Maybe if school choice was like Medicare

School choice supporters have long pointed to government programs that assist people in buying goods or services to draw parallels to vouchers, tax-credit scholarships and (more recently) education savings accounts. Pell Grants, the GI Bill, food stamps and housing assistance programs all essentially function in the same way as education vouchers (some literally are vouchers).

Spurred by a recent newspaper column that was critical of school choice, I’d like to recast another government program as a model for education and choice: Medicare. (The author of the op-ed said she wouldn’t want her Medicare replaced with a voucher).

TPMedicareMedicare, of course, is the government health insurance program that helps cover medical expenses (hospital visits, outpatient care, pharmaceuticals) accrued by Americans aged 65 or older. Indeed, a lot of Americans don’t want to alter Medicare. Even Tea Party Americans famously wanted to keep government out of their Medicare.

We could “Medicarize” education by offering education insurance for every K-12 child. Let’s just call the program “Educare” and imagine it was passed under the Educational Premium Insurance for the Children Act, otherwise known as EPIC (because politicians love acronyms).

Educare would provide coverage for 13 years of education. After the $150 deductible, the insurance would cover 80 percent of tuition and fees – or up to the full public state support, whichever is smaller. The remainder would be the student’s co-pay.


For those interested in income equality and “fairness,” we could limit the maximum co-pay based on household income so lower-income families have a smaller out-of-pocket expense. Or perhaps the deductible would increase for higher household incomes.

Like Medicare, Educare would be good for both public and private institutions. We could even have an Educare Part D which covers education-related expenses such as tutors, textbooks, school supplies and electronic education materials.

School choice opponents would have a difficult time opposing the “Medicarization of education.” More importantly, they may come to realize how similar vouchers, tax-credit scholarships and education savings accounts are to other government programs that many of them love and support.

Time for parents to join forces for school choice

joining forcesWhile working on our upcoming National School Choice Week event that will showcase the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision I noticed some similar behaviors between those who opposed desegregation in that landmark case and the behaviors of those who oppose school choice today.

Anger, hatred, name calling. Shall I go on? People can be very cruel when they feel threatened or disagree.

Growing up in Iowa, I was never subjected to racism or real hatred. There were nice people and there were mean people. Color was never a factor in determining who my friends were. At times, best friends would wind up duking it out at the bus stop and then be best friends again the next day. (Yes, I was one of those who did that.)

Our parents taught us that if you didn’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. If you do something, do your very best or don’t bother doing it all. Most importantly, always – always – do the right thing.

Many things have changed since I grew up in Iowa, but some things haven’t. Parents still value education. Parents still know what’s best for their children.

Over the years, my daughter Jessica has accessed several schooling options. She is currently in a charter school. But back in 2009, when she was seven years old, she began a petition to remove the requirement that students be enrolled in public school for at least one year before they can enroll in a district virtual education program. Many who opposed what Jessica was doing attacked me. They even attacked her! That was my first taste of what the real world was like when dealing with what I later realized was very controversial.

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FL schools roundup: Charter schools, literacy, Common Core & more

Charter schools: Plans for a 2,600-student charter school in Pembroke Pines could be put on hold, thanks to a brewing legal battle between the city and neighboring Southwest Ranches. Sun Sentinel. Broward County school district auditors find that five charter schools ended last school year in “deteriorating financial condition,” spending more money than they took in. Sun Sentinel. Pasco school officials raise concerns about the Legislature’s move to make it easier for charter schools to open and operate in the state. Tampa Bay Times. The Visible Men Academy, an all-boys charter school, receives a $15,750 grant from the Manatee Community Foundation. Bradenton Herald. The claims of some charter or magnet school administrators that they don’t “cherry-pick” students and “have always included all kids” appear to be at odds with the facts, writes William Hahn for The Ledger. Lawmakers look for incentives to attract high-impact charter networks from out of state. redefinED.

florida-roundup-logoTraditional schools: Polk County’s superintendent of schools adds to her list of ideas for improving public schools, including auditing all noncharter public schools. The Ledger. The Escambia County School Board reinstates a local food service company that district officials had recommended for suspension. Pensacola News-Journal. 

Common Core: A Broward County high school teacher posts a year’s worth of algebra II lessons to a new website offering free instruction for the new math and language arts standards. StateImpact Florida.

Literacy: An inflatable planetarium helps West Hernando middle school students learn about nighttime sky, and connect literacy to science and technology. Tampa Bay Times. A Hernando elementary school looks to racing to entice students to read. Tampa Bay Times.

Conduct: Nearly three months after the death of a former Hillsborough high school principal’s wife, a sheriff’s investigation continues as does a separate stalking case against a school district clerk. Tampa Bay Times.

