Choice history, choice policy

This is the latest post in our series on the progressive roots of school choice.

James Forman Jr.

James Forman Jr.

Credit James Forman Jr. with the best account yet of the center-left roots of the school choice movement. Credit his stint as a public defender for being the spark.

Voucher Left logo snippedForman, now a Yale law professor, said the district “alternative” schools serving his juvenile clients in Washington D.C. 20 years ago were giving them the least and worst when they needed the most and best. He began exploring options like charter schools, only to be told by some folks that school choice couldn’t be trusted because of its segregationist past.

Forman knew about the “segregation academies” some white communities formed to evade Brown v. Board of Education. But he knew that wasn’t the whole story. Among other reasons, he was the son of James Forman, a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the group whose courageous members became known as the “shock troops” of the civil rights movement.

Wait, he thought, recalling stories his parents told him about Mississippi Freedom Schools. Wasn’t that school choice?

“It seemed impossible to me to think that over all of those years, African-Americans had never organized themselves to try to create better (educational) opportunities outside what the state was providing them,” Forman told redefinED in the podcast interview below. “So that was my idea. My thesis was there had to be an alternative history, there had to be a history of African Americans who were not relying on the government and were trying to organize themselves to create schools to educate their children.”

The result of Forman’s research is “The Secret History of School Choice: How Progressives Got There First.”

The 2005 paper traces the progressive movement for educational freedom from Reconstruction, to the civil rights movement, to the “free schools” and “community control” movements of the 1960s and ‘70s. A century before many activists were using the term “school choice,” it notes, black churches were making it happen. Decades before conservative Gov. Jeb Bush was pushing America’s first statewide voucher program, liberal intellectuals were promoting the notion in The New York Times Magazine.

A decade later, “The Secret History of School Choice” remains a must-read for anyone who wants a fuller, richer picture of choice’s beginnings. But Forman, who co-founded a charter school named for Maya Angelou, hopes progressives in particular see the light.

They ignore the history of school choice, and their role in shaping it, at their own peril, he said. Believing, wrongly, that it’s right-wing can result in it becoming just that. If progressives aren’t at the table, he suggested, they can’t bring their values to bear in shaping policy. In his view, it’d be good if they did. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Education commissioner, bonuses and more

IMG_0001.JPGElected commissioner: Support is growing among Republican legislators for a bill that would make the education commissioner an elected, Cabinet-level position again. Many of those legislators see an elected education commissioner reversing the state’s adoption of Common Core standards. Naples Daily News.

Teacher bonuses bill: The Florida House education committee is pushing a bill that will continue paying $10,000 bonuses to teachers who are rated “highly effective” and scored in the top 20 percent on either the ACT or the SAT they year they took the exam. Orlando Sentinel.

No Child Left Behind: A rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act will expand federal intrusion into education, claims Florida Parents Against Common Core, which is joining other national groups in lobbying against the bill that Congress is expected to vote on this week. Sunshine State News.

Top Florida high school: Miami’s School for Advanced Studies – South is the best public high school in Florida, according to the latest rankings by Niche, a company that researches and compiles information on schools. Business Insider.

Ex-superintendent to testify: Wayne Gent, former Palm Beach County schools superintendent, will testify in the extortion trial of Clarence Freeman. Freeman is accused of blackmailing Gent and other school officials for money and favors in exchange for not divulging evidence about misconduct. Palm Beach Post.

System audit: A legislative committee unanimously approves a follow-up audit of the way the Leon County School District has handled past construction projects. Tallahassee Democrat.

School recess push: Polk County parents’ request for recess in elementary school is now in the hands of Superintendent Kathryn LeRoy. Lakeland Ledger. State Impact Florida.

Tuition for undocumented: More than a year after the Legislature approved a bill granting in-state tuition to Florida colleges for undocumented students, not a single college in Northwest Florida has enrolled any such students. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Superintendent scam: A New Jersey school superintendent will be sentenced this week for official misconduct and falsifying documents. James Habel, 58, who lives in Dunedin, Fla., took 105 days of unreported time off in Florida while he was urging teachers and other school officials in Wall Township to cut back on spending. Asbury Park Press.

