This week in school choice: Arne Duncan’s legacy

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is stepping down, and will be succeeded by former New York state education chief (and charter school founder) John King.

What can we say about Duncan’s legacy on school choice?

He helped the development of high-quality charter schools.

Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, applauded Duncan for his support of charter schools.

“His leadership on behalf of the federal Charter Schools Program has enabled the dramatic growth in the number of high quality charter schools, ensuring that hundreds of thousands more students now have access to better schools regardless of their family income or zip code,” she wrote in a statement.

He wasn’t a voucher supporter.

“He’s gone a lot further than a lot of other Democratic education secretaries on supporting educational options, but he didn’t go far enough,” said Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. “The D.C. voucher program was right under his nose, and he didn’t support it.”

He pushed a politically moderate agenda whose full effects won’t be known for some time.

[E]ducation is an issue where Obama really does split the difference between left and right, supporting charter schools that innovate within the public system but not vouchers for private schools, battling teachers unions while defending their collective bargaining rights. But now his school reforms are under attack from the left and right. And unlike his health reforms, which produced a rapid decline in the uninsured rate, or his energy reforms, which generated dramatic increases in solar and wind power, their impact remains unclear as his presidency enters the home stretch.

U.S. graduation rates are at an all-time high, with the biggest improvements for minorities and the poor. Dropout rates are at an all-time low. Test scores are slightly up, with some of the biggest gains in states that embraced the administration’s approach to reform. Sketchy diploma mills are vacuuming up fewer federal dollars. But even Duncan acknowledges that the hopeful signs are not yet proof that reform is working.

“This is the ultimate long-term play,” he said. “A lot of the results won’t be seen for 10 or 15 years. This kind of work, it’s not about tomorrow’s headline.”

Meanwhile… Continue Reading →


Florida lawmakers look for ways to stop charter failures without creating barriers

In the upcoming legislative session, the Florida Legislature is likely to grapple with an issue that’s come up repeatedly in recent years. How can they stop financially shaky charter schools that suddenly shut down, without creating barriers to legitimate schools?

In a recent interview, Rep. Manny Diaz, who chairs a key panel on school choice issues, said lawmakers are looking for ways to make sure upstart charter schools are financially secure.

“You’re going to have to have a base of support. You’re going to have to have some people involved who can raise some money,” he said. “I think that will eliminate a lot of the issues that we’ve been seeing.”

Next week, Florida lawmakers will have their first discussion about reviving some of the charter school and school choice issues that went unresolved during this year’s legislative session. Tuesday’s meeting of the House Choice and Innovation Subcommittee will offer a first look at what’s to come when the next legislative session starts in January.

An idea that’s been floated in recent years would require new charter schools to secure a $250,000 surety bond or line of credit from a bank. If a school suddenly failed, there would be a financial cushion to ensure taxpayers aren’t on the hook. That concept raised concerns among mom-and-pop charter advocates during a meeting of charter school operators and district authorizers in Fort Lauderdale.

“If this was a requirement when we opened 16 years ago, we would have never been able to open, and we have been a high-quality, high-performing school for 14 years,” Maritza Aragon, the principal of the Youth Co-Op Preparatory Charter School in Hialeah, said. She added that “$250,000 for a nonprofit — a real, small, beginning nonprofit — is unrealistic.”

Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Accountability, teacher quality, polling and more

florida-roundup-logoAccountability. Florida school boards come out swinging on school accountability. Gradebook. Southwest Florida and Bay County superintendents air frustrations. Fort Myers News-Press. Panama City News Herald. Standards, testing and accountability emerge as election issues. Politico Florida.

Testing. Collier, Leon and Wakulla students do well on state assessments. Naples Daily News. Tallahassee Democrat.

Teacher quality. The application period closes on a contentious bonus program. Gradebook.

Legislation. Senate Education Appropriations Chairman Don Gaetz tells a Jackson County Rotary Club he will fight for a local school-construction appropriation and try to revamp the state’s testing and accountability systems. Jackson County Floridian.

Public opinion. Hispanics would rather talk about education than immigration, Julio Fuentes writes in the Washington Examiner. (He is on the board of Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog).

Athletics. Private-school stereotypes aren’t all true. Leesburg Daily Commercial.

Transportation. Bus woes continue in Boca. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →


Making academic progress at an ACE Academy

shawnayShawnay Glenn’s neighborhood school seemed like a good fit as she began her formal education.

