Everyone’s talking about personalized learning

Sajan George, the founder of Matchbook Learning, gives the closing address at the American Federation for Children’s annual policy summit.

Educators and policymakers at the American Federation of Children‘s annual summit in Indianapolis this week were all speaking in unison about a shift in the classroom that they believe will improve student achievement: personalizing learning to meet the needs of individual students, allowing them to learn at their own pace.

A week earlier, at a separate event, the New Schools Venture Fund Summit sounded a similar theme.

Personalized learning has been a talking point in education policy circles for years. Some skeptics argue that what some people call “personalization,” is really just a new-fangled buzzword for plain good teaching that takes students’ individual needs and abilities into account.

Still, the buzz coming out of education conferences shows how personalized learning has become a focal point for philanthropists and practitioners. During a time of growing ideological division, it is one of the few concepts that still unites disparate wings of the education reform movement.

At the ACF summit, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said customizing learning and considering the “uniqueness” of each student is a critical step in the future of education.

“Students learn in different ways,” he said.

Bush said only one-third of the country’s children are college or career ready — a statistic he said illustrates the urgency of improving education for every child. Continue Reading →


Testing Choice

I get The New York Times. Each morning, it identifies the world’s battlegrounds — military and ideological, political and economic. I discount and forgive its plainly “liberal” bent. If I owned a paper, it would have a tone of sorts.

But there are limits. One, I suggest, is the duty of all media, at an ethical minimum, to recognize, if only to dismiss, plausible arguments on all sides of any public issue. Readers deserve to know the writer’s pre-judgments.

The Times is a collection of heady folk; one expects the best from them. Sadly, along with most of their profession, they have remained silent on the strongest argument for extending to the lower-income parent the same power of choice among all educators that is available, and so precious, to our middle- and upper-income classes.

In April, the Times offered its view on the efficacy of one form of empowerment for the non-rich under the headline: “Vouchers Found to Lower Test Scores in Washington Schools.” The article discussed a study originating from the anti-voucher Obama Department of Education; it found that vouchers for choice of private schools by poor families in D.C. were followed by slightly lower scores on required tests. The Times cited a few concurring studies but strangely failed to note that these reports contradict two dozen other professional analyses.

But that particular form of selective reportage is not the only concern here. Much more troubling is the Times writer’s assumption that test scores are the litmus test for success in school, and that, if scores slightly declined, there would be no justification for letting poor parents make those choices so dear to the rest of us.

The test score infatuation is still widely shared by the media. Historically, it stems in considerable part from the purely economic argument for choice so welcome to the utilitarian minds of the ’60s and even today. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: School sales tax holiday, education bill and more

Sales tax holiday: Gov. Rick Scott approves a three-day sales tax holiday for back-to-school shoppers. It’s Aug. 4-6, and gives shoppers a tax break on clothes, school supplies, computers and computer accessories. Scott also approves a three-day sales tax holiday to buy hurricane supplies. In signing the bill, Scott again criticizes the Legislature’s budget and education bills, but gave no indication of whether he would veto either. Palm Beach PostGradebook. News Service of Florida.

Education bill: Parents of Gardiner scholarship students are lobbying Gov. Scott to sign the education bill, which would greatly expand the program that benefits children with special needs. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the Gardiner scholarships redefinED.

Interim’s goals: Patricia Willis, the interim superintendent for the Duval County School District, says she will focus on improving third-grade reading and graduation rates. Willis, a former deputy superintendent for the district, will run the system until the school board finds a permanent replacement for Nikolai Vitti, who left last week to lead the Detroit school system. Florida Times-Union.

Reading test results: School districts in Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties all show gains in the Florida Standards Assessments reading test for third-graders. Fort Myers News-Press. Continue Reading →


Scholarship parents weigh in on education legislation with Fla. governor

As Florida Gov. Rick Scott weighs the fate of a massive piece of education legislation in the face of a heated public campaign, parents of special needs children have emerged as a key group urging support. They’re advocating for Gardiner Scholarships to help them better afford access to private schools, curriculum, therapy, and other support for their children.

The wide-ranging HB 7069 includes $30 million in additional funding for the scholarships. The state budget, which lawmakers approved separately, would provide $73.3 million next year – the same funding as the current year.

Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer the scholarship program. Step Up administrators report that, as of Monday, 11,029 students have applied for a Gardiner Scholarship for next year. Hundreds, and potentially thousands, of families could be turned away from the program if the additional funding isn’t approved. And many of them have contacted the governor to explain the stakes.

Anna Baumgaertner wrote a letter describing how her seven-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The tumor disrupted her daughter’s working memory. She was labeled as having a mental disability and struggled in school.

