redefinED roundup: Vouchers in N.C., public school choice in Missouri & more

Alabama: 29 private schools are now eligible to accept scholarships and transfer students under the state’s new Alabama Accountability Act ( The Revenue Department proposed rules for the new tuition tax-credit law and it will prohibit tax-credits for students currently enrolled in private schools (Associated Press).

MondayRoundUpArizona: School children in Phoenix have lots of educational options (East Valley Tribune).

Florida: Some private schools in Florida are signing on to the Common Core standards (Education Week). Florida Virtual School eliminated 177 full-time teaching and support staff positions due to budget cuts (redefinED). Parents are picking out clothes, backpacks and school supplies but the hardest choice is where to send their kids to school (The Tampa Tribune). Florida Urban League leaders and education advocates to talk about growing school choice options during series of town hall meetings (redefinED).

Illinois: Four new public schools outside Chicago will be required to offer public school choice to students under No Child Left Behind (Daily Herald). Senator Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) is running for governor and he plans on pushing for a school voucher, worth up to $3,800 (Alton Daily News). Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush spoke at a conference in Chicago calling for education reforms including expanding school choice programs nationwide (

Louisiana: It’s back to school time in Louisiana and parents are busy making their school choices (The Advocate). Rapid Parish school board just approved its public school transfer policy that allows students in lower-performing schools to transfer to better ones (Associated Press). A new CREDO study shows students in Louisiana charter schools average an extra 50 days of learning and reading and 65 days in math compared to their public school counterparts (CREDO Stanford).

Massachusetts: Pentucket Regional School committee is considering cutting back enrollment in its public school choice policy as it grows more popular than ever (Newbury Port News).

Missouri: A public school choice law that allows students to transfer out of poor performing school districts may leave one district bankrupt as more than 2,000 students apply to transfer (Education Week). Meanwhile, parents of children denied transfers to other public schools are looking to the ACLU and other civil-rights lawyers for advice (St. Louis Post-Dispatch). At least one parent is mad that the government will spend nearly $20,000 on their child’s public education, but won’t spend a penny for the child to attend a local, less expensive, private school (St. Louis Post-Dispatch). Continue Reading →


Parents should never have the authority to purposely raise an illiterate child

I agree with Utah state Sen. Aaron Osmond’s assertion that over the last 150 years government has used compulsory school attendance laws to inappropriately usurp much of the parents’ responsibility and authority for educating their children. But while I believe this educational responsibility should be restored to parents, I also believe compulsory school attendance laws should be maintained, with some modifications.



When mandatory school attendance laws were first passed in the mid-19th and early-20th centuries, brick-and-mortar schools and formal instruction were synonymous. That’s not necessarily the case today. In this new era of digital technology and customized teaching and learning, students are increasingly being educated in venues as diverse as libraries, community centers, private homes, museums, and Starbucks.

This proliferation of eclectic learning environments suggests our education laws should focus on compulsory learning and not compulsory school attendance. As long as children are making adequate progress mastering their state’s academic standards, the public should not care where this learning is occurring.

I oppose Sen. Osmond’s proposal to eliminate mandatory attendance (or learning) laws because the parents’ authority to education their children should not be absolute. Parents should never have the authority to purposely raise an illiterate child. That’s child abuse.

The Washington Post made a similar point in its recent editorial criticizing Virginia’s religious exemption law, which allows parents to opt out of the school attendance law without providing any evident their children are becoming literate:

“States have an interest and an obligation to see that children get a basic education; that’s why we have compulsory attendance laws. By writing such a broad exemption, Virginia has tipped the scales that balance a parent’s religious freedom with a child’s right to an education.”

In many ways, we’ve already begun making the transition from compulsory attendance to compulsory learning. In most states, homeschooling satisfies  compulsory school attendance laws if parents can prove their children are making adequate academic progress. Unfortunately, what constitutes adequate academic progress is often vague and a source of disagreement between parents and local officials tasked with enforcing school attendance laws. If we’re going to properly balance the parents’ authority to educate their child with the government’s interest in protecting children from abuse, then we must improve our ability to determine what constitutes acceptable academic progress for each child.

The new Common Core State Standards should help with this task since most students nationally will be working toward mastering the same content standards and their collective progress should help inform the progress we should expect from individual children.

Public policy should be more deferential to parental authority, but this authority cannot be absolute. We can create and implement policies that honor parents’ authority to educate their children while still protecting the child and society from abuse.


Florida schools roundup: Frank Brogan, Florida Virtual, first days & more

Frank Brogan: The outgoing Florida university system chancellor talks about Common Core, state grades and Tony Bennett. TCPalm.

florida-roundup-logoCommon Core: Polk County’s new teachers get a primer on the new education standards during their district orientation. The Ledger.

Florida Virtual School: About 6,000 Polk County students took classes last school year through Florida Virtual School. Recent drops in enrollment statewide have resulted in teacher and staff layoffs. The Ledger. More from the Associated Press.

