Fordham: Florida group wrong to resist state testing for school voucher students



The Fordham Institute took Florida’s McKay Coalition to task Monday for a survey the institute says “stoked emotions” about state tests at private schools that serve disabled students on state vouchers. In a post by parental choice program director Adam Emerson, the Institute chided the coalition for resisting academic assessment for the McKay Scholarship, which this year serves more than 26,000 students with learning disabilities and physical limitations.

“Virtually no accountability measures … exist in most of the nation’s special-education voucher programs, including the largest such program in the United States, Florida’s McKay Scholarship for Students with Disabilities,” Emerson wrote. “And the coalition of schools that oversees the McKay program appears to want to keep it that way — and it’s wrong to do so.”

Fordham remains a strong national supporter of parental choice, including charter schools, school vouchers and tax credit scholarships. But the institute also has called on the learning options to be held to account for the achievement of their students.

In its recent report, “Red Tape or Red Herring,” Fordham looked at the participation rate of private schools in voucher and tax credit scholarship programs in 11 states and surveys from 241 private schools that do and don’t participate, and found that testing requirements are not a significant deterrent. Only a quarter of the schools ranked state-required testing as a “very” or “extremely” important factor. The response rate among participating schools was 73 percent.

McKay countered with its own yes-or-no survey of Florida private schools participating in the state scholarship for disabled students. Its response rate was 40 percent. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: charter schools, parent power, Will Weatherford & more

Charter schools. Tampa Bay Times: “Stop the giveaway to charter schools.” A charter school company is interesting in buying property at one of more of the three schools that the school board recently voted to shut down next year, reports Florida Today.

florida roundup logoWill Weatherford. StateImpact Florida talks to him about his education views – and his own nontraditional education background.

Parent power. Lawmakers are showing strong, bipartisan support for legislation that would give the parents of special needs students more say in their children’s education, but groups like Fund Education Now are opposed. Miami Herald.

Testing. Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet devotes space to a Florida case involving the FCAT and a student who is profoundly disabled.

Teacher pay. In a meeting with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board, Gov. Rick Scott stands by his across-the-board pay plan.

Teacher conduct. Florida Times Union: “An Atlantic Beach Elementary School teacher who used depictions of minstrel caricatures of African-Americans, blackface and a lynching for a second-grade coloring assignment last month said she has used the material for the past three years.” Continue Reading →


Course choice: putting school choice on steroids – Michael B. Horn, podcastED

horn2Perhaps the most far-reaching education legislation in Florida this year isn’t getting much attention, overshadowed by bills like the parent trigger. But buzz or no, the quietly cruising “course choice” proposal is on the leading edge of a revolution in online learning.

It takes school choice and “puts it on steroids,” said Michael Horn, a leading thinker on digital education, in the redefinED podcast below.podcastED logo

The course choice bills in Florida are sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. They would allow providers from virtually anywhere to create state-approved courses in K-12 and higher ed, and students from virtually anywhere in Florida to take them.

Together with other online learning advances, the bills will have repercussions on how, when and where students learn; how they’re tested and funded; and how school districts fare against growing competition from charter and private schools. Things like course choice and MOOCs, Horn said, “just blow up the geographic … scheme we’ve had for where someone goes to school.”

“So actually, wherever you are, you can get the best class for you. And there will always be that for you. Because you may love the MIT course. I may love the one that has a couple Sal Khan videos … But why shouldn’t we have that best experience for us?”

This doesn’t spell the end for school districts, Horn said. In fact, it could give them a boost. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: charter schools, private schools, the Florida model & more

Charter schools. The Tampa Tribune suggests a compromise is in the works on bills dealing with charter schools funding, facilities and accountability. Senate education leaders want a broader discussion about a proposal to give charter schools dibs on unused school buildings, reports Gradebook. Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano lists support for “for profit charter schools” as another example of the Legislature not caring about popular opinion. A St. Lucie County School Board member raises the idea of converting a soon-to-be-shuttered school into a charter, reports

FL roundup logo snippedPrivate schools. The ones in Marion County are hurt by the recession, but the pain is mitigated by McKay and tax credit scholarships, reports the Ocala Star Banner. Unpaid volunteer teachers come to the rescue of a Brandon private school that experienced an enrollment dip. Tampa Bay Times.

Magnet schools. The Miami-Dade school district is looking to create a new MAST magnet school on one of the FIU campuses, but it hinges on funding from local communities. Miami Herald.

Parent trigger. The Panama City News Herald writes up Friday’s vote in the House Education Committee.

The Florida model. Education Commissioner Tony Bennett and Patricia Levesque, executive director of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, are among those participating in Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s education summit, reports the Kennebec Journal. More from WABI TV. Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: Parent trigger in Georgia, vouchers in Tennessee, tax credit scholarships in Idaho & more

Texas: Sen. Dan Patrick’s school choice bill makes an ambitious attempt to expand charter schools, lifting the statewide cap on the number of charters and requiring school districts to sell or lease underutilized classrooms or other facilties to charter operators (The Texas Tribune). More on the bill,  including possible concessions by Patrick on the charter cap ( American-Statesman). Patrick cries in committee as he advocates expansion of school choice (Associated Press).

