Florida roundup: Tony Bennett, longer school days, dual enrollment & more

What they’re saying about Tony Bennett in Florida: Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Jeb Bush offered praise for Florida’s education commissioner. The Buzz. Sen. Dwight Bullard calls for more input on the state’s next education chief. Sun Sentinel.  Orange County schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins’ name is coming up as a possible replacement. Orlando Sentinel. Despite a national reputation in education reform, Florida hasn’t found it easy to attract — or keep — a leader since Gov. Rick Scott took office. Miami Herald. StateImpact Florida shares Bennett’s resignation letter. Florida long has allowed political donations to influence education policy, the very allegation that forced Bennett to quit, writes the Palm Beach Post. The result of Bennett’s abrupt departure is more turmoil for Florida’s education system. Tampa Bay Times. More from the Post, Florida Times-Union, News Service of Florida, Tampa Bay Times, Tallahassee Democrat and The Tampa Tribune.

florida roundup logoWhat others are saying: Two Indianapolis public schools might never have been taken over by the state if Bennett had offered the same flexibility he granted a year later to the Christel House Academy charter school. Indianapolis Star. Indiana’s state grading system now faces uncertainty. Associated Press.  Bennett’s rising star in school reform is fading. Indianapolis Star. ”This is, in my view, very sad news, as Bennett is widely regarded as one of the country’s smartest, savviest, and most effective education reformers,” writes Reihan Salam for the National Review. In less than a year, Bennett has been ousted from two leading education positions, writes Valerie Strauss for the Washington Post. ”Tony didn’t need the hassle.  He took on these fights because they were the right ones,” writes Neil Ruddock for the EdFly blog. More from the National Review, Hugh Hewitt, Politico, and several top education policy analysts weigh in on the Flypaper blog.

School transfers: Fewer than 300 students will be transferring out of overcrowded schools under a new Orange County transfer rule. School Zone.

Longer day: St. Lucie Elementary students will attend school for an extra hour each day to help improve their reading scores. TCPalm.

New posts: Daryl Ward will move up from assistant principal to principal at the Polk County Harrison Center for the Visual and Performing Arts. The Ledger. Manatee County Schools Superintendent Rick Mills has selected Scott Boyes to be executive director of elementary schools. Bradenton Herald.

Dual enrollment: Pasco Hernando Community College and school districts squabble over administrative fees following legislative changes that shifted program funding from colleges to the districts. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →


Tony Bennett’s resignation disappoints school choice supporters

Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett

In mid-June, Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett visited a modest retreat on the outskirts of Tampa where a University of Notre Dame program was hosting a symposium on school choice. Fewer than 40 people were in attendance, but Bennett spoke and answered questions for an hour.

“I will never ever change my stripes on school choice,” he told them. “If giving poor kids an opportunity cost me my job,” he continued, referencing the fledgling voucher program and his electoral defeat in Indiana, that’s a “pretty good trade off.”

Even in a state that leads the nation in expanding school choice, Bennett was arguably the most pro-school-choice education commissioner Florida ever had. Choice supporters expressed shock and disappointment with Thursday’s announcement that he was abruptly resigning after a two-day barrage of negative stories about grade changes at an Indiana charter school.

“This is a sad moment for Florida education,” said Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Miami, a member of three House education committees. Bennett was a “rock solid proponent for students, accountability and choice.”

“It’s unfortunate and I’m very saddened,” said Florida Board of Education Chair Gary Chartrand, who was attending the KIPP conference in Las Vegas Thursday. “I told him, ‘We think the world of you and we’ll weather the storm together.’ But he made the decision to leave. Obviously, the turnover is not a good situation.”

Bennett’s replacement will be the fourth education commissioner under Gov. Rick Scott, who pushed out highly regarded Eric J. Smith in favor of Gerard Robinson, who then resigned after high-profile glitches with the state’s testing and grading system. A national search to replace Robinson drew no star-power candidates until Indiana voters put Bennett on the market.

“How much can we take?” said T. Willard Fair, a former Board of Education chair who co-founded the state’s first charter school and resigned in 2011 to protest the ouster of Commissioner Smith. “We lost an outstanding commissioner in Eric Smith. We were blessed when Tony Bennett became available. To lose two great intellectuals is absolutely devastating.”

