The Democratic case for charter schools

dfer-charter-school-report-coverCivil rights activists and teachers union leaders helped lay the intellectual foundations for charter schools. Since they were first created in the early 1990s, charters have gotten federal backing from both Democrats who held the White House. They’re now supported by strong majorities of key Democratic constituencies, including parents of color. With one notable exception (Miami), the cities with the largest numbers of charter school students are all led by Democratic mayors.

In short, there are deep strands of support for charter schools on the left side of the political aisle that belie recent stances taken by institutional Democratic parties at the state and national levels.

A new report by Education Reform Now (a sister organization of Democrats for Education Reform) documents the many ties between the charter school movement and progressive politics, from historical roots to present-day polling data.

It also makes a case that Democrats have a unique role to play in the charter school debate.

Continue Reading →


How clear, local info can help school choice work better

Parents care about school performance. That’s one of the clear lessons emerging in cities, from Denver to Washington, D.C., that give families their choice of public schools.

But what if a state letter grade doesn’t give parents all the information they need to judge how well a school is doing? What if it emphasizes student learning growth, rather than proficiency, or vice-versa? What if it doesn’t measure other things the community might care about?

It might make sense for communities to make their own, locally developed systems that capture key information about all local schools, makes it readily available, and allow real, apples-to-apples comparisons.

In a new report, the Center on Reinventing Publication calls this a Common School Performance Framework. Creating one allows cities (or, perhaps in Florida’s case, districts) to easily understand what’s happening in all the public schools in their community. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Promotions, protests, prayers, pay and more

florida-roundup-logoFew promotions: Almost two months ago, a circuit judge ruled that the state wrongly retained third-graders who opted out of the Florida Standards Assessments testing. Today, just two of the 14 students named in that lawsuit have been promoted to fourth grade. Broward County twins were promoted earlier this month. But a Seminole County student is still in third grade, and the rest are in private schools or are being homeschooled. The ruling is being appealed by the state and several of the districts. Orlando Sentinel.

Education protest: A small group of people protest what they call the unequal distribution of funds in the Miami-Dade School District. The group, ICARE, accuses the district of not properly funding inner-city schools and their programs. The protest was held outside a hotel where Superintendent Alberto Carvalho was attending a national conference on urban education. Miami Herald.

Dress code warning: A call on Facebook to protest the Pasco County School District’s dress code leads to a warning for a Ridgewood High School senior. Hunter Banaciski says he was told by school officials that his protest could incite a riot, which might result in his suspension or even his arrest. Banaciski says the protest, which simply calls for students to wear clothing that doesn’t conform to the school dress code, will go on. Tampa Bay Times.

Prayer lawsuit: The Florida High School Athletic Association is asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a Tampa Christian school that alleges the organization violated its football players’ religious freedom. Last December, the FHSAA denied a request from Cambridge Christian School to use a loudspeaker to broadcast a prayer before its state championship game against University Christian School of Jacksonville. In its filing, the FHSAA argued that the schools and players were free to pray – just not over the loudspeaker. News Service of Florida. Continue Reading →


Study: Even with robust school choice, neighborhood options matter

Location, location, location.

Even when parents are able to pick which public school their children attend, it still matters a lot — and can limit the ability of low-income children of color to access high-performing schools.

That’s the takeaway from a new study of school choice in Denver, a city widely hailed as a model for expanded public school choice.

The last sentence of the study, published in the latest edition of the journal Sociology of Education, drives home the key point: “In addition to being able to choose schools, parents need viable options from which to choose.”

Authors Patrick Denice, of Washington University in St Louis, and Bethany Gross, of the University of Washington, find even in Denver — a city with one of the most robust and equitable school choice systems in the country — low-income children of color are less likely to have access to those viable options.

Denver Public Schools have an open-enrollment system for public schools, and the district has seen a proliferation of charter schools, magnet schools and other special programs.

It also has a central application system for all the public schools under its purview, including charters. This makes it easier for parents to select from the full set of options in their city. As a result, unlike in many districts, where privileged students may be more likely to take advantage of school choice, Denver has “relative parity” among socio-economic and racial groups, the researchers write. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Teacher evaluations, raises, renewals and more

florida-roundup-logoTeacher evaluations: Orange County teachers and school officials agree on a new evaluation process that will drastically increase the number of teachers earning a “highly effective” rating. Teachers need that rating to be eligible for bonuses under the state’s Best and Brightest program. Only 2.4 percent of the district’s 13,000 teachers received highly effective ratings in the 2014-2015 school year. With the changes, as many as 78 percent will. Orlando Sentinel. Not a single Orange or Seminole county teacher will receive an unsatisfactory rating for the 2015-2016 school year. Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher pay raises: The Palm Beach County School Board approves an average 3 percent pay raise for the district’s teachers. Most of the district’s 13,000 teachers will get at least $1,300 more, and some could get as much as $1,700. Starting pay increases slightly from $40,775 to $41,000. The union still has to ratify the agreement. Sun-Sentinel.