MondayRoundUp_magentaLouisiana: A $5 million federal training program offers $50,000 grants to teachers to help turn around failing schools. The program will serve either as a stop-gap while more charter schools ramp up to provide students with better learning options, or as an alternative approach to fix a failing system with the selected district schools operating similar to charters (Education News). A mother’s struggle to find a quality school for her sons points to a key failure in New Orleans’ lauded choice-based system: options abound, but they’re not always reputable ones (The Lens).

Arkansas: A Senate committee votes down a proposal for a tax credit scholarship program (Associated Press).

Florida: A parent trigger bill clears a third House committee and heads for a House floor vote (redefinED). Charter school lobbyists focus this legislative session on winning state money for maintenance and facilities, or, the right to use empty space in traditional public schools free of charge (Tampa Bay Times).

Tennessee: A voucher bill forwarded as a broader alternative to Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal is withdrawn (Associated Press). But the debate continues over how many children the program should serve (Memphis Commercial Appeal). Pressed with the need for charter operators in his district, one state lawmaker is considering a proposal to allow for-profit charters; Rep. John DeBerry says the idea is to help well-meaning operators with the business-side of running charter schools (The Tennessean). The Walton Family Foundation is investing $1 million to help create four new charter schools in Memphis (Memphis Business Journal).

Georgia: A parent trigger bill is pulled amidst concerns from Republican lawmakers (Atlanta Journal Constitution). Proposed legislation could force school districts to consider parent petitions to turn non-failing public schools into charters (Atlanta Journal-Constitution). A proposal to expand the state’s tax credit scholarship program clears a key House committee (Atlanta Journal Constitution). Continue Reading →


Fla. parent trigger headed to House vote

The Florida parent trigger bill cleared its third committee Friday – again along party lines – and is headed to a vote by the full House.

More than 20 people signed up to speak before the House Education Committee on HB 867, with a nearly even split between supporters and opponents. They and lawmakers echoed the same arguments that have circulated since last year, when a similar bill passed the House but failed the Senate on a 20-20 tie.

“When we let these corporate interests take over the schools” it won’t empower parents, said Rep. Mark Danish, D-Tampa, a teacher and teachers union representative. “It’s going to muzzle parents and prevent them from voicing their concerns.”

“Let’s not make this a partisan discussion. Let’s not be concerned of this boogieman of phantom interests,” said Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Doral, the bill sponsor. Opposition is coming from “the unions and the establishment that are trying to control the debate and trying to control jobs.” Continue Reading →


McKay Coalition: Florida private schools don’t want mandated testing for students with disabilities

Editor’s note: This post was submitted by the Coalition of McKay Scholarship Schools.

no FCATIn a recent “Florida Roundup” post, redefinED reported that a new study from the Fordham Institute “finds that mandated testing – and even public reporting of test results – isn’t that big a concern for private schools worried about government regs tied to vouchers and tax credit scholarships.”

The Coalition of McKay Scholarship Schools, a volunteer organization of private schools participating in the McKay Scholarship Program, decided to take a survey and determine whether this research finding held true for Florida private schools. The findings in Florida were polar opposite from the Fordham Institute, which did not survey schools in Florida but concentrated on schools in Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

The Coalition sent a survey to the 1,155 participating McKay Scholarship schools in February. It received 474 responses, representing approximately 40 percent of the McKay schools. Results indicate that 1) nearly all of the schools are conducting norm-referenced assessments of their students; 2) these education professionals do not believe the FCAT is an appropriate measure for their students with disabilities; and 3) 61 percent of the schools responding reported they would no longer participate in the McKay Scholarship Program (a type of school voucher program) if required to give the FCAT to their students.

The McKay Scholarship Program was designed so parents of children with disabilities would be able to identify and participate in programs that would meet the needs of their children. Many parents choose to participate in the McKay program because they do not believe the FCAT and a one-size-fits-all approach to education are in the best interest of their children who have disabilities and do not fit the “norms.” The McKay Scholarship Program has been very successful and popular with parents because it provides them with the ability to choose a school that best meets the unique needs of their children.

Contrary to the findings of the Fordham survey, Florida private schools participating in the McKay Scholarship Program are very concerned with mandated testing and will leave the program if required to do so, thus limiting the access to educational options that parents of children with disabilities now have.

The survey questions and statistics may be found at The following is a summary of the findings: Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Teacher conduct, school closings, superintendents & more

Charter schools. A split Bay County School Board gives an extension to a financially troubled charter school. Panama City News Herald.

florida roundup logoClass size amendment. The Sarasota district utilizes more mixed-grade classrooms this year in an effort to comply. Sarasota Herald Tribune.

School closings. Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie announces the district will close one special needs school but keep another open. Miami Herald and South Florida Sun Sentinel. Port Canaveral may come to the rescue of three Brevard schools slated for closing, reports Florida Today.

School safety. The Bradenton Herald offers its thumbs up or down on this year’s raft of school security bills, but doesn’t mention the one that would require safety alerts for private schools.

School choice. The St. Lucie County district makes changes to its student assignment plan, including limiting choice options to some students in an effort to keep down cost, reports

Teacher conduct. A Clearwater teacher is accused of abusing two special needs students, reports the Tampa Bay Times. More from the Tampa Tribune. A Pinellas Park High School teacher is arrested in a teacher conduct case for reportedly having a sexual relationship with a students, the Times also reports. A parallel story involving teacher conduct in Orange County, reports the Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →