Time for school boards to stop competing, start regulating

The latest evidence that school districts are increasingly acting like commercial businesses comes from the two urban districts in the Tampa Bay area.

McDonald’s would love to control whether a Burger King opens in its community, but giving McDonald’s this power would hurt consumers and undermine the public good. The same goes for school districts that have the power to authorize charter schools.

McDonald’s would love to control whether a Burger King opens in its community, but giving McDonald’s this power would hurt consumers and undermine the public good. The same goes for school districts that have the power to authorize charter schools.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that, “Increased competition for students, declining enrollment in the middle grades, and a need to offer more attractive options to families is leading Pinellas County Schools to open new magnet programs at four middle schools next fall.”

According to Bill Lawrence, the district’s director of student demographics, assignment and school capacity, “It’s important in this day and age, with competition in public education, that we have to do this. Some of our children are choosing other options, so it’s important we do it.” And Amie Hornbaker, the district’s new communications specialist, said, “We try not to say we’re selling (to parents), but essentially, we are.”

This concern with market share is a logical response to the expanding array of schooling options now available to families, including low-income families. But I’m uncomfortable with school districts becoming businesses in a competitive market place.

I know this sounds counterintuitive, or even hypocritical, coming from the president of the country’s largest private school choice organization.

I believe public education should operate as a well-regulated market. Educators should be empowered to own and manage schools and all parents – not just the affluent – should be empowered to match their children with the schools that best meet their needs. And I’m pleased many district school leaders are increasingly seeing families, and not their bureaucracies, as their primary customers. But if school districts become competitors in a market-driven public education system, who is going to objectively regulate this system?

Good regulatory oversight is a necessary component of an effective school choice system, but that’s not possible if the primary regulator is focused on maximizing its market share. And that’s what is increasingly happening in public education today. A good example is how Florida school districts are treating charter schools. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charters, private schools, Common Core & more

Charter schools: N.E.W. Generation Preparatory High School of Performing Arts in Broward County has until March to find a secure space to house its 200 students or close down. Sun Sentinel. The Schools of McKeel Academy will likely begin searching for a new leader after the first of the year. The Ledger.

florida-roundup-logoPrivate schools: English students at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Brevard County take their Shakespeare discussion online with Twitter. Florida Today.

Common Core: Common standards are the best way to measure how well our students are ready to graduate and enter college, the military or the workforce, writes Tony Buntyn, a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, for The Tampa Tribune. Florida won’t participate in PARCC’s field testing of its assessments come springtime. Tampa Bay Times. Yes, the Common Core State Standards are demanding, and they should be, writes Zachary Champagne for the Florida Times-Union. Florida is already headed in the right direction, but Common Core State Standards will continue to lead us to be the top academic state in the nation, writes Lucy Gosselin for Sunshine State News. Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) remain contenders for state testing. Sunshine State News.

Start times: Some of Florida’s superintendents are worried about the potential effects of a proposal that high schools statewide be prohibited from starting earlier than 8 a.m. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher pay: Gov. Rick Scott again urges school districts to come through with the contract deals to make the raises reality. The Buzz. Twenty eight school districts have finalized teacher pay hikes, while another 15 have reached tentative agreements still awaiting a vote by school boards. Miami Herald.

PISA: Florida 15-year-olds who took international tests in math, reading and science last year did worse than other teens in the United States overall and far worse than teenagers in the world’s top-performing education systems in Asia, scores released this morning showed. Orlando Sentinel. More from the Florida Times-Union. Locally, the results on the Program for International Student Assessment show the average Florida student scored about the same as the average U.S. student in science and reading. StateImpact Florida. Continue Reading →


Florida private schools hit by funding change to dual enrollment

Some Florida private schools face an unexpected dilemma this school year: Find extra dollars to pay for state college courses their high school students want to take – or deny them the option.

dual enrollment 2

The problem stems from a new law requiring public school districts and individual private schools to cover tuition for students enrolled in the state’s popular dual enrollment program.

Though it’s unclear how many private school schools and students are affected, the change has left some schools curbing participation and others anxious about what they’ll do if local colleges, prompted by the new law, end up hiking charges.

The change “caught everybody off guard,’’ said Howard Burke of the Florida Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, and immediate past president of Florida Association of Academic Nonpublic Schools (FAANS). “This is a hardship for parents already paying taxes for public schools and paying for private school.’’

His association represents about 140 schools with an average of $4,000 to $5,200 in tuition. Burke said some of those schools are telling parents they now will owe an additional fee for dual enrollment to help schools with the unexpected costs.

“I think it’s obscene,’’ Burke said. “This should not be happening.’’

Dual enrollment lets students knock out college-level credits for free while they’re still in high school so they can earn college degrees faster and save their families – and the state – thousands of dollars.

Currently, there are about 65,000 high school students participating, up 20 percent since 2010-11. Before the change, districts and colleges received additional state funding for the program costs (excluding books and other materials). Private schools, meanwhile, had separate agreements with colleges that allowed their students the same access.

In recent years, however, state colleges lobbied for more money because they said they were losing an estimated $43 million to $58 million a year in tuition. Lawmakers approved a bill last spring that allows the colleges to charge districts a standard fee of $71.98 per credit. The law went into effect in July. Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: school choice too popular in NJ, charter schools seek more $ in AZ and SC, and more

MondayRoundUp_redArizona: A charter school must repay $4.7 million in fees due to an inflated full-time enrollment count (Arizona Daily Sun). Charter schools are seeking $135 million in additional funding because they receive $1,100 per pupil less than traditional district schools (Arizona Daily Sun).

