Public school choice could soon become the norm

Public school choice graph

Open enrollment and public school choice have become more widespread in districts covered by Brookings Institution’s Education Choice and Competition Index. Graph via Brookings.

Over the past 15 years or so, a pretty big shift has taken hold in America’s largest school districts. A growing number of students who attend what are still called “traditional” or “neighborhood” public schools are doing so by choice.

The above graph comes from a pair of posts by Russ Whitehurst of the Brookings Institution, who notes the rapid rise of open-enrollment policies and other forms of public-school choice in the country’s largest districts.

[C]hanges over time in the availability of intra-district school choice have been dramatic.iv The graph is based on data my colleagues and I have compiled from a retrospective analysis of school choice in the 100+ largest U.S. school districts, which are the districts that are covered in our annual Education Choice and Competition Index.v Only 24 percent of districts in 2000-2001 afforded parents school choice (20 percent through easy transfers from default schools and four percent through a full-fledged open enrollment process). Today, that number has more than doubled to 55 percent of districts allowing choice. Put another way, in 2000-2001, 75 percent of the nation’s large school districts made it difficult or nearly impossible for a child to attend a public school other than the one assigned based on place of residence. Today that number has dropped to 45 percent.

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Florida roundup: Charter schools, special needs, arts and more

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. Palm Beach school board members rebut the idea they are “anti-charter.” Palm Beach Post.

Special needs. Lawmakers may try to curtail restraint and seclusion. Gradebook.

Arts. A student from a Miami charter school draws praise from First Lady Michelle Obama for her poetry. Miami Herald. Florida art teachers huddle in Naples. Naples Daily News.

Construction. Leon County Schools hire a lobbyist to pursue a school construction project, exposing deeper tensions in the process. Tallahassee Democrat.

Hypnosis. The principal at the heart of a sensational scandal said he was just trying to help students. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Community schools. One could be coming to Gainesville. Gainesville Sun.

Testing. Former state Sen. Paula Dockery weighs in. A new quarterly testing system in Pasco could see changes. Gradebook.

Superintendents. Hernando’s chief accuses the school board of micromanagement. Tampa Bay Times.

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New tensions over Palm Beach charter schools

Tensions over charter schools may be mounting in Palm Beach County.

Last week, the school district set out to overturn a charter school appeal, telling a state court of appeals that school boards have the right to block charters they don’t believe are “innovative.” Now, the Palm Beach Post reports it’s denying other charter school applications — citing a lack of innovation among other issues — and drawing the attention of statewide charter advocates like former state lawmaker Ralph Arza.

“The law says you have to have clear and convincing evidence to deny [a charter application],” said Arza, now spokesman for Florida Charter School Alliance. “They are finding ways to deny charters and in doing so they are becoming ground-zero for anti-charter school action.”

The district has denied other applications, including 15 this year. In 2013, the district received 33 applications and denied 17. The following year 22 applied and none were approved, said Jim Pegg, the director of the district’s charter school office.

But not until December, when Charter Schools USA asked to build a seventh campus in the county, did the board deny an application based on its lack of offering an innovative program. After the state sided with the company, the district appealed in court. A ruling could take two years, Pegg said.

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Florida roundup: Charter schools, athletics, autonomy and more

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. Charter Schools USA appears poised to win approval for four new schools near Tampa. Tampa Bay Times. Palm Beach rejects a series of charter school applications, highlighting tensions. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel.

Athletics. The perennial legislative debate on high school sports could return on multiple fronts. The Buzz.

Growth. Orange County discusses future campus plans. Orlando Sentinel.

Testing. Panhandle-area superintendents question state assessment results. Pensacola News-Journal. Groups try to push Gov. Rick Scott into the fray. Naked Politics. Orlando Sentinel. A Pasco school district analysis shows results closely track student demographics. Tampa Bay Times. How will testing turmoil affect former Gov. Jeb Bush? Associated Press.

Hypnosis. Victims of a Sarasota principal share bizarre stories. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Sea World. References to the theme park are removed, then restored, on the state Department of Education website. Orlando Sentinel.