No school surf club: New Smyrna Beach High School is passing on sanctioning a surf club. Students who recently started the club were hoping a school affiliation would allow them to compete against other surf clubs around the state. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Bus driver honored: Kerra George, the Palm Beach County school bus driver who acted quickly to evacuate 35 students when one of them reported smelling smoke in the bus, is honored by Superintendent Robert Avossa. Palm Beach Post.

School groundbreaking: Lake Worth Christian School students and staff break ground on a $2.1 million expansion of the elementary school in Boynton Beach. Palm Beach Post.

Psychologist penalized: The Department of Education revokes the license of former North Port High School psychologist Harvey Dorey, 45, after he was found guilty of fondling a teenager. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Opinions on schools: Palm Beach County Board member Michael Murgio should acknowledge his role in the school bus crisis at the beginning of the school year. Palm Beach Post.

Student enrichment: More than 1,000 girls are participating in the Girls on the Run of Northeast Florida program, which aims to build self-esteem through running and other after-school activities. Florida Times-Union. Satellite High students place second in the Quaker State Motor Oil national car restoration competition. Florida Today. Students at Chain of Lakes Collegiate High School are designing phone apps and experimenting with wireless electricity to prepare for competitions. Lakeland Ledger. More than 700 Manatee County Technical Student Association members will compete in several events to prepare for the statewide competition. Bradenton Herald. Condiments created by students at Immokalee High School are now being sold at 14 Collier County grocery stores. Naples Daily News.


Constitutional change made New Orleans educational transformation possible

New Orleans. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The recovery and improvement of public education in New Orleans is now a well-known story.

In late November of 2005, the state-created Recovery School District took over most of the city’s storm-ravaged schools and created a nearly all-charter system that has achieved eye-popping results and set off debates that still simmer 10 years later.

The transformation might never have happened if it weren’t for an earlier change that seems all but forgotten, at least among national observers. Two years before Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, a bipartisan coalition championed an amendment to the state constitution, winning support from voters and laying the groundwork for the creation of a new kind of school district.

Does that crucial step — largely missing in discussions whether other places can follow New Orleans’ lead — hold lessons for other places?

In 2003, Louisiana voters approved Amendment 4, with 60 percent in favor and 40 percent against, giving the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) the ability to take over struggling public schools, mostly in the Orleans Parish School District.

Education reform critics often argue the takeover of Orleans Parish schools after the storm was undemocratic and driven by profit motive. While there are legitimate debates to be had about community decision-making, that narrative tends to ignore the level of support the takeover law received from voters and the state Legislature. It also trivializes the profound dysfunction of Orleans Parish public schools, which helped galvanize public support for the change.

When supporters began pushing to amend the constitution, the Orleans Parish School District was a known as a basket case. In 2003, The Advocate‘s editorial board described the district as “a managerial and educational nightmare.” Continue Reading →


Bills could resolve conflict over ‘high-performing’ Florida charter schools

Florida charter schools would be certain to lose “high-performing” status when their letter grades fall below B’s under legislation proposed in both the state House and Senate.

The legislation would clarify an issue at the center of a legal dispute between the state and a Central Florida charter school, decided earlier this month by an appellate court.

Charters with strong academic ratings can receive a high-performing label, which gives them certain privileges. They can expand and replicate more easily. They pay lower administrative fees to school districts. They can enter 15-year charter contracts instead of the usual five.

A 2013 law change required the state education commissioner to review the state’s high-performing charters each year to make sure they still met all the criteria, which include earning at least two A’s and no grades below a B in the three most recent school years.

Right now, 167 of Florida’s more than 650 charter schools are classified as high-performing. The number has risen, even as dozens of charters lost the label due to falling grades.

Last year, Imagine Schools at South Lake was one of 10 schools stripped of high-performing status after their state-issued grades slipped to a C. The non-profit overseeing the school, Educational Charter Foundation of Florida, took the state Department of Education to court.

Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Funding, charters, poverty and more

IMG_0001.JPGSchool spending: Even if Gov. Rick Scott’s K-12 education spending plans are approved, Florida will continue to lag behind more than 40 states in per-pupil spending. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Consultants and charters: A Tampa couple’s consulting firm is being paid $35,000 by the Hillsborough County School District, and the company’s owner is also in line to oversee seven charter schools. The events demonstrate a change in the relationship between the district and charter schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Poverty and performance: A study of Escambia schools by the Studer Community Institute and the University of West Florida finds that 10 of the 11 elementary schools with free- and reduced-price lunch rates above 85 percent were given D or F school grades. Pensacola News Journal.

Foreign languages: A study of Collier County students shows that a majority now speak a language other than English at home. Naples Daily News.

System audit: A state legislator is requesting a follow-up audit of the way the Leon County School District has handled past construction projects. Tallahassee Democrat.

Charter school moving: The Nap Ford Community School, one of Orange County’s oldest charters, is moving from the Parramore neighborhood at the end of the school year. Orlando Sentinel.

School properties: The Renaissance Charter School at Cooper City has been sold for $15.5 million. The Real Deal. Property owned by the Miami-Dade School District in the Design District neighborhood is appraised at $54 million. The school board votes this week on putting it out for bid. Miami Herald.

New school’s model: The new Plantation Key School will be modeled after Boynton Beach’s Galaxy Elementary School, which was ranked in 2014 by one group as the best school in the state. Florida Keys Keynoter.

Autism center: Parents of autistic children are cautiously optimistic about plans to build a public school center for those students in Duval County. Florida Times-Union.

Rallying around school: A neighborhood group has formed Friends of North Shore Elementary in St. Petersburg, trying to convince people living around the school to send their children there instead of choosing a private or magnet school. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher, administrator pay: Average salaries for Marion County teachers, principals and assistant principals continue to lag near the bottom third of the state’s largest school districts. Ocala Star-Banner.

Teacher shortage: Lee County schools are temporarily using 20 exceptional student education teachers to help fill teacher shortages. Fort Myers News-Press.

Teacher academy: The Chain of Lakes Collegiate charter high school in Winter Haven is starting a pilot program for a teacher academy in the spring semester. Lakeland Ledger.

Superintendent search: The Osceola County School Board has a list of nine semifinalists to replace superintendent Melba Luciano, who is retiring July 31. Four of the candidates are from Florida. Osceola News-Gazette.

Transgender reading: The Florida-based nonprofit Liberty Counsel, a religious activist group, threatens to sue a Wisconsin school district that had a story about a transgender girl on its reading list. The district removed it after the threat. New York Daily News.

Sexting penalties: The state’s new sexting law gives law enforcement more options for penalties. Officials say sexting is a problem in high schools and middle schools, and the new rules allow for “teachable moments.” Tampa Bay Times.

Testing cut scores: The State Board of Education is weighing the arguments for settling on a grading scale – also commonly called cut scores – for the Florida Standards Assessment. The board will vote in January. Palm Beach Post.

School zoning: A series of proposed Broward County school boundary changes – and two in particular – have some parents angry. Sun-Sentinel.

School sidewalks: The Lake County Commission is moving ahead with 10 sidewalk projects in Eustis, Mount Dora and Leesburg. Parents of school children have complained about the lack of sidewalks around schools. Daily Commercial.

Opinions on schools: It’s time to consider smaller school districts. Orlando Sentinel. The State Board of Education should set the Florida Standard Assessment test cut scores at levels that will eliminate the gap with NAEP proficiency levels, writes Dominic M. Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch. TCPalm. A referendum for Palm Beach County schools will be a hard sell. Sun-Sentinel. High school students need a broad base of math and science to keep their college and career options open. Bridge to Tomorrow. The Duval County School Board and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti need to work out their differences. Florida Times-Union. School achievement is more than a test score. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Collier County students’ required economics with financial literacy course reflects the new financial literacy standards for high school. Naples Daily News.

