Parents, school choice and economics 101

There’s a strain of thought in the school choice movement that market forces alone won’t be enough to improve public education.

Harvard University economist Joshua Goodman recently explained how he came to this view.

Competition improves supermarkets, restaurants — why shouldn’t this model apply to schools? It seemed to me that anyone who denied this idea didn’t understand basic economics.

But the more I read, the more I realized that the empirical evidence for choice and market forces improving educational outcomes is thin at best. I found that disappointing and also puzzling, and I have spent some time thinking about why that theory doesn’t match current reality.

Here’s what I think the biggest problem in thinking of schools as a classical market. Econ 101 models assume consumers observe product quality. But schools are complicated goods, and quality, particularly a school’s long-run quality, is hard to judge for many parents. It takes a lot of time to figure out whether this school and these teachers are serving my child well. Unlike restaurants or supermarkets, where quality can be judged at the moment of the purchase, school quality reveals itself later.

In other words, sometimes, parents don’t know best, at least when it comes to judging school quality.

This week, at the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s annual gathering in Washington, Checker Finn of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute argued this point from experience.

“I’ve seen way too many charter schools full of kids, with happy parents, in which the student achievement results are in the tank,” he said. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Federal inquiries, funding, report cards and more

florida-roundup-logoFederal inquiries: The federal government is launching yet another investigation into the way black students are treated by the Pinellas County School District. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights will look into a complaint filed by the Southern Law Poverty Center that contends the district disproportionately disciplines black and disabled students. In April, the Office for Civil Rights began an investigation of the district’s assignment of students by race into gifted programs, and whether black students were given equal access to district resources. Tampa Bay Times. The Office for Civil Rights has also opened an investigation into a claim that the Bay County School District failed to evaluate several students’ eligibility for special education services, The inquiry will be added to an existing one filed in 2012 that accuses the district of disproportionately disciplining minority students. Panama City News Herald.

Funding squeeze: Key state senators say they remain committed to public education, but funding will be tight as resources are stretched. They told the Florida School Boards Association on Thursday that their priorities for this legislative session are higher teacher pay, less testing and added accountability measures for choice programs. Tampa Bay Times. The Central Florida Public School Boards Coalition issues a 10-point legislative agenda. The coalition, which includes school officials from 13 central Florida districts, is asking for more local authority over funding from the state, and to restore state funding to 2007 levels. Bradenton Herald.

Report card fail: Florida grades poorly on how it provides online data to parents, according to the Data Quality Campaign’s Show Me the Data study of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Florida makes its information available in English only, requires parents to make three or more clicks on district websites to view report cards, and doesn’t include all the information required by the federal government. Florida did have the most up-to-date data online. Gradebook.

Bush on reform: At the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s annual conference, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush calls for massive changes in federal education funding and policy. He urged cutting federal requirements on state and local education decisions and allowing increased school choice. redefinEDThe 74Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →


Jeb Bush: Time to shake up education policy



The incoming Donald Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress have a “real opportunity to bring wholesale disruption in education in America,” Jeb Bush told a gathering of education reformers in Washington. And, he said, he hopes they seize it.

Speaking at the start of the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s annual conference, the former Florida governor said the 2016 elections, in which he came up short in a bid for the Republican presidential nomination, reflected a loss of faith in core American institutions, which need to be dramatically reinvented.

When it comes to education, he said, Congress and the new presidential administration should tap into that hunger for change.

“I hope there’s an earthquake as it relates to education funding and education policy,” he said. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Top superintendent, school choice and more

florida-roundup-logoTop superintendent: The Orange County School District’s Barbara Jenkins is named the state’s superintendent of the year at the Florida Association of District School Superintendents and Florida School Board Association conference. Jenkins became superintendent of the Orange school district in 2012. The district won the 2014 Broad Prize for Urban Education and the Governor’s Sterling Award in 2014 and 2015 for performance and efficiency. Orlando Sentinel.

School choice tool: A new state website is now available that allows parents to compare schools to find the best matches for their children. is a project from the Department of Education to make performance data about schools easily available online. The launch comes as districts are preparing to deal with a new state law that allows students to enroll in any school with a space for them. redefinED. Orlando SentinelWFSU. WTXL.

School recess bill: The chairman of the House education committee says he is open to considering a bill that would require daily recess in elementary schools, even though he opposed a similar bill last year. Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, did not like a provision in last year’s bill that said recess could not be withheld for punitive reasons. The new bill filed by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, does not include that requirement. Miami Herald.

Immigrants and tuition: State Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, files a bill that would cut off in-state college tuition rates for undocumented students. The measure giving in-state resident rates to those students who attended a Florida high school for at least three years before graduating passed the Legislature in 2014. Miami Herald. Tampa Bay TimesPolitico Florida. Continue Reading →


Will a new tool support informed school choice in Florida?

