Balancing school choice, testing and accountability in FL

Editor’s note: Jason Fischer, a pro- school choice school board member in Duval County, Fla. penned an op-ed for today’s Context Florida in response to criticism of the testing requirements for students in Florida’s tax credit scholarship program. Here’s a snippet (and, full disclosure, the tax credit program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog):

Jason Fischer

Jason Fischer

Tax Credit Scholarships serve underprivileged children. The scholarship serves 59,674 students in 1,414 private schools this year. What we know at this point is that the students come from homes that struggle, with incomes on average that are only 9 percent above poverty, and with the majority headed by a single parent. We know more than two-thirds are black or Hispanic.

More importantly, we know the students who choose the scholarship are among the lowest performers in the public schools they leave behind. And we know this: these same students achieve the same gains in reading and math as students of all incomes nationally.

That’s encouraging data, but detractors call it irrelevant and “inscrutable” simply because the students don’t take the state FCAT. While it would be simpler if all students in all schools took the same test, the nationally norm-referenced tests required of scholarship students are undisputed tools of academic measurement. Also undisputed is their ability to gauge whether students are gaining or losing ground to their peers nationally.

So policymakers are sometimes required to strike a balance. Full op-ed here.

School choice opposition too often mired in myths

also a myth...

Bigfoot…also a myth…

Education is a complex and nuanced issue, and advocates on all sides need to be mindful not to overreach. Supporters of school choice sometimes overpromise the benefits of vouchers and tax-credit scholarships, leaving them open to attack. On the other side, school choice critics sometimes appeal to a mythical concept of the common/public school that never really existed.

Edward B. Fiske, a former New York Times education editor, and Helen F. Ladd, a professor at Duke University, demonstrate exactly this in a recent op-ed in the News & Observer. Fiske and Ladd keep their arguments simple: school choice is unconstitutional because it “destroys” the state’s ability to provide a free uniform system of education that is, as they say, “accessible to all students.”

Their argument may sound reasonable to a school choice critic, but the reasoning is grounded in mythology. Understanding this mythology exposes the underlying contradictions with the opposition to school choice.

First, it is a myth that common/public schools are open to every student. Students are assigned to schools and those schools are free to reject any student not within the school zone.

As Slate columnist Mathew Yglesias recently noted, the word “public” in public school really only means the school is government-owned and operated. He correctly observes that “a public school is by no means a school that’s open to the public in the sense that anyone can go there.”

Yglesias isn’t a school choice fanatic but he isn’t blind to the results of a zone-based attendance policy. The result turns neighborhood schools into a “system of exclusion.” Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Charters, private schools, Jeb Bush & more

Charter schools: A report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools shows that the massive growth in charter school enrollment experienced by Palm Beach County schools this year is not an isolated incident. Palm Beach Post. More from the Tampa Bay Times. The Leon County School Board on Wednesday unanimously approved a charter application that would create a new charter middle school. Tallahassee Democrat.

florida-roundup-logoPrivate schools: After a nationwide search, St. John’s Episcopal Parish Day School in Tampa announces the appointment of Robert S. Stephens Jr. as head of school, effective July 1. The Tampa Tribune.  More from Tampa Bay Times.

Jeb Bush: The former Florida governor has reformed the public education system successfully and achieved impressive results, writes Diane Francis for the National Post.

Pay raises: Miami-Dade County school police and bus drivers will see raises under tentative agreements. Miami Herald.

School construction: Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is building support for a plan that would cut some sales taxes paid by businesses and pump money into public school construction. The Buzz.

School grades: StateImpact Florida explains Florida’s revamped school grading model. More from The Florida Current. Local school officials say a state proposal to fix the school grade formula falls short. Tampa Bay Times.

Legislation: The Florida affiliate of the National Rifle Association is supporting a proposal that would prevent children from being disciplined for playing with simulated weapons in school. Miami Herald.

Principals: Polk County approves appointments  for three new principals. The Ledger.

Continue Reading →

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to talk school choice in Florida



House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., will be in Florida Friday to talk about school choice.

