Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: Professor confuses jargon, school choice friends, education lotteries and more

MrGibbonsReportCardJulie Underwood – University of Wisconsin

The ed school dean at the University of Wisconsin, Julie Underwood, argued against school vouchers last week, saying school choice would turn education into a “private good.” She concluded, “If you believe education is a public good, you are not likely to support vouchers.”

Underwood is misusing the term “public good,” which, in economics, has a specific meaning to which education does not apply. She probably meant to say education has a public benefit, which is very true. But that same public benefit would still exist if there were no public schools and the government paid the tuition for all students to attend private schools.

Vouchers, tuition tax credits, education savings accounts and charter schools would all provide kids an education, which in turn, benefits the general public.  We do just as much with higher education where we provide tax-subsidized student loans and publicly funded education scholarships for students attending public or private universities.

 Grade: Needs Improvement


DuplessisAnn Duplessis – Louisiana

In 2005, Ann Duplessis was a Democratic state senator in Louisiana who helped derail a school voucher bill (despite urgent pleas from a few other Democrats). But within a few years, she had a change of heart, and by 2008, she was sponsoring a voucher bill. Today she is president of the Louisiana Federation of Children, a pro-voucher group.

According to an interview in The Advocate, “I had to educate myself,” she said. “And as I did I began to see the deplorable conditions” of many inner-city schools. She realized something different was needed.

Duplessis also began to see the wonderful job New Orleans charter schools were doing with the same population of students.

Grade: Satisfactory


Teleos_0366Texas State Board of Education

The Texas State Board of Education voted 9-6 to deny the Great Hearts Academies the right to expand its school into the Dallas area (the school will open in San Antonio next fall and has 15 schools in Phoenix). The state board denied the application because Great Hearts enrolls more white and affluent students than the surrounding Phoenix metro where it operates.

Great Hearts offers a classic liberal arts education which isn’t as appealing to minorities as career academies, but minorities do in fact choose these schools. For example, at Teleos Prep in downtown Phoenix, nearly half the students are black. Great Hearts’ mostly white and affluent student population in Phoenix seems to occur because most of its campuses are in whiter, more affluent suburbs. The fact is, when given the option of a classical liberal arts education, some minority parents do choose these schools. The mostly white Texas State Board of Education won’t let Dallas parents even have that choice.

Grade: Needs Improvement

  Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charters, faith-based schools, FEA & more

Charter schools: West Palm Beach city commissioners hear how Mosaica Education would run the first municipal charter school in Palm Beach County. Palm Beach Post.

florida-roundup-logoReligious schools: John Paul II Catholic High School partners with local priests for a basketball competition. Tallahassee Democrat.

Fed up: About 40 teachers and parents, called TNT, organize to promote a campaign of teaching not testing. Fort Myers News-Press.

Teachers: Gov. Scott recognizes five veterans, who are now  teachers. Pensacola News-Journal. Pinellas County Schools has paid another $275,000 to teachers and administrators at four middle schools as part of its teacher incentive fund grant. Tampa Bay Times.

School boards: April Griffin will not run for re-election to the Hillsborough County school board when her second term expires next year, and that’s too bad, writes Joe Henderson of The Tampa Tribune.

FEA: The Florida Education Association spends $15 million on political activities. Dropout Nation. Continue Reading →


The cost of choice

school spendingForty-six years ago a plaintiff named John Serrano sued the State of California, asserting that the capacity of school districts to raise money was grossly unequal, hence unconstitutional. The quality of education in property-poor districts was said to be diminished by the resulting disparities in spending per pupil. Students had a right to a more rational and fair distribution of money.

As in most litigation the claimants had to prove some real injury. The disparities in spending were colossal, ranging, at the extremes, from a few hundred dollars per pupil in property-poor districts, to several thousand in freakishly wealthy industrial centers and top-rank suburbs. The injury seemed self-evident.

