Archive | March, 2011

Bill revamping teacher contracts gets fast-tracked in Florida

UPDATE: Senate passes SB 736 by a 26-12 margin, with one Democrat voting in favor and two Republicans in opposition.

The Florida Senate and the Florida House Education Committee are currently debating a closely watched measure to revamp the way teachers are evaluated, paid and — perhaps most significantly — how they’re fired. The Gradebook, an education blog from the St. Petersburg Times, has an update here.

What Rick Scott and Barack Obama have to say about education

No one would identify Florida Gov. Rick Scott as a philosophical soul mate to Barack Obama, but Scott’s remarks on education during last evening’s State of the State address bore many similarities to the State of the Union and another recent speech Obama gave in Miami during a visit with Jeb Bush. His 450-word passage on “an education system full of new energy” seemed almost Obama-like. He spoke to the importance of revamping the way we evaluate teachers and increasing the number of charter schools — both of which are touchstones of Obama’s education agenda.

Notably, Scott stayed away from his more controversial ideas for school vouchers, and he was silent on the subject of virtual education, which he called “a critical component of the future education” during his campaign. There’s nothing to indicate that Scott will soften his ambitions to expand school choices, including private options, but it’s interesting to compare his remarks on education with those of the president. Continue Reading →

The State of the Sunshine State

Florida Gov. Rick Scott will deliver his first State of the State speech this evening, and whatever he may say about education, political observers in the Sunshine State already are calling this legislative session one of the most consequential, and controversial, for public education.

Michelle Rhee has visited the state several times, in part to encourage legislators to pass Senate Bill 736, Florida’s latest effort to revamp teacher contracts and evaluations. SB 736 is already on the Senate’s calendar, and lawmakers are seeking to remake the educational landscape with bills that would facilitate universal vouchers or a widely expanded array of online educational opportunities. All this would spark a volatile debate without the governor’s proposal to cut 10 percent off the per-pupil formula paid to public schools to help bankroll operational costs. The state must close a $4 billion budget gap.

RedefinED will have updates on these and other measures as the Legislature convenes during the next couple of months. This is a list of bills we’ll be paying attention to: Continue Reading →

Coming back to freedom of choice, 46 years later

While defending his sponsorship of Pennsylvania’s proposed Opportunity Scholarship, state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams has been known to draw parallels between opponents to school choice and the demagogues who blocked the advance of the civil rights movement. But there have been an increasing number of critics who blanch at the analogies, most recently from Kevin Ferris at The Philadelphia Inquirer. Ferris acknowledges that “education is indeed a civil right” and he supports the educational options that would result from the Opportunity Scholarship. “But voucher opponent does not equal Klansmen,” he writes.

That may be a harsh indictment of Williams, who hardly appears ready to adorn his political adversaries with a white hood, but it raises a fair question in our discourse over education reform: Is it appropriate to resurrect the history of the civil rights movement and relate its struggles to today’s effort to establish more educational alternatives for disadvantaged children?

The name of the Rev. H.K. Matthews may not be as familiar as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in history books, but Reverend Matthews is well known in the Southeastern United States as a pioneer in the movement who led the first sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in the Florida panhandle and was jailed 35 times during the process. He also marched with Dr. King at Selma, and his achievements have been celebrated and his life story chronicled in the biography Victory After The Fall. But for the past several years, Matthews, who’s now 83, has been active in the cause for school choice for low-income children, calling the effort “a natural extension of the civil rights movement.” Continue Reading →

The mission is personal

Last week, I attended the Black Alliance for Education Options’ annual symposium. It’s a gathering of hundreds of black leaders, activists, educators, students and ordinary concerned citizens who come together to discuss ways they can push for more school choice in their communities. Officially launched in 2000, BAEO wants to increase access to quality education programs for low-income and working-class black children.

By the end of the conference Saturday, I was fully reeducated about why the mission to expand educational options and empower parents was critical to the success of black children.

Not that I should have had to travel to Jersey City for such a lesson. The truth is, I know first-hand how lack of knowledge about and access to good schools and quality education programming can mean the difference between success and failure in life. In fact, I’m currently watching this very thing play out in my own family.

My youngest brother is a smart, bubbly kid who loves to read and has an affinity for video games. He attends a school for gifted and talented children in my hometown of Gary, Ind. Another brother, my sister and I all were enrolled in the same program. It was crucial to our development as the civil engineer, graphic designer and communications professional – respectively – that we all have become. But lately, it’s become clear that this program isn’t right for my youngest brother – he’s struggling in several academic areas. What’s also increasingly clear is that his choices for a quality education elsewhere in his city are severely limited. Continue Reading →

Challenging kids to be owners of their education

RedefinED host Doug Tuthill has commented here on the value of encouraging teachers to become “owners” of their craft, to empower them to become entrepreneurs in a way that harnesses their skills and their sense of enterprise that is difficult to do in the top-down bureacracy of school systems that leave too many teachers as “renters.” Now, the folks at Cooperative Catalyst are weighing whether we’ve done more to create “passive recipients” among students instead of owners:

Are you a learning entrepreneur? Does your school allow you to be a learning entrepreneur? Does the classroom you’re in encourage kids to be entrepreneurs of their own learning? Do you think of your learning as one of the most vital and important aspects of your life? Are you the “owner” of your own learning? Steve Mariotti, the founder and president of the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), an organization that teaches the entrepreneurial skills of business to kids who are not wealthy, and do not go to fancy schools, says the power of entrepreneurship is that it challenges kids to be “owners” instead of outsiders, risk takers and responsible, instead of passive recipients. Since a lot of conventional schools, and traditional instruction still reward passivity and compliance, and encourage kids to accept someone else’s evaluation of them, there is tremendous educational value in owning your own learning. When you own something, you are the creator of it. Instead of being outside, you are the agent, you are responsible, your rewards are commensurate with the risks you are willing to take, and the effort you are willing to make.

A Democrat challenges antiquated beliefs

The time for school vouchers in Pennsylvania has come, writes state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams in an op-ed published today in the capital city newspaper, and it’s time for opponents to let go of the “antiquated belief that existing public school systems have the right of first refusal when it comes to educating our children.”

Williams, a former Democratic candidate for governor, is the co-sponsor of a bill that would provide private school tuition assistance to low-income children. The measure passed a key senate education committee last week by an 8-2 margin, with two Democrats — Williams among them — voting in support.

He explains that support by maintaining what school choice is not:

School choice is not an alternative to public education. It is a vital part of an innovative and productive public education system.

Parents who are financially able to, make choices by moving into good school districts or by sending their children to private school. SB1 would allow low-income families to take the state tax dollars devoted to their child and apply them to the public or nonpublic school of their choice.

It would allow more middle class and working families across Pennsylvania to choose the best schools for their children by expanding the popular Education Improvement Tax Credit, which provides tax credits to companies that donate money for scholarships or educational improvement.

The time for school choice, and yes, school vouchers, has come.

Obama champions Jeb Bush, scorns the educational status quo

Education Secretary Arne Duncan turned heads last winter when he joined former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on a stage in Washington to find common ground in education reform. Yesterday, the governor was joined by Duncan’s boss. And as Duncan did, President Obama went out of his way during a tour of Miami Central High School to congratulate Bush as “somebody who championed reform when he was in office, somebody who is now championing reform as a private citizen.”

What does reform mean to Obama? These passages from his speech speak with more substance than did his highly anticipated State of the Union, and the message isn’t all too distant from his Republican companion:

I say I am not willing to give up on any child in America. I say I’m not willing to give up on any school in America. I do not accept failure here in America. I believe the status quo is unacceptable; it is time to change it. And it’s time we came together — just like Jeb and I are doing today -– coming from different parties but we come together not as Democrats or Republicans, as Americans –- to lift up all of our schools — and to prepare students like you for a 21st century economy. To give every child in America a chance to make the most of their God-given potential.

Now, the good news is we know what works. We can see it in schools and communities across the country every day. We see it in a place like Bruce Randolph School in Denver. This was rated one of the worst schools in Colorado three years ago but last May graduated 97 percent of its seniors. And by the way, most of them are the first in their family to go to college.

We can see it in Mastery Charter School in Philadelphia, where four times as many students are proficient in math, and violence is down 80 percent compared to just a few years ago.

And of course, we can see it right here at Miami Central. A little more than a decade ago, when the state exams started, Miami Central scored a D in each of its first five years. Then it scored an F in each of the five years after that. Halls were literally littered with garbage. One of the buildings here was called the Fish Bowl because it was always flooded. In one survey, only a third of all students said they felt safe at school. Think about that — only a third …

… You are proving the naysayers wrong –- you are proving that progress is possible. It’s possible because of your principal; it’s possible because of all the great teachers that are going above and beyond for their students, including the Teach for America Corps members who are here today. We’re proud of them. To all of the teachers here, I hope you will stay with the Miami Central family as long as you can — because this community has already benefited so much from your teaching and your mentorship and your dedication.