Michelle Malkin has Florida wrong


You’re doing it wrong!

The new piece by Michelle Malkin on Jeb Bush, Tony Bennett and education reform in the Sunshine State is a touch heavy on hasty generalizations. The most jarring may be the way Malkin lumped Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007, in with the grading scandal in Indiana that embroiled the current Florida commissioner of education, Tony Bennett.

Malkin begins,

“[Bennett’s] disgraceful grade-fixing scandal is the perfect symbol of all that’s wrong with the federal education schemes peddled by Bennett and his mentor, former GOP governor Jeb Bush: phony academic standards, crony contracts, and big-government and big-business collusion masquerading as “reform.”

Tony Bennett was a strong supporter of school choice and common core. His resignation over issues related to A-F grading has now encouraged opportunists on the left and right to attack. Malkin begins her piece by lumping education policy together in one big pot and, without consideration, dismisses everything that was accomplished in Florida. Malkin didn’t take the time to separate out education policy in her hurried effort to attack Common Core.

And this is where Michelle Malkin is getting it wrong.

Malkin, in this respect, is following the approach of Diane Ravitch or Florida’s Fund Education Now organization. They tend to take advantage of any grading scandal to oppose and roll back A-F grading scales, accountability, teacher evaluations, and to besmirch the progress of any other reform attached to Bennett or Bush. Malkin is using this opportunity to attack Common Core, but her careless generalizations do more harm to the school choice and accountability movement.

Whether you agree or disagree with Common Core you simply cannot deny the strong growth in education achievement seen in Florida. Jeb Bush’s many reforms were a part of the growth. Denying that because you disagree with one unimplemented policy is irresponsible.


Enrollment hit to Florida Virtual School drawing lawmakers’ attention

Florida lawmakers are starting to key in on a recent funding change that has put a big dent in enrollment at Florida Virtual School, with one promising the issue will be revisited in coming months and another saying action against school districts may be warranted.

Rep. Carl Zimmermann

Rep. Carl Zimmermann

When legislative committees meet in Tallahassee in September, “I can guarantee you this is going to be discussed,” said Rep. Carl Zimmermann, a Pinellas Democrat who sits on the House Education Committee.

At issue is a change to the state’s education funding formula that lawmakers approved last spring. Under the old method, districts received their full per-student allocation even when that full-time student was taking one course with Florida Virtual School, which also received funding for that student. Now under that same scenario, the district receives six-sevenths of the allotment and FLVS receives one-seventh. The more courses a student takes online, the less money the district and FLVS receive.

Even before the recalculated formula went into effect last month, Florida Virtual School, the state’s leading provider of online classes and among the nation’s largest, reported dramatic declines in enrollment. They expect a $34 million loss. More troublesome, they say, is students are being turned away from a popular school choice option.

They say they’re still getting calls from students and parents, complaining that schools are making them take online classes through the district – or not letting them sign up at all. The situation prompted the Florida Department of Education to warn at least 10 districts to stop the practice, which may violate state law. And last month, after more reports surfaced, DOE’s chancellor of public schools sent another warning – this time in a memo to superintendents statewide. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Tony Bennett, longer school days, dual enrollment & more

What they’re saying about Tony Bennett in Florida: Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Jeb Bush offered praise for Florida’s education commissioner. The Buzz. Sen. Dwight Bullard calls for more input on the state’s next education chief. Sun Sentinel.  Orange County schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins’ name is coming up as a possible replacement. Orlando Sentinel. Despite a national reputation in education reform, Florida hasn’t found it easy to attract — or keep — a leader since Gov. Rick Scott took office. Miami Herald. StateImpact Florida shares Bennett’s resignation letter. Florida long has allowed political donations to influence education policy, the very allegation that forced Bennett to quit, writes the Palm Beach Post. The result of Bennett’s abrupt departure is more turmoil for Florida’s education system. Tampa Bay Times. More from the Post, Florida Times-Union, News Service of Florida, Tampa Bay Times, Tallahassee Democrat and The Tampa Tribune.