FL considering ways to lure out-of-state charter school operators

Florida might find itself with more KIPP, YES Prep and RocketShip Education charter schools if a legislative proposal makes its way through the 2014 session.

Rep. George Moraitis

Rep. George Moraitis

The House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee has introduced a draft bill for the upcoming session to align charter school applications with the state’s new standard charter contracts (which passed last session). But the bill also includes a provision (page 27) that could give some out-of-state operators a coveted designation that would make it easier for them to expand in Florida.

The “high-performing” designation is reserved for charter school operators who have established a successful record in the Sunshine State. It’s a status approved by the state Board of Education, and one that comes with benefits such as money-saving multi-year contracts, additional student capacity and limited restrictions on opening more schools.

It’s not clear, yet, what criteria the out-of-state networks might have to meet in order to earn the designation, and how it would differ from the requirements for in-state networks. But Florida education leaders have told lawmakers they need the incentives. And some lawmakers say it’s a step toward attracting some of the country’s most successful charter school outfits to some of Florida’s poorest neighborhoods.

“We’re trying to induce people to come into the state to do business,’’ Rep. George Moraitis, a Republican member of the subcommittee, told redefinED. “This would be for excellent operators.’’

For the past three years, the state has focused on reeling in renowned operators. A few, such as The Seed Foundation and KIPP, set up shop. But Florida can and should do more, said State Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Charters, digital learning, school choice & more

Charter schools: The Schools of McKeel Academy in Polk County plan to hire the former superintendent as a consultant, despite his history of issues with personnel. The Ledger. Pasco County looks to revamp charter reviews by letting applicants answer district concerns before the school board renders a final decision. Tampa Bay Times. Bonita Springs may be the latest city to consider opening a charter school. Fort Myers News-Press.

florida-roundup-logoDigital learning: A South Florida entrepreneur wants to teach kids computer code to show them the potential available in the digital world. StateImpact Florida.

School choice: A record number of parents sign up for school assignments in Lee County for the first day of the application period. Fort Myers News-Press.

STEM: Hillsborough County’s award-winning Lennard High Robotics Club needs some community support. The Tampa Tribune.

Florida standards: State Education Commissioner Pam Stewart tells the State Board of Education that the proposed tweaks to Common Core will underscore the state’s ability to set learning expectations for students. Tallahassee Democrat. More on the standards and school grades from Education News.

Principals: More than 600 Broward County principals and assistant principals will get a boost in pay this year. Sun Sentinel.  A Polk County principal receives harsh criticism from a Lakeland High School student who accuses the principal of being sexist. The Ledger.

Sales tax: Brevard County School Board members review a $6 million list of potential budget cuts that could take place in 2015-16 if a proposed half-cent sales tax fails. Florida Today.

Parents: The Palm Beach County school district rolls out its parent academy to help moms and dads navigate their children’s educational future. Palm Beach Post. Parents of Manatee school children take turns signing a letter to the school administrators voicing their concern over potential teacher shortages. Bradenton Herald.

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This teacher rocks … in a charter school

Teacher Julie Sear looks on as her students at The School of Arts and Sciences in Tallahassee, Fla. test out a Rube Goldberg contraption they created.

Teacher Julie Sear looks on as her students at The School of Arts and Sciences in Tallahassee, Fla. test out a Rube Goldberg contraption they created.

By all accounts, she’s a top-notch science teacher. She works in a charter school. Is that a coincidence? It’s a tough question to answer, even for the teacher herself. But more and more educators are mulling similar questions. It’s inevitable as more school choice options bloom, and teachers, like parents, find themselves thinking more deeply about what works best for them and their students.teachers and choice logo

Julie Sear is the lone science teacher at The School of Arts and Sciences, a K-8 charter school in Tallahassee. It’s trim and modest, a clutch of red and yellow brick nestled among oak-draped hills. There’s no library, no gym, no lunch room, no computer lab. The school is so unassuming and half-hidden beyond all the moss, even many locals don’t know much about it.

Which is too bad for them. Last year, 95 percent of Sear’s students passed the state’s eighth-grade science exam (it’s only given in fifth- and eighth-grade). That’s double the state average. Only 29 of the state’s 600-plus middle schools managed a pass rate above 80 percent. Only 10 cleared 90 percent.

It’s true the demographics for the 270 students at SAS aren’t the most challenging. Forty-one percent are minorities, 21 percent are eligible for free- or reduced-price lunch. The state average is 59 percent for both. But it’s also true SAS leaves more affluent schools in the dust, including three in the same district where science pass rates came in at 58, 66 and 75 percent.

What makes the difference?

