redefinED roundup: Louisiana vouchers under fire, charter school performance in Tennessee, Florida Virtual cuts & more

MondayRoundUp_goldAlabama: The Rev. H.K. Matthews, a civil rights icon now living in Alabama, says school choice is an extension of the civil rights movement (AI.com).

Colorado: The Douglas County School District offers private school vouchers for students but some residents, policymakers and journalists can’t see anything but conspiracy theories (Our Lone Tree News). Fifteen new charter schools open statewide for the 2013-14 school year (The Gazette).

Connecticut: State Superintendent of Schools William McKersie wants public school choice and more digital learning for students (Greenwich Post).

Florida: Education leaders urge the governor to overhaul the school grading system again (which also applies to charter schools) (Tampa Bay Times). Florida Virtual School is facing hard times as program revenue drops 20 percent (Education Week). Charter schools are under scrutiny from the Department of Education after a ban on charging additional fees and requiring volunteer hours from parents (Tampa Bay Times).

Louisiana: The U.S. Department of Justice files suit to block the state’s new school choice program, arguing it violates court ordered desegregation (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Advocate). The Black Alliance for Educational Options and Gov. Bobby Jindal both say the scholarship program provides a vehicle for low-income students to escape failing schools and that the Justice Department should drop the lawsuit (Education Week, Huffington Post, Weekly Standard). The Washington Post editorial board calls the DOJ lawsuit “appalling” (Washington Post). “Course choice” is underway in Louisiana (Education Week).

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Happy Labor Day!

laborday5Like most of you, we are out enjoying the holiday! Don’t labor too hard this Labor Day and stay safe! See you back here tomorrow.

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More Florida charter schools with deficits, but …

A new report finds more Florida charter schools operating in the red, but it’s not necessarily a sign they’re in trouble.

Released this month, the annual report from the Florida Auditor General shows 12 percent of the 499 charter schools reviewed in the audit ended the 2012 fiscal year with a deficit, up from six percent of 445 schools the previous year.

The bulk of charter schools flagged were in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, which have the largest number of charters in the state. In Broward, 17 of 73 charters closed the year with a deficit. In Miami-Dade, it was 16 of 109 charters.

“It certainly is something we are aware of and paying attention to,’’ said Adam Miller, who oversees charters and school choice for the Florida Department of Education.

But the report looked at a particularly difficult year for both charter and traditional public schools, Miller noted. Lawmakers slashed $1 billion from the education budget in 2011, significantly reducing per-student funding and other dollars to charters and traditional public schools.

Another factor: a third of the charters audited were less than three years old. That’s important to note, Miller said, because new charters take some time to build reserves. They don’t receive as much public funding as district schools. And since most of them don’t get facilities funding, they have to dip into operation dollars to pay for buildings and other capital needs. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Common Core, Scott and Bush, Rowlett magnet & more

Common Core: Rep. Debbie Mayfield of St. Lucie County files a bill that would put the Common Core standards on hold. StateImpact Florida. More from TC Palm.

florida-roundup-logoMeet up: Gov. Rick Scott meets privately in Miami with former Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. John Thrasher and Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand to talk about the future of Florida’s schools. Times/Herald. Why Scott’s meeting with the two men has the potential to cause headaches for the current governor. The Buzz.

Cheating probe: A Miami Norland Senior High School program through which hundreds of students have earned state industry certifications has been tainted by cheating, according to the Miami-Dade Office of the Inspector General. Miami Herald.

Academic targets: Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti feels closer to persuading the school board to accept his goal to bring next year’s student achievement data to the state average. Florida Times-Union.

Rowlett Magnet: Manatee County schools Superintendent Rick Mills plans to recommend approval of the district’s Rowlett Magnet Elementary application to become a charter school. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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NEPC takes a U-turn on CREDO charter schools study

uturn signLast week Diane Ravitch warned her readers not to trust the findings of the latest Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) report highlighting student achievement in charter schools. To make her case, she cited a review of the CREDO study written by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC). Diane Ravitch citing NEPC struck me as humorous for a very good reason.

As the CREDO study results changed direction in favor of charter schools, both Ravitch and NECP took a u-turn of their own.

Now there is nothing wrong with changing your mind. In fact, I applaud people who review research and reassess their previous held beliefs, because it takes considerable courage to change your mind or admit you were wrong. However, the CREDO research methods didn’t change and neither did the concerns raised by NEPC. The only thing that did change was the CREDO results, and it no longer supported Ravitch’s or NEPC’s professional opinion.

Back in 2009, the CREDO report concluded, “Despite promising results in a number of states and within certain subgroups, the overall findings of this report indicate a disturbing — and far reaching — subset of poorly performing charter schools.”

When Ravitch accepted the National Education Association’s “Friend of Education” award in 2010, she cited CREDO findings stating, “five out of six charters will get no different results or worse results than the regular public schools.” Ravitch was still highlighting CREDO findings as late as the summer of 2011, but today she attacks CREDO as part of a corporate education reform plot to privatize education.

Like Ravitch, the NEPC had nice things to say about CREDO back in 2009. Despite very little change in NEPC’s own concerns, or even in the CREDO methodology, the organization’s opinion turned decidedly negative in 2013 when the CREDO results shifted in favor of charter schools. Continue Reading →

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The unrealized dream of educational justice

Gant

Gant

Editor’s note: This is the fourth and final post in our series commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Dr. Vernard Gant is director of Urban School Services with the Association of Christian Schools International.

