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 →


MLK and God’s schools



Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of posts we’re running this week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

I grew up in a Minnesota city of 100,000 with – in my time – one black family. My introduction to the reality of public school segregation came in 1962 as – now at Northwestern in Chicago – I agreed to probe the public schools of the district on behalf of the U.S. Commissioner of Education. The racial separation was there as expected, but there was one big surprise; I was astonished to find enormous disparities, not only in taxable local wealth – hence spending – among the hundreds of Illinois districts, but even in individual school-by-school spending within the Chicago district itself. I wrote about both problems, sprinkling research with “action” including marches and demonstration both in Chicago and in Selma (prior to the main event there).MLK snipped

My interest in deseg politics had already provoked a law review article on the risks of anti-trust liability for King et al. who were planning boycotts of private discriminators. On the strength of that essay, Jack Greenberg, then director of the NAACP Inc. Fund, invited me to meet with King and his lieutenants at dinner in Chicago to discuss the question. We spoke at length – mostly about boycotts but also about schools. By that time I was already into the prospects for increasing desegregation in Chicago, partly through well-designed school choice.

I won’t pretend that I recall the details of that evening. What I can say is King’s mind was at very least open to and interested in subsidies for the exercise of parental authority – which clearly he valued as a primary religious instrument. I took my older boys next evening to hear him at a South Side church and, possibly, to follow up on our conversation, but he had to cancel. We heard sermons from his colleagues, some to become and remain famous. I did not meet King again.

King’s “Dream” speech does not engage specific public policy issues – on schools or anything else. Essentially a sermon, it is a condemnation of the sins of segregation and an appeal to the believer to hear scripture, with its call for indiscriminate love of neighbor, as the life-task of all who recognize the reality of divine love for us – his image and likeness. It is purely and simply a religious appeal that declares the good society to be one that rests upon benign principles that we humans did not invent but which bind us. I don’t know King’s specific understanding of or attitude toward non-believers, but this document clearly rests the realization of the good society upon its recognition of our divine source and its implication of the full equality of all persons.

Given that premise and the Supreme Court’s insistence upon the “wall of segregation” in the public schools, plus – on the other hand – the right of parents to choose a private religious education, the logic is rather plain.

Private schools live on tuition, and many American families couldn’t afford to enroll then or now. If low-income families were to exercise this basic human right and parental responsibility enjoyed by the rest of us, government would have to restructure schooling to insure access to an education grounded upon, and suffused with, an authority higher than the state. Given the economic plight of so many black parents, the only question would be how to design the system to secure parental choice without racial segregation by private educators.

And that possibility was to be the principal crutch of “civil rights” organizations in hesitating about subsidized choice. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Common Core, lunch programs, reading tests & more

School safety: Across Florida and the nation, schools open with more armed security following the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. Associated Press.

florida-roundup-logoCommon Core: StateImpact Florida listens to what readers have to say about the new education standards. The Badass Teachers Association represents a new wave of liberal opposition to the standards with teachers joining forces with tea party groups and libertarians, who want states to slow down efforts to adopt the new benchmarks and corresponding tests. Times-Herald.

Lunch line: Every elementary student in Lake Wales gets a free lunch thanks to a new federal program. The Ledger. New federal lunch rules result in healthier meals for children, more costs for schools. Florida Today.

Summer Slide: Treasure Coast teachers assess students during the first days of school to see if they kept up with learning and reading during the summer. TC Palm.

Reading tests: Most Duval County public school students will take new reading tests this week to pinpoint deficiencies. Florida Times-Union.

Online requirement: Few high school juniors have completed the online course they need to graduate. Fort Myers News-Press.

Charter schools: Nine charter groups have applied to open schools in Sarasota and Manatee counties next fall. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Visible Men Academy finishes its first week in Manatee County with 74 kindergarten through second-grade students enrolled. Bradenton Herald.

Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: School choice polls, lawsuits in Alabama & Louisiana, bipartisanship in Kentucky & more

MondayRoundUp_magenta Alabama: The Southern Poverty Law Center is suing to block the new school choice law under equal protections grounds (AL.com, NPR, Times Daily, US News and World Report). Essentially, they’re arguing that if you can’t help every child, you shouldn’t help any child (HT to Jason Bedrick).

Florida: Step Up for Students, which administers Florida’s education tax-credit scholarship program, received a $1 million donation from WellCare Health Plans, Inc. The contribution will fund 198 scholarships this school year (PRWeb).

Kentucky: U.S. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) appeared at an event with the Black Alliance for Education Options and Democrats for Education Reform to promote school choice and charter schools (Huffington Post, Education Week).

