Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: AEA points fingers and parents marching in NYC

MrGibbonsReportCardAlabama Education Association

The Institute for Justice, a national civil-libertarian oriented legal firm, stepped in last week to defend Alabama’s new tax-credit school choice program, which benefits low-income children.

But the Alabama Education Association (AEA), which opposes school choice, is using this as an opportunity to toss the carpetbagger label at the Alabama school choice movement.

According to the Washington Post,

AEA spokeswoman Amy Marlowe said the intervention was not a surprise. “This is an orchestrated political maneuver that was shopped around throughout Alabama and has finally been filed by attorneys from outside the state,” she said.

ijWhy even bring up the “outside the state” part if not to try and persuade the public that school choice is something being imposed upon them by non-native groups. This carpetbagger argument is made in many states regarding all sorts of school reform efforts. But it is a claim the AEA should stop using because it can be fired right back at them. After all, they aren’t afraid to take money, or seek help, from outside the state.

According to Mike Antonucci, who authored an Education Next report on teacher union spending, the National Education Association spends millions influencing politics in states each year, including in Alabama. According to NEA disclosures required by the U.S. Department of Labor, the NEA gave the AEA $2,518,513 in grants and contributions (p. 233), spent $314,436 on lobbying in Alabama (p. 199) and provided $1,936,229 in legal aid and for member recruitment (p. 149) – all in 2011-12 alone.

Grade: In Need of Improvement


State Impact Florida:

Sammy Mack over at NPR took a look at Florida’s K-12 education employment figures and it turns out the budget cuts, while painful, didn’t create the kind of catastrophe for teachers that some imagined. Instead, support staff took the big hit. Since 2007-08, the support staff in Florida public schools shrunk by 15,045 employees – a decline of 13 percent. But by comparison, the state now has 151 fewer teachers and 78 more administrators since the 2007-08 peak, a change of -0.08 percent and +0.67 percent, respectively.

To be fair, the state did hit the low point in 2009-10, losing more than 4,000 instructional staff – down 2.5 percent from peak employment. Both instructional staff and administrators saw a recovery in employment since that time, but school districts continued to cut support staff.

It is good to see media outlets putting these figures into perspective. Hopefully more reporting like this will discourage Chicken Little’s of the future.

Grade: Satisfactory


New York City charter school parents

parentsmarchNew York City charter schools tend to do fairly well (including some new evidence from the Hamilton Institute) – even with less money than traditional public schools in the city. Despite this fact, Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio has virtually declared war on charter schools. I documented his threats in my last report card.

In response 17,000 parents, students and supporters took to the streets last week, marching in support of charter schools in what may have been the largest school choice rally ever. It was a show of force that may make de Blasio pause.

Clearly, parents and students are happy with this option and they are willing to show it.

Grade: Satisfactory


Florida schools roundup: Charter and magnet schools, Common Core & more

Charter schools: Nearly a dozen employees sue a shuttered Fort Lauderdale charter school, saying they are owed $40,000. Sun Sentinel. University Preparatory Academy’s assistant principal tells a community group that most of the 69 students who have withdrawn from the school came from Pinellas County fundamental schools, but the Tampa Bay Times finds that’s not so.

florida-roundup-logoCivics magnet: Leon County’s new history and civics-based magnet program opens at the 157-year-old Woodville Elementary. Tallahassee Democrat.

Parents ROCK: A new Collier County parents’ group forms as ROCK, Rights Of Choice For Kids. Naples Daily News.

Career Ed: A Polk County career education center lets students learn while helping others get the eyeglasses they need. The Ledger. 

Common Core: Florida is three years into implementing the new standards, with the benchmarks fully in use in kindergarten through second grade. StateImpact Florida. Common Core opponents will host press conferences and a rally throughout the day in an attempt to slow down the standards. The Tampa Tribune. To the parents questioning the impact that Common Core State Standards will have in our public schools, I say: Demand answers! writes John Romano for the Tampa Bay Times. Proponents of Common Core should have met with opponents early on and explained the plan in greater detail, writes Lloyd Brown for Sunshine State News.

Teacher pay: A tentative agreement has Miami-Dade school teachers getting a raise of at least $1,100, and a chance to earn the $2,500 raise pledged by Gov. Rick Scott this year. Miami Herald.

Florida BOE: Florida Board of Education member Sally Bradshaw, resigns two months before her term ends. The Buzz. Continue Reading →


Florida Board of Education member Sally Bradshaw resigns

Sally Bradshaw, a Florida Board of Education member with close ties to Jeb Bush, abruptly resigned over the weekend.

Sally Bradshaw

Sally Bradshaw

Appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011, Bradshaw said in a two-paragraph letter to Scott on Sunday that “family obligations” would prevent her from serving out the remainder of her term, which was set to expire in December. “I appreciate your efforts to ensure that Florida’s K-12 system continues to lead the nation in reform and accountability,” she wrote. The resignation was effective immediately.