Sear, 42, is a 14-year teaching veteran who taught in district schools before she joined SAS, for less pay and no tenure, in 2006. She’s a Midwesterner with a biology degree, a resume that includes six years on a boat and enough proud geek in her to wear a shirt that says, in Star Wars font, “May the Mass Times Acceleration Be With You.” (Physics joke!)

Ask her the difference-maker question, and she offers a list.

For starters: independence, autonomy, flexibility. Unlike many district schools, there is no pacing guide at SAS, no rigid calendar that dictates what must be taught and when. Asked a week before a reporter’s visit what she’d be teaching that day, Sear emails back: “I can’t plan that far ahead!!” “I have total control,” she says in an interview. “I look at all the standards and I get to say where I’m going to teach things, and how I’m going to teach it.”

Then, there’s this: SAS is small and close-knit and … nimble. It was founded in 1999 by teachers and parents. It’s not bound by convention. Sear has 88 students in classes that include sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. That means a wider range of skill level. But it also means more familiarity with how students learn, where they’re coming up short and what can get them up to speed. “I got a pulse on them that is really strong,” Sear says.

SAS is also tough to get into. Not because of special admission standards (beyond living in the district, there are none), but because of demand. Every year, more than 200 students apply for 15 to 20 open slots, leaving the school with 750 to 1,000 on its waiting list. That, Sear says, leaves SAS teachers with leverage many district teachers don’t have.


A Matchbox car. A tack taped to its hood. A trio of middle school boys.

In Sear’s first period, a project: Make a Rube Goldberg contraption with at least five energy transfers. Boy one nudges the car towards a balloon, which butts up against one of those pendulums with a series of spheres on strings, which is next to another toy car, which is tracked towards a marble, which is then supposed to dribble off the edge of the counter into a cup on the floor. Car rolls. Balloon pops. Pendulum swings. The second car rolls, but stalls before it can ram the marble.

“Not enough force,” Sear says. “What can you do different?” Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Charters, magnet schools, Common Core & more

Charter schools: The Tamarac city commission seeks charter proposals for a high school. Sun Sentinel. A Bradenton charter school caters to young boys. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

florida-roundup-logoMagnet schools: A proposal to reopen two Pinellas County elementary schools as technology magnets receives strong support from the school board. Tampa Bay Times. A Hillsborough County middle school STEM program lets students work on robots. The Tampa Tribune.

Technology: The Broward school district is teaching students not just how to use technology, but how to build it. Sun Sentinel.

Board of Ed: The state Board of Education welcomes new members. The Buzz. The board approves the cut scores high schoolers must achieve on the new U.S. History end of course exam. Palm Beach Post. 

Education commissioner: Pam Stewart says she’s opposed to suspending school grades while the state grapples with the new Common Core benchmarks and new assessments. Miami Herald. More from StateImpact Florida and the Orlando Sentinel.

School choice: Two films promoting alternatives to traditional public schools will be shown at the Orlando Science Center next Tuesday for National School Choice Week. Orlando Sentinel.

Teachers: Two Central Florida French teachers are named among the best in the state for their instruction and promotion of language learning. Orlando Sentinel. Pasco’s superintendent wants to rename substitute teachers “guest teachers.” Tampa Bay Times. Pinellas school superintendent Michael Grego presses local colleges and universities to revamp their education degrees, citing a shortage of quality teachers. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →

Florida seeks to rebrand Common Core

From the News Service of Florida:

TALLAHASSEE – State education officials are pushing forward with a plan to rebrand the standards for what students are expected to learn in Florida schools, hoping to tamp down an uproar among conservative activists who view the current standards as part of a federal takeover of local schools.

Commissioner Stewart

Commissioner Stewart

Almost 100 changes to the “Common Core State Standards” will be considered by the State Board of Education in February, said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, who outlined some of the changes to board members during a meeting Tuesday.

“At that time, I think that it is completely appropriate for us to call our standards the ‘Florida Standards,’ ” Stewart said.

Supporters of the guidelines have taken to using the term “Florida Standards” in recent months as some conservatives have continued to decry Common Core. Those benchmarks were crafted by a coalition of officials from about four-dozen states, but have come to be seen by grassroots conservative groups as an example of federal overreach.

Earlier this month, a gathering of the Republican Party of Florida’s state committeemen and committeewomen voted to oppose Common Core, though the resolution is not binding on the GOP and is not expected to be taken up by the party’s executive board.

Stewart said the changes — which include 60 new standards, 37 clarifications and two deletions — and the inclusion of standards beyond the reach of Common Core, which only covers English and math courses, justifies the new name.

“I think when we strengthen our standards, make these standards our own, provide clarification of 37 standards — that clearly is saying that Florida is out on our own, making stronger standards and doing so in a very autonomous way,” she said. Continue Reading →