Reporting on school choice lacks nuance, perspective

PoliticoPolitico has built an impressive audience by bringing intellectual heft to pinched political debates, but Stephanie Simon’s treatment of school vouchers followed a more predictable narrative: left vs. right, public vs. private, us vs. them. Not surprisingly, the result was tendentious.

Though the original headline’s claim that vouchers offer “no proof they help kids” was later amended to allow that “vouchers don’t do much,” the account was infused with the kind of righteous attitude that mars our political discourse. By paragraph three, Simon was presenting the “inconvenient truth,” as if to signal her impatience with complexity.

Cory Booker D-NJ

Cory Booker D-NJ

Yes, it is true that “Jindal, GOP allies back vouchers,” but it is also true an increasing number of Democrats are joining the fight. Louisiana’s voucher expansion had the support of 19 Democrats (a third of all Democrats) in the state legislature. In Florida, nearly half the Legislature’s Democrats, and a majority of the Black Caucus, supported a major expansion of tax credit scholarships for low-income students in 2010. In North Carolina, a new voucher plan enacted this year was introduced with bipartisan sponsors. One of the Democratic Party’s rising stars, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, came to the vigorous defense of private options when challenged on the issue in his U.S. Senate primary.

Yes, some voucher students have produced what Simon called “miserable” scores on standardized tests, but that doesn’t necessarily distinguish them from some students in traditional public schools. Students who come from impoverished homes face enormous challenges, and their educational success is an obligation we face collectively as a nation. The test is whether each school is helping or hurting that progress, not whether it is run by public or private educators.

Adrian Fenty D-DC

Adrian Fenty D-DC

Yes, voucher students in some states don’t take the same standardized test as district students, but that does not make it “impossible to compare academic results.” In Florida, noted Northwestern University researcher David Figlio has used various techniques – including concordance and regression models – to compare between nationally norm-referenced tests and the state test. In 2010, he wrote of low-income scholarship and public students: “The results are consistent with a finding of small but positive differences between program participants and non-participants.”

By seeing mostly through the lens of good and evil, Simon robbed readers of the kind of nuance that enriches political debate. Her reporting on testing data suffered accordingly. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charters, Common Core, teacher pay & more

Charter schools: Hillsborough School Board officials should ease anxiety for MacDill Air Force Base families when they consider a proposal for a new charter school at the base, writes The Tampa Tribune. The Orange County school board denies Renaissance Charters’ application for three K-8 schools, but approves Advantage Academy of Hillsborough, Inc. – a math and science charter school. Orlando Sentinel.  An 8-year-old  Miami-Dade charter school that gave hundreds of young adults a second chance at a high school diploma suddenly closes. Miami Herald. The Polk County school board votes down a maritime charter school application, fearing the school won’t be able to fill seats in a community that already has schools with low enrollment. The Ledger.

Private schools: After some tough economic times, Hernando County’s private schools report slight increases or steady enrollment numbers for the 2013-14 school year – and they attribute as a major factor greater awareness among parents of Florida’s tax credit scholarship. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoCommon Core:  Members of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition are worried they won’t get a chance during the upcoming public hearings to voice their concerns. StateImpact Florida. A new survey shows almost three-quarters of teachers in the subjects of English and math think the standards will have a positive effect on students. StateImpact Florida. Education Commissioner Pam Stewart has been crafting a plan to transition the state away from the FCAT to Common Core. Tampa Bay Times.

Biz ed: The Young Entrepreneurs Academy, or YEA!, prepares the next generation of CEOs in Pensacola by helping sixth- through 12th-grade students start their own successful businesses. Pensacola News-Journal.

Pay bumps: Hillsborough County school support workers get raises, with higher amounts going to bus drivers and cafeteria workers. Tampa Bay Times. A new plan for paying Broward’s principals factors in a school’s size and its number of low-income or special needs students. Sun Sentinel. With $30 million of state-allocated money hanging in the balance, the teachers union and Palm Beach County School District have yet to reach an agreement on raises. Palm Beach Post.

Future teachers: Valencia College adopts an Orange County elementary school, where most students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. to attract future educators – and college students. Orlando Sentinel.  Continue Reading →


School choice will revive parental responsibility

parental responsibilityTeacher union sentinels warn us that school choice will rescue only the more promising students from a rejected public school, damaging that school further by their absence. The parents most likely to exercise their new authority – say the critics – will be those more concerned and sophisticated. In any case, the private schools chosen will then cull and reject the less attractive applicants; this predicted behavior is labeled “creaming,” “cherry-picking” and the like. Empirical study of private school admission practices puts this latter rap in serious question. Further, the design of state systems of choice in years ahead seem increasingly likely to assure fair inclusion of the poor without threatening the school’s identity.

But private school behavior will not be my subject. My focus, rather, will be the likelihood of change over time in the behavior of those parents who do not participate in the first round of choice and who seem out of the game. Will these fathers and mothers in due course become aware? And, once they grasp that they have authority, will they use it? What will be the effect on child and society?