florida roundup logoWhat others are saying: Two Indianapolis public schools might never have been taken over by the state if Bennett had offered the same flexibility he granted a year later to the Christel House Academy charter school. Indianapolis Star. Indiana’s state grading system now faces uncertainty. Associated Press.  Bennett’s rising star in school reform is fading. Indianapolis Star. “This is, in my view, very sad news, as Bennett is widely regarded as one of the country’s smartest, savviest, and most effective education reformers,” writes Reihan Salam for the National Review. In less than a year, Bennett has been ousted from two leading education positions, writes Valerie Strauss for the Washington Post. “Tony didn’t need the hassle.  He took on these fights because they were the right ones,” writes Neil Ruddock for the EdFly blog. More from the National Review, Hugh Hewitt, Politico, and several top education policy analysts weigh in on the Flypaper blog.

School transfers: Fewer than 300 students will be transferring out of overcrowded schools under a new Orange County transfer rule. School Zone.

Longer day: St. Lucie Elementary students will attend school for an extra hour each day to help improve their reading scores. TCPalm.

New posts: Daryl Ward will move up from assistant principal to principal at the Polk County Harrison Center for the Visual and Performing Arts. The Ledger. Manatee County Schools Superintendent Rick Mills has selected Scott Boyes to be executive director of elementary schools. Bradenton Herald.

Dual enrollment: Pasco Hernando Community College and school districts squabble over administrative fees following legislative changes that shifted program funding from colleges to the districts. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →


Tony Bennett’s resignation disappoints school choice supporters

Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett

In mid-June, Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett visited a modest retreat on the outskirts of Tampa where a University of Notre Dame program was hosting a symposium on school choice. Fewer than 40 people were in attendance, but Bennett spoke and answered questions for an hour.

“I will never ever change my stripes on school choice,” he told them. “If giving poor kids an opportunity cost me my job,” he continued, referencing the fledgling voucher program and his electoral defeat in Indiana, that’s a “pretty good trade off.”

Even in a state that leads the nation in expanding school choice, Bennett was arguably the most pro-school-choice education commissioner Florida ever had. Choice supporters expressed shock and disappointment with Thursday’s announcement that he was abruptly resigning after a two-day barrage of negative stories about grade changes at an Indiana charter school.

“This is a sad moment for Florida education,” said Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Miami, a member of three House education committees. Bennett was a “rock solid proponent for students, accountability and choice.”

“It’s unfortunate and I’m very saddened,” said Florida Board of Education Chair Gary Chartrand, who was attending the KIPP conference in Las Vegas Thursday. “I told him, ‘We think the world of you and we’ll weather the storm together.’ But he made the decision to leave. Obviously, the turnover is not a good situation.”

Bennett’s replacement will be the fourth education commissioner under Gov. Rick Scott, who pushed out highly regarded Eric J. Smith in favor of Gerard Robinson, who then resigned after high-profile glitches with the state’s testing and grading system. A national search to replace Robinson drew no star-power candidates until Indiana voters put Bennett on the market.

“How much can we take?” said T. Willard Fair, a former Board of Education chair who co-founded the state’s first charter school and resigned in 2011 to protest the ouster of Commissioner Smith. “We lost an outstanding commissioner in Eric Smith. We were blessed when Tony Bennett became available. To lose two great intellectuals is absolutely devastating.”

The leadership churn has put smudges on Florida’s reputation as a national leader in ed reform. It has also come as thorny questions about the growth of Florida’s school choice sectors remain unresolved, including funding for charter schools and online learning. Continue Reading →


Tony Bennett to resign

From the Tampa Bay Times:

Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett is expected to resign Thursday as Florida education commissioner following two days of raging controversy over school grading in his home state of Indiana.

Bennett is expected to hold a news conference in Tallahassee late Thursday morning to make the announcement.