Autonomy. Legislation could give some district school leaders more freedom to innovate. Education Week. Continue Reading →


More districts vie for Florida charter school collaboration grants

Florida education officials are growing the pool of school districts that could soon get extra money to recruit and collaborate with “high-impact” charter schools.

School districts in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties won state grants last year to bring national charter school networks into their most disadvantaged neighborhoods. A third, Broward, applied for the money, but the school board there ultimately voted to reject it.

This year, another district could get up to $2.5 million in federal and philanthropic money to attract a top charter school operator.

This year, the state Department of Education invited seven districts to submit competing proposals for round two. Broward could give the grant a second look. Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Orange and Hillsborough County school districts are also in the running. Districts were chosen based on size and need. To be eligible this year, they needed to have 20 or more schools graded D or F.

So far, Orange, Hillsborough and Polk have said they’re interested (see the breakdown below, taken from p. 28 of this presentation to a state House panel).  Continue Reading →


Common schools and the fear of diversity

Horace Mann

Horace Mann (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The first-ever state supreme court ruling finding charter schools unconstitutional continues to stir debate all over the country, and has inspired some choice opponents to raise questions about other charter school laws, including the nation’s oldest.

While there is little reason to think the Washington State Supreme Court’s legal reasoning could spread to many other states, it is the latest illustration of how an idealized past that never was continues to create barriers to a 21st-Century education system.

Opponents try to cast a romantic vision of free, universal public education as a foil against school choice, relying on a mythical conception of “common schools” that has rarely squared with reality.

Getting American common schools to serve all students required more than a century of political turmoil, countless lawsuits and no shortage of attempts — from Dust Bowl-era California farm towns to the Freedom Schools launched by the Civil Rights Movement — to create separate educational opportunities for religious and ethnic minorities who were excluded from, or under-served by, traditional public school systems.

In many ways, the fight for inclusion and equity continue to this day.

“[P]eople too frequently forget that those schools were at different times not open to blacks, religious minorities, or, until the 1970s, students with special needs and disabilities,” Andrew Rotherham and Richard Whitmire wrote in a recent piece for The 74.

Common schools were first popularized in the mid-1830s by Massachusetts education reformer Horace Mann. The idea spread through out the U.S. over the next few decades during a time when anxiety over waves of immigrants, many of them from Ireland and other predominately Catholic countries. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Charter schools, magnet schools, discipline and more

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. Lawmakers discuss automatic closure, recruitment of top operators, rural charter schools and more.  Sun-Sentinel. A Broward charter school fires teachers en masse. WPLG.

Magnet schools. Technical glitches delay a magnet-school survey in Pasco. Gradebook.

Private schools. Educators launch a small private school in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood. Miami Herald.

Discipline. Pasco acknowledges racial disparities and vows to address them. Tampa Bay Times.

Testing. How much is too much? Gradebook. Educators, officials and advocates grapple with how to score state tests. Orlando Sentinel. Miami-Dade’s superintendent is appointed to a national assessment board. Naked Politics. Superintendents prepare a show of force at the next state Board of Education meeting. Gradebook.

Teacher quality. Incentive pay continues at troubled Duval schools. Florida Times-Union. National Teachers Day was Oct. 5. Miami Herald.

Accountability. Alachua’s superintendent quits a state panel to protest school grading issues. Gainesville Sun.

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Can Florida’s rural communities support charter schools?

While charter schools have proliferated in Florida, nearly a third of of the state’s school districts, most of them rural, don’t have one — a fact that got attention from members of a state House panel discussing charter school legislation.

State Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, wanted to know whether home education and virtual schools were more popular with parents who had fewer charter schools available (maps of state data support this idea in some places; in others it’s less clear).

Since districts without charters tend to be rural, parents looking for other options could face a long drive to a neighboring county, said state Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach. She wanted to know if the state could use one of its grant programs to lure charter schools to communities where none exist.

“We’ve got 22 counties that don’t have their first charter school,” she said, and then asked “if there’s a way that we tailor something for those counties… so that we can incentivize and grow choice in counties where there is none.” Continue Reading →