One begins by asking: How do residents of lower-income neighborhoods today learn about change in the life styles of their neighbors? The urban sociologists whom I know seem to this day to recognize the efficacy of the grapevine. Its enhancement by the Internet is hard to estimate, but surely the overall effect of the modern organs of scuttlebutt will be to increase connectivity. Together, these social twines should be sufficient to spread the word in the neighborhood that Alice’s kid has left P.S. 99 for St. Mary’s.

But the most effective messengers of this sad news will be children themselves. The departing student’s stay-behind friend will be disappointed; his or her mother will get the message at dinner. Indeed, once defection has begun, there will be no hiding the new game, even from the duller parent. In addition one must remember: once choice has at last created competition for less well-off students, it will behoove every school to advertise its special charms in the most inventive ways to all families.

It is highly improbable that the slower-motion parent, once she really knows, will forever sit on her hands. She will, instead, begin to fumble and stumble toward participation. She will make mistakes, and there will be no want of charlatans and incompetents who, on occasion, will get the advantage of her. There will, in short, be a burst of variety, good and bad; and if – in the long run – one brand proves ideal for all of us, we will be happily surprised. However, there could well be one best educational recipe for that very specific person, little George. Experimentation by his parent may work its discovery for him; and that would now be possible for every child.

But is this a good idea? Society has for very long trusted only the haves among us with their own child; yet should that trust be extended to the have-nots? Apart from test scores, what will be the social and civic consequences?

As the nation gradually faces this issue, what is often overlooked is the positive effect of empowerment upon the parent herself. She becomes the groping, striving hopeful creature that is the rest of us. She can at last seek her own child’s way like the luckier among us. And, if she is not presently their equivalent in savvy, here is her opportunity – if only gradually – to become so by steady application of the three qualities that are unique to parents: love, insight and personal responsibility. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charters, Pam Stewart, student data & more

Charter schools: Pivot Charter Schools backs away from its application after Volusia County school officials prepare to reject the charter because it doesn’t fill a unique niche, among other concerns. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

florida-roundup-logoCommon Core: Palm Beach County parents sound off during a public meeting about the new standards. Palm Beach Post. Florida superintendents want to move forward with implementing the Common Core. Tampa Bay Times.

Pam Stewart: The career educator has proven to be the “go-to” person in Florida education leadership. Florida Times-Union.

New bills: State Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, files two bills to prevent some of students’ personal information from being gathered. Tampa Bay Times.

High-tech: A Lee County technical high school turns around its rough image with a diverse STEM program. Fort Myers News-Press.

Teacher pay: The Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association proposes raises that reward experienced teachers. Palm Beach Post.

FCAT: An Orange County third-grader held back because she failed the FCAT by one point may be the impetus for a legislative push to change the state’s decade-old retention law. Bay News 9. Continue Reading →


Single-gender charter schools on rise in Florida

Twenty-three second-grade boys sit cross-legged on the lunchroom floor in diagonal rows known at this Bradenton, Fla., charter school as the “rays’’ formation.

Principal Neil Phillips talks with students at the new all-boys charter school, Visible Men Academy.

Principal Neil Phillips talks with students at the new all-boys charter school, Visible Men Academy.

That’s because the boys are considered little “SUNS,’’ radiating Selflessness, Honesty, Integrity, Niceness and Excellence – or SHINE. It’s the Let Your Light Shine motto at the new Visible Men Academy, where organizers deem character development as important as academic success.

Founder and principal Neil Phillips got the idea for an all-boys charter school from a nonprofit network he started five years ago to connect black boys with black male role models. Program coordinators kept telling the Harvard grad and former professional basketball player, “If only we had more time’’ with the boys.

“That planted the seed,’’ Phillips said.

Visible Men Academy opened in August, leasing space from a community church to teach 73 students in grades K-2. It’s the second single-gendered charter school in Manatee County and the ninth such school in Florida, where the concept is on the rise. In 2009-10, state records show one single-gender charter school. Three years later, there were eight.

Such schools are still rare – fewer than 1 percent of all charters nationally, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. And Florida Department of Education officials say they don’t know why there’s an increase. It just seems to be a natural direction for a school choice model that sells itself on offering parents and students an ever-widening array of options. photo

Charter schools are public schools that function independently from school districts. Some focus on science and math, others on the environment or the arts. The single-gender structure is just another option, and one that’s common in private and parochial schools. Even traditional district schools are trying it, with proponents pointing to improved academic achievement and fewer discipline problems.

The idea is to build upon research that shows some boys and girls learn differently. In some single-gender classrooms, girls sit in clusters so they can talk face-to-face – and frequently – while boys have schedules that allow more breaks for physical activity.

Last year, Just For Girls Academy opened in the same Florida city with a focus on helping girls succeed in reading, math, science and technology – and boosting their confidence. The K-4 school with 102 students is an offshoot of a local girls club.

