the old system. In fact, it shouldn’t. Expecting a policy tool that was designed to do one thing—regulate a monopoly—to do another thing entirely—regulate a marketplace—is unreasonable. Rather, we should develop a new regulatory framework, and work to build capacity in the new system so more and more students can transfer into it.

So what does such a regulatory framework look like? I think it would be guided by a couple of big principles. Continue Reading →

Education Next asks: should there be special needs enrollment quotas for charter schools?

Should charter schools be required to educate an identical proportion of special needs students as public schools? Should charters be required to follow the same rules governing special needs students as public schools?

Last month the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights released a memo that said yes to these questions. Education Next reached out to three education experts – Robin Lake, Gary Miron and Pedro Noguera – to get their take on the issue.


Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington Bothel, says charters should not “counsel out” special needs students by recommending they attend other schools, but she opposes new regulations or enrollment quotas.

Lake recognizes that some charter schools specialize in special education while others focus on different academic pursuits. As a result, some charters serve only special needs students and others serve none at all. The same is true for public schools, she says, and that means a quota system would result in forcing kids out of schools that may work well for them just to achieve a proportional balance.

Lake says cities should focus on resources, not quotas. She concludes:

“Cities need to stop talking about what’s the ‘fair share’ through the lens of a charter or a district, consider instead what students need, and leverage the right combination of resources to meet that need.” Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Courts, charter schools, budgets, books and more

Courts. By expanding to include some of the largest school choice programs in the country, Florida’s school funding lawsuit is “taking aim at a high-profile target.” EdWeek. Alabama’s school choice program is allowed to continue next year as a lawsuit proceeds. redefinED.

Charter schools. A Hillsborough charter school for children of migrant families is poised to close. Tampa Tribune.

Budgets. The Broward school board approves an $800 million bond referendum. Sun-Sentinel. Districts that distributed teacher raises based on performance get a slight funding bonus. Sentinel School Zone. The Okaloosa school board approves a plan to centralize school budgeting. Northwest Florida Daily News.

florida-roundup-logoBooks. An English teacher complains of censorship in a summer reading program. Pensacola News-Journal.

Early Learning. Waiting lists persist in Southwest Florida. Naples Daily News.

Special needs. A bus assistant is on administrative leave for slapping an autistic child. Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Tribune.

STEM. Paul Cottle highlights the kind of career that becomes possible for students who take algebra in middle school. Bridge to Tomorrow.

Administration. Parents and business people sound off during open forums in Lee County. Fort Myers News-Press. The Duval school board approves 34 new principals and other top-level administrators. Florida Times-Union.

Summer. A Pinellas program aimed at helping struggling students over the summer continues to grow. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher conduct. A Polk drama teacher is accused of duct-taping students’ hands. Lakeland Ledger. A Hernando County teacher negotiates a deal to keep her job after showing up to work drunk. Tampa Bay Times.

Employee conduct. A Hillsborough bus driver is accused of letter her son drive the bus. Tampa Bay Times.

Court says Alabama school choice program allowed to continue for 2014-15 school year

alabama-choice-operate-appeal_lgAn Alabama circuit judge today overturned the injunction he had issued just 12 days ago on the state’s new private scholarship program.

Circuit Judge Gene Reese had ruled the Alabama Accountability ACT (AAA) unconstitutional on May 28, which meant the program had to end at the conclusion of the 2013-2014 school year. Following that ruling, lawyers for the state and the Institute for Justice filed a motion to overturn the injunction as the case was being appealed to the state Supreme Court. Today, Reese issued a stay on his own injunction against the AAA.

That is good news for the students participating in the private school refundable tax-credit and scholarship programs.

“Today is another step towards victory for Alabama parents and students,” said Bert Gall, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice. “The trial court’s ruling means that parents across the state can continue to rely on the Accountability Act’s school choice programs while this case moves forward on appeal.”

The Alabama Accountability Act allows parents who transfer their children from low-performing public schools to higher performing public or private schools to receive a refundable tax credit. The AAA also allows for scholarship granting organizations to create private school scholarships from individual and corporate donations. The AAA also provides tax-credits for donations to scholarship organizations.

In a separate order today, Judge Reese also denied parents of the newer scholarship students the right to intervene in support of the program.

Gall says these parents couldn’t participate in the trial court case because they hadn’t yet received scholarships for their children when the suit was first filed back in August of 2013. “It was wrong to deny them the right to intervene,” said Gall, arguing that the tax-credit scholarships will serve many more students than the refundable tax-credits.


(Full disclosure: Step Up For Students, one of the co-hosts of this blog, provides assistance on application processing and information technology to the Alabama Scholarship Fund)

Jason Bedrick: Education excellence can’t be achieved from above



Editor’s note: This is the first post in our series on the future of parental choice and accountability.

Education in America in the 21st century is moving away from the standardization of the Industrial Era and toward greater customization. As parents increasingly tailor their children’s education through course choice, scholarship tax credits, education savings accounts, homeschooling, online and blending learning, and so on, top-down accountability schemes will become increasingly untenable. As our education system becomes more decentralized and complex, the locus of accountability should shift from government to parents.logo bigger

The best form of accountability is directly to parents who are empowered to choose the education providers that meet their children’s needs—and leave those that do not. Since low-income families often cannot afford anything besides their assigned district school, the government school system has had to impose top-down accountability measures to ensure quality in the absence of choice.