Florida: A state senator wants to restrict charter schools to specialized areas not currently served by district schools (The Florida Current). Charter schools learn to work with new transparency and open records rules (Daytona Beach News Journal). Homeschool students registered with private schools face fewer regulations ( WFSU). Florida has the third highest number of for-profit charter schools in the U.S. (Tampa Bay Times).

Georgia: Parents in Fulton County want school choice (Atlanta Journal-Constitution). The state isn’t monitoring how charter schools spend public funds (Associated Press).

Louisiana: The state and U.S. Department of Justice must come up with an agreement to monitor the voucher program within 60 days (Heartlander). School choice wins, sort of, after DOJ changes its lawsuit to ask the court to approve transparency policies over the program (Huffington Post, Washington Times, The Christian Post, The Advocate). Forty-five percent of the students in Louisiana’s voucher program attend a private school that is rated D or F (Times-Picayune).

Indiana: Charter schools in Indianapolis, thanks to the help of the mayor, will expand and grow next year (Chalk Beat). Indiana experienced a five-fold increase in vouchers and some schools now enroll a majority of voucher students (WNDU). A school board member in New Castle asks “who is profiting from vilifying” public schools (Courier Times)?

Massachusetts: A Catholic private school must raise $500,000 by June 2014 or the school will be shut down due to dwindling enrollment and rising costs (CBS Boston). Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Homeschooling, charters, private schools & more

Homeschooling: A Florida woman who has been homeschooling her children is ordered by a judge to put them in public school after a guardian ad litem says she believes they would benefit from the socialization. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools: A Palm Beach County senator wants to narrow the mission of charter schools with a bill that would require charters meet “a specific instructional need or a need for additional educational facilities.” The Florida Current. Charter school administrators are now required to post the school’s annual budget and fiscal audit, the state grade and names of governing board members on their websites. Daytona Beach News-Journal. At Immokalee Community School, every parent has signed a contract to speak Spanish with their kids for at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week. StateImpact Florida.

Magnet schools: With the opening of a new aviation academy, students at Clearwater High School soon will be able to graduate with a pilot’s license – and a jump into the growing field of aviation and aerospace. Tampa Bay Times.

Private schools: Academy Prep Center of St. Petersburg is looking for a new leader after an announcement that its head of school is stepping down. Tampa Bay Times.

College credit: Duval County’s strongest advanced high school programs may “seed” smaller accelerated or career courses at other district schools. Florida Times-Union. 

Achievement gap: Escambia County School District officials will soon be forming a new task force to help close the achievement gap among the district’s students. Pensacola News-Journal. Continue Reading →


Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving from Florida

Hi everybody! We’re off from work today and tomorrow, and we hope you are too. Enjoy this time with friends and family. We’ll be blogging again Monday. See you then!


Advice to faith-based schools: highlight your success stories

I often find myself in situations where I’m the lone advocate for a particular ideal. At Republican functions, I’m usually the only Democrat. If I’m at a gathering of Democrats, I’m often the only one who will speak in favor of education reform.

Religious schools are educating thousands of children effectively. It’s no one’s fault but their own if few people know about it.

Religious schools are educating thousands of children effectively. It’s no one’s fault but their own if few people know about it.

When I attend education events with like-minded Democrats, I advocate for vouchers and, later that evening, buy my own drinks at happy hour.So it should surprise no one that I attended a summit, hosted by the American Center for School Choice, where the audience consisted of faith-based education leaders from all over the country.

I am not religious. In fact, I have been known to reject the whole idea of organized spirituality and have, on more than one occasion, championed doubt and reason instead. I’ve even quoted Bill Maher who once denounced faith because it “makes a virtue out of not thinking.”

Yet there I was, amidst faith-based leaders, discussing the excellent work they do with children and schools. At several points in the discussion we lamented that, in some areas, this work is being threatened. Whether due to the growing numbers of charter schools or rising tuition rates, enrollment in religious schools is down and some schools are even being forced to close.

This is tragic for many neighborhoods where there is no secular solution to take its place.

No wonder then that many leaders are eager to see tax-credit scholarship and voucher programs come to their neck of the woods. When discussion centered on ways to garner public support for such programs, I eagerly listened to their ideas.

But the ensuing discussion was disappointing. They wanted to focus on statistics, parent empowerment and the importance of teaching God-given morals and values in a setting that isn’t allowed in secular or public schools.

While persuasive to many in the room, those arguments simply won’t work with much of the larger public. So I took a deep breath and raised my hand. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Private schools, charters, grad standards & more

Private schools: A Miami-Dade family operated private school hires its first non-family school leader. Miami Herald. A Orlando private school threatens to expel a student if she doesn’t cut and shape her hair. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools: Lake Wales charter students spend their vacation delivering hot meals to shut-ins, giving out free car washes to passers-by and taking holiday food boxes to those in need. The Ledger.

Grad standards: Sen. Education Committee Chairman John Legg sees graduation standards as the panel’s top priority. The Florida Current.

Single gender: Two Miami-Dade lawmakers have filed legislation that would encourage Florida school districts to try gender-specific classrooms. The Buzz.

Teachers: Pasco County School District officials consider a transfer window to help get quality teachers into the system. Tampa Bay Times.

Bus service: Broward’s school transportation department is finally on the road to improvement after being blasted for disastrous service and bloated overtime payments. Sun Sentinel.

First-graders: Escambia County school officials work on first-grade retention. Pensacola News-Journal. Continue Reading →