Early dismissal: Polk County’s early dismissal days will be 1½ hours shorter this school year than last. The Ledger.

Safety: St. Johns County schools wants to limit each school to one entrance. St. Augustine Record.

First day: Summer is over for 86,000 Lee County students who are back in school. News-Press. More from Naples Daily News.

School supplies: Lipman and Pacific Tomato Growers hand out 1,400 back packs to needy Immokalee families. Naples Daily News.

More Bennett: Two more Tony Bennett hires, Anna Shultz and Katie Stephens, leave their Florida Department of Education posts. Tampa Bay Times. American Federation of Teachers and its Indiana affiliate request public records from the Indiana Department of Education, seeking all communications between Tony Bennett, Foundation for Excellence in Education, ALEC and others since 2009. School Zone. Continue Reading →


Latest finding: Districts are increasingly cooperating with charter schools

A growing body of research suggests charter schools provide a good quality education relative to the traditional district schools from which their students transferred. This is especially true for low-income and minority students – the primary beneficiary of most charter schools nationwide.

A new report by Will Dobbie of Princeton and Roland Fryer of Harvard, shows significant achievement gains for low-income students in Harlem attending charter schools. Importantly, these low-income students are far more likely to attend college than their traditional school peers.


How do school districts respond?

Even the CREDO report from Stanford University now states that charter schools, on balance, provide a slightly higher quality education.  The study finds that students in poverty attending charter schools gain an extra 14 days of learning for reading and 22 days of extra learning in math. English language learners in charter schools gain an additional 43 days of learning in reading and 36 days in mathematics. The much misunderstood CREDO report in 2009 also found charter schools had a significant positive impact for students in poverty.

With solid academic achievement and a nationwide enrollment exceeding 2 million students, charter schools are gathering steam. So how do districts react when faced with competition from charters?

A new report in EducationNext, by researchers at the Walton Family Foundation and the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, attempts to answer that question.

The researchers selected 12 urban areas that had at least 60 percent minority student population and 60 percent low-income to create a more accurate comparison with the typical charter school population. They also limited their research to districts with a charter school enrollment that was at least 6 percent of the overall enrollment within the district. According to the article, Caroline Hoxby of Stanford University believes this threshold is high enough that districts will respond to competitive pressure.

After selecting the districts that met these criteria, the researchers combed through 8,000 newspaper articles to locate instances of districts reacting to competition from charter schools. When they discovered an example, the researchers reviewed district meeting minutes to uncover if and how the district responded.

They divided the responses into 13 action categories, some positive and some negative. Positive responses included replicating charter practices, collaborating with charter schools, creating pilot or innovation schools and expanding or improving school offerings. Negative responses included creating legal obstacles for charter schools, blocking access to facilities and using regulations to restrict choice and competition.

The most common response, found in 8 of the 12 districts, was to collaborate with charters. The most common negative response, found in 3 of the 12 districts, was to restrict access to facilities (i.e., refuse to share unused space or school buildings with charter schools). Overall, the researchers discovered that the districts had more positive responses than negative ones.

Overall this is a good sign, though more research needs to be done as charter schools – and the school choice movement – expand. School districts should always put students first, whether or not they educate the child. By collaborating with and emulating successful charter schools – rather than blocking and fighting – school districts can make an even bigger impact on student achievement.


What if school choice included choosing no school at all?

Editor’s note: Utah state Sen. Aaron Osmond raised eyebrows and sparked debate last month with a provocative post on the senate blog that called  for ending compulsory education and, essentially, expanding school choice options to include no school at all. The post drew coverage from Fox News to the Huffington Post (see here, here, here, here and here) and a fair bit of commentary, too (see here, here, here and here). On a related note, a fascinating case in Virginia – involving that state’s broad religious exemption for school attendance – prompted the Washington Post to weigh in with this editorial over the weekend.

Here is Osmond’s post in full:

Sen. Osmond

Sen. Osmond

Before 1890, public education in America was viewed as an opportunity – not a legal obligation. Prior to that time, the parent was primarily responsible for the education of their children. The state provided access to a free education for those that wanted to pursue it. The local teacher was viewed with respect and admiration as a professional to assist a parent in the education of their child.

Then came compulsory education. Our State began requiring that all parents must send their children to public school for fear that some children would not be educated because of an irresponsible parent. Since that day, the proverbial pendulum has swung in the wrong direction.

Some parents completely disengage themselves from their obligation to oversee and ensure the successful education of their children. Some parents act as if the responsibility to educate, and even care for their child, is primarily the responsibility of the public school system. As a result, our teachers and schools have been forced to become surrogate parents, expected to do everything from behavioral counseling, to providing adequate nutrition, to teaching sex education, as well as ensuring full college and career readiness.

Unfortunately, in this system, teachers rarely receive meaningful support or engagement from parents and occasionally face retaliation when they attempt to hold a child accountable for bad behavior or poor academic performance.