However, such centralized accountability measures are ill suited to handle complexity and tend to stifle diversity and innovation. As University of Arkansas Professor Jay P. Greene noted recently:

“With top-down reforms the people selecting the standards, designing the tests, setting the cut-scores, devising consequences for performance, writing the curriculum, and picking the instructional methods have to get it just right … for many different kinds of kids who may need different approaches. And they have to be right over and over again as circumstances and information change.”

That’s a nearly impossible task even before special interests attempt to block, dilute, or co-opt such measures. Moreover, a parent seeking to change the system is, at best, merely one out of tens of thousands of voters at the local level or one out of tens of millions at the state level. With the advent of Common Core’s national standards, a parent’s ability to affect systemic change is practically nil.

By contrast, educational choice programs foster innovation and diversity by putting parents in charge. They give space to providers to develop new ways of educating diverse children that might not fit the pre-existing mold. Parents can then evaluate which approaches work best for their children and which do not. Over time, this market process weeds out ineffective approaches and encourages the proliferation of more effective approaches.

Some advocate combining the two forms of accountability, attempting to harness the dynamism of market-based education reforms while tethering it to a single standardized test that allows for apples-to-apples comparisons. This may sound tempting in theory, but in practice the imposed uniformity undermines the very diversity and innovation that educational choice provides. Continue Reading →

redefinED roundup: Catholics push for school choice, education races in ME and SC and more news

MondayRoundUp_redAlabama: Scott Beaulier, chair of the Economics and Finance Division at Troy University, says there is a large body of evidence supporting vouchers but the U.S. Department of Justice and others keep getting in the way (AL.com). The Alabama Education Association spent $7 million to defeat school choice and education reform supporters (Associated Press).

Colorado: A new study on public school transfers shows middle- and upper-class students are more likely to request transfers to another public school than less affluent students (Education Week). ACE Scholarships releases a study on the impact of scholarships on students in the state (Ediswatching.org).

Connecticut: Education leaders in Bridgeport complain that the expansion of charter schools is hurting the district’s ability to predict student enrollment and estimate a budget (Connecticut Post).

D.C.: District lawyers claim a charter school funneled millions to a for-profit company to do work that charter school officials were already doing (Washington Post).

Delaware: A new bill will allow the Delaware Board of Education to restrict charter schools to geographic areas and by grade and academic emphasis if the board deems the charters will affect nearby public schools (Delaware Online). Republicans propose a voucher program allowing full scholarships for Free and Reduced Price Lunch students and 25 percent scholarships for students in families earning up to $110,000 annaully (WDDE 99.1 FM).

Florida: Palm Beach County wants a special property tax to fund arts education but the new tax won’t benefit the 13,000 students attending charter schools in the county (Sun-Sentinel). McKay Scholarships offer special needs students a way to find a different school that works well for them, but Fund Education Now, a group suing to enforce school uniformity, wants special ed students to have the exact same standards, instructions and method of teacher training at all schools (Sun-Sentinel). The state’s graduation rate improves (Education Week, redefinED). Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: FCAT, McKay Scholarships, reading and more

Testing. Statewide FCAT scores show slight improvement, with variation around the state. Tampa Bay Times. Miami HeraldTampa Tribune. Pensacola News-Journal. Ocala Star-Banner. Tallahassee Democrat. Palm Beach Post. WJCT. WFSU. Florida Times-Union. Orlando Sentinel.

florida-roundup-logoMcKay Scholarships. The Sun-Sentinel airs criticism of the program for special needs students.

Career academies. Polk middle-school students earn professional-grade engineering credentials. Lakeland Ledger.

Charter schools. A Hillsborough charter school prepares to close amid falling enrollment. Gradebook.

Graduation. South Florida schools once seen as “dropout factories” see graduation rates soar. Miami Herald. A Bay County charter school is the last high school in the district to continue recognizing valedictorians. Panama City News Herald.

Books. Author Cory Doctorow takes to YouTube to call out administrators who pulled his book from a summer reading program. Pensacola News-Journal.

Summer slide. School officials hope to keep students from forgetting what they’ve learned during the school year, a problem especially pronounced among low-income students. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Early learning. Funding delays pose problems for the Head Start program. Orlando Sentinel.

Budgets. There’s no room for employee raises in the Palm Beach County schools budget. Palm Beach Post. The Okaloosa County school system may give the central office greater control over spending. Northwest Florida Daily News. A 5k helps the district raise money. Daily News.

Seniors. Prom, senior trips and class rings can make senior year expensive for families. Scripps.

Nutrition. A bus converted into a food truck will help make a summer meal program accessible to students. Bradenton Herald.

Administration. The Lee County school district seeks public input on coming policy changes. Fort Myers News-Press. Manatee County’s handling of a sexual abuse case involving an administrator may run afoul of federal Title IX rules. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A longtime Hernando administrator is given a choice to either take a pay cut or lose his job. Tampa Bay Times.

School boards. Five Pinellas school board seats are open to challenge. Tampa Bay Times. Every Manatee County incumbent up for re-election will face a challenger. Bradenton Herald.

Teachers. The Gainesville Sun talks to first year teachers at the end of the school year.