Author Archive | Patrick R. Gibbons

For 83 years, a North Fla. private school helped black students excel

Far from the public eye, a North Florida private school for black students survived for 83 years against the odds.

From its humble beginnings as a log cabin in 1868 until its closure in 1951, Fessenden Academy endured thanks to the grit of the students and the entrepreneurial verve of its leaders. Over the decades it fought to preserve its academic identity, won praise for the achievement of its students, weathered the mysterious disappearance of a key leader and survived to become one of the longest-lived educational institutions of an era when missionary aid societies and wealthy industrialists swooped in to fill a void left by the public school system.

Its achievements were all the more remarkable given that a crucial part of its mission — the education of black children — was not only neglected by the public, but made difficult by politicians seeking to enforce racial segregation and white supremacy. And yet, it successfully courted the support of the some of the same public officials who oppressed similar institutions during the Jim Crow era.

Florida's state constitution of 1885 erased the gains black Floridians made following the Civil War and constructed a single-party state built on the idea of white supremacy.

Although it’s not always considered part of traditional Dixie, racial tensions ran high in Florida and life for black residents was harsh. According to Historian David H. Jackson Jr., there were more lynchings per person in Florida between 1880 and 1930 than anywhere else in the South.

White residents, hostile to the idea of using tax dollars to provide an education for black students, were slow to build public schools for the black community. They fought to keep tax dollars from black and white residents segregated.

Florida's first elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, William N. Sheats, wrote racial segregation into the state's constitution. Over the course of his tenure, he forbade public schools from hiring teachers educated at racially integrated colleges, labored to shut down Florida's first desegregated private school and ordered the arrest of three Catholic sisters for the crime of teaching black students.

More than a third of the 20th century would pass before a majority of black students in Florida had access to a public school. Religious aid societies like the American Missionary Association (AMA) and wealthy benefactors stepped into that void to provide black students an education while the political majority would not.

This is the story of Fessenden Academy, a private school in rural Marion County, Florida, that educated black students for 83 years and became the last secondary school in the United States operated by the AMA.

From humble beginnings

Union School, as it was originally called, began in a humble log-cabin constructed entirely by local black families and financed by Thomas B. Ward in 1868. Continue Reading →

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The longer students keep vouchers, the better their results

Results in Louisiana and Indiana’s voucher programs took a step in the right direction this week, with the release of one study and the leak of another.

Voucher critics made the two large statewide school choice programs into targets over the past year. Studies looking at just a few years’ worth of data found students fell behind their public-school peers on reading and math tests after accepting a voucher to attend a private school.

The drip-drop of negative findings countered what had been a steady stream of studies showing private school choice programs didn’t harm — and sometimes helped — student test score gains. A gathering narrative argued vouchers harm student achievement.

The new Indiana and Louisiana results reflect students’ progress over a longer time period. And they call that narrative into question.

They show voucher students who remained in private schools for a few years eventually caught up to their private school peers. Some even posted achievement gains over time.

This highlights a consistent trend in other voucher studies, including a recent re-examination of voucher data from Washington D.C. When students leave public schools to accept private school scholarships, they tend to lose ground initially. Over time, their test scores get better as they adjust to new schools.

Schools take the time to adjust to new students, too. Private schools in much of Louisiana and Indiana had to figure out how to serve an influx of low-income and working-class students who couldn’t previously afford tuition. And sometimes schools have to adjust to new standards, tests or regulations that come with scholarship programs.

The new results have drawn predictable reactions from teachers unions and school choice advocacy groups. They might not bring a clear-cut victory for either side of the debate. But they lend fresh credence to arguments from people like Lousiana School Superintendent John White, who argued partisans should give vouchers time to work before jumping to conclusions about their academic impact.

 New years of data

Indiana’s low-income voucher students see positive outcomes in reading and no difference in math after four years, according to updated findings that still have not yet been formally published. They were first divulged on public radio by Professors Mark Berends and Joseph Waddington and later released by Chalkbeat.

As with previous research, the authors found a decline in student performance in the first year. But they also found as years go by, student achievement in private schools begins to climb.

“The longer that a student is enrolled in a private school receiving a voucher, their achievement begins to turn positive in magnitude — to the degree that they’re making up ground that they initially lost in their first couple of years in private school,” Waddington stated in an interview with NPR. Continue Reading →

Florida’s private schools are growing at a faster rate

Florida’s private schools saw their biggest enrollment growth in 15 years.

Enrollment grew by 22,525 PreK-12 students in the 2016-17 school year. That’s a 6.5 percent increase over the previous year and the second-highest enrollment growth since 2000. According to the new report from the Florida Department of Education, private school students now make up 11.6 percent of all preK-12 students in Florida.

Enrollment ranged from 0 students in rural Liberty County to 76,022 in Miami-Dade. Continue Reading →

The price of liberty is vigilance

Wendell Phillips. Source: Wikimedia.