But it wasn’t. By whichever measure of outcome – graduation, test scores, reputation – there was no pattern linking spending to actual quality. In addition, surprisingly, there was little or no evidence that children from poor families were systematically getting less spent on their schools. The lawyers for Serrano et al. could not credibly assert that money was the key to quality education or indeed, that it affected the success of schools in any way – except one. It was obviously true that the richer districts could buy more stuff. They could hire more teachers, administrators and superintendents, at higher salaries, build fancier buildings and secure the most up-to-date supplies, books and equipment. The trial judge decided this was injury enough. His judgment for the plaintiffs was affirmed by the California Supreme Court. As yet, however, 40 years later, no one has succeeded in establishing a clear link between spending per-pupil and the benefit for the child.

Nevertheless, spending has skyrocketed in succeeding generations across the nation for reasons political – principally the monopoly power of public-service unions. But the apparent disconnect between spending and quality of education remains. This reality has conflicting implications for the school choice movement. It reduces the political significance of the consistent discrimination in spending against today’s charter schools; we are not at all clear that it really affects outcome. On the other hand, it is plain to anyone who knows the facts that, whatever it is that does make a school successful, it can be had without exploding the cost. In short, if school choice supporters are willing to accept and even exploit politically the cheaper regimes now in place, they have a more powerful case. Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: Vouchers in Louisiana, rally in New York, blended learning in New Jersey & more

MondayRoundUp_magentaAlabama: The Alabama Education Association runs attack ads against a pro-school choice candidate during Republican special election primaries (

California: L.A.’s public school choice initiative became more about collaboration than competition (Huffington Post). San Fernando Valley Charter schools form an advocacy group (Daily News).

Colorado: School choice candidates win a majority on the Jefferson County School Board (Denver Post).

D.C.: Parents will be able to use one application to apply to many different schools of choice (Education Week, Washington Post). Bureaucracy, not school choice, was the problem in D.C. (redefinED). The district approves two Texas-based charter school operators to open new schools (Washington Post).

Florida: A bullied student finds a new home using a tax-credit scholarship to attend a private school (redefinED). With charter and private school options on the rise, the Pinellas County School District markets magnet schools to attract students back to the district (Tampa Bay Times). Robin Gibson, a prominent Democrat with close ties to former Govs. Bob Graham and Lawton Chiles, defends charter schools from critics (The Ledger). The superintendent of the Hillsborough County School District has reservations about allowing a competing charter school on MacDill Air Force Base (Tampa Bay Times).

Georgia: Parents choose private schools for many reasons other than high test scores (One News Now).

Hawaii: A charter school fires its principal after he is charged with the theft of more than $150,000 from the school (Hawaii News Now).

Indiana: Gov. Mike Pence wants to increase the number of charter schools in the state (Post Tribune).

Louisiana: Gov. Bobby Jindal and school choice supporters may be declaring victory against the DOJ’s anti voucher suit but the fight isn’t over yet (Education Week, Times Picayune, National Review, Wall Street Journal, Bayou Buzz, The Town Talk ). The judge in the DOJ’s anti voucher suit ordered both sides to come up with a plan to prevent racial segregation (Associated Press, Bloomberg, New York Times). A former Democrat and state legislature turns from voucher foe to voucher supporter (The Advocate). Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charters, magnet programs, school choice & more

Charter schools: A former chairman of the Florida Board of Regents and a founder of the Lake Wales Charter School System speaks out about the success of charters. The Ledger.

florida-roundup-logoMagnet schools: Students attending a Miami architectural magnet high school design homes for the homeless. Miami Herald. 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. Tampa Bay Times.

School choice: Parents and students tell Pasco school officials that the district needs to take into account student interests when preparing new academic offerings. Tampa Bay Times.

Academic gap: After years of struggling to close the achievement gap between black and white students, the newest round of SAT scores show signs of improvement. The Tampa Tribune.

GED: Starting Jan. 2, the new GED test will be offered only on the computer and will be nearly twice as expensive as the current one — $130 compared to $70. The Tampa Tribune. Continue Reading →


School choice scholarship helps student find safe niche, seek science

Kevin Rodriguez

Kevin Rodriguez

At 13, Kevin Rodriguez is an old soul. He does not talk much, but listens intently. He loves science, math and history, and hopes to be an architect one day. His interest in science, including figuring out how things work and how things change in different environments, sets an interesting parallel against Kevin’s educational experience.