Louisiana: Education leaders in Baton Rouge are reviewing applications from charter schools to see who might be eligible to use some of the $16 million available for capital and start-up costs (The Advocate). The U.S. Justice Department is trying to stop vouchers from being offered in any school district still under court ordered desegregation (Associated Press, Times-Picayune, The Advocate).

Massachusetts: School choice students in the Berlin-Boylston area won’t be getting bus rides to school anymore (The Telegram).

Minnesota: Charter schools are feeling more pressure to participate in accountability rating systems (Hechinger Report). Continue Reading →


Dr. King, the Dream & educational progress

Fifty years ago next week, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech to 250,000 people in Washington D.C. It remains one of the greatest speeches in American history, offering a sweeping vision of hope and equal opportunity in the midst of so much fear and turbulence.

MLK snippedMany of us will reflect on how far we have come, and how far we have to go, since Dr. King energized millions with his words – and there’s no doubt education will be part of those discussions. To that end, we’re running a series of posts next week on the Dream and our schools.

We asked our bloggers to consider a scenario described by education leader Howard Fuller: On Feb. 1, 1960, four black students sit down at a lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C. and are denied service. They spark the lunch counter movement, helping to focus the nation’s conscience on racial segregation. Now, four black students sit down at a lunch counter and they’re welcomed like other diners. But they can’t read the menu.

What do racial achievement gaps say about the state of Dr. King’s dream? How does our current education system expand or contract his vision of social justice and equal opportunity? Is there reason to be hopeful when it comes to school choice, educational quality and the academic success of low-income and minority children? Please join us, beginning Monday, to read what some of our bloggers have to say. And please add your thoughts to the discussion.


Low-income students need more resources to close achievement gaps

Tuthill: The obstacles we face trying to improve public education, especially those related to generational poverty, are daunting. But I’m optimistic about the progress we’re making.

Tuthill: The obstacles we face trying to improve public education, especially those related to generational poverty, are daunting. But I’m optimistic about the progress we’re making.

The latest Florida Department of Education report on the tax credit scholarship program, and my summer discussions with scholarship parents, students and teachers, have led me to some conclusions. These thoughts are not new, but sometimes it’s important to remind ourselves of things we know but occasionally forget.

  • On average, scholarship students are achieving a year’s worth of learning gains in a year’s time, but this is not enough. We are attracting the state’s most disadvantaged students, and many of them are several years behind when they enter the program. These students need to be making 1.5-to-2 years of learning gains annually if they’re to catch up with their more advantaged peers.
  • We will not achieve these accelerated learning gains if we don’t provide scholarship students with more time to learn. Six-to-seven hours per day and 180 days per year are not enough for these students to achieve parity. Programs that are successfully reducing the achievement gap, such as many of the KIPP charter schools, are providing more learning time for disadvantaged students via longer school days and school years.
  • More time in school is still insufficient. Much of the achievement gap is created by large disparities in out-of-school learning opportunities. Many scholarship families can’t afford private music lessons, summer camps, equipment fees for Pop Warner football, or gymnastic lessons. While most of these experiences are not academic, the development they nurture contributes to success in a variety of settings, including school.
  • The new Common Core State Standards, because they are more rigorous, will exacerbate the achievement gap in the short-term. This greater disparity will become permanent if we don’t provide disadvantaged students with more access to in-school and out-of-school learning opportunities, and provide private school teachers with the training, technology and other support they need to successfully teach these new academic standards.
  • The concentration of high-poverty students in Florida private schools is growing as the number of tax credit scholarship students increases and more middle class families transfer from private schools to magnet and charter schools. This fall, more than 30 percent of Florida’s private school students will be paying tuition using McKay scholarships for disabled students or tax credit scholarships for low-income students. These changing student demographics will put greater stress on already meager private school resources. Continue Reading →


School grade padding in Florida helped district schools more than charters

netFlorida charter schools didn’t benefit as much as district schools from the school grades “safety net” that state education officials continued this summer.

According to Florida Department of Education data, 14.2 percent of the charter schools that have been graded so far would have dropped more than one letter grade had it not been for the safety net, which prevented schools from falling more than one letter grade. That compares to 21.7 percent of district schools.

In raw numbers, that’s 54 of 381 charter schools and 495 of 2,278 district schools. The numbers do not include school grades that are pending or incomplete.

Last month, the Florida Board of Education voted 4-3 to continue the safety net, which had been used in 2012, after superintendents complained that lower grades brought on by tougher standards would give the public a distorted view of student achievement. Tony Bennett, then the state education commissioner, initially expressed concerns about the safety net but later relented, saying it would help ease the transition to Common Core standards.

Bennett resigned two weeks later after news stories suggested he abruptly changed the school grades formula in Indiana to benefit a politically connected charter school.

As we reported last month, Florida charter schools again earned both A and F grades at higher rates than district schools.