Florida schools roundup: School grades, Common Core, PARCC & more

Ed summit: A three-day education summit called by Gov. Rick Scott ends with broad guidelines on student testing, school grading and evaluating teachers — but uncertainty about where they will lead. Palm Beach Post. Participants make plenty of promises, but don’t offer solutions. Associated Press. The summit did little to quell unrest over Common Core or address other recent controversies, but at least it brought parent groups, teachers, school administrators and legislative leaders together. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. And there’s a call to change the school grading system. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoCommon Core: Mary Jane Tappen, deputy chancellor for curriculum and instruction with the Florida Department of Education, will talk with Osceola parents about the new Common Core standards. Orlando Sentinel.

PARCC: Florida’s continued participation in PARCC is in doubt due to the concern that school districts don’t have the computers and Internet bandwidth necessary to administer the online tests and that PARCC exams take twice as long as the FCATs they replace. StateImpact Florida.

Drug testing: The Miami-Dade County School Board will consider a random drug-testing policy following the federal probe into whether Biogenesis of America gave performance-enhancing drugs to student athletes. Miami Herald.

Rosh Hashanah: A St. Lucie County sophomore and his parents are upset that the school district won’t allow students to take the day off for the Jewish holiday like some other districts. Instead, he has a test. TC Palm.

Class therapy: A therapy dog helps autistic students in Lake Wales focus in the classroom. The Ledger.

Reading buddy: Ann Scott, the governor’s wife, visits a Port St. John elementary school  to read to kindergarteners. Florida Today.

Afterschool: Many Collier County parents are still upset about the district’s changes to afterschool activities. Naples Daily News.

Continue Reading →


A closer look at the new kid on school choice block

debit cardsWe all know about charter schools, vouchers and tax-credit scholarships. But there is a new kid on the school choice block called “education savings accounts” (ESAs) and they can be used to purchase multiple education options at a time – and even to save for college.

A new Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice report, released Wednesday, provides a detailed look at how the parents in one state are using the accounts.

But first, a quick primer: Maybe one day opponents will call these ESAs “nuevo neovouchers” but today supporters call them “education debit cards,” and for a good reason. The state deposits the funds into an account which can be spent – via a debit card – on private school tuition, fees, curriculum (which would include books and other coursework material), online courses, exam fees and tutoring services. Unspent funds are rolled over to the next year and can even be deposited into 529 college savings accounts to pay for future college tuition. Parents receive disbursements to the account quarterly and are expected to submit expense reports quarterly as well to ensure compliance with the law.

Arizona’s ESA, the “Empowerment Scholarship Accounts,” pays parents 90 percent of the state support (currently worth $2,845). Special needs students receive additional support based on the severity of the disability, with the average special need student awarded $13,600 in 2012. Accounts are currently limited to active-duty military families, foster care children, special needs students, and students in schools rated D or F.

The Friedman Foundation discovered 85 percent of the 316 Arizona families with ESAs in 2011 used them to pay for tuition at a private school, 20 percent to pay for special education or therapy services, and 15 percent to purchase supplemental tutoring. The least utilized services included exam fees (like the AP exam) and online course fees. Overall, approximately 26 percent of the money in the ESA accounts remained unspent at the end of FY 2012-13, allowing the funds to roll over and accumulate in the next school year.

ESAs “open the doors to an education that is uniquely tailored to a child’s individual needs by enabling parents to direct funds to multiple education providers,” writes Lindsey Burke, author of the Friedman report. Indeed, 34 percent of families paid for multiple options – for example, attending a private school while also purchasing supplemental curriculum and tutoring services.

Several state legislatures have explored the ESA concept since 2011 (in Florida, bills were introduced but didn’t get far) but right now they are only available in Arizona.


Parental choice would honor the Dream



Editor’s note: This is the third post in our series commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s Dream speech.

It was January 18th, the Saturday of the MLK weekend in 1997, when I printed out the “I Have a Dream” speech. I’m not completely sure why, except that I was transitioning in my life from international business to education reform. The powerful language and ideas King conveyed, especially the notion that we had defaulted on our promissory note, captured me then and have stayed with me. The speech has been in my briefcase ever since. Multiple times each year, I pull it out when I need to refresh my memory as to why I remain engaged in what is often such an arduous struggle.

By now, I hope, people are familiar with the dismal stats. Our schools remain mostly separate and unequal. Schools that enroll 90 percent or more non-white students spend $733 less per pupil per year than schools that enroll 90 percent or more white students. That’s enough to pay the salary of 12 additional new teachers or nine veteran teachers in an average high-minority school with 600 students. Almost 40 percent of black and Hispanic students attend those high minority schools, whereas the average white student is in a school that’s 77 percent white. Whites now constitute only 52 percent of K-12 demographics.MLK snipped

Meanwhile, only 19 percent of Hispanic 4th graders and 16 percent of black 4th graders scored proficient or above on the 2011 NAEP reading exam. About half of Hispanic and black students were “below basic,” the lowest category. Even our best students often leave the K-12 system unprepared, as best evidenced by a 60 percent remediation rate in the first year of college and large numbers of dropouts.