On the other hand, actively engaged parents sometimes feel that the public school system, and even some teachers, are insensitive to the unique needs and challenges of their children and are unwilling or unable to give their child the academic attention they need because of an overburdened education system, obligated by law to be all things to all people.

I believe the time has come for us to re-evaluate what we expect of parents and the public education system, as follows:

First, we need to restore the expectation that parents are primarily responsible for the educational success of their own children. That begins with restoring the parental right to decide if and when a child will go to public school. In a country founded on the principles of personal freedom and unalienable rights, no parent should be forced by the government to send their child to school under threat of fines and jail time. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: A-F grades, Florida Virtual, library cuts & more

Report cards: Palm Beach County second-graders won’t see traditional A-F grades on report cards this year as the district moves toward a standard-based system. Sun Sentinel.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools: There are already 40 charter schools in Palm Beach County, serving 12,000 students, with another 11 set to open this fall. Palm Beach Post.

More magnets: Palm Beach County school board members want more arts high school and middle school magnet programs. Palm Beach Post.

Tony Bennett: Indiana school officials continue to investigate school grading manipulation that could result in changes to that state’s system created by Tony Bennett. Associated Press.

Back to school: One of Central Florida’s largest back-to-school events, which has drawn 30,000 people, will be held this year at the Citrus Bowl. Orlando Sentinel. 

FCAT: “Don’t, don’t, don’t focus on the FCAT,” Pasco County schools Superintendent Kurt Browning tells the staff at Lacoochee Elementary, a D school tapped by the state for a turnaround. “I don’t care about FCAT. I don’t.” Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher conduct: A special-education specialist fired for her role in a high-profile scandal is reinstated by the Miami-Dade School Board. Miami Herald. Another Manatee County school administrator is placed on paid leave during an ongoing investigation into a former football coach accused of groping students. The Tampa Tribune. More from the Bradenton Herald.

Library cuts: The Miami-Dade School Board may open some of the district’s libraries after hours to offset the closure of some 14 facilities. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →


Urban Leagues explore school choice

Florida’s Urban Leagues and education advocates are teaming up for a series of town halls later this month that will include discussions on the growing number of learning options available to minorities.

The attention to education is nothing new and has always been a cornerstone of the Urban League’s mission to help minorities achieve social and economic equality. But the turn toward school choice is.

Allie Braswell

Allie Braswell

“We’re just looking at other ways, new options and new solutions for students to be successful in school,’’ said Allie Braswell, president of the Central Florida Urban League that serves a seven-county region. “And as you look at school choice, it’s just become an option to explore.’’

The Florida Consortium of Urban Leagues Affiliates is hosting the town hall meetings in partnership with Black Floridians C.A.R.E., Democrats for Education Reform, Derrick Brooks Charities, StudentsFirst and Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that administers the Florida Tax Credit Scholarships. (And co-hosts this blog.)

One key part of the effort will be looking at charter schools and tax credit scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools. Florida Department of Education figures show that about 43 percent of the state’s 3.4 million students in PreK-12 attend a school of their choosing. And that is what’s driving this conversation.

“It’s the simple market, the proliferation of charter schools and private schools,’’ said Germaine Smith-Baugh, president and chief executive officer of the Urban League of Broward County. “Choice has become a market-driven issue.’’ Continue Reading →


The private schools that are signing up for Common Core

Carol ThomasCarol Thomas is a career educator and former high-level urban district administrator who is now working with private schools that participate in Florida’s tax credit scholarship, and she tells a remarkable on-the-ground story about Common Core State Standards today in Education Week.

Thomas, who is vice president for student learning at Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, is working with about 140 private schools in a pilot project focused on a learning compact for low-income scholarship students. The intent is to build meaningful engagement between parents and teachers and, to guide the relationship, she offers an online tool to help both parties mutually track the academic progress of each student. That tool relies on the standards enumerated in Common Core, which is where this plot thickens. These are private schools for whom educational independence is in their DNA, after all. But what she is finding is that these schools are all in for Common Core.

“Our target for the state pilot was to find 100 scholarship schools that would volunteer to participate,” she wrote. “We already have more than 140, and my phone is still ringing. These principals aren’t calling to lecture me on state sovereignty or intrusive regulation. They are calling because they think the common standards will help them guide the learning plans in their schools.”

Thomas relates the impressions of Suzette Dean, principal at Bible Truth Ministries Academy, a small mission-driven school in Tampa that serves mostly African-American students. Dean told her: “Finally, we are all on the same page (with the standards), our teachers know what to teach, and the parents know what their children should be doing in school. Sure, it is a change, but it is real change that is needed if we are going to prepare our students for college and a successful future.”

The project has caused Thomas to reflect on the national debate of late, and to suggest that those who see the standards as a federal government plot might want to ask these private-school principals why they would volunteer for Common Core. The answer, apparently, is that these educators think the standards might help students. Go figure.