We all benefit from parental choice

Editor’s note: This post originally ran as an op-ed in today’s Pensacola News Journal, in response to this op-ed.

myth bustersLast week, parental choice in Florida reached a milestone, with the number of low-income students starting applications for tax credit scholarships this fall reaching 100,000.

The program’s popularity speaks to an untold story: how Florida parents are demanding more learning options for their children, and how the state, school districts and other providers are obliging them.

It is a sea change, and it brings complications worthy of scrutiny. But too often what we get, instead, are op-eds with so many distortions, it’s impossible to respond in 600 words. Here are basic points I hope readers will consider when criticisms surface.

The need for options. Florida public schools are making strides, especially with low-income students, but they need help. In 2013, low-income fourth-graders in Florida were number one among all states in reading, after being among the lowest-performers in the 1990s. Public schools deserve far more credit than they get for gains like this. But being number one still means only 27 percent are proficient.

The cherry picking myth. Scholarship students are required by law to take standardized tests (though few take the FCAT), with the results analyzed by Northwestern University researcher David Figlio. Contrary to statements in a recent op-ed, Figlio found those students “tend to be among the lowest-performing students in their prior school,” a trend that is “becoming stronger over time.” In other words, if private schools are out to cherry pick, they’re doing a lousy job.

Results. Figlio’s conclusion was also mangled in the op-ed. Here are his words, straight from his report: “… a cautious read of the weight of the available evidence suggests that the FTC Scholarship Program has boosted student performance in public schools statewide, that the program draws disproportionately low income, poorly-performing students from the public schools into the private schools, and that the students who moved perform as well or better once they move to the private schools.”

The draining myth. The scholarships don’t hurt public school funding. Many think they do, and in a state that ranks low in per-pupil spending, that’s a killer. But the truth is, taxpayers pay about half as much per scholarship as they do per student in public school. The scholarship is $4,880 this year; it’ll be $5,272 next year. Seven different analyses conclude the program does not drain public school funding. Not a single one concludes it does. Continue Reading →

Why school choice? Ask Denisha

Denisha Merriweather is a former tax credit scholarship student who graduated from college this month, becoming the first in her family to do so. Her story was captured on video and shown at this week’s American Federation for Children conference in Florida. We’ll let it do the talking. (As always, we note the Florida tax credit scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.)

Group taking aim at charter schools misses the mark

Do charter schools hurt the academic achievement of minority students that enroll? Do charters hurt the minority students who remain in public schools? How does closing traditional public schools and replacing them with charter schools impact these students?

Those are valid questions. But relying on unsubstantiated claims and ignoring credible evidence detracts from the thoughtful discussion the topic deserves. Unfortunately, that’s the route taken by the Journey for Justice Alliance, a coalition of left-of-center education activists and parents that recently garnered a fair amount of ink for its position.

During the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the alliance released a report, “Death by a Thousand Cuts,” which was part of a larger civil rights complaint against charter schools and public school closures. It claimed charter schools and school closure policies were “racially discriminatory.”

The alliance treats the racial demographics of charter schools, and the fact that charters are less popular in whiter suburban areas, as evidence that minority communities are being treated differently than their white counterparts. While it’s true there are disproportionally more black students and fewer white students in charters (see the highly regarded CREDO study on charters, page 16), it is a broad jump to conclude this occurred because of racism or discrimination on the part of charters or education reformers.

The alliance doesn’t consider the possibility that urban charters may be growing because they’re outperforming traditional public schools in urban areas, while suburban charter schools may not be because they’re not outperforming suburban public schools. Research seems to back up this explanation.


*CREDO National Charter School Study 2013, page 81.

The 2013 CREDO study found low-income black students attending charters benefited a lot – the equivalent of 29 extra days of learning in reading per year and 36 extra days in math (page 65-66). Continue Reading →

Florida Virtual School to add career education courses

Florida Virtual School has announced plans to offer more courses that lead to industry certifications.

Between now and the start of 2015, the virtual school says it will roll out about 20 new courses that allow students to receive various technology-related industry certificates, which for the past two years have been priorities in the state Legislature.

One of this year’s major school choice bills, SB 850, includes provisions aimed at expanding career education in public schools. Among other things, it would lift the caps on bonuses for schools where students earn industry certifications. Virtual schools do not receive those bonuses based on the way their funding is calculated, but lawmakers gave them a slight funding boost intended to reflect the money they would have received from the bonuses.

Star Kraschinsky, FLVS’ external affairs director, said plans had been in the works to expand career education offerings since the first two industry-certification courses were announced earlier this year.

Going into this year’s legislative session, key lawmakers said they wanted Florida Virtual School to enroll more students in more rigorous courses – especially classes that lead to college credit or industry certifications. That has been one of the online school’s goals since its founding, with backers driven in part by a desire to make advanced courses more available to students in rural areas.

In a statement announcing the new courses, state Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, said they would allow students to pick up new technology credentials outside of the normal school day.

“Preparing for these certifications through Florida Virtual School makes it easier for students who may already have busy schedules with school, work or extracurricular activities,” he said. ” They can do it on their own time.”

Florida roundup: At-risk students, private schools, charter schools & more

At-risk students. The Pinellas school system plans to take over a charter school aimed at struggling students. Tampa Bay Times. A child who missed his first several years of school finishes the fifth grade. Tampa Bay Times. A Hillsborough student overcomes homelessness. Tampa Bay Times.