Prekindergarten through first grade were good years for the little girl with the big smile, her mother recalled. But by second grade, there were signs of struggle.

“We started getting called in for conferences,’’ Melody Rodriguez said. “I had always heard, ‘She’s wonderful. We love her.’ ’’

But now teachers also were telling her Shawnay was having a hard time with reading and math.

So the single mom devoted more time toward sharpening Shawnay’s skills. They shared books and focused on telling stories to bolster Shawnay’s reading comprehension and memory. They practiced addition and subtraction relentlessly. Still, a third-grade state assessment showed Shawnay wasn’t improving – she was falling further behind.

“And I said to myself, ‘If she’s struggling now, in elementary school, what’s going to happen in middle school?’ ’’ Rodriguez said. “I’ve got to see if I can turn this around.’’

Mother and daughter continued to study together. But when Shawnay started sixth grade, they agreed to try something new. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Testing, accountability, charter schools and more

florida-roundup-logoTesting. The first round of state standardized test results is out. Gradebook. StateImpact. Miami Herald. Sun-Sentinel. Tampa Tribune. Orlando Sentinel School Zone. Palm Beach Post. Fort Myers News-Press. Lakeland Ledger. TC Palm. Bradenton Herald. Gainesville Sun. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Panama City News Herald. Leesburg Daily Commercial. Depending how cut scores are set, more students could fail. Florida Times-Union. Rethinking biology end-of-course tests. Bridge to Tomorrrow. How closely are math scores tied to socioeconomics? Bridge to Tomorrow.

Accountability. Superintendents push legislative changes. GradebookA Palm Beach Post editorial sides with them.

Charter schools. Pitbull’s SLAM charter chain expands into Nevada. Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Special needs. A student with autism goes missing, prompting a district apology. Florida Times-Union.

Discipline. Suspensions drop in Hillsborough. Gradebook.

Parental involvement. Schools highlight the importance of dads. Sun-Sentinel. Orlando Sentinel. Naples Daily News. Daytona Beach News-JournalBradenton Herald. Tallahassee Democrat.

Continue Reading →


Federal education officials call attention to charter school oversight

District annd charter school officials

The Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools hosted a gathering with district officials in Fort Lauderdale.

Florida was not among the states that shared in the $157 million in charter school grants announced this week by the federal government, but the message that went out with the money might still resonate here.

In a letter to state education officials, the U.S. Education Department called for better supervision of charter schools and their sponsors — an issue that’s been getting attention from Florida’s charter school advocates and district authorizing offices.

“Effective monitoring of charter authorizers is critical for both reducing poor management practices and increasing the number of high-quality charter schools operating across the United States,” top federal education officials wrote in their letter.

Improving screening and supervision of charter schools was one of the main topics on the agenda as district and charter-school leaders gathered last week in South Florida. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Blue Ribbons, teacher bonuses, test results and more

florida-roundup-logoAwards. Ten Florida public schools, including six charter schools, win National Blue Ribbon honors. redefinED. Sentinel School Zone. Gradebook. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL.

Test results. The first round of state assessment results comes out today. Gradebook. School Zone. Palm Beach Post.

Teacher quality. Teachers bemoan the deadline to apply for bonuses. StateImpact.

Teachers unions. Santa Rosa’s union responds to debt claims from the statewide association. Northwest Florida Daily News.

School accountability. The Florida PTA weighs in. Gradebook.

Student activities. A Miami Gardens middle school launches a student paper. Miami Herald.

Challenges. Some say schools are pushing too many students into tough courses. Orlando Sentinel.

Termination. A parent complaint could lead to three school employee firings. St. Augustine Record.

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Ten Florida schools — six charters — win National Blue Ribbon honors

Ten Florida public schools won national honors for academic excellence today, as the U.S. Department of Education announced this year’s National Blue Ribbon Schools. See the nationwide list here.

Six of the schools are charters, including one Broward-based school that is part of the Florida State University school system.

Miami-Dade Public Schools also appear to be over-represented, with four of the state’s 2015 Blue Ribbon schools, including three charters.

Two of those schools are run by Academica, one of the state’s largest charter school management companies, which also had a school among last year’s recipients. One of its schools on this year’s list, Mater Performing Arts & Entertainment Academy, is also Florida’s only Title I school to receive the Blue Ribbon honor this year.

Here’s the list of ten Florida schools. Charters are marked with an asterisk. Continue Reading →