“External vigilance is the price of liberty, power is ever stealing from the many to the few,” said American abolitionist Wendell Phillips in a speech in 1852.

Sadly, at least when it comes to school choice, my fellow libertarians and conservatives appear to have misplaced their priorities while standing vigilantly against the encroachment of bad government.

Lindsey Burke, a policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, worries that “furthering federal entanglement in the funding of education through new federal programs would be unsound and would come at the expense of state, local, and parent decision-making.”

Max Eden, a scholar from the Manhattan Institute, worries that a federal program would prohibit scholarship organizations from setting aside funds for specific schools or groups. “This restriction would not only limit donor interest to well under $20 billion a year,” he wrote. “It would also exert pressure on existing state programs to drop their moral mission and conform.”

Free-market conservatives and libertarians have retreated on school choice, leaving Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and President Trump alone holding the banner for a federal program.

Their worries would make sense if the Trump Administration were still contemplating a $20 billion voucher initiative. But there’s good news. Recent headlines suggest the more likely path to federal school choice would a tax credit scholarship program. This is an approach to school choice that relies on private, voluntary contributions rather than direct government subsidies.
Continue Reading →

Arizona is the next Nevada, so who is the next Arizona?

Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona signed a universal education savings account (ESA) bill into law Thursday night, making Arizona the second state to pass a universal ESA program.

However, Arizona may be the first state to actually implement a universal ESA as the Nevada Supreme Court struck down the Silver State’s funding mechanism last year. ESAs in the Grand Canyon State have already survived a constitutional challenge.

Although the program is theoretically universal, with 1.1 million students in the state eligible, it will allow only limited growth until it reaches a cap of 30,000 students by 2022. Continue Reading →

Annotating Think Progress

Today we are trying something new: annotating an article from a different blog, using Genius. Click on the highlighted portions below to read our comments on the article. You may need to have pop up blockers turned off to view the content. We these offer comments to correct the record. The original post can be read here.

Why the racist history of school vouchers matters today

By Casey Quinlan
Policy reporter at Think Progress

President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with his pick for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during a rally, in Grand Rapids, Mich., Friday, Dec. 9, 2016 CREDIT: Paul Sancya

President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with his pick for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during a rally, in Grand Rapids, Mich., Friday, Dec. 9, 2016 CREDIT: Paul Sancya

On Monday, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren wrote a scathing letter to President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, questioning whether she had the expertise to run the department. Among Warren’s many criticisms of DeVos’ record — her unknown views on many aspects of higher education and civil rights issues, for example — Warren also mentioned the “racially charged history” of voucher programs.

Warren wrote:

 After Brown v. Board of Education and the court-ordered segregation of public schools, many Southern states established voucher schemes to allow white students to leave the education system and take taxpayer dollars with them, decimating the budgets of the public school districts. Today’s voucher schemes can be just as harmful to public school district budgets, because they often leave school districts with less funding to teach the most disadvantaged students, while funneling private dollars to unaccountable private schools that are not held to the same academic or civil rights standards as public schools.” Continue Reading →

School choice growth accelerates in Florida; 1.6 million students choose

Changing_Landscape_2016_v4_Final

The changes in Florida’s educational landscape show no signs of slowing.

On the contrary, more than 1.6 million preK-12 students enrolled in school choice programs during the 2015-16 school year. School choice enrollment increased by more than 74,000 – nearly the same amount as the previous two years combined, according to an analysis of Florida Department of Education data.

Although 45 percent of all preK-12 students in Florida choose schools outside their neighborhood zones, the two most widely used forms of choice are offered by public school districts.  

Enrollment in choice and magnet programs increased dramatically, taking the top spot from open enrollment. Charter schools grew by 19,000 students and are vying with magnets to become the most popular public-school option. Continue Reading →

The missing history from the DeVos debate

betsy

Betsy DeVos.

Critics of Betsy DeVos’ nomination as Secretary of Education have promoted a narrative that she is a free-market ideologue opposed to all education regulations.

But a step outside the shadow of the dysfunctional Detroit education system and a look at DeVos’ advocacy for private school choice paints a more nuanced picture.

A paper trail left by DeVos, and the advocacy foundations she led until recently, reveals a history of supporting choice programs that create academic, administrative and financial accountability for organizations that fund scholarships and schools that accept them (see page 24-25). She has also pushed private school choice programs to prioritize disadvantaged students.

“We target programs that are specifically geared to answer the needs of low-income parents and students,” she said during a 2015 interview.

These stances have sometimes triggered conflict with other groups that support vouchers and other forms of private school choice, but favor a more laissez-faire approach. School choice critics often omit differences of opinion that sometimes arise among voucher supporters. While these conflicts tend to be relatively minor in the scheme of things, they highlight competing philosophies and strategic approaches that shape the school choice movement.

A debate over tax credit scholarship reforms during Georgia’s most recent legislative session provides a telling case in point. Continue Reading →