What’s the best state for poor students?

The late Harvard philosopher John Rawls stands to this day as a titan of left-of-center political thought. Like other great thinkers, his perspective changed over time, and almost certainly was misused by more than a few. In the interest of full disclosure, your current author finds Rawls fascinating but ultimately less than fully persuasive depending on which version of Rawlsianism we’re talking about.

Many trees died to carry out debates over Rawls and his ideas, but with those caveats aside, I’ll do my best to sum up Rawls’ philosophy in two sentences (at least the version I find most persuasive.) First, policy should be made as if the world were to start again with you having no knowledge of who you would be in the next life. Second, if you accept this premise, then it follows that you should support policies that create a path out of poverty for those starting with the least.

In years past I entertained myself with a Rawlsian thought experiment based upon NAEP data: The world was starting over. You had no idea what condition you might find yourself. You could be the child of a crack-cocaine addict, a doting and virtuous billionaire, or anything in between.

So the mysterious POWERS THAT BE inform you that you have one day to live, but they are going to let you pick an American state in which to be reincarnated in the next life. So…

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what do you do?

Continue Reading →

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redefinED roundup: reformers win in Colorado, school choice and NAEP gains & more

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Arizona: A school board member in Gilbert proposes a district-wide voucher program (East Valley Tribune).

California: Charter schools now enroll 8.4 percent of the state’s student population (Ed Source).

Colorado: Big bucks back education reformers in school board races (Denver Post, Daily Sentinel, Politico). Education reformers in Douglas County and Denver win re-election (Denver Post, Education Week, Our Colorado News). Voters turned down a tax increase that would have allowed non-profit charter schools to share in capital funds (New York Times). Could the Douglas County School Board move school choice mainstream (Daily Caller)?

D.C.: School choice is changing one life at a time (Daily Caller). D.C. charter school rankings have been released, showing 12 percent are low-performing with more than a third scoring as top performers (Washington Post).

Florida: Education reform and school choice may have played a role in Florida’s continuing improvement on the NAEP test (redefinED, redefinED). Low-income children attending Florida’s charter schools outperformed the statewide public school average for their peer group (Jaypgreene.com, Edfly). 10 lessons from Florida Virtual School (Education Week). Online courses with unlimited enrollment, called MOOCs (massive open online courses), are becoming popular in Florida (Tampa Bay Times). The state run Florida Virtual School is suing Florida Virtual Academy, arguing the similar name will confuse parents and students (WFTV).

Hawaii: An audit revealed the Department of Education was wasting millions on the food service program so the state told charter schools to find their own source to provide nutrition programs for low-income students (Huffington Post).

Kansas: The Friedman Foundation and Kansas Policy Institute testified before the state board of education on the need for school choice and education reform (Topeka Capital Journal). Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Charters, private schools, dual enrollment & more

Charter schools: Pinellas County could get its first Montessori charter school next school year. Tampa Bay Times. Collier County School Board members vote to close an Immokalee County charter school, iGeneration Empowerment Academy. Naples Daily News. Ten teachers quit their jobs at a Broward County charter, saying they weren’t paid for the first few weeks and students didn’t have books. Sun Sentinel. St. Johns County school leaders worry standard charter school contracts will take away local control. St. Augustine Record.

florida-roundup-logoPrivate schools: Saint Paul’s School, a private Episcopal school in Clearwater, names Samantha Kemmish as the new head of the school. Tampa Bay Times. A private school specializing in helping kids with special needs, has closed its doors, after the state suspends the school’s McKay scholarships. WPEC-TV.

Magnet schools: The Polk school district is changing the way it gets magnet and choice school students to school, and parents are being forced to adjust. The Ledger.

Dual enrollment: The new law that requires school districts to cover the costs of high school students taking college courses could cost the Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River districts a combined $1.5 million annually. TC Palm.

Teacher evals: A series of teacher evaluation glitches in Santa Rosa County leaves confidence in the system’s validity shaky. Pensacola News-Journal.

Social media: Parents get lessons on talking to their children about social media from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Tampa Bay Times.

Athletic policy: One year into a new athletic transfer policy, the Hillsborough County school district is defending itself in a lawsuit that argues the whole process is illegal. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →

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Proposed charter school contracts draw fire from Florida school districts

School districts continue to raise concerns about proposed, statewide uniform charter school contracts that are set to be in place next year.

Three district representatives appeared this week before the Florida House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee to share their worries about the contracts, which were mandated by new legislation passed last spring and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott. Meanwhile, a published report suggests mounting opposition in some districts.

Mike Grego

Mike Grego

“If charter schools desire to fill a niche or an innovative purpose in a community, we ought to be able to evaluate what that niche is,” said Pinellas County Superintendent Mike Grego, according to The Tampa Tribune. “A standardized contract does not allow local school boards to do that, which is shortsiding the whole purpose of charter schools, which is to stand out and be different.”

Ruth Melton of the Florida School Boards Association told redefinED it’s still too early in the process to say whether the group opposes the standard contract, but “we are legitimately concerned and these concerns are very real.’’

While the association can appreciate the need to streamline the process, every district is different, Melton said, and every charter school has different needs. It really comes down to whether the agreement can be amended. “If yes, good. They’re on the right path,’’ she said.

But if it means the district or the charter school has to justify their reasons to amend the contract to any outside parties (such as the Florida Board of Education), then the process gets complicated, expensive and, possibly, violates the district’s constitutional right to bargain and negotiate.

“We would not be comfortable with any legislation that violates the constitution,’’ Melton said. “And I don’t think legislators would, either.’’