Bennett, who came to Florida from the Hoosier State in January, has faced mounting calls for his resignation in the wake of revelations, first reported by the Associated Press, that he interceded on behalf of an Indiana charter school run by a prominent Republican Party donor

His resignation will be a major setback for Gov. Rick Scott and state education leaders, who are working to overhaul Florida’s system of school accountability and assessment in compliance with the national Common Core standards.

Bennett came to the job in January after losing his re-election bid as Indiana superintendent of schools. He was the third permanent commissioner in Scott’ 31-month tenure, following Eric Smith (who Scott pushed out) and Gerard Robinson (who resigned under pressure). Two interim commissioners — John Winn and Pam Stewart -— also have run the department under Scott.

The past two times Florida has searched for a commissioner to run what many consider one of the nation’s leading education “reform” and accountability states, the pickings have been slim. Bennett only applied after losing re-election.


Florida schools roundup: Tony Bennett, teacher debit cards, art magnets & more

More on Tony Bennett: Two days of controversy seem to have taken a toll, with Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett expected to resign later today. Tampa Bay Times. Meanwhile, supporters and others are calling for more evidence in this latest school grade snafu: “What we have now is not “the rest of the story” but a failure to seek the rest of the story,” writes Greg Forester on the Jay P. Greene blog. Bennett should request a broader set of emails to provide some context to this story, says Sherman Dorn. StateEdWatch and Dropout Nation raise more concerns. florida roundup logoBennett answers questions from Education Week’s Rick Hess about the grade boost in Indiana. “It’s not that big of a deal,” says Eduwonk, adding that calls for Florida’s education commissioner to resign “pretty obviously overstate the issue.” Fred Grimm from the Miami Herald writes: “Grown-ups might not buy Tony Bennett’s tortured explanation for jacking up that C grade to an A, but every school child in Florida understands the rationale.” The Buzz reports that Democrats are lining up to call for Bennett’s resignation. More here. And Beth Kassab from the Orlando Sentinel says, “Lots of headlines have portrayed this as Bennett doing a favor for a big donor. But that’s not quite right.” Even more from The Hechinger Report and New America Foundation.

Charter schools: Time is running out for a new Lauderdale Lakes charter school that has enrolled hundreds of students but still doesn’t have an approved site for them to attend class. Sun Sentinel. Lake Wales High School, a conversion charter in Polk County, may have a waiting list for students. The Ledger.

Magnet schools: The Palm Beach County School District considers expanding art magnet programs to schools in Boynton Beach, Delray Beach and Boca Raton. Sun Sentinel.

Debit cards: Gov. Rick Scott unveils debit cards that will allow teachers to buy tax-free supplies year-round. Sun Sentinel. Continue Reading →


‘It is time we redefine public education’

Editor’s note: We’ve made the point many times: Public education shouldn’t be synonymous with public schools and increasingly, in this age of rapidly expanding options, it isn’t. In a new essay, James V. Shuls, the education policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute in Missouri, expertly riffs on that theme, using the moving story of a student growing up in a tough stretch of St. Louis as a hook. Here’s a taste:



As a child, Korey attended St. Matthew Catholic Church. In 2001, St. Matthew’s parish opened De La Salle Middle School. The small private school above Big Mo’s barbeque restaurant only had 20 students. Korey did not know what to think about the idea of attending De La Salle. In time, he would come to realize that this decision changed his life. With expected pride, he says, “De La Salle put me on a path to greatness.” This school was diferent from other schools he had attended. Class sizes were small, with more one-on-one attention. His teachers were passionate, not just about academics, but also about character. One in particular, Martha Altvater, pushed him harder than he had ever been pushed. From De La Salle, he earned a scholarship to Christian Brothers College (CBC) High School, a respected private school in Saint Louis County, and then attended Westminster College in Fulton, Mo. In 2012, he graduated with a degree in business administration; sitting in the audience was none other than Martha Altvater.

At a critical moment in his life, Korey had the opportunity to attend either a public school or a private school. He chose to attend the private school. In doing so, he chose the option that best served the public, as well as him. Had he chosen the neighborhood public school, Korey says he “might have fallen in with the wrong crowd and be in jail or dead today.” That has been the fate for many of his friends who attended the public high school. But Korey’s fate was different because he found a school that recognized and developed his potential.