Teacher job security: Pasco County School Superintendent Kurt Browning says the move by some districts to guarantee annual contract renewals to teachers with effective or highly effective ratings goes against the legislative intent when tenure was ended. Gradebook. Continue Reading →


Could Chicago’s new charter school cap inspire copycats?

Last week, as charter school supporters pushed back on an NAACP resolution calling for a moratorium on new charter schools, Chicago’s teachers union actually put one in place.

In a new, eleventh-hour labor agreement, reached last week to avert a strike, Chicago Public Schools agreed to a temporary cap on charter school enrollment, the first in the country imposed through collective bargaining with a union.

Teachers unions have backed efforts to limit the growth of charter schools around the country. They’re pouring money into a Massachusetts campaign to keep a state cap in place, and the American Federation of Teachers heaped praise on the NAACP resolution over the weekend.

Meanwhile, a new article in the American Prospect connects the Chicago policy to larger trend. Unions, which have been trying to organize charter school teachers, are using labor negotiations to get more say over charter governance.

Conditions in the Windy City may have been especially favorable to a charter school cap won at the bargaining table. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Guns and recess in schools, new leader and more

florida-roundup-logoGuns, recess in schools: A majority of Floridians support trained staff carrying guns in schools, and an overwhelmingly number back a requirement of 20 minutes of daily recess for elementary students, according to a USF-Nielsen Sunshine State survey. Villages-News. Politico Florida. Sunshine State News. WJXT. News Service of Florida.

New superintendent: Todd Bowden, the 45-year-old executive director of Career, Technical and Adult Education for Sarasota County and director of Suncoast Technical College, is chosen to be Sarasota County’s next school superintendent. He will succeed Lori White, who is retiring in February. The school board preferred Bowden to Brennan Asplen III, the superintendent for Academic and Student Services in St. Johns County, and Mark Porter, superintendent in Monroe County. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald.

Board squabbles: The Duval County School Board’s discussion of disappointing test results by the district’s International Baccalaureate classes students turns angry, with a 20-minute recess called to break up the shouting. Several members say the poor test results at non-magnet IB programs could be a result of inexperienced teachers, while others think the board is making excuses for the poor results. At one point, board member Becki Couch told fellow member Cheryl Grymes to quit staring at her. Florida Times-Union.

Teacher complaints: Broward County teachers tell the school board that they are overworked and bullied. Teachers made the appearance to protest the district’s $300,000 proposal to buy software that will train them on a new instructional method. The program is voluntary, but teachers worry it will be made mandatory. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →


When school closures work, and when they don’t

Closing a school can tear the fabric of a community, create job insecurity for educators and force families to make tough decisions about what’s next for their children.

But if it’s done the right way, it can help students get significantly better results.

A new study of closures and charter school takeovers in Louisiana suggests minimizing harm and instability for students might be among the keys to making these extreme measures work.

Perhaps even more crucially, it suggests officials should close schools for poor academic results, not other bureaucratic or budgetary reasons, and that school systems need to ensure affected students actually wind up in better schools.

The study, released this week by Tulane University’s Education Research Alliance, found closing low-performing schools, or turning them over to new charter operators, was tied to a whopping 20 percentage-point jump in graduation rates for New Orleans students (although the effect on college-going was close to zero).

Affected students also saw significant improvements in test scores.

"Intervention" students - those affected by closures or charter takeovers - saw test score gains over time.

“Intervention” students – those affected by closures or charter takeovers – saw test score gains over time. Chart via ERA NOLA.

The research alliance has been probing the results of the sweeping education reforms enacted in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Its findings have shown that converting the city’s schools to a nearly all-charter system, importing teachers from around the country, and drawing a massive infusion of philanthropic donations led to substantial improvements in student results.

Its latest study suggests closures and charter takeovers of low-performing schools were a big part of that story, accounting for somewhere between 25 and 40 percent of the overall improvement in New Orleans public schools. Continue Reading →