The idea behind standard contracts, state officials have said, is to streamline the contract process, set a baseline for expectations so both sides have the same starting point, and create an opportunity for more meaningful negotiations. The contract, if approved by lawmakers next spring, will go into effect until next year.

Charter school supporters, who also testified before lawmakers this week, have raised concerns about the new contracts, too. But generally, they support the idea.

A draft contract now on the table took four months to create with input from both charters and districts, said Adam Miller, who oversees school choice at the Florida Department of Education.  While the contract shortens timelines for negotiations, it does not mean changes can’t be made, he said.

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Florida’s long-term NAEP gains easily outpace the nation’s

Hanging Boxing GlovesFlorida made small gains over the last NAEP cycle, but how does its growth compare over the long haul? Pretty good.

If you go all the way back to the beginning of NAEP time (which can vary from 1990 to 2003 depending on the grade, subject and sub-group), Florida’s gains since then best the national gains in 38 of 40 categories. If NAEP gains were heavyweight boxing, Florida’s career record would be 38-2 with 11 KO’s (beating the average by 10 or more points).

Florida’s average gain per category is 21.5 points (about two grade levels worth of advancement). Its average spread over the national gain is 7.1 points (nearly a grade level).

One caveat: In the two areas where Florida was beat by the national average (4th grade math by English Language Learners (ELL) and 8th grade math by low-income Hispanics) the results may be biased because so few states had enough ELL and Hispanic students to compare.

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Florida schools roundup: Florida Virtual, MOOCs, private schools & more

Florida Virtual: Tom Vander Ark gives his 10 lessons from the nation’s largest provider of online learning. No. 1 – Big vision. Education Week. The lead attorney for the state-run FLVS argues K12, Inc. tried to trick parents by using two similar names, Florida Virtual Academy and Florida Virtual Program. WFTV.

florida-roundup-logoMOOCs: Massive Open Online Courses – it’s the latest trend in education and it’s coming soon to a school near you. Times/Herald.

Private schools: St. Thomas Aquinas High School, a private school in Fort Lauderdale, makes its mark as a digital innovator with a $1.6 million classroom renovation. Sun Sentinel.

Charter schools: The superintendent of The Schools of McKeel Academy works off-site for a week during an investigation into a grievance against him. The Ledger.

Common Core: A Florida teacher talks about his experience reviewing the new standards. Education Week. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education reform think-tank, tells Florida lawmakers to stay on track with Common Core. Tampa Bay Times. More from the Orlando Sentinel.

 NAEP: Reading and mathematics achievement of the country’s eighth-grade students improved in the last two years, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. But fourth-grade performance remains stubbornly mixed. Education Week. Florida’s average fourth-grade reading score remained, as it has been for a decade, above the national average.  Orlando Sentinel. More from the Pensacola News-Journal, Tallahassee Democrat, and The Tampa Tribune. Continue Reading →

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Florida’s low-income students fare quite well against their peers

Florida’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results in reading and math place the Sunshine State squarely in the middle of the pack (except in 4th grade reading where Florida ranks in the top 10). But comparing states without controlling for demographic differences isn’t entirely fair.

Since every state has differences in student demographics, the most accurate way to compare states is to compare similar subgroups. And one of the best ways to judge the efficacy of a state’s education system is to see how it performs for the students in most need of help.

We looked at the results for low-income students by race in Florida and compared the results with their peers in other states. The table below provides both a raw score comparison with the national average and Florida’s rank for each subgroup. As you can see, Florida performs quite well.

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UPDATE: Two points of praise for Florida on the NAEP 4th grade reading exam: Florida’s low-income Hispanic students beat the average (of all students regardless of race or income) in 18 states and D.C. Florida’s low-income black students best the average (of all students) in New Mexico and D.C.

Note: the reason there are not 51 places in the ranking is because not every state has a large enough sample size of the racial demographic group to compare with other states.

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Florida students again showing progress on “nation’s report card”

After a brief stall, Florida students and teachers are again making nationally notable gains on a closely watched test.

Released Thursday, the latest results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, better known as “the nation’s report card,” show Florida students making solid growth between 2011 and 2013 on three of four tests that are used to compare achievement from state to state.

The NAEP reading and math tests are given every other year to representative samples of fourth- and eighth-graders in all 50 states.

Fueled by the performance of low-income and minority students, Florida was one of only four states that made statistically significant score gains on both the eighth-grade reading and eighth-grade math tests. It was also one of only seven states that showed a statistically significant increase in the percentage of students scoring at or above the basic level on fourth-grade reading, with a jump from 71 to 75 percent. (See charts below for the Florida and U.S. trend lines.)

The improved scores are “an example of what can be accomplished when we focus on what is important,” Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said in a written statement.

The latest results will have academic repercussions in the Sunshine State, a national leader in ed reform for more than a decade, and, maybe, political and legal ones. For embattled ed reformers, they bring a sigh of relief. For critics, they bring more evidence, despite oft-repeated arguments, that Florida public schools continue to improve faster than schools just about anywhere.

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Here’s the context:

Between the late 1990s and 2009, Florida was arguably the national pacesetter on NAEP progress, moving from the bottom tier of states on all four core tests to the middle tier or better on three of them. It is impossible to sort out which factors led to rising trend lines, but Florida’s escape from the national cellar coincided with the sweeping policy changes ushered in by former Gov. Jeb Bush. Generally, the changes stressed higher standards, expanded school choice and top-down regulatory accountability. More specifically, they included school grades, private school vouchers, third-grade retention and an intense focus on literacy in early grades. Over the second half of that span, Florida also modestly shrunk class sizes and rolled out a popular, voluntary pre-kindergarten program, both prompted by voter-approved amendments to the state constitution.

Then came 2011. Continue Reading →

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