A former Bush chief of staff, Bradshaw and other board members with strong Bush allegiances have been critical of the board’s direction in recent months on school grades and Common Core. In July, she was on the losing end of a 4-3 vote to continue a safety net that prevented schools from falling more than one letter grade this year. “I don’t understand when it became acceptable,” she said at the time, “to disguise and manipulate the truth simply because the truth is uncomfortable.”

“We are grateful for Sally’s service and commitment to ensuring the highest quality in our education system,” Scott said in a statement. “She has worked hard to continue the legacy of high standards that began under the great leadership of Governor Jeb Bush.”

Board of Education members are appointed by the governor and subject to confirmation by the state senate.

Other coverage: Associated Press, Gradebook, The Buzz, Sarasota Herald Tribune.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report, which was updated to include Scott’s statement and the links to other coverage.


Private school operator polishes diamonds in the rough

Kat Crowell-Grate holds the key to a new building recently donated for her school. "There's not been one time we haven't met our needs,'' she said.

Kat Crowell-Grate holds the key to a new building recently donated for her school, Kingdom Christian Academy. “There’s not been one time we haven’t met our needs,” she said.

Kat Crowell-Grate was leading Sunday school classes in her hometown of Ocala, Fla., when she discovered many of her students couldn’t read. So the retired accountant started a tutoring program.

teachers and choice logoThat led to a substitute teaching job where she caught the eye of a local principal, who told her, “You missed your calling.’’

The principal spoke too soon. Nearly a decade later, the ordained minister runs Kingdom Christian Academy, an inner-city private school for 33 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Most can’t afford to pay anything, and almost all have some sort of learning disability or behavioral disorder.

“It is so easy to accept the child with the perfect pony tails and the boy with a clean haircut,’’ said Crowell-Grate, who has a grandson with special needs. “But it takes a real teacher to reach down and pull the uncut diamond in the rough and polish that diamond.’’

Kingdom Christian Academy caters to students in prekindergarten through 12th grade with a special focus on STEM - and the Bible.

Kingdom Christian Academy caters to students in prekindergarten through 12th grade with a special focus on STEM – and the Bible.

That means reminding her students every day to tuck in their uniform shirts, offering to tutor them on Sundays after church, or helping their moms and dads get high school diplomas. “We educate the entire family, making them more self-sufficient,’’ Crowell-Grate said.

Across the country, school choice has become the mantra of students and parents in search of a better way to learn. But customization offers plenty of opportunities for educators, too. More options bring freedom from a one-size-fits-all mentality that dictates curriculum and schedules, and even which students to serve.

To Crowell-Grate, that’s what school choice is all about: Finding the kids who need the most help and doing what needs to be done. Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: marching for charter schools, voucher growth in Indiana, voucher suit in Oklahoma and more


Alabama: The Alabama Education Association sued to stop the state’s education tax-credit program but a parent steps forward to try and block the suit with the help of the Institute for Justice (Associated Press).

Arizona: The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice surveys parents using education savings accounts and finds they’re happy with the program (Friedman Foundation).

Colorado: Two internet radio talk show hosts speak in Douglas County against school vouchers and “corporate” education reform (Lone Tree News).

D.C.: The government shutdown threatens the funding of the District’s public school system including charter schools (Washington Times).

Florida: Tampa Bay area private schools are seeing enrollment growth thanks to a rebounding economy and school choice (Tampa Bay Times). GEICO donates $2 million to Step Up For Students, the non-profit that operates Florida’s education tax-credit scholarship program for low-income students (PR Web). The McKay scholarship program serves 27,000 special needs students in Florida ( A group is suing the state to get more money for public schools, saying it is unfair to devote resources to charter and virtual schools (Miami Herald). Florida Virtual School wins the first round of court battles against K12 Inc. over trademark violations (EdWeek).

Georgia: Atlanta area KIPP charter schools received a group charter allowing them to pool resources (Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

Indiana: The state could be the No. 1 state for school vouchers if the growth continues (Indianapolis Star). Gov. Mike Pence talks education reform and school choice at the Education Nation summit ( A state report says voucher schools outperform the public schools but it is still unclear if the voucher schools are creating a bigger impact per student (Associated Press).

Iowa: A new survey by the Friedman Foundation shows a majority of parents in Iowa support having a school voucher program (Quad City Times, Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier). One local newspaper columnist calls school choice “insidiously popular” (Daily Iowan).

Louisiana: The state’s voucher program actually promotes desegregation (National Review). A Ruston area private school that was kicked off the voucher program sues, claiming discrimination (The Advocate). Parents in Lafayette protest two charter school operators seeking authorizing in the parish (  Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charter and magnet schools, Common Core & more

Charter schools: Charter Schools USA plans to fight to add schools in Orange County, where district officials are critical about the chain’s outcomes locally. Orlando Sentinel. Since August, 69 children have withdrawn from University Prep in St. Petersburg, and four teachers and the curriculum director have quit. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoMagnet schools: Hernando County school leaders push for more accountability in schools with special learning themes. Tampa Bay Times. This Hillsborough County high school’s Robotics Club has grown from 15 students to more than 80 in eight years. Tampa Bay Times.