Although progress has been made, America remains in default on its promise of access to a high quality educational experience for all. In the words of Dr. King, we are addicted to the “tranquilizing drug of gradualism,” and mired in a “quicksand of racial (as well as class) injustice.” Powerful adult interest groups continue to benefit. That part is analogous to the civil rights struggle of the 50’s and 60’s, though thankfully so far without the snarling dogs, fire hoses and bullets. My frustration with the pace is that the vision of justice, of what is right and what is possible, is so clear. We see hundreds of charter schools, private schools and traditional public schools achieving at high levels with children of all classes and ethnicities. When we know better, as we do, we should do better. But mostly we do not.

Parental school choice alone is no panacea. Standards need to be raised; teacher recruitment, preparation, training, evaluation, and compensation systems dramatically restructured; and technology integrated to improve efficiency. But Dr. King would likely look askance at using school district attendance boundaries to corral families the way we do cattle, allowing them in and out only when it pleases the owner. This system is inherently unjust, immoral, and even evil when it condemns families to poor performing schools year after year, generation after generation. It forcibly segregates us from one another. Without choice, we de facto have Plessy v. Ferguson’s “separate, but equal” that has never actually been equal. Often it destroys hope. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Ed summit, safety net, dual enrollment & more

#EdSummitFL: State Sen. Dwight Bullard calls Gov. Scott’s education summit a “missed opportunity.” Meanwhile, other legislative leaders praise the three-day event that ends today. The Buzz. Common Core discussions draw debate from legislators, superintendents and parents. StateImpact Florida. More from Tampa Bay Times.  Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand says he did not call for screening books on homosexuality or socialism during the summit. Miami Herald. He offers more of an explanation to the Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoSafety net: The Board of Education looks at extending the controversial school grade “safety net” another year with a vote scheduled for October. School Zone. More from the Fort Myers News-Press.

Dual enrollment: The Manatee County School Board makes attaining funding for dual enrollment programs a top priority this legislative session following recent changes in law that have cost the district $180,000. Bradenton Herald.

Virtual ed: Hernando County’s eSchool is on pace to double enrollment this school year. Tampa Bay Times. Experts in online education say legislative changes affecting Florida Virtual School are a national trend. Education Week.

School lunch: About 40 Broward County middle and high schools have Star Food Healthy Express vending machines in their cafeterias. Sun Sentinel.

Teacher raises: The Palm Beach County school district offers $2,000 pay increases for its teachers, but the local teachers union wants to negotiate. Palm Beach Post. The Orange County school district and the teachers union reach a stalemate that puts raises on hold. Orlando Sentinel. St. Lucie School Board members name interim Superintendent Genelle Yost as the permanent leader and approve $9.9 million in salary increases. TC Palm.

Continue Reading →


Darrell Allison: Access denied, from lunch counters to zip codes



Editor’s note: This is the second in our series of posts commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Darrell Allison is president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina.

Is school choice the civil rights issue for the 21st Century? I say it’s always been an issue.

While the battles, faces, and nuances have changed, we are still wrestling with core questions of equality, education as a means of opportunity, and creating a just society.

On Feb. 1, 1960, four young men from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Ezell Blair, Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, and David Richmond, were refused service at a lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C. because of the color of their skin. In response, they turned the nation’s attention to injustice and inequality by remaining in their seats until closing time. The sit-in continued the following day; pretty soon, after significant media attention, sit-ins were happening elsewhere in North Carolina and in cities across the South.MLK snipped

In 2013, four courageous young men followed in their footsteps by bringing attention to educational injustice to the North Carolina legislature. Reps. Marcus Brandon and Ed Hanes (both Democrats), and Brian Brown and Rob Bryan (both Republicans), each took political hits and overcame harsh rhetoric as they jointly sponsored The Opportunity Scholarship Act.

Opportunity Scholarships give students from low-income and working-class families the ability to attend non-public schools that could better meet their needs. The hard reality is, not much has changed since the 1960s when it comes to educational choices. Wealthy parents have always had access to an array of options that many lower-income, mostly minority students do not. This was the justification behind Opportunity Scholarships – to provide the same equality of choice to poor families.

As Dr. King once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere … whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” In North Carolina, we have a 30 percentage point achievement gap between non-poor and economically disadvantaged students, a 30 point gap between whites and blacks, and a 24 point gap between whites and Hispanics. If we treat Dr. King’s quote as truth and not a catchy saying, where is the moral outrage?