He’s scheduled to tour the Academy Prep private school in Tampa, and hold a roundtable discussion with students and parents. Students at the highly regarded school attend with the help of Florida’s tax credit scholarship program for low-income students, which is administered by Step Up For Students (which co-hosts this blog.)

Cantor has put a spotlight on school choice over the past year, with visits to charter schools in Denver and Philadelphia, a Catholic school New Orleans that accepts vouchers, and an appearance at the Brookings Institution last month.

You can read more about Academy Prep here.

Advanced Placement stats show Florida rising above demographics

we're no. 1Florida public schools don’t get much attention or credit when they finish in the Top 5 or 10 on key indicators of academic progress. Maybe being No. 1 will turn some heads.

The latest College Board report on Advanced Placement exams, released Tuesday, show Florida schools No. 2 in the percentage of graduating seniors who took at least one AP exam, No. 5 in the percentage passing at least one and No. 2 in progress on that passing percentage over the last decade. Those impressive rankings didn’t translate into many headlines or congratulatory press releases, but there’s another compelling one behind them.

Florida, it turns out, is No. 1 when it comes to the differential between its rank in AP performance (No. 5) and its rank in percentage of low-income kids (No. 43). See the chart below.

Now trying to pick the one state that’s doing the best job with low-income students and AP success is tough (go to page 37 of the College Board report to see why), so the No. 1 here is eh, gimmicky. But at the least, Florida’s AP results suggest that it is, to a praiseworthy extent, transcending the challenge of its demographics on exams that are widely considered good signs of college readiness.

This isn’t coincidence. Florida education leaders pushed hard to open the doors of AP classrooms to low-income and minority students who were long shut out.

And this is the result: Over the past decade, the percentage of low-income, graduating seniors  in Florida who passed at least one AP exam rose from 1,403 to 12,774, an 810 percent increase. In 2003, low-income students made up 7.2 percent of those AP-passing seniors. Last year, they made up 31 percent. The national rate was 22 percent, and only three states (Texas, California and New Mexico) had higher rates.

Three cheers for Florida!

Continue Reading →

Pre-K must come with school choice

Pre-school is hot – again. It has been so, off and on, since ancient Greece. Plato’s ideal state would have imposed full-time boarding school starting at day one for all newborns, keeping them permanent strangers to their parents – those natural enemies of his perfect Republic.

Does NYC Mayor de Blasio's vision of pre-K include parental school choice?

Does NYC Mayor de Blasio’s vision of pre-K include parental school choice?

The spirit of Plato has played a larger role in American public schooling than often we recognize. Still, contra Plato, our imperfect Republic still allows parents to keep their children home until age five or six, then lets those who can afford it to choose among all schools, public and private. But for the less fortunate family, it is difficult or impossible to avoid their child’s conscription for seven hours, five days a week. To that extent, Plato wins, they lose.

Many now propose extending public schooling to younger children. Would this new deal in education be undertaken in the platonic spirit? For whom, and at what age? Would lower-income families be subsidized in order to make their own choices among public, private, and religious providers? Or would pre-K school be designed as the government strong-arm long familiar to post-K families, especially those forced into public schools in the cities? Exactly what is the intention of government enthusiasts, such as the new mayor of New York City?

We just don’t know; if Mr. de Blasio wants to replicate for infants the income-based conscription of K-12, he has not yet told us. And one full-length recent article and three New York Times’ editorials on pre-K in one week never touch the issue. Does government aim to frustrate even further the exercise of responsibility by the low-income family; or to the contrary, will Mr. de Blasio respect, for these few early years, the authority of such families to exercise in practice the role that their middle-class fellow citizens take for granted? Continue Reading →

FL schools roundup: Charters, private schools, Florida Virtual & more

Charter schools: Three years and a court battle later, Odyssey Space Coast Charter Academy wins approval to open another popular “green-school” in Brevard County. Florida Today. The Lee County School Board votes in favor of suing a closed charter school for $99,793. Fort Myers News-Press.

florida-roundup-logoFlorida Virtual School: Julie led FLVS through the ebbs and flows—and some turbulent waves—of the political cycles in Florida and kept the school growing at each turn, writes Michael Horn for Forbes. FLVS’s Global School is expanding STEM options and more, writes Alison Anderson at Getting Smart. When it comes to innovations in learning, keep eye out for Julie Young’s next move, writes Tom Vander Ark for Getting Smart.

