Robert Enlow: Wishing for more choice, less regs

Editor’s note: Robert Enlow is the president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the school choice legacy foundation of Milton and Rose D. Friedman. This is the second post in our #schoolchoiceWISH series.

Robert Enlow

Robert Enlow

Google “Top Christmas Toys of 2013” and you’ll find the first result, Target, allows users to search potential presents by age, gender, price, category, and even brand. To make education just as customizable, I have two items on my policy wish-list this holiday season.

First, increase the size and permissible uses of school choice.

Take Arizona’s education savings accounts (ESAs), which families can use to cover private school tuition, tutors, therapies, online courses – or a combination of those tools – and even college expenses. As the Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke found, 34.5 percent of ESA recipients used their funds for multiple education services, proving many kids need dramatically different learning environments beyond just existing public, and private, schools.2013WISHLISTFINAL

Unfortunately, Arizona’s ESAs continue a trend of missed opportunity in the school choice movement: making programs open to a select few. ESAs are available to only 20 percent of Arizona students. School choice is about much – and many – more.

Milton Friedman wrote in 2000, “I have nothing but good things to say about voucher programs…that are limited to a small number of low-income participants. … But such programs are on too small a scale, and impose too many limits, to encourage the entry of innovative schools or modes of teaching. The major objective of educational vouchers is…to drag education out of the 19th century – where it has been mired for far too long – and into the 21st century, by introducing competition on a broad scale. Free market competition can do for education what it has done already for other areas, such as agriculture, transportation, power, communication and, most recently, computers and the Internet.”

That leads to my second hoped-for policy present: Parent-driven accountability.

To make Milton Friedman’s desired outcome a reality, accountability cannot mean solely the application of, and performance on, standardized tests. Imposing “too many limits” on private schools discourages the creation of new educational models and encourages educators to mimic the decades-old public institutions many families want to escape.

Parents are up to the challenge when it comes to holding schools accountable. Continue Reading →


Jon Hage: Wishing education reform a Scrooge-like self-examination

Editor’s note: Jon Hage is founder and CEO of Charter Schools USA. This post is the first in our #schoolchoiceWISH series.

Jon Hage

Jon Hage

Now that the education reform movement has grown to nearly 2.3 million students in charter schools and hundreds of thousands more in other reform alternatives, it is my wish that education reformers avoid becoming like the very system we want to transform.

We don’t want to be driven by adult interests. Nor do we want to become just another blob of regulation and red tape filled with political subterfuge that closely resembles the current broken K-12 traditional education system. The Ghost of Ed Reform Past would remind us that the traction the movement gained was due to the unwavering focus of putting students first; serving parents; our fortitude to challenge the status quo; and the determination to compete, grow and replicate no matter how hard the battle.2013WISHLISTFINAL

That wise old ghost would remind us of our nation’s founders, who empowered the individual citizen to control government, not the other way around. Our past reveals hard-fought battles to protect the right of students to receive a great education regardless of economic status or geographic challenges.

The Ghost of Ed reform Present shows us current realities we don’t want to admit. Arguments about who is right are trumping arguments about what is right. Millions of students every year miss out on a better educational option because the progress of reform laws and regulations lags far behind demand, with little outcry or protest from reformers themselves. It’s as if we have our schools now and are afraid to risk fighting the next level of conflict for more choices, more funding and more educational freedom. Tragically, there are millions of students who will never recover from that missed opportunity. Even still, the ed reform movement grows, but only because destiny is set by the potential of our children. We owe it to them to reaffirm that the possibilities of education reform match their limitless potential.

So, what does the Ghost of Ed Reform Future have to say? Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: LA voucher audit, TX charter school shutdown, Walton donation & more

MondayRoundUpAlabama: $19.5 million in tax credit donations have been made to scholarship organizations (Yellowhammer News).

Arizona: A public school district leader says “choice is here to stay” and argues school districts need to highlight options available to students (Arizona Capital Times). Wealthier public schools may be getting a much larger benefit from the tax-credit donation program (Arizona RepublicKTAR). A study by the Goldwater Institute found that district schools were converting to charter schools for the monetary benefits and not to offer new options to students (Sonoran News).

California: Support school choice, the gift that keeps on giving (Capital News and Views). The California Charter School Association calls for the closure of six charter schools for poor performance (National Alliance for Public Charter Schools).

D.C.: Black, low-income and disabled students attending charter schools outperform their peers in traditional district schools (Washington Post).

