This week in school choice: Valid critiques welcomed

We’re awash in tenth-anniversary takes on New Orleans’ schools after Hurricane Katrina. Sadly, some bring us no closer to the complicated truth. A recent New York Times column by business journalism professor Andrea Gabor provides a telling case in point.

It raises a few legitimate points, some of which emanate from within the reform movement. But it provides little support for its central thesis — that the creation of an all-choice system has “hurt” New Orleans’ most vulnerable children.

It drew a forceful response and debunking. Gabor went on to answer her critics. She makes five points. The first three are cautions to keep in mind while analyzing the system’s recent success. The last two raise legitimate issues about the extent to which New Orleans residents, especially low-income black ones, have had a say in the reforms.

None of those points addresses the central flaw of her original argument. A wide range of empirical measures show New Orleans children are better off now than before the storm. There’s a long way to go, but results keep improving. Gabor offers no real support for her claim that changes have “come at the expense of the city’s most disadvantaged children.”

There is work left to be done. Some students still fall through the cracks. Parents could use help navigating the their options in a city where charter schools have largely become the system. Many reformers hope to ensure the next 10 years of change are done “with” rather than “to” the New Orleanians who were most harmed by the old system.

Some critical voices are worth listening to. They helped push for changes to special education, discipline, unified enrollment and other equity issues. But others are simply trying to smear the very idea of systemic reform, to stop it from spreading to other cities.

In the wake of a tragedy, New Orleans school officials managed to cobble together a model that fuses a triumph of liberal urban reform with conservative entrepreneurialism and is spawning new programs focused on the whole child. Critics can help make this new approach more equitable and inclusive, but only when they’re on point.


CNN, Slate and Campbell Brown and President Obama visit New Orleans and talk education. Andrew Rotherham calls attention to the real heroes. Continue Reading →


Florida school boards matter, a lot

Fordham report coverFlorida is home to the most “consolidated” system of of education governance in the country, according to a new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

The report’s authors base this conclusion on the fact that Florida places much of its state decision-making authority in the Board of Education, and local power rests in the hands of a few, relatively large school districts.

The state’s laws and constitution don’t contemplate the creation of something like an Achievement School District or a Recovery School District — the kind of institution that might run or oversee some schools outside the purview of a traditionally defined district.

The Fordham report looks at the institutions that oversee the education systems in each state. It then tries to gauge whether they place more power at the state or local level, how much public participation they invite (based on factors like the extent to which people have a chance to elect education officials), and whether decision-making authority is concentrated in relatively few hands. Continue Reading →


Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: Winners, losers, and armchair quarterbacks

Mr. Gibbons' Report Card

Jerusha Conner

Relying on an outdated report to criticize charter schools in New Orleans is bad enough, but Jerusha Conner, an an associate professor of education at Villanova University has this notion that competition between charter schools and public schools will help some students become “winners” and leave others to remain “losers.”

She forgets traditional district schools in a competition-free environment still produce “winners and losers,” as she phrases it. There were plenty of losers in New Orleans public schools before the storm.

New Orleans is beginning to demonstrate reform can lift all boats. There is no guarantee that the strong and positive results can be replicated elsewhere, and legitimate questions remain about governance and inclusion.

Villanova University

Still, the real lesson of New Orleans is that reform is never done. Many of the problems Conner decries are being addressed by more recent innovations, like a universal enrollment system, which are designed to ensure equity.

Also, for the umpteenth time, teachers union leader Albert Shanker did not create the “original vision” for charter schools.

Grade: Needs Improvement

Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Testing, transportation, Barack Obama and more

florida-roundup-logoTesting. The shift to national assessments may not be all some its proponents hope for, but lawmakers will look into it. Gradebook. More analysis from Bridge to Tomorrow. Testing is a daily occurrence. Miami Herald.

Transportation. New routes don’t seem to solve Palm Beach’s busing crisis. Palm Beach Post. Hernando’s transportation director is under investigation. Tampa Bay Times. A school bus is hit by a dump truck. Pensacola News-Journal. A motorcyclist collides with a school bus. Tampa Tribune.