Private schools: Jazz musician Bob Dorough performs at the Montessori School of Pensacola. Pensacola News-Journal. Hillsborough’s Corpus Christi Catholic School celebrates its 50th anniversary. The Tampa Tribune.  As the administrator of Title I funds for all schools in Duval County — public, private and parochial — Duval’s schools superintendent has a responsibility to all students who fall under that program, writes Gerald Robichaud for the Florida Times-Union.

District schools: Students at this Brevard County high school learn about forensics with the help of chicken carcasses. Florida Today. Brevard high school students prepare for the National Ocean Science Bowl. Florida Today. Lee County’s superintendent lead efforts for the BYOD policy, which will allow teachers to integrate lesson plans with students’ mobile devices. Naples Daily News. Pinellas County will expand its summer school program to allow even more students to continue their studies. The Tampa Tribune. The Manatee County School Board plans to expand voluntary pre-kindergarten programs and bring in data teams to analyze student performance at all grade levels, kindergarten through high school. Bradenton Herald.

Achievement: Spending more than $440 million for voluntary pre-kindergarten and stopping the practice of “social promotion” are two ways Florida has been able to move the needle in education achievement, says the chairman of the state Board of Education. Florida Times-Union.

STEM: It’s time for those who lead our K-12 schools to start talking with university professors in math, science and engineering about what needs to be done to give more students access to careers in these fields, writes Paul Cottle for the Tallahassee Democrat.

School grades: Education Commissioner Pam Stewart unveils her plan to revamp school grades. The Buzz.

Teachers: Teachers line up against legislation to overhaul the state’s $132 billion pension system. The Buzz. Private donors offer $40 million in incentive pay for teachers at struggling Jacksonville schools. Florida Times-Union. A new Florida Education Association poll finds a supermajority of Floridians rate their children’s teachers positively and an overwhelmingly majority approve of the job their public schools are doing. The Florida Current.

AP: The state ranked fifth in the nation for the percentage of 2013 graduates who had passed at least one AP exam. Sun Sentinel.  Florida has the highest rate of low-income students of any state in the Top 10, at 56 percent. redefinED. More from the Tampa Bay Times, and Associated Press.

Continue Reading →

FL again a national leader on AP exams

AP report 2014 cover 2Florida continues to be a leader in both performance and progress on college-caliber Advanced Placement exams.

The state ranked No. 5 in the nation last year in the percentage of high school graduates who passed at least one Advanced Placement exam, according to a College Board report released Tuesday.

With a rate of 27.3 percent, the Sunshine State was behind only Maryland (29.6 percent), Connecticut (28.8 percent), Virginia (28.3 percent) and Massachusetts (27.9 percent). The national average was 20.1 percent. Florida ranked No. 4 last year.

Florida has the highest rate of low-income students of any state in the Top 10, at 56 percent. It also has the biggest differential between its AP performance rank and its rank in percentage of students eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch. In FRL rates, Maryland is No. 17; Connecticut, No. 5; Virginia, No. 7; Massachusetts, No. 4; and Florida, No. 43.

In terms of AP progress, Florida again ranked No. 2, with a 12 percentage point increase between 2003 and 2013. Connecticut was No. 1, with Maryland, Virginia and Massachusetts rounding out the Top 5.

The report shows 41,149 Florida graduates passed at least one AP exam in 2013, up from 39,306 in 2012 and 28,667 in 2008.

Among Florida’s low-income graduates, 12,774 passed at least one AP exam in 2013, up from 10,897 in 2012, a 17.2 percent increase. Continue Reading →