Florida: The state’s virtual high school earns a B (Orlando Sentinel). A Hebrew charter school gets approval in Hollywood (Miami Herald). Miami-Dade rejects a North Miami charter school application because the school would compete with district schools that recently received $200 million in renovations (Miami Herald).

Hawaii: Charter schools are good but they need better oversight (Star Advertiser).

Idaho: An online technical charter school plans to open in the state (Idaho Statesman). A popular charter school plans to expand into high school grades over the objections of the local school district (Statesman Review).

Illinois: Last year Chicago closed 52 schools but now charter schools wish to open in the district (Chicago Sun-Times). The Chicago Sun-Times supports charter schools, but worries that too many charter school openings may harm already cash strapped school districts. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visits a Chicago area public school but refuses to answer comments about 21 potential charter schools wishing to open in the city (Chicago Sun-Times). To improve education in Chicago the money has to follow the student and parents must be able to pick the school (Chicago Tribune).

Indiana: The Kokomo Tribune believes the public needs access to information about how voucher dollars are spent, including the names of students and their scholarship award amounts. Christel House, the charter school at the center of the Tony Bennet grading scandal, sees its grade drop from an A to an F (Indianapolis Star).

Louisiana: A state auditor says the government doesn’t provide enough information about private schools to voucher parents, while 41 percent of schools received improper payments (Education Week, Times-PicayuneTimes-Picayune, The Advocate, Shreveport Times). The state releases a database on participating private voucher schools (Times-Picayune). Editorial writers argue vouchers are no guarantee of quality education and that schools need more regulation (The Advocate, The Advertiser). The U.S. Department of Justice’s voucher suit could end up making segregation worse (Daily Caller). Recovery School District will be the nation’s first all-charter school district in the 2014-15 school year (Times-Picayune). Charter schools refusing to rejoin their old school districts may signal distrust in locally elected school boards (The Lens). Journalists covering the voucher audit missed one important story: the program is growing rapidly (The Advocate). Two New Orleans area public schools are accused of cherry-picking their own students (Hechinger Report).

Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charters, virtual schools, science ed & more

Charter schools: Pinellas County School Board members give district attorneys the go-ahead to look into suing the state for a new law that creates uniform charter school contracts. The Tampa Tribune. 

florida-roundup-logoVirtual schools: Starting next month, after 16 years of providing a distance-learning option to students in kindergarten through 12th grade, Florida Virtual School will offer several courses for adults. The Tampa Tribune.

Science ed: Polk County’s public and private schools take different routes when teaching the concepts of evolution, creation. The Ledger. Even as politicians and educational leaders pledge allegiance to science, many Americans are skeptical about key tenets of scientific orthodoxy. The Ledger. A Cocoa science teacher is named by President Obama as one of 102 teachers in the country to receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Florida Today.

School safety: Since the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy and the 27 school shootings that followed, Escambia and Santa Rosa county school officials are trying to restore a sense of security to parents, teachers and students. Pensacola News-Journal.

Name change: An about-face decision by a new seven-member Duval County School Board to drop the name of a high school that honored a Confederate soldier and former Klu Klux Klan member leaves activists wondering what other changes are possible now. Florida Times-Union.

School grades: When the state reworks its school grading system, Collier County’s superintendent is hopeful the bar will be raised and fairness also will prevail. Naples Daily News. All five Hernando County high schools saw their grades drop. Tampa Bay Times. It is time to overhaul Florida’s school grading system, which has been so tweaked and massaged as to be divorced from reality, writes the Tampa Bay Times.

Pay raises: An increase in administrator pay recently approved by the Santa Rosa County School Board is not sitting well with some teachers in the district. Pensacola News-Journal. Treasure Coast school leaders struggle to overhaul teacher pay based on performance. TC Palm.

Tony Bennett: The Indianapolis charter school at the center of Indiana’s grade-changing scandal saw its grade drop from an “A” to an “F.” Associated Press.

The best of 2013: StateImpact Florida looks at the year’s top education stories.
Continue Reading →


What’s your #schoolchoiceWISH? (the blog version)

2013WISHLISTFINALThis week, we posed that question to many of you on Twitter and got an amazing response: more than 1,000 tweets!

In the meantime, we also posed it to some stalwarts in the school choice movement, and asked them to write a short blog post in response. Next week, we’ll begin publishing their fun, thoughtful and provocative answers.