Dress code. Palm Beach advances a dress code for parents. Palm Beach Post.

Backlash. Hillsborough schools face criticism over shirts sent to teachers that advertised a church. Tampa Bay Times.

Mentoring. Take Stock in Children hopes to offer mentoring and college scholarships to more Manatee students. Bradenton Herald.

Barack Obama. A Bradenton elementary student gets a letter from the president. Bradenton Herald.


School choice is about more than just scores

There were some interesting exchanges when state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, stopped by the Broward County School Board this week (see the video here). One dealt with the role of charter schools in Florida’s education system, and why parents might choose them even when their children already go to an A-rated school.

School board member Laurie Rich Levinson questioned the purpose of charter schools that open in the vicinity of district schools where students are already doing well.



“They’re going to open in areas where we have our highest-performing schools, where there’s not a need for a charter school,” she said. If charter schools open right down the street from a high-performing school, “what are we achieving?”

Fresen responded with a case study from Broward’s neighbor the south, Miami-Dade. Charters have opened in Coral Gables, where most existing public schools were already high-performing. Now, he said, while A-rated charter schools may draw students from A-rated district schools, all the schools have been forced to step up their game. District schools now offer language and international-baccalaureate programs they might not have otherwise.

In other words, competition from private and charter schools, which is more intense in Miami-Dade than in most Florida districts, may be adding to the school choice “tsunami” in South Florida. Continue Reading →


Florida lawmakers may revive efforts to stop unqualified charter schools

erik fresen


Bills aimed at helping Florida school districts screen people who apply to open charter schools didn’t survive this year’s legislative session, but those efforts may be revived.

During a visit this week with the Broward County School Board (hat tip to the Sun-Sentinel), state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami said elements of this year’s plan would help form the “starting point bill” when lawmakers return to Tallahassee in the fall.

Fresen said he was willing to consider going further in some areas, like requiring new charter schools to post a surety bond before they open. Such a proposal has been floated the past, but some lawmakers worried it could create hurdles for smaller schools. It’s intended to keep school districts from being financially liable for schools that suddenly fold.

“I’m in favor of the concept, because it provides a lot of assurance to a school district,” Fresen said. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Charter schools, PLSAs, budgets and more

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. Duval closes one charter school in a chain of credit-recovery centers. Florida Times-Union.

PLSAs. A Townhall article praises Florida’s Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts. Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog and employs the author of this post, helps administer the program.

Budgets. Florida’s Board of Education approves its funding request. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. The board wants another look at class size rules. Gradebook.

School choice. Palm Beach schools might offer new options next year. Sun-Sentinel.

Testing. Nationwide assessments could truly be up for discussion in Florida. Orlando SentinelBridge to Tomorrow. ACT performance improves in Southwest Florida. Fort Myers News-Press. Scores dip in Brevard. Florida Today.

Campaigns. Former Gov. Jeb Bush takes questions from high school students. Pensacola News-Journal.

Bias. A white teacher says she faced discrimination for associating with black employees. Orlando Sentinel.

Tutors. An organization helps youngsters in Central Florida. Leesburg Daily Commercial.

Failure factories. A Tampa Bay Times columnist calls for apologies.

Special needs. A charity helps siblings of children with autism. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →


Florida Board of Education proposes $70 million for charter school facilities

On the heels of a brief-but-intense discussion of charter school facilities, the state Board of Education is set to take up a draft spending plan that would restore some funding lost this year.

The state board will take up its legislative budget request today as it meets in Gainesville.

The request seeks to boost charter school facilities funding to $70 million — $20 million more than the current state budget, but less than the previous year’s. It also seeks $70 million for building maintenance at district-run schools.

Funding for charter school buildings has stagnated even as the number of schools has grown, which means many of the state’s oldest charters have seen their funding erode. Over the past two years, the state’s Charter School Capital Outlay shrunk from $100 million to $50 million. Continue Reading →