These statistics reveal a great divide – one that Brown v. Board of Education sought to address in 1954. The landmark case recognized segregation in public education was wrong. However, I contend that Brown v. Board was not simply and narrowly about placing black kids in classrooms with white kids. It was, at its very core, a school choice issue because one of its underlying premises was the quality of education was not the same for minority students compared to their white counterparts. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: PARCC, Common Core, class size & more

Ed summit: Education leaders from across the state convene for a three-day conference that could shape the future of teaching, testing and a school-grading system. Palm Beach Post. More from the Orlando Sentinel, Associated Press, Tampa Bay Times. Long before the summit, former Education Commissioner Tony Bennett had made it clear he might recommend Florida shift gears and pick a new replacement for FCAT other than PARCC. School Zone. Interim Education Commissioner Pam Stewart tells reporters her goal for the summit is to listen. StateImpact Florida.

florida-roundup-logoCommon Core: Tampa Bay Times’ columnist Dan DeWitt confirms that Common Core State Standards will not allow the federal government to mine the DNA of unsuspecting students among other criticisms of the new measures.

PTA: A Weston parent-teacher association is reinstated after it was shut down for paying members $10 an hour to volunteer and for keeping shoddy financial records. Sun Sentinel.

Charter schools: The Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations is not supporting Broward County’s proposed construction of Trails charter school because there are too many schools in the area, the group says. Sun Sentinel. Lake Wales Charter Schools grapples with a good thing: an increase in enrollment. The Ledger.

Class size: Duval County has a plan that includes giving teachers extra pay if they choose to teach another  class and moving teachers from under-enrolled schools to schools that enrolled  more students than anticipated. Florida Times-Union.

Continue Reading →


Florida education summit aims for listening, common ground

“I’m not sure if we’re going to walk out of here with consensus,” interim Commissioner Pam Stewart told reporters during a break. But “we pulled the right stakeholders into the room … and we’re listening to everyone.”

“I’m not sure if we’re going to walk out of here with consensus,” interim Commissioner Pam Stewart told reporters during a break. But “we pulled the right stakeholders into the room … and we’re listening to everyone.”

Even for Florida, a state that has put education policy on overdrive for 15 years, Monday’s summit was remarkable: Three dozen education leaders, business leaders and lawmakers, all but locked in a room to hash it out over the state’s contentious approach to standards, testing and accountability.

Gov. Rick Scott called the three-day event at St. Petersburg College after a tough summer for those who back Florida’s current vision of education reform. The goal, if reachable, might be even more remarkable: A common road map for an education system that has generated some of the biggest academic gains in the nation over the past 15 years yet has also been subject to relentless criticism and, more recently, self-inflicted wounds.

The participants, who also included teachers, parents, superintendents and school board members, politely hinted at the divisions during introductions.

Florida’s accountability system “has had a great deal to do with rising student achievement,” said Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who was House speaker when the heart of the system was installed under former Gov. Jeb Bush. “I hope we don’t take a step backwards.”

“Florida has been on the right course,” said Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. But “it doesn’t mean we’ve done everything right.”

Now, he continued, we have the opportunity to fix the rest.

The state’s fledgling teacher evaluation system, one of four areas targeted for discussion, also surfaced as a sore point.

Teachers “don’t trust the system,” said Joanne McCall, vice president of the Florida Education Association.

But Keith Calloway, with the Professional Educators Network of Florida, said teachers were not uniformly opposed. “There are many of us teachers out there right now that like the evaluations,” he said.

It remains to be seen whether parties long at odds can agree on meaningful steps in the short term, let alone stick together on common ground for the long haul. History suggests it will be tough. Continue Reading →


Parental school choice spurs surprising reactions from advocates of the poor

As a white person from Iowa, I am always hesitant to write about the racial aspects of ed reform and parental school choice. I feel it is always better to have others with more credibility speak of it. But this weekend I saw two things that compelled me to write.

Kirtley: On the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's great speech, a black U.S. attorney general working for the nation's first black president filed a lawsuit to halt a program that is helping low-income black families in Louisiana choose a better school for their children.

Kirtley: On the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s great speech, a black U.S. attorney general working for the nation’s first black president filed a lawsuit to halt a program that is helping low-income black families in Louisiana choose a better school for their children.

On Saturday, I read that the U.S. Justice Department is suing the state of Louisiana to block vouchers for students in public school districts that are under old federal desegregation orders. The statewide voucher program, officially called the Louisiana Scholarship Program, lets low-income students in public schools graded C, D or F attend private schools at taxpayer expense. This year, 22 of the 34 school systems under desegregation orders are sending some students to private schools on vouchers.

The Justice Department’s primary argument is that letting students leave for private schools can disrupt the racial balance in public school systems that desegregation orders are meant to protect. Sounds like a good idea, right?

But here’s the thing: according to the Louisiana Department of Education, 86 percent of the children on the program are black. Only 9 percent are white.

If roughly 90 percent of the kids on the program are black, I don’t really understand how them moving to private schools that would better serve them would worsen segregation in the public schools. Are they leaving schools that are mostly white? If so, should they be forced to stay there even though they aren’t being well served? How would you explain that to their parents?

On the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s great speech, a black attorney general working for a black president filed a lawsuit to halt a program that is helping low-income black families in Louisiana choose a better school for their children. This law was not just backed by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal,  but was sponsored and supported by numerous black Democratic legislators. Half of the Senate Democratic caucus and a quarter of the House Democratic caucus in the Louisiana legislature backed the initial expansion of the program from its New Orleans origins.
Continue Reading →