Here’s the all-star line-up:

Monday, Dec. 23: Jon Hage, founder and CEO of Charter Schools USA.

Tuesday, Dec. 24: Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

Thursday, Dec. 26: Joe McTighe, executive director of the Council for American Private Education

Friday, Dec. 27: Dr. Howard Fuller, board chair, Black Alliance for Educational Options

Monday, Dec. 30: Julio Fuentes, president and CEO, Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options

Tuesday, Dec. 31: Peter Hanley, executive director, American Center for School Choice

We hope you enjoy the posts as much as the #schoolchoiceWISH event. It was a hit! Continue Reading →


Mr. Gibbons Report Card: A Mencimer Minced and More!

MrGibbonsReportCardStephanie Mencimer – Mother Jones

To advertise her latest article on Mother Jones, Stephanie Mencimer takes to Twitter and tweets:


If this fairly characterized the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Act, then, indeed, the law needs to be immediately repealed or amended. But what Stephanie offers by way of proof is essentially a grandmother who currently teaches three children in her rural Thomasville home.

That private school was described in an NC Policy Watch report that included the woman’s embrace of the A Beka Christian curriculum. A Beka Book, along with Bob Jones University Press, publishes textbooks with a focus on fundamentalist Protestant religious views. The companies, which publish dozens of different textbooks, have come under criticism in Louisiana, California and Florida over the last decade for selected portions of their textbooks.

Whether the woman will ever teach an actual scholarship student in North Carolina, or whether any of her current charges are learning, is immaterial if the point is merely to paint with a broad, condemning brush. That’s unfortunate because, Mencimer’s distortions aside, the issue of public oversight of scholarship schools is a legitimate one.

What constitutes appropriate regulation and curriculum? With traditional public school education, the state provides extensive control over teachers, curriculum, pedagogical methods and lesson plans, and it measures student achievement by a standardized test. Most publicly supported learning options in private schools impose much less in the way of regulation, in part because the point of education alternatives is to be different. Regulating them in precisely the same way defeats that purpose.

So these private scholarship schools are owed some freedom, and the fair question is how much. Their students will be tested to gauge their progress, but do they need to adhere to square footage requirements for classrooms or specific curriculum dictates in math? In devising the right type and amount of regulation on scholarship schools, we also can’t forget that one of the most powerful forms of accountability is the parental choice itself. No parent is forced to take a scholarship and, more importantly, any parent can leave any school that he or she thinks is not serving his or her child.

I don’t have all the answers myself, but this is the informed debate we should be having.

In the meantime, I do know students in North Carolina’s voucher system will be tested. And they won’t be forced to attend schools that use A Beka textbooks and might teach young-earth creationism.

Grade: Needs Improvement


Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Dual enrollment, virtual school, grades & more

Dual enrollment: Florida school superintendents want to convince the Legislature to stop charging school districts tuition and other state college costs for dual-enrollment students. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoVirtual school: Florida Virtual School’s full-time high school was two points away from earning an A this year, netting a B the first time the online school qualified for a grade under Florida’s annual A-to-F report card. Orlando Sentinel.

Charter schools: Hillsborough school officials meet to discuss options to head off a charter school on MacDill Air Force Base. The Tampa Tribune.

School grades: Schools superintendents for Escambia and Santa Rosa counties are among those weighing in on Florida’s current accountability system before the state’s education commissioner. Pensacola News-Journal.

School safety: Leon County teachers and district officials seek to end rumors about school violence. Tallahassee Democrat.

Teacher pay: The hearing that may resolve the impasse between the Orange County teachers union and district over raises gets off to a rocky start. Orlando Sentinel.

Class size: All Central Florida traditional public schools met the state’s class-size rules this year. Orlando Sentinel.

After school: The Salvation Army of Naples acquires 3 acres on Airport-Pulling Road South for a new youth center and gymnasium to provide at-risk children with a safe after-school environment. Naples Daily News.

School calendar: The Pasco County School Board signs off on next school year’s calendar, which includes the entire week off for Thanksgiving. The Tampa Tribune.

Lawsuit: The Lake County School Board faces a federal lawsuit again accusing the district of violating students’ freedom of speech and federal rights by not allowing a middle-schooler to start a gay-straight club. Orlando Sentinel.

Conduct: A Tampa police school resource officer who had sex at least eight times over nearly two months with a teenage student is arrested and fired. Tampa Bay Times.