To make meaningful school choices, parents need useful information about school performance – information that’s often buried on government websites and hard to find.

The Florida Department of Education is trying to address that problem. This week, it unveiled a new online tool that allows parents to compare school performance data and read up on their options.

The new site, a joint project with the Florida Education Foundation, will likely break down some, but it all, of the information barriers parents might face when they try to pick a new school for their child.

“I commend the department for responding to the needs of Florida’s families with this informative, intuitive and transparent website, and I look forward to its continuous development,”  state Board of Education chair Marva Johnson said in a press release.

There have been lots of efforts — local and national, public and private — to help parents make informed school choices. Some cities, like New Orleans and Washington D.C., have created unified enrollment systems that allow parents to apply to all public schools in their geographic area. Their online choice applications also include school performance data, and studies have found parents do use that information.

But in many cases, school performance data is incomplete or not connected to other information parents might need to select schools for their child. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Recess bill, teacher bonuses, seat belts and more

florida-roundup-logoRecess bill filed: A bill has again been filed in the Legislature to require daily recess in Florida’s elementary schools. Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, filed SB 78, which would require 20 minutes of “supervised, safe and unstructured free-play recess” every day for K-5 students. A similar bill died in the Senate last year. Miami Herald. Florida Politics. A Pinellas County School District survey indicates about half the county’s elementary schools have unstructured recess on days without a physical education class. Gradebook.

Teacher bonuses: In August, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart was asked by the State Board of Education to present an alternative to the Best and Brightest teacher bonuses program. Stewart has yet to present that plan, which the board is hoping to offer the Legislature as an option to the current program that gives bonuses to teachers based on evaluations and college entry exam scores. Gradebook.

School bus seat belts: Florida is one of just six states with a law requiring the use of seat belts on school buses. But several loopholes complicate enforcement of the law, say experts. WKMG.

No job for Pons: Former Leon County School Superintendent Jackie Pons will not be returning to a job with the school district. Rocky Hanna, who defeated Pons in the Nov. 8 election, says the policy that allows former elected officials to return to a district job does not apply to Pons. It was adopted in 2013, and Pons left his job as a principal to become superintendent in 2006. Pons’ lawyer says they are weighing their options. Tallahassee Democrat.
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Two generations of school choice advocates: Virginia Walden Ford, podcastED

virginia-walden-fordTwo of Virginia Walden Ford’s children went to public schools and thrived. They had access to mentoring programs and classes that nurtured their talents. But it was the experience of her youngest child, William, that led her to become a school choice advocate.

In middle school, he started to show signs of academic struggles. At the same time, drugs and gang activity were on the rise in the family’s working-class neighborhood in the nation’s capital.

“I always said I would never lose my kids … to the streets, but I knew that if I didn’t do something, then the possibility that this child would not succeed was right staring me in the face,” Ford says.

She found a private scholarship that allowed him to enroll at Archbishop Carroll High School, where he started doing better “almost immediately.” He told his mother that, for the first time, he felt surrounded by adults who cared about his education almost as much as she did.

“That was my first time realizing that if a child is an environment that meets his needs, then he will thrive and he will excel,” Ford says.

That’s the kind of turnaround story Denisha Merriweather can relate to. She changed her own academic trajectory after enrolling in a private school with the help of a Florida tax credit scholarship. On the latest edition of our podcast, she talks with Ford about using her own experience to advocate for educational options in the political arena.

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Florida schools roundup: Mixed testing results, new rules for schools and more

florida-roundup-logoMath, science testing: Florida eighth-graders have improved their performance in math and science testing since 2011, but still rank below students around the United States, according to a survey of 20,000 students worldwide by Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. Fourth-graders in Florida performed about as well as their U.S. peers. Orlando Sentinel.

New rules for schools: The Obama administration releases final rules on how to measure schools. Standardized tests will continue to be used, but districts may also consider other factors, and compliance is pushed back a year, to the 2018-2019 school year. The practical effect of the change is unclear, with President-elect Donald Trump expected to make wholesale changes to the education system. Washington Post. Associated Press.

Voucher expansion: Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, the new chairman of education policy for the Florida House, says he wants to expand the availability of vouchers for students with disabilities. Almost 6,000 students with various disabilities now use Gardiner Scholarships. Politico Florida.

Contract agreement: The Brevard County teachers union reaches a contract agreement with the school district that calls for an average raise of 1.8 percent. The deal allots a $581 raise for teachers rated highly effective, $475 for those rated effective and $185 for all others. Teachers will vote on the proposed agreement Dec. 9, and the school board will consider it on Dec. 13. Florida Today.

Teachers drop out: More than 10 percent of the teachers who were hired last summer to teach at struggling elementary schools in Pinellas County have already left their jobs. That’s 16 of the 114 teachers hired for the so-called “transformation” schools. Gradebook. Continue Reading →