Can scholarships reverse the decline in New York Catholic school enrollment?

From Supreme Court justices to pop stars, from civil rights advocates to the leader of the largest public-school system in the nation, New York City’s Catholic schools have a long history of educating a diverse group of students — many of whom have grown into pillars of the black and Hispanic communities.

A new report warns that, due to declining enrollment and a “crisis” of school closures, that tradition is now at risk.

While there are multiple causes for the decline in Catholic school enrollment – including upwardly mobile immigrant populations moving to suburban communities, changing attitudes among Catholics regarding public schooling, fewer clergy and members of religious communities to staff schools, increased Catholic school operation costs, and an increase in tuition-free alternatives such as the growth of tuition-free public charter schools – a major factor in the decline has been lower- and middle-income households increasingly unable to afford tuition.

In New York, an array of private scholarship foundations has sprung up to try to tackle that last factor: The fact that low-income and working-class families often struggle to afford tuition at private and parochial schools. Continue Reading →


The week in school choice: Equal opportunity?

If you believe in American meritocracy, here’s some depressing news.

Even poor kids who do everything right don’t do much better than rich kids who do everything wrong. Advantages and disadvantages, in other words, tend to perpetuate themselves. You can see that in the above chart, based on a new paper from Richard Reeves and Isabel Sawhill, presented at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s annual conference, which is underway.

Specifically, rich high school dropouts remain in the top about as much as poor college grads stay stuck in the bottom — 14 versus 16 percent, respectively. Not only that, but these low-income strivers are just as likely to end up in the bottom as these wealthy ne’er-do-wells. Some meritocracy.

Here’s an urban superintendent who wants to do something about it:

Superintendent Antwan Wilson delivered his annual State of the Schools speech at Oakland High School Tuesday night. In it, he highlighted the Oakland Unified School District’s recent successes as well as challenges ahead, and called on Oakland to come together to break the “sorting machine,” or the historic system Wilson said was “specifically designed to sort those who needed a real education from those who didn’t.”

“The sorting has always been done in a way … that hurts children of color, children whose families are poor or don’t speak English,” said Wilson.

Mass. Hysteria

Charters in Boston used to enjoy broad bipartisan support; now the debate is becoming increasingly polarized. The Democratic state House speaker supports lifting the cap. Boston’s mayor opposes doing so.

Teachers unions account for a whopping 99.4 percent of campaign contributions aimed at keeping Massachusetts’ charter school cap in place.

Question 2 offers the clearest test to date of whether it is possible to build popular support for robust charter-school growth in a deeply blue state.”

A parent explains her “very private choice” to enroll her child in a charter, and then later to withdraw.

Both sides do it: Clearing up two widely distorted aspects of Massachusetts’ charter school debate.

Meanwhile… Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Turnarounds, elections and more

florida-roundup-logoTurnarounds. An elementary school fell from A to F over a period of several years. Now teachers and new administrators are determined to turn it around. Pensacola News-Journal. The Lakeland Ledger goes inside a turnaround school. The Polk County School Board has scheduled an update on school turnaround plans. Ledger.

Teacher certification. State lawmakers eye certification requirements as school districts grapple with teacher shortages. WUSF.

Crowding. District officials say Alachua County public schools are “bursting at the seems.” A new elementary school may be in the works, but construction funds are scarce and a tax referendum is on the ballot. Gainesville Sun.

Campaigns. “Islamic charter schools” become a talking point in a Panhandle state House race. Panama City News Herald. In a contested bid for re-election, Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, faces attacks over his charter school connections. Sun-Sentinel. State Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, pledges to file a “couple of bills” related to standardized testing as he campaigns for re-election. Panama City News Herald. Bay County’s superintendent faces a rematch with the candidate he unseated to win the post. Panama City News Herald. Both candidates go negative in a Manatee County school board race. Bradenton Herald. A Boy Scout leader squares off with an educator for a Palm Beach County School Board seat. Palm Beach PostContinue Reading →


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 Public Education 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 →