“Research shows that girls thrive in an environment like this,” said Principal Jennifer Rosenboom. “And our parents wanted a place where their daughters could be safe and flourish.’’

Phillips has a similar outlook at Visible Men Academy. Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: charter schools in NY, vouchers in Indiana, ESAs in Arizona and more

MondayRoundUp_redAlabama: Unused education tax credits will be used to pay down the state’s debts (The Piedmont Journal).

Arizona: The Arizona Court of Appeals rules education savings accounts (ESAs) are constitutional (Arizona Daily Star, Education Week, New York Times, Sonoran News).

California: A husband and wife operating a charter school misappropriated more than $200,000 in school funds. The husband is sentenced to 4 years in prison while his wife receives 45 days (LA Times). San Diego’s school district is selling off excess property but the market rate is too high for area charter schools (Voice of San Diego).

Colorado: Denver area public schools collect millions in additional fees from parents (Denver Post).

D.C.: Charter school operators are being accused of setting up for-profit corporations to serve charter schools with high prices (Washington Post).

Florida: Enrollment in Miami-Dade is up thanks to charter schools (Miami Herald). School districts want more control over charter schools, including more power to deny charter applications and restricting where school’s open or whether they serve a specialized need (Sun Sentinel). Some Florida Catholic schools will be using modified Common Core standards while others wait and see what becomes of the initiative (RedefinED). Charter school advocates and supporters disagree on whether or not to have a standardized contract between schools and districts (RedefinED).

Hawaii: Charter school enrollment grows by 2.1 percent, more than double the state’s public school enrollment growth (Big Island Now).

Illinois: Chicago wants more charter schools in overcrowded school zones (Chicago Tribune).

Indiana: Demand for vouchers have doubled as more than 20,000 families have applied for school vouchers, though nearly 600,000 are now eligible for the expanded program (One News Now, Associated Press). Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Common core, charter schools, safety nets & more

Charter schools: It’s time to put stricter reins on the nontraditional schools, say leaders from districts and charters. Sun Sentinel. Parents of this Palm  Beach County charter school’s poorest readers are required to come to Saturday school — with their high school students in tow. Palm Beach Post.

Common Core: Florida Department of Education officials tell teachers across the state to stay on course with using the new standards. Tallahassee Democrat. “The fringes of the political world are, once again, running amok,” writes Frank Cerabino for the Palm Beach Post. Common Core may be the most controversial education issue you know nothing about, so checkout these sample questions and answers. Orlando Sentinel. florida-roundup-logoFlorida is listening to folks wearing tinfoil hats – “These people need therapy couches, not seats at the curriculum table,” writes Scott Maxwell for the Orlando Sentinel. This new way of learning has become a politically charged, hot topic in Florida. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about the new standards. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Safety net: More than 1 in every 6 Brevard elementary and middle schools would have had lower grades, if not for the state’s grade-protection measure. Florida Today.

Career Ed: Manatee County students take part in National Manufacturing Day, where they learn about robotics and engineering. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

After-school care: Plans to reintroduce a district-run after-school program to Collier County schools has been in the works behind closed doors for more than a year. Naples Daily News.

Security plans: A St. Petersburg private school adds seven armed guards to help keep students and staff safe. Tampa Bay Times.

Mentoring: A Jacksonville tutoring program gives students academic help and hope. Florida Times-Union.

Teachers: A longtime Sarasota educator and community volunteer receives the NAACP’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.  Continue Reading →


A tussle over charter school contracts

After years of wrangling with charter school operators over questionable fees, one of Florida’s biggest school districts recently developed new contracts that spell out what is – and isn’t – allowed. But now that a new state law requires uniform contracts across the state, can the district enforce those rules in future contracts?

That’s one of many questions facing the Florida Department of Education as it works with school boards and charter operators to develop a model charter school contract for 2014.

The idea is to level the playing field for smaller charter school operators trying to negotiate with the districts, said state Rep. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale, who sponsored legislation last session calling for the contracts.

Rep. George Moraitis

Rep. George Moraitis

“We’re just trying to make it easier for those who don’t have the resources to hire lawyers or don’t understand their rights,’’ he said. “And, hopefully, make [the process] more efficient for everyone.’’

The goal isn’t to limit district authority, Moraitis said. In Florida, local school boards serve as charter school authorizers, approving applications and contracts, and overseeing operations. And Moraitis believes it should stay that way.

“We want the school board to be responsible for charters,’’ he said. “But we don’t want them to be unnecessarily regulating them.’’

Critics, though, suggest unnecessary regulation can be in the eye of the beholder.

“We’re not in support of having a standard contract because it’s going to be so generic,’’ said Jenna Hodgens, president of the Florida Association of Charter School Authorizers. “You know how different school districts are. We want to be positive and we understand [the charters’] side, but this really takes negotiation out of the process.’’ Continue Reading →