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.


Florida Virtual School cuts 177 jobs

Hits to Florida Virtual School continue this week with the nation’s largest provider of online classes cutting 177 full-time positions.

flvsThe cuts to instructional and support staff came Monday, and follow last month’s elimination of 625 part-time teaching positions. The move was necessary, program officials said, after an internal review showed pre-enrollment had dropped 32 percent compared to last summer.

“For the first time in 16 years, we have had to make the painful decision to reduce staff,” Florida Virtual School spokeswoman Tania Clow said late Tuesday in a prepared statement.

Florida Virtual School has 1,725 staff positions remaining. The program served more than 149,000 students in 2011-12.

So why is this happening? Florida Virtual School officials point to a new state funding formula that went into effect last month. Before the change, when students took six courses in their district school and one through Florida Virtual School, the district received its full per-student allotment for that student. Florida Virtual School got another one-sixth of the funding.

Now, the district receives six-sevenths of its allotment and Florida Virtual School receives one-seventh. The more courses a student takes online, the less money the district and Florida Virtual School receive. That has resulted in some school districts preventing students from signing up for Florida Virtual School.

The state Department of Education intervened in April, telling about 10 school districts to stop blocking student access to Florida Virtual School. Last month, it issued another warning to every superintendent in the state.

State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, chair of the Senate Education Appropriations Committee, told redefinED last week that he stands behind the funding changes, calling them more equitable. But he also said lawmakers likely will revisit the issue during the next legislative session to address enrollment concerns.

Meanwhile,  Florida Virtual School officials say they’ll continue serving students at the highest level.

“The entire FLVS family is saddened by the new realities we are facing,” Clow said. “As always the FLVS team will continue to keep our students at the center … helping them be successful in their learning.”


Florida schools roundup: Common Core, debit cards, Florida Virtual & more

Common Core: Protesters gather at a Broward County School Board meeting to show they don’t support the new Common Core education standards. Miami Herald. State Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, organizes a panel to talk about education reform and Common Core. Florida Times-Union. Step Up For Students’ vice president of student learning talks about why private schools are signing on for the measures. Education Week.

florida-roundup-logoBennett and school grades: Former Florida Sen. Paula Dockery shares her thoughts about Tony Bennett and school grades, asking “Isn’t it time for an honest conversation on doing away with a school-grading system that is costly, divisive and unreliable?” The Ledger.

Conduct: A Rodgers Middle School assistant principal fights for his job after the Hillsborough County school district fired him following the death of a special-needs student at his school. Tampa Bay Times. More from The Tampa Tribune.

Debit cards: Leon County joins other school districts that won’t be offering teacher debit cards issued by Gov. Scott. Tallahassee Democrat.

Extended day: Broward County joins the list of districts where low-performing schools will offer students an additional hour of class time. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach County will spend $7 million to add an hour to the school day at four low-performing schools. Palm Beach Post.

School funding: The half-cent sales tax is the only funding source the district has for capital projects, writes Shannon Nickinson for the Pensacola News Journal.

Charter schools: Pasco County gets its first virtual charter school, Florida Virtual Academy of Pasco. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →


Doug Tuthill on school choice, accountability, Common Core & more



In today’s chat, we talked with Doug Tuthill, president of Step Up For Students in Florida.

Readers asked him about everything from Common Core and private schools, to whether the value of tax credit scholarships should be increased, to the right balance between school choice and government regs when it comes to accountability.

Step Up is the largest private school choice program in the country. It’s expected to serve 60,000 students this fall. And as recent news stories have pointed out, it continues to experience strong growth. (Step Up also co-hosts this blog with the American Center for School Choice. As we noted in the advance post, we strive not to be self-promotional but in this case thought it was appropriate to feature Doug.)

Before joining Step Up in 2008, Doug had been a college professor, a classroom teacher, the president of two teachers unions and a driving force behind the creation of Florida’s first International Baccalaureate high school.

You can replay the chat here:


Florida schools roundup: Jeb Bush, Tony Bennett, PARCC & more

Jeb Bush on Tony Bennett: “Tony will be sorely missed in Florida at a time when we need his leadership the most,” writes former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Miami Herald.

florida-roundup-logoSchool grades: The fall of Tony Bennett might bring a new level of scrutiny to grading systems across the country. Education Week. There must be total transparency in any school accountability process, writes Nina Rees, executive director of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, in U.S. News & World Report.

More fallout: Dale Chu, chief of staff to Tony Bennett, resigns. Associated Press.

PARCC: Top Florida lawmakers will continue their push to abandon the PARCC testing consortium. Tampa Bay Times.

Teen work: Lauderdale Middle School students have received more than $500,000 in grants to spruce up an overpass behind their school. Sun Sentinel.

Charter schools: Even as 11 new charters open this fall in Palm Beach County, the district has another 31 applications in the pipeline. Palm Beach Post.

Magnet schools: The Pinellas County school district looks to bolster career and technical education and help low-performing schools by offering new magnet programs at middle schools. The Tampa Tribune. Continue Reading →