“I’m interested in how houses and buildings are constructed and want to learn more about different designs,” said Kevin.

Growing up, Kevin was a quiet child always keeping to himself and spent a lot of time reading. Kevin attended his neighborhood elementary school and did OK mostly due to his slightly reclusive, yet inquisitive personality, his mom said. As he reached the higher-grade levels, Kevin started witnessing bullying and insolent activities such as vandalism and destruction of school property.

This was something Kevin’s mother, Sylvia Febus, feared because her older son had a similar experience when he was younger. At that time, Sylvia pulled her older son out of the school and enrolled him in a magnet school from which he graduated. But when Kevin had a similar experience, she could not find an easy solution for him.

“His entire demeanor changed,” said Sylvia. “He became even more reclusive than usual. He would not get out of bed in the morning. He started dreading the idea of going to school, and he lost an interest in learning about new things. This was alarming to me because Kevin had always been more of the bookworm in our family.”

Sylvia knew she would have to become her child’s strongest advocate. She needed to make sure Kevin remained interested in school and decided to seek out every available opportunity, even if it appeared to be financially out of reach. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charters, dual enrollment, state grades & more

Charter schools: Hillsborough County’s superintendent says she has reservations about Charter Schools USA’s proposal to operate a school on MacDill Air Force Base. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoDual enrollment: School district leaders plan to fight new dual enrollment legislation that calls for districts to pay for college courses their students take. They also say that the funding change discourages them from promoting dual-enrollment options. Tampa Bay Times.

State grades: Florida school superintendents are asking state leaders to revamp the state’s A through F school grading system — including eliminating the letter grades. StateImpact Florida.

PARCC: Florida gives up its role as the fiscal agent for the PARCC testing consortium to Maryland. Tampa Bay Times. 

Graduation requirements: A new study says Florida’s “standard” high school diploma doesn’t meet the “college and career ready” benchmarks promised by Common Core and will leave students ill-prepared. Sun Sentinel.

Governor’s race: St. Johns County school superintendent Joseph Joyner withdraws his name from Gov. Scott’s short list of possible lieutenant governor candidates. The Buzz.

Continue Reading →


In D.C., bureaucracy at issue, not school vouchers

Last Friday the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report highlighting flaws and failures in the oversight of Washington D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship program. But contrary to what you may have read in some newspapers and blogs (especially if you just skimmed headlines like this and this), the GAO’s findings were not an attack on vouchers or school choice.

Perhaps the most egregious offender published a headline which read “Report slams D.C’s federally funded school voucher program,” with the author also incorrectly stating “public money shouldn’t be used for tuition at private schools where there is no public oversight.”

The D.C. voucher program has, on paper, considerable public oversight (three layers, in fact). The problem is, the government agencies responsible for that oversight fell woefully short.

First, a little background: The U.S. Department of Education is required to appoint a non-profit organization to administer the program. The department is responsible for helping the non-profit develop policies and procedures to accomplish that task. The District of Columbia is responsible for inspecting private schools to ensure compliance with federal law.

In 2010, the Obama administration’s education department selected the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation, a government-affiliated non-profit, to administer the program. The non-profit is not without its own prior controversies, including having $350,000 of its money embezzled by an elected D.C. politician, but that is another story.

In 2011, Congress passed the SOAR Act, keeping the voucher program alive and funded for another five years. According to the GAO, new regulations were added that required the non-profit administrator to provide parents a directory of participating schools; ensure participating private schools were compliant with the law; ensure private school teachers had a bachelor’s degree or higher; and advertise the program to prospective students in public schools designated as “needs improvement.” The non-profit’s original duties included verifying household income for students to ensure eligibility and administering a lottery to award scholarships.

But as the GAO report point out, the non-profit administrator fumbled many of those tasks: Continue Reading →