As the nation marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, speculation abounds as to what the content of that speech would be if delivered today. It is noteworthy that in all of his speeches and writings, Dr. King had little to say about education beyond segregated schools and low performance by black students. He apparently thought that once the racial barriers of discrimination and social injustices were removed, educational disparities would self-correct. It would not be much of a stretch to suggest he would be appalled to discover that according to the latest NAEP report, black children in 2011 are still not performing in reading at the level of white children in 1970 (just two years after his death).MLK snipped

Here’s my take on what his reaction would be, a slight variation on the words from his speech: It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro [children] a bad check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of [educational] justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of [educational] opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of [educational] freedom and the security of [educational] justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. [Brackets mine]

Just as in the days of the civil rights movement, a grave injustice is transpiring today that is adversely and profoundly impacting its victims. A quality education, essential for cashing the promissory note that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, is being systematically denied families that do not have the economic means to secure one for their children.

A quality education is a purchased commodity. It depends on the financial wherewithal of individual families. It can be purchased either by paying tuition to private schools, or by paying higher mortgages and property taxes in neighborhoods with high-performing public schools. Parents who have low and moderate incomes simply do not possess the financial means to secure such an education for their children. They are bound to accept what is offered in schools assigned on the basis of where they live. They have no choice and no freedom in their children’s education. To compound matters, they are often told, from the public’s standpoint, that they should never have a choice because if they did, it would financially cripple the public school system. Translation: the important thing is not the best interest or well-being of the child, but the best interest and well-being of the system.

To add insult to injury, parents are told this by opponents of school choice and educational justice, all of whom exercise choice in where their children go to school. As a general rule, people of means naturally send their children to schools that effectively educate them. No caring parent (no matter how dedicated to a cause) would put their child in a school and sacrifice his or her education on an altar they know would fail their child. The tragedy is in the hypocrisy; what these individuals practice personally (school choice for their own children), they oppose politically for other folks’ children. They act in the best interest of their children, but insist the children of less economically advantaged families remain bound to a system that does not benefit them but rather benefits from them.

What is needed today and what Dr. King would call for is educational justice. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: School grades, Common Core, PARCC & more

Ed summit: A three-day education summit called by Gov. Rick Scott ends with broad guidelines on student testing, school grading and evaluating teachers — but uncertainty about where they will lead. Palm Beach Post. Participants make plenty of promises, but don’t offer solutions. Associated Press. The summit did little to quell unrest over Common Core or address other recent controversies, but at least it brought parent groups, teachers, school administrators and legislative leaders together. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. And there’s a call to change the school grading system. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoCommon Core: Mary Jane Tappen, deputy chancellor for curriculum and instruction with the Florida Department of Education, will talk with Osceola parents about the new Common Core standards. Orlando Sentinel.

PARCC: Florida’s continued participation in PARCC is in doubt due to the concern that school districts don’t have the computers and Internet bandwidth necessary to administer the online tests and that PARCC exams take twice as long as the FCATs they replace. StateImpact Florida.

Drug testing: The Miami-Dade County School Board will consider a random drug-testing policy following the federal probe into whether Biogenesis of America gave performance-enhancing drugs to student athletes. Miami Herald.

Rosh Hashanah: A St. Lucie County sophomore and his parents are upset that the school district won’t allow students to take the day off for the Jewish holiday like some other districts. Instead, he has a test. TC Palm.

Class therapy: A therapy dog helps autistic students in Lake Wales focus in the classroom. The Ledger.

Reading buddy: Ann Scott, the governor’s wife, visits a Port St. John elementary school  to read to kindergarteners. Florida Today.

Afterschool: Many Collier County parents are still upset about the district’s changes to afterschool activities. Naples Daily News.

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A closer look at the new kid on school choice block

debit cardsWe all know about charter schools, vouchers and tax-credit scholarships. But there is a new kid on the school choice block called “education savings accounts” (ESAs) and they can be used to purchase multiple education options at a time – and even to save for college.

A new Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice report, released Wednesday, provides a detailed look at how the parents in one state are using the accounts.

But first, a quick primer: Maybe one day opponents will call these ESAs “nuevo neovouchers” but today supporters call them “education debit cards,” and for a good reason. The state deposits the funds into an account which can be spent – via a debit card – on private school tuition, fees, curriculum (which would include books and other coursework material), online courses, exam fees and tutoring services. Unspent funds are rolled over to the next year and can even be deposited into 529 college savings accounts to pay for future college tuition. Parents receive disbursements to the account quarterly and are expected to submit expense reports quarterly as well to ensure compliance with the law.

Arizona’s ESA, the “Empowerment Scholarship Accounts,” pays parents 90 percent of the state support (currently worth $2,845). Special needs students receive additional support based on the severity of the disability, with the average special need student awarded $13,600 in 2012. Accounts are currently limited to active-duty military families, foster care children, special needs students, and students in schools rated D or F.

The Friedman Foundation discovered 85 percent of the 316 Arizona families with ESAs in 2011 used them to pay for tuition at a private school, 20 percent to pay for special education or therapy services, and 15 percent to purchase supplemental tutoring. The least utilized services included exam fees (like the AP exam) and online course fees. Overall, approximately 26 percent of the money in the ESA accounts remained unspent at the end of FY 2012-13, allowing the funds to roll over and accumulate in the next school year.

ESAs “open the doors to an education that is uniquely tailored to a child’s individual needs by enabling parents to direct funds to multiple education providers,” writes Lindsey Burke, author of the Friedman report. Indeed, 34 percent of families paid for multiple options – for example, attending a private school while also purchasing supplemental curriculum and tutoring services.

Several state legislatures have explored the ESA concept since 2011 (in Florida, bills were introduced but didn’t get far) but right now they are only available in Arizona.

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