Democrats emerge for school choice

In the midst of a Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in New Jersey, Newark Mayor Cory Booker told the Associated Press: "How can we have a democracy in which we create, in a sense, an educational apartheid, where kids born in certain zip codes get great educations and kids born in other zip codes are trapped in schools?"

In the midst of a Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in New Jersey, Newark Mayor Cory Booker told the Associated Press: “How can we have a democracy in which we create, in a sense, an educational apartheid, where kids born in certain zip codes get great educations and kids born in other zip codes are trapped in schools?”

There’s no doubt many Democrats reflexively give vouchers and charter schools short shrift because of how successfully those school choice options have been branded right-wing. Never mind that school choice has deep roots on the left; that progressive icons like Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Hubert Humphrey embraced tuition tax credits for private schools; that Democratic Presidents Clinton and Obama champion charters. Repeat something long enough and loud enough, and between political tribes and echo chambers, alternate reality begins to wall off the real thing.

Which makes what’s happening in education right now that much more encouraging.

Despite the set-in-stone narrative, more and more Democrats in search of real-world solutions are finding ways around the wall. Since we launched our blog 2½ years ago, we’ve noted many of them. But a good bit of anecdotal evidence suggests the pace of Democratic support is growing. In New Jersey, in the midst of a Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, Newark Mayor Cory Booker didn’t soft pedal when asked about his support for vouchers. In New York, mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner has made expanding school choice the centerpiece of his education platform.

These guys aren’t DINOs. Booker, already touted as a future presidential candidate, once lived on a food-stamp budget to raise awareness about Americans who rely on them. Weiner, before a sexting scandal ended his stint as a U.S. Congressman, was the founder of the Middle Class Caucus and a bomb-throwing lefty darling; he once said during the Obamacare debate that every Republican he’d ever met was “a wholly owned subsidiary of the insurance industry.” To cite the positions of these pols isn’t to endorse them, but to suggest only critics from a detached fringe would consider them corporatistas in Dem drag.

Increasingly, Democrats are seeing school choice for what it really is – not an ideological weapon to be feared, but a practical tool to be honed. We’ve spotlighted other examples on our blog in recent weeks. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: education videos, Common Core, school supplies & more

Common Core. Now the PR battle is on. StateImpact Florida.

florida roundup logoSchool spending. Lee County finds it’s tough to hire school therapists when they’d be on the same salary schedule as teachers and could make more elsewhere. Fort Myers News Press.

Teacher pay: The Volusia County School Board looks at pay raises and extra jobs for teachers while considering lower property taxes during tonight’s board meeting. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

PARCC: In response to questions about the costs of testing students on the new Common Core standards, the PARCC consortium issued its estimate: $29.50 per student for the computerized version, with another $3-$4 per student for the paper and pencil test. Gradebook. If Florida backs away from PARCC, other states may follow. StateImpact.

Hiring: Hillsborough County Public Schools’ extended search for a school board attorney results in seven applicants. Tampa Bay Times. The Manatee County School Board hires two new department directors and an investigator. Bradenton Herald. Manatee school officials also select internal auditors to help the embattled district with its bookkeeping. Bradenton Herald.

Grants: Pinellas County schools didn’t get the $500,000 AmeriCorps grant the district sought to boost academics at low-performing schools. Tampa Bay Times.

New post: Former Warrington Middle School Assistant Principal Cassandra Smith will lead Escambia County schools’ first “hybrid” turnaround school, Lincoln Park. Pensacola News Journal.

K12: The Broward County School Board considers renewing its virtual education contract with K12. Miami Herald.

Digital learning: Education videos are a growing cyber trend as students look for online learning opportunities. Sun-Sentinel.

School supplies: A community provider hands out more than 2,000 backpacks and other school necessities. News-Press. The Tampa Tribune lists events for Pinellas families to find free school supplies. Polk County parents join the throng of moms and dads across the nation in search of crayons, notebooks, pencils and other back-to-school supplies. Ledger.

New school: Livingstone Academy Autism Center opens this fall in Hillsborough County with room for 35 students. The Tampa Tribune.

On tape: A conversation between Hillsborough County schools Superintendent Maryellen Elias and board attorney Tom Gonzalez gets caught on tape during a school board meeting. Tampa Bay Times.




Common Core can help school choice



For practical reasons, many Florida private schools are rolling up their sleeves and getting ready for the new Common Core State Standards for math and English/language arts. This fall, our nonprofit, Step Up For Students, will help about 140 private schools and their parents implement these new standards, and based on the dialogue we’re having with other schools, we’ll be helping many more next year.