Charter schools. The Miami-Dade County Commission approves what could become Florida’s largest charter school. Miami Herald.

Legislature. The Foundation for Florida’s Future grades lawmakers on education reform.

Tax credit scholarships. The Florida PTA calls for a veto of legislation that would expand eligibility for the program. Gradebook. Orlando Sentinel readers weigh in.

Reading instruction. More schools could soon add an extra hour for reading. Pensacola News-Journal. High school students struggle with FCAT Reading retakes. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Private schools. P.E. includes skateboarding at Calvary Christian Academy. Sun-Sentinel.

Magnet schools. Brevard elementary schools put on a museum night. Sun-Sentinel.

Continue Reading →

Coming next week: Course choice chat



Things are changing so fast with parental choice, charter schools and vouchers are starting to look old school. Before you know it, a lot more parents won’t just be choosing schools for their children, they’ll be choosing individual courses.

It’s called course choice. And to help us all get a better handle on it, we’re having a live chat next week with Michael Brickman, national policy director for the Fordham Institute. Brickman authored an excellent primer on course choice that Fordham released last week.

The chat is open to anyone with a fair question. It’s in writing, so we’ll type in questions, you’ll type in questions and our guest will type in answers as fast as his fingers can fly.

To participate, just come back to the blog on Wednesday, May  28. We’ll start promptly at 11 a.m. Just click in to the live chat program, which you’ll find here on the blog.

In the meantime, if you have questions that you’d like to send in advance, you can leave them here in the comments section, email them to rmatus@sufs.org, tweet them to @redefinEDonline and/or post them on our facebook page. See you then!

Campbell Brown: It’s amazing school choice is somehow controversial

Editor’s note: Former CNN host turned ed reform advocate Campbell Brown gave a speech Tuesday night at the American Federation for Children summit in Florida. Here are her remarks as delivered:

Campbell Brown

Campbell Brown

I’m so grateful to be part of this conversation as we talk about some of the challenges that lie ahead, and how we keep trying to move the ball forward. I get asked a lot about how I got involved in this, in education, and advocating for school choice. And the answer for me is pretty much the same as Lisa (Leslie, the former WNBA star who spoke earlier) and Faith (Manuel, the mother of a tax credit scholarship student, who also spoke earlier): I became a mother. …

And that’s probably the same answer a lot of other people in this room would have. Like every mother, like every other parent, I remember holding my son Eli in my arms for the very first time and looking at him and realizing that the life I knew was over. (laughter) And going forward, my life would be dedicated to caring for this child, and protecting this child, and trying to ensure that he had every opportunity possible to be all that he could be. And No. 1 on my list, in thinking about this, and thinking about both my kids now, I have two boys, is and was their education.

And I was thinking how fortunate I had been in my life. I had this career in television. And I lived in New York City. And my kids were going to have so many options available to them. I had so many choices and they would throughout their lives have so many opportunities because of this. And I think with that comes the recognition that that’s not the case for most people. And those choices and those options are not available to mothers who care about their kids just as much as I do, and have the same hopes and dreams for their children that I have for mine. And who want their child to have every opportunity in life just like I did. If we believe that education is a fundamental right, then everyone should have that choice.

It never ceases to amaze me that this very simple idea, that a parent who wants to try to find a school, a better school to try to give their child a better life, should have that choice. The idea that this is somehow controversial is amazing to me.

I spent most of my professional life in television journalism. I was at NBC News for 11 years. … I mostly covered politics. I had a show on CNN for almost three years after that. My first boss in TV was Tim Russert, the late host of Meet the Press, who was a wonderful man and a great friend and mentor to me. And he taught me, when I was young and pretty clueless, the ways of the old school journalism. This was before MSNBC and before FOX. And so back then, I remember going to work every day, as Tim had taught us, believing basically when you were covering a story, both sides had some merit. And both sides deserved a fair hearing. And your job as a reporter was essentially to referee the match. But, as I think a lot of you know, sometimes you look at a problem, you evaluate a problem, and it’s very clear that both sides do not have merit. And referee is not a role you can play when the lives of children are hanging in the balance. (applause) Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Magnet schools, charter schools, superintendents & more

Magnet schools. Hernando students bid farewell to visitors from China. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. Manatee County charter schools reach an agreement with the school district on transportation costs. Bradenton Herald. Breakdown here.

Montessori Schools. Bradenton students head to Switzerland for a model UN competition. Bradenton Herald.

Superintendents. The Hernando superintendent’s evaluation becomes contentious. Tampa Bay Times.

Attendance. Pinellas schools look for ways to get kids to come to class. Tampa Tribune.

Kindergarten. Orlando Sentinel columnist Beth Kassab reflects on her daughter’s first year of school.

Entrepreneurship. Duval students plan a food truck specializing in healthy burritos. Florida Times-Union. Collier students pitch competing business proposals. Naples Daily News.

Contracts. The Hillsborough school district has a $1.5 million relationship with the state fair. Tampa Bay Times.

Employment. Pasco schools expect job vacancies. Gradebook.

Employee conduct. A Marion schools employee is accused of pawning district property. Ocala Star-Banner.