School, teacher settle: The Collier County school district will pay $32,500 as part of a settlement to a former teacher who claimed retaliation after she alleged the system was misusing federal grant money. Naples Daily News.

Teacher loses in court: The Florida Supreme Court rules that the statute of limitations does not apply in the case of a former Bay County school teacher accused of “misconduct in office by a public officer or employee.” He was originally charged in 2012 with several counts of sexual misconduct with minors between 2001 and 2006, but the charges were changed to the more general misconduct in office, which has a longer statute of limitations. Panama City News Herald.

Teachers in trouble: A teacher at Centennial High School in Port St. Lucie has been arrested and accused of sexual battery on a student. WPBF.

Student enrichment: Florida International University and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science are collaborating to set up a science education program in Miami-Dade preschools. FIU News. Brooks DeBartolo Collegiate High School in Tampa is one of 335 U.S. high schools selected as a 2015 National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. Tampa Tribune. Orange County schools receives a “silver level district” award from the Florida Green School Network for promoting environmental sustainability. Orlando Sentinel. Jackson Middle School in Titusville gets a grant for a mentoring program. Florida Today. Students in Volusia and Flagler counties are changing their lives and the lives of others through giving. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Eight Braden River Elementary School students are chosen for the All-State Elementary Chorus. Bradenton Herald.


Pausing to give thanks

Thanksgiving greetings

Our blog will be off through Monday morning for Thanksgiving. We hope you have a chance to relax and spend time with friends and family.


Recapping our guest series on testing and educational choice

testing and choiceOver the past two weeks, we’ve aired six perspectives on testing and school choice.

We can’t claim to have found all the answers, but we hope our contributors have raised some important issues in ways that go beyond the usual talking points.

  • As Jacqueline Cooper explains, testing can yield vital data on school performance, and help ensure schools meet the needs of students they have historically short-changed. And, as Mike Petrilli notes, it’s crucial for even light-touch regulators to root out the worst schools, which can be especially harmful for low-income families.
  • But, as Jason Bedrick outlines, regulators need to have humility when it comes to judging school quality using tests alone, or imposing mandates that could drive some high-quality schools away from choice programs. An over-reliance on testing can be burdensome for schools, as Jane Watt describes, drawing on her experience as a charter school founder.
  • Tony Bennett proposes a sort of middle ground: giving schools and districts a choice of a few, relatively lightweight tests that measure students’ progress toward college- and career-ready standards. That, he writes, could give educators more flexibility.
  • As Tom Vander Ark shows, it’s time to start thinking about a new approach to testing and accountability that can change the current debate. Lightweight assessments and real-time data on can be useful to teachers, and may eventually usher in the “end of the big test,” but those ideas are still a ways from becoming reality.

Continue Reading →


A ‘really special’ school, plus some extra help

Note: This student spotlight originally appeared on Step Up For Students’ “Stepping Beyond the Scholarship” blog.  Step Up For Students is also host of redefinED.

Liam Thomas has Down syndrome and benefits from weekly occupational and speech therapies. But the 9-year-old whirl of energy wants to do what other kids do at school like walk down the hall with friends, eat lunch in the cafeteria and sit at his own desk.

He gets all of that and more at Morning Star School, a small, private Catholic school in Pinellas Park that serves students with special needs.

“He loves it!’’ said Liam’s mom, Stacey Thomas, a licensed speech therapist who discovered the school while interning as a graduate student.Stacey and Liam family photo

Because of his disability, Liam qualified for the Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts (PLSA) through Step Up For Students. The state-funded program works like an educational savings account, letting Liam’s parents choose how to spend the additional dollars – on average, about $10,000 a year per child – from approved options.

Liam’s scholarship covers Morning Star’s annual $9,850 tuition and another $855 in dues and fees for books, technology, speech evaluations and more. Money left over can go toward future expenses, including college. Families are eligible based on their children’s need, not household income. Continue Reading →