Some observers believe common standards will undermine school choice. I disagree.

In the context of school choice, common standards serve the same function as the operating systems in computers or smart phones. Just as common operating systems (e.g., Apple or Microsoft) allow software developers worldwide to create an endless supply of innovative software applications, common academic standards are allowing teachers nationwide to create and share innovative curriculum, instructional materials, teaching activities and online lesson plans. We are already seeing a plethora of websites where teachers are posting open source lessons plans and instructional strategies aligned to Common Core. Innovative, free and Common Core-related professional development opportunities are also becoming ubiquitous online.

Common standards are helpful in this emerging new era of customized learning, where students are increasingly accessing content and taking courses from multiple providers simultaneously and/or sequentially. Parents want the freedom to continuously match their children with the learning options that best meet their needs, but they also want to know their children will not be disadvantaged as they move in and out of charter, virtual, home, magnet, private and neighborhood schools. Knowing that many schools are using the same operating system (i.e., the same standards) can help reassure parents that their children are able to receive a seamless, high quality education from diverse providers.

This is particularly important to low-income families. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: school grades, parent power, Jeb Bush & more

Charter schools. Pasco’s Dayspring Academy, where state Sen. John Legg is an administrator, puts off expansion plans for a year. Gradebook. An F-rated charter in Flagler shows improvement. Daytona Beach News Journal.

florida roundup logoMagnet schools. The Palm Beach County district considers two arts magnets for the south end of the district. Palm Beach Post.

Testing. Whatever replaces the FCAT as Florida moves to Common Core standards must allow us to compare Florida to the highest performing states, writes Jeb Bush in an op-ed for the Tampa Bay Times.

Grading. Orange high schools are moving to a grading system where 50 is the floor, not zero. Orlando Sentinel.

Common Core. Thousands of South Florida teachers and principals prepare for the all-grades rollout this fall. Palm Beach Post. “Some” Central Florida parents don’t like it. Orlando Sentinel.

Parental involvement. A prestigious Palm Beach County magnet is one of 10 schools statewide to be recognized by the Florida Department of Education. Extra Credit.

Parent power. The Tampa Bay Times writes up the new state law that gives parents of disabled students more say over their kids’ IEPs. So does the Fort Myers News Press.

School grades. A Jeb Bush-Rick Scott split? Tampa Bay Times. So much for accountability in education. Answer Sheet. The system is a disaster, writes Fund Education Now co-founder Kathleen Oropeza in an op-ed for the Tampa Bay Times. The Daytona Beach News Journal writes up the recent BOE decision on the safety net. Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: Course choice in Louisiana, vouchers in Wisconsin, KIPP in Missouri & more

Louisiana: Louisiana’s Course Choice pilot program is full, with about 2,000 students enrolled in online courses and 500 more on a waiting list (Times-Picayune). More from The Advocate.

MondayRoundUp_yellaConnecticut: Department of Education officials approve the state’s first local charter school, a Montessori school financed by the local education board and the state (New Haven Register).

Massachusetts: U.S. News & World Report ranks the Sabis International Charter School as seventh among the state’s charter schools and among the top 10 percent nationwide (Republican).

Ohio: Ohio Gov. John Kasich signs a bill that allows levy proceeds to be shared with charter schools partnering with the Columbus school district (Associated Press).

Wisconsin: A Racine school board member and her husband, a former teacher at a private school that accepted vouchers, want the program eliminated (Journal Times). The Racine school board approves a resolution opposing voucher expansion (Journal Times). St. John Fisher Academy, a private high school that opened in Racine last fall using state voucher money, has reportedly not paid staff members since March and has seen student enrollment dwindle (Journal Times). Parents are eager to apply for the voucher program, but a recent expansion only adds 500 seats statewide (Greenbay Press-Gazette). Continue Reading →


Florida charter schools back decision to ease school grades

Charter schools are among those supporting a tense Board of Education decision this week that prevents state grades for public schools from dropping more than one letter.

But some of them worry the move might add to the confusion parents and others already have about Florida’s A through F grading system – and erode public confidence in it.

“I think it becomes confusing to parents when the state says it wants to move forward with higher standards and wants them to be more rigorous, and then makes a safety net’’ when those standards aren’t met, said Cynthia Adversa, principal of Indian River Charter High School in Vero Beach, which is a member of the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools.