The leadership churn has put smudges on Florida’s reputation as a national leader in ed reform. It has also come as thorny questions about the growth of Florida’s school choice sectors remain unresolved, including funding for charter schools and online learning. Continue Reading →


Tony Bennett to resign

From the Tampa Bay Times:

Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett is expected to resign Thursday as Florida education commissioner following two days of raging controversy over school grading in his home state of Indiana.

Bennett is expected to hold a news conference in Tallahassee late Thursday morning to make the announcement.

Bennett, who came to Florida from the Hoosier State in January, has faced mounting calls for his resignation in the wake of revelations, first reported by the Associated Press, that he interceded on behalf of an Indiana charter school run by a prominent Republican Party donor

His resignation will be a major setback for Gov. Rick Scott and state education leaders, who are working to overhaul Florida’s system of school accountability and assessment in compliance with the national Common Core standards.

Bennett came to the job in January after losing his re-election bid as Indiana superintendent of schools. He was the third permanent commissioner in Scott’ 31-month tenure, following Eric Smith (who Scott pushed out) and Gerard Robinson (who resigned under pressure). Two interim commissioners — John Winn and Pam Stewart -— also have run the department under Scott.

The past two times Florida has searched for a commissioner to run what many consider one of the nation’s leading education “reform” and accountability states, the pickings have been slim. Bennett only applied after losing re-election.


Florida schools roundup: Tony Bennett, teacher debit cards, art magnets & more

More on Tony Bennett: Two days of controversy seem to have taken a toll, with Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett expected to resign later today. Tampa Bay Times. Meanwhile, supporters and others are calling for more evidence in this latest school grade snafu: ”What we have now is not “the rest of the story” but a failure to seek the rest of the story,” writes Greg Forester on the Jay P. Greene blog. Bennett should request a broader set of emails to provide some context to this story, says Sherman Dorn. StateEdWatch and Dropout Nation raise more concerns. florida roundup logoBennett answers questions from Education Week’s Rick Hess about the grade boost in Indiana. “It’s not that big of a deal,” says Eduwonk, adding that calls for Florida’s education commissioner to resign “pretty obviously overstate the issue.” Fred Grimm from the Miami Herald writes: “Grown-ups might not buy Tony Bennett’s tortured explanation for jacking up that C grade to an A, but every school child in Florida understands the rationale.” The Buzz reports that Democrats are lining up to call for Bennett’s resignation. More here. And Beth Kassab from the Orlando Sentinel says, “Lots of headlines have portrayed this as Bennett doing a favor for a big donor. But that’s not quite right.” Even more from The Hechinger Report and New America Foundation.

Charter schools: Time is running out for a new Lauderdale Lakes charter school that has enrolled hundreds of students but still doesn’t have an approved site for them to attend class. Sun Sentinel. Lake Wales High School, a conversion charter in Polk County, may have a waiting list for students. The Ledger.

Magnet schools: The Palm Beach County School District considers expanding art magnet programs to schools in Boynton Beach, Delray Beach and Boca Raton. Sun Sentinel.

Debit cards: Gov. Rick Scott unveils debit cards that will allow teachers to buy tax-free supplies year-round. Sun Sentinel. Continue Reading →


‘It is time we redefine public education’

Editor’s note: We’ve made the point many times: Public education shouldn’t be synonymous with public schools and increasingly, in this age of rapidly expanding options, it isn’t. In a new essay, James V. Shuls, the education policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute in Missouri, expertly riffs on that theme, using the moving story of a student growing up in a tough stretch of St. Louis as a hook. Here’s a taste:



As a child, Korey attended St. Matthew Catholic Church. In 2001, St. Matthew’s parish opened De La Salle Middle School. The small private school above Big Mo’s barbeque restaurant only had 20 students. Korey did not know what to think about the idea of attending De La Salle. In time, he would come to realize that this decision changed his life. With expected pride, he says, “De La Salle put me on a path to greatness.” This school was diferent from other schools he had attended. Class sizes were small, with more one-on-one attention. His teachers were passionate, not just about academics, but also about character. One in particular, Martha Altvater, pushed him harder than he had ever been pushed. From De La Salle, he earned a scholarship to Christian Brothers College (CBC) High School, a respected private school in Saint Louis County, and then attended Westminster College in Fulton, Mo. In 2012, he graduated with a degree in business administration; sitting in the audience was none other than Martha Altvater.