Ed reform: The Lake County school district uses a Gates Foundation grant to push innovation that includes everything from changing school start times to freezing staff pay. Orlando Sentinel. More Collier County students are ditching the printed textbook for the Techbook,  an online resource that provides videos, music, and spoken word along with traditional text. Naples Daily News. Farm to School puts fresh produce, grown locally, on school lunch plates and emphasizes to students the nutritional value of fruits and veggies. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. STEM grants help schools support afterschool programs. The Tampa Tribune.

Common Core: Soon-to-be the Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist criticizes Gov. Rick Scott on education and throws his support behind Common Core, telling the Florida Education Association “we should continue to push higher and never settle.” The Buzz. Florida’s latest Education Commissioner, Pam Stewart, should stay true to the state’s goal of preparing students to compete globally by giving the standards her vote of confidence, writes the Orlando Sentinel. The new state standards win support from educators as a way to give students a competitive edge. The Tampa Tribune. We must send a clear message that we embrace world-class standards that prepare our students to compete — and succeed — in the workplace of the 21st Century, writes Hillsborough schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia for The Tampa Tribune. Common Core will rip the cover off the inadequacies of the students of our state and others by setting the bar high and ruthlessly measuring each child against the competition, writes Paul Cottle for the Tallahassee Democrat. Common Core has pushed instruction away from the pencil-on-paper mode and promotes our students to debate why and how they solved a problem, but it’s just another tool, writes Alva Swafford Striplin for the Tallahassee Democrat. Continue Reading →


Ed funding issues are most pressing for school choice options

Despite the charge of uneven playing fields, it's charter schools and tax credit scholarships that face the greatest financial imbalances in Florida education.

Despite the charge of uneven playing fields, it’s charter schools and tax credit scholarships that face the greatest financial imbalances in Florida education.

With Florida now spending less per student than it did six years ago and less than at least three-fourths of the states, there is plausible case to be made for giving public education a raise. But Kathleen McGrory’s recent story on the status of a 2009 education adequacy lawsuit is a reminder that fiscal beauty is often in the eye of the beholder.

Let’s parse two of the claims in the suit:

The state is not putting up its fair share. In Florida, K-12 public education is funded by a combination of local and state taxes under a formula known as the Florida Education Finance Program. The complaint, filed four years ago, noted the state portion had dropped from 62 to 44 percent over the previous nine years. But that dramatic trend has made a similarly dramatic turn. This year, the state portion is back up to 57 percent – 58 percent if you count the state money spent on a scholarship for low-income students. This should ostensibly satisfy one of the major claims in the lawsuit. But the plaintiffs, which include Citizens for Strong Schools and Fund Education Now, are not likely be satisfied. The reason is the amount spent per student has remained basically unchanged – $6,873 in 2009-10 and $6,779 in 2013-14.

Charter schools and other options should be held to the same standards. It’s not entirely clear why a lawsuit aiming to enforce a constitutional provision requiring “adequate provision” for a “high quality” school system would take aim at learning options that are increasingly popular with Florida parents. But one of the attorneys, Neil Chonin, told McGrory that an important principle is at stake: “Our position is that there should be an even playing field.”

In a suit about financial resources, that’s a curious line to draw. Continue Reading →


In parent choice suit, U.S. Department of Justice on wrong side of history

Editor’s note: This piece is in response to the U.S. Department of Justice’s legal action against the voucher program in Louisiana. It is co-authored by Howard Fuller, board chairman of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, and Kevin Chavous, executive counsel of the American Federation for Children.

Fuller and Chavous: The DOJ has wrongly decided that allowing these children a life line to getting a better education must take a back seat to whether or not they impact desegregation. (Image from

Fuller and Chavous: The DOJ has wrongly decided that allowing these children a life line to getting a better education must take a back seat to whether or not they impact desegregation. (Image from

It is easier to say we must take the long view when grappling with the issue of social justice than it is to actually practice it. Such is the problem the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has today as it wrongly inserts itself in the effort to give low-­‐income children in Louisiana an opportunity to get a better education. DOJ is suing the state of Louisiana, more specifically 34 parishes in the state that are still under a desegregation law, claiming that the state’s school choice scholarship program unlawfully allows students to leave failing public schools and go to high-­‐performing private schools by way of a scholarship. DOJ thinks it’s wrong and illegal to allow that to happen.

When one takes the long view, it’s necessary to understand the moment in history in which you exist and what is the primary problem being faced at that particular moment in the continuum of the struggle for social justice over time.

In America today the primary problem facing children from low-­income and working class families is getting a quality education. The Louisiana Scholarship Program was created to give these students a way to escape failing schools. It allows them to apply for a scholarship and choose a school that for them holds the promise of a better education.

The DOJ has wrongly decided that allowing these children a life line to getting a better education must take a back seat to whether or not they impact desegregation. No one with any sense of history will deny that at one point in time the state of Louisiana used this power to fund schools that were for whites only.

But that was then and this is now. In this instance, the state of Louisiana is on the right side of history because its actions are giving children the best chance to ultimately participate in mainstream American society by giving them access to better educational opportunities. Continue Reading →