Teachers and students worked hard to meet those expectations, said Daviem Dina Miller, who heads Somerset Academy in Davie. So when some schools that didn’t hit the mark still benefit from a higher grade, “I think a lot of parents would question that.’’

At the same time, both women say giving schools more time to adjust to changes in the grading system is the right thing to do – especially when so much rides on the grades. Both of their schools are A-rated.

“It’s hard to be under that microscope,’’ said Miller, noting grades are tied to financial incentives for schools and teachers as well as public perception. “The grades affect your reputation.’’ Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Rick Scott, charter schools, Stand Your Ground & more

Charter schools. A new charter school began readying a building for use before checking with the city of Lauderdale Lakes, which doesn’t want a school on the site and is in the process of rezoning it. South Florida Sun SentinelLet’s strive for good schools, charter or traditional, and either improve or shut down those that aren’t cutting it, writes charter school supporter Tom Watkins in the Miami Herald. The principal of a district-run charter in Miami-Dade strongly denies a former employee’s allegations of cheating. Miami Herald. A new charter school in Fort Myers will focus on career education. Fort Myers News Press.

florida roundup logoRick Scott. Rep. Karen Castor Dentel, D-Maitland, tells the governor he should take the Republican Party of Florida to task for using teachers – who were praising him – in a political video without their permission. The Buzz.

Stand Your Ground. South Florida Sun Sentinel: “A middle school student who got into a fistfight with a girl on a Broward County school bus should have been allowed to use the Stand Your Ground law to defend his actions, an appeals court ruled Wednesday.”

School grades. ExtraCredit catches up on the DOE simulation showing falling grades. Too-frequent changes are taking their toll. Tallahassee Democrat. The state Board of Education decision was a battle over competing hoaxes. Palm Beach Post.

Teacher conduct. Newsome High School teacher in Tampa is charged with 20 counts of possession of child pornography. Tampa Tribune. From the Sarasota Herald Tribune: “Four school administrators facing allegations of failure to report child abuse and a football coach who has been accused of groping a teenager could face further scrutiny — regardless of whether law enforcement chooses to prosecute them.” More from the Bradenton Herald. Continue Reading →


Is school choice a means or an end?

The choice for every child will be made by some adult. The only question is which authority will impose its will on the child of the not-so-rich; will it be the parent or the stranger state?

The choice for every child will be made by some adult. The only question is which authority will impose its will on the child of the not-so-rich; will it be the parent or the stranger state?

Up to a certain point schooling is an example of the free market. Any family with financial resources or the ability to home school can choose where and how children are educated. However, schooling is a compulsory good and the forms of education that satisfy the parent’s duty are limited.

Moreover, parental authority over schooling is an instrument to be judged by its effect upon the goals to be served. One of its goals may be the healthy development, not merely of the child, but of the parent – in turn enhancing the family’s possible contribution to specific social goals. Suppose one decides that a 7-hour-a-day, 12-year disengagement of the parent from the child is a very bad thing for the social order. Suppose it teaches parents to leave responsibility to government strangers and invites the child to view the role of parent as an insipid condition to be avoided. What deadly disease of contemporary society does this image identify? Would responsible parental choice of school be at least part of its necessary social medicine? In the short run or the long run or neither? Perhaps this is the kind of question about ends that a fixation on economic means tends to obscure. The American Center for School Choice exists to ensure the conversation about parental choice includes serious discussion of both ends and means.

To the extent that any market is unregulated or “free” it is left so for the enhancement of certain ends that are approved by our society and its 51 constitutional governments. One of these ends is rather immediate; before all else, the free market is an instrument to achieve the personal objectives of individuals who exchange goods and services or make promises to do so. Promises create contracts, which are enforced (or not) by courts, which are an arm of formal government and decide whether certain bargains are illegal or ineffectual – because there are other ends that can override the aims of individuals. An example is an agreement for delivery of illegal drugs or (in California) the livers of force-fed geese. The free market has these various limits because society has purposes other than realizing individual choices.

Although contracts for schooling are – up to a point – relatively free, what is peculiar about the market in schooling is the law and reality that the individual most affected by the free choice has none at all himself. Nature has decided that Junior’s intellectual fate is in the hands of one adult or another; some older person will decide. If schooling is a free market, it is not his freedom. Indeed, he is the subject matter of a contract between two adults – parent and educator. He is in effect a valuable animal who is being farmed out to the greenest pastures the parent can find and afford.

Society and its laws thus recognize the reality that the choice of schools – if it be a “free” market – is a unique species of choice, having objectives that extend beyond just the child for whom the choice is made. Continue Reading →