At a critical moment in his life, Korey had the opportunity to attend either a public school or a private school. He chose to attend the private school. In doing so, he chose the option that best served the public, as well as him. Had he chosen the neighborhood public school, Korey says he “might have fallen in with the wrong crowd and be in jail or dead today.” That has been the fate for many of his friends who attended the public high school. But Korey’s fate was different because he found a school that recognized and developed his potential.

Though it is a private school, De La Salle Middle School serves the public much more efectively than the district-run school, where fewer than half of the students graduate. However, instead of celebrating De La Salle as a venerable public institution, we label it as a private school and deem it unworthy of public funds.


This essay should not be construed to say that all private schools are great —they are not. Nor should readers think that I am saying that all public schools are bad — they are not. The point is that all types of schools — district, charter, and private — can effectively serve the public. Right now, however, we have put up an artificial barrier that prevents students from using public dollars to attend the private school of their choice. Never mind that these private schools can, as was the case for Korey Stewart-Glaze, serve the student and the public very well.

Korey Stewart-Glaze’s journey has come full circle. He now recruits students to attend the school that changed his life, De La Salle Middle School. Still, funding makes this a somewhat difficult task. Though the school provides privately funded scholarships to 100 percent of its students, they still have to pay some tuition. This severely limits the number of students the school can serve and creates a barrier for many families who simply cannot bear the cost. Our narrow definition of public education prevents De La Salle from receiving state dollars and prevents more students from experiencing the life-changing moment that Korey had. It is time we redefine public education. It should no longer mean assigning students to a specific type of school, regardless of quality, but rather that we provide access to a quality education, regardless of the type of school delivering that education.


A good education is a religious endeavor

Editor’s note: Craig S. Engelhardt is a former teacher and school administrator who directs the Waco, Texas-based Society for the Advancement of Christian Education. His new book is “Education Reform: Confronting the Secular Ideal.”



Public education reflects some of America’s highest ideals and is based upon a belief in the value of both the individual and American society. Its existence reflects the belief that all children – regardless of their demographic status­ – should have the opportunity to grow in and pursue their potential. Its curricula reflect the belief that prosperity, liberty, and peace are rooted in individuals who are knowledgeable, skilled, reasonable, individually reflective, morally responsible, and socially supportive.

I support public education as both an ideal and a “good.” However, I claim public education harbors a systemic flaw that hinders and often prevents our public schools from fulfilling their ideals. Further, I claim this flaw has survived virtually unrecognized and unchallenged for over a century. Is it possible a scientific, astute, experienced, and democratic people could have missed a “flat world” sized flaw in a system so close to their lives and communities? I maintain we have. I have extensively written about it in “Education Reform: Confronting the Secular Ideal.”

In this scholarly book, I attempt to “tease out” the roles religion has played in education from America’s conception to the present. To do this, I start with a functional definition that describes religion as a coherent and foundational set of beliefs and values that provides a framework for reason and a source of motivation for life. Defined functionally, religions are worldviews that may or may not have a deity.

Working from this definition, I discover pre-modern (roughly pre-20th century) public and private education leaders consciously held religion to be central to their efforts. In other words, they believed individuals were shaped by their religious beliefs and the educational nurture of individuals relied upon teaching the foundational beliefs of their communities, extrapolating from pre-existing beliefs, and integrating new facts with those beliefs. The question within 19th century common schools was not whether schools should be religious, but which religious tenets were most integral to and supportive of the American way of life. This educational discernment was not merely due to prejudice or self-centered majoritarian preferences (though these played a role), but to a reasoned, experiential, and historically evident understanding of the roles of religion in society. The exclusive public support of common education seems to have been an attempt to educate non-Protestants toward many of the morals, beliefs, and perspectives considered to be “American” and indebted to the Protestant faith.