Though it is a private school, De La Salle Middle School serves the public much more efectively than the district-run school, where fewer than half of the students graduate. However, instead of celebrating De La Salle as a venerable public institution, we label it as a private school and deem it unworthy of public funds.


This essay should not be construed to say that all private schools are great —they are not. Nor should readers think that I am saying that all public schools are bad — they are not. The point is that all types of schools — district, charter, and private — can effectively serve the public. Right now, however, we have put up an artificial barrier that prevents students from using public dollars to attend the private school of their choice. Never mind that these private schools can, as was the case for Korey Stewart-Glaze, serve the student and the public very well.

Korey Stewart-Glaze’s journey has come full circle. He now recruits students to attend the school that changed his life, De La Salle Middle School. Still, funding makes this a somewhat difficult task. Though the school provides privately funded scholarships to 100 percent of its students, they still have to pay some tuition. This severely limits the number of students the school can serve and creates a barrier for many families who simply cannot bear the cost. Our narrow definition of public education prevents De La Salle from receiving state dollars and prevents more students from experiencing the life-changing moment that Korey had. It is time we redefine public education. It should no longer mean assigning students to a specific type of school, regardless of quality, but rather that we provide access to a quality education, regardless of the type of school delivering that education.


A good education is a religious endeavor

Editor’s note: Craig S. Engelhardt is a former teacher and school administrator who directs the Waco, Texas-based Society for the Advancement of Christian Education. His new book is “Education Reform: Confronting the Secular Ideal.”



Public education reflects some of America’s highest ideals and is based upon a belief in the value of both the individual and American society. Its existence reflects the belief that all children – regardless of their demographic status­ – should have the opportunity to grow in and pursue their potential. Its curricula reflect the belief that prosperity, liberty, and peace are rooted in individuals who are knowledgeable, skilled, reasonable, individually reflective, morally responsible, and socially supportive.

I support public education as both an ideal and a “good.” However, I claim public education harbors a systemic flaw that hinders and often prevents our public schools from fulfilling their ideals. Further, I claim this flaw has survived virtually unrecognized and unchallenged for over a century. Is it possible a scientific, astute, experienced, and democratic people could have missed a “flat world” sized flaw in a system so close to their lives and communities? I maintain we have. I have extensively written about it in “Education Reform: Confronting the Secular Ideal.”

In this scholarly book, I attempt to “tease out” the roles religion has played in education from America’s conception to the present. To do this, I start with a functional definition that describes religion as a coherent and foundational set of beliefs and values that provides a framework for reason and a source of motivation for life. Defined functionally, religions are worldviews that may or may not have a deity.

Working from this definition, I discover pre-modern (roughly pre-20th century) public and private education leaders consciously held religion to be central to their efforts. In other words, they believed individuals were shaped by their religious beliefs and the educational nurture of individuals relied upon teaching the foundational beliefs of their communities, extrapolating from pre-existing beliefs, and integrating new facts with those beliefs. The question within 19th century common schools was not whether schools should be religious, but which religious tenets were most integral to and supportive of the American way of life. This educational discernment was not merely due to prejudice or self-centered majoritarian preferences (though these played a role), but to a reasoned, experiential, and historically evident understanding of the roles of religion in society. The exclusive public support of common education seems to have been an attempt to educate non-Protestants toward many of the morals, beliefs, and perspectives considered to be “American” and indebted to the Protestant faith.

So how did secular public education become an “ideal”? First, I note it never was the ideal for the majority of the U.S. population. Even now, given a choice, I believe most parents would likely prefer to send their children to a school reflecting their “religious” views. Secular public education developed in America as a result of the confluence of two mutually supporting public commitments and a national trend – all were philosophically based, but one carried the overwhelming force of law. I believe the complexity of their interplay and the slow pace of change allowed the “flaw” of linking public education with the secular paradigm to survive to our present day with little challenge. Continue Reading →