With the help of a scholarship, Baumgaertner wrote, “we have been able to provide Zoe with the tutoring, school and therapy she needs to progress at grade level with her peers.”  Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Pre-K report, resegregation, private schools and more

Pre-K access, funding: Florida ranks second in the nation in providing access to pre-kindergarten programs, but just 40th in per-student funding, according to a report from the National Institute for Early Education Research. Florida enrolled about 76 percent of all eligible 4-year-olds, trailing only the District of Columbia, but its per-student funding amount of $2,353 is less than half the national average. Florida also meets just three of the 10 quality measures, the report concludes. Gradebook.

School resegregation: A study by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA contends that the proliferation of school choice programs is contributing to the resegregation of public schools in Florida and the rest of the South. The report says 34.6 percent of Florida’s black students and 32.1 percent of Hispanic students attended schools with 90 percent or more minorities in 2014, when the overall student population was 22.3 percent black and 30.9 percent Hispanic. Florida has one of the highest charter school expansion rates, according to the report. Gradebook.

Private school changes: Historically, private schools were often places where white students went to get away from public schools. Increasingly, that is changing, with many private schools now filled with low-income or disabled students who use scholarships from the state to attend. “The historically unfavored are now being favored, are now being accepted,” says Vernard Grant, director of the ACE Student Success Center with the Association of Christian Schools International. redefinED.

Education bill feedback: A slight majority of Floridians is now urging Gov. Rick Scott to sign the education bill. A week ago, about 75 percent of those who had contacted the governor wanted him to veto H.B. 7069. The change of sentiment is widely thought to be attributed to organized campaigns by school choice advocates. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →


Private schools enroll ‘the historically un-favored’

Private school leaders (Gant, second from left and Grammer, first from right) talk including at the American Federation for Children gathering.

From think tank reports to protests that greeted Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in Indianapolis, a common thread binds many of the most stringent objections to vouchers and other school choice programs.

The arguments go something like this. Private schools don’t serve all students. They exclude vulnerable students. They contribute to racial segregation, and, in the wake of Brown v. Board, hatched voucher-like programs to evade integration.

Leaders of private schools that have begun to enroll tens of thousands of students who use vouchers to pay tuition see things differently. Most private school choice programs are aimed either at low-income students or those with special needs. Turning to these programs to boost enrollment has prompted some private schools to re-examine their identities as exclusive institutions.

“We’re in a new phase,” Vernard Gant, director of the ACE Student Success Center with the Association of Christian Schools international, said during a panel discussion hosted by the American Federation for Children. “Most of the growth that we’re now seeing in the Christian school movement is now happening among this very diverse student population.” Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Reading tests, achievement plan, budgets and more

Reading test results: About 90 percent of the state’s high school seniors who had to retake the Florida Standards Assessments language arts test have failed, according to the Florida Department of Education. Last year the number was 84 percent. Students must pass the test to be eligible to receive a diploma. The nearly 16,000 who failed this year can keep retaking the test until they post a passing score. Gradebook.

Achievement plan approved: The Pinellas County School Board approves a plan to eliminate or greatly narrow the achievement gap between white and black students within 10 years. The plan, worked out between the school district and the Concerned Organization of the Quality Education of Black Students, will also settle a long-running lawsuit over the education of black students by the district. The agreement addresses graduation, student achievement, advanced coursework, student discipline, identification for special education and gifted programs and minority hiring. District officials also have committed to providing quarterly progress reports and responding in a more timely manner with reliable information. Tampa Bay Times.

Education bill: More reaction from various groups, education officials and politicians on the Legislature’s education bill, which has yet to be sent to Gov. Rick Scott for consideration. Once it lands on Scott’s desk, he’ll have 15 days to act. Gradebook. Florida Politics. Politico Florida. Miami Herald.

Trump’s education budget: President Trump’s proposed budget would boost programs of school choice, especially charter schools, and cut spending for special education, teacher development, after-school programs and career and technical education. Associated PressEducation Week. NPR. Continue Reading →


Jeb Bush receives ‘overdue’ school choice award

INDIANAPOLIS – With an award described as “overdue,” a national school choice advocacy group recognized Jeb Bush for his contributions to the movement.

The former Florida governor received the John T. Walton Champions for School Choice award from the American Federation for Children today at its annual gathering.

A past recipient of the award — John Kirtley, the chairman of Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog — said Bush summoned him to Miami shortly after he started a Tampa-based offshoot of the Children’s Scholarship Fund in 1999. The governor recognized that the thousands of parents on the waiting list for scholarships could become foot soldiers in Tallahassee.

That conversation led to the creation of Florida tax credit scholarship program, now the largest private school choice program in the nation, in 2001. Continue Reading →