So how did secular public education become an “ideal”? First, I note it never was the ideal for the majority of the U.S. population. Even now, given a choice, I believe most parents would likely prefer to send their children to a school reflecting their “religious” views. Secular public education developed in America as a result of the confluence of two mutually supporting public commitments and a national trend – all were philosophically based, but one carried the overwhelming force of law. I believe the complexity of their interplay and the slow pace of change allowed the “flaw” of linking public education with the secular paradigm to survive to our present day with little challenge. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Tony Bennett, school budgets, safety nets & more

Tony Bennett: Fordham Institute’s Michael Petrilli weighs in on the Florida education commissioner’s decision a year ago to change an Indiana charter school’s grade: “Bennett worked to fix the problem—not, I believe, because the school was connected to a donor, but because no one would trust an accountability system that labeled even excellent schools as worthy of C’s or worse.” Flypaper. florida roundup logoThe Foundation for Florida’s Future also throws its support behind Bennett, saying “he fixed a problem to be accurate and fair – any accusation otherwise is false and
politically motivated.” Meanwhile, Bennett’s successor, Glenda Ritz, issues a public statement saying she already had concerns about Indiana’s A-F system and that the Associated Press report on the grade switch demonstrates the seriousness of the problems. It’s a story that may linger into 2016, says the The Maddow Blog. Bennett tells reporters in a conference call Tuesday that the AP report will not affect his ability to serve as top education official. Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau.

Budget talks: The Broward County School Board’s tentative $3 billion budget would give teachers $47 million in salaries, hire a dozen new school-based police officers and buy 100 new buses. Sun Sentinel. Orange County Public Schools has approved a tentative $1.8 billion budget – an increase of $150 million over the previous year. Orlando Sentinel. The Seminole County School Board moves to increase property taxes for a $735 million budget. Orlando Sentinel. The Polk County School Board gives initial approval to a $756.9 million budget. The Ledger. The Clay County School Board adopts a tentative $300 million budget. Florida Times-Union. The Duval County School Board OKs a $1.71 billion budget. Florida Times-Union. The Lee County School Board approves a tentative $1.29 billion budget — a decrease of about $37 million from the previous year. Fort Myers News-Press. Collier County school leaders vote to increase property taxes. Naples News. The Sarasota School Board voted to raise the property tax rates to help pay for teacher raises. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Hernando County School Board approves a $279.5 million tentative budget. Tampa Bay Times. The Pasco County School Board gives initial thumbs up to $1.05 billion budget. Tampa Bay Times. Hernando County School Board members have asked the district to re-examine the $15 student activity fee that was designed to raise money during a time of shrinking budgets. Tampa Bay Times. Hillsborough County school leaders are still hashing out their proposed $2.8 billion budget. Tampa Bay Times.

Union talks: Palm Beach County teachers expect a raise this year, but just how much remains unclear. Palm Beach Post.

School grades: StateImpact Florida looks at which districts have the most safety net schools, noting the state average is 17.2 percent. The Florida-issued grades gives districts a chance to check the state’s work. StateImpact Florida. Polk County schools Superintendent Kathryn LeRoy vows to turn around the district’s six failing schools and save others on the brink of becoming low-performing schools. The Ledger. The Pensacola News-Journal takes issue with the grades in an editorial, saying, “Schools won’t improve until the state gets serious about funding education.” Fallout continues with four Pasco County elementary schools avoiding “F” grades only because of the state’s safety net. Tampa Bay Times.

Do-over: 290 Escambia County students will repeat first grade. Pensacola News-Journal. Continue Reading →


Next week: A chat with Doug Tuthill



School choice in general is in the news a lot nowadays. And lately and more specifically, so is Florida’s tax credit scholarship program for low-income students. Administered by Step Up For Students (which co-hosts this blog), it’s the largest private school choice program in the country; it will serve about 60,000 students this fall; and as a number of stories in recent weeks have noted, including this one by the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald capital bureau, it continues to grow rapidly.

We know there are many questions about the program and its expansion, so we’ve asked Step Up President Doug Tuthill to do a live chat on the blog next week. He’ll answer as many questions as possible over an hour or so.

Doug joined Step Up in 2008. Before then, he had been a college professor, a classroom teacher, the president of two teachers unions and a driving force behind the creation of Florida’s first International Baccalaureate high school.

At redefinED, we strive not to be an echo chamber, so we’re hoping we’ll get questions from a wide range of folks, including (and maybe even especially from) people who are skeptical or critical of what we do. We also strive not to be a promotional vehicle for Step Up, but we thought the recent news coverage justified a spotlight. Quite frankly, we’re also new to this live chat thing, and Doug is our guinea pig. :)

To participate in the chat, come back to the blog on Tuesday, Aug. 6. We’ll start promptly at 10:30 a.m., so click in to the CoveritLive program a few minutes before then.

In the meantime, if you have questions for Doug that you’d like to send in advance, please email them to rmatus@sufs.org, tweet them to @redefinedonline or post them on our facebook page.