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Computer coding and course access

Ethan Greenbarg

Ethan Greenberg testifies in favor of a computer science bill.

Florida lawmakers are once again pushing a proposal to expand computer science instruction and allow students to count high school credits in coding as foreign language classes.

A compromise bill that easily passed the Senate last year is back. It easily cleared its first legislative committee Monday. An identical version has been filed in the House.

The debate that still lingers around the proposal highlights the difficulty of giving students access to high-quality computer science courses.

Business and technology groups support SB 104 by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. They’re joined by students like Ethan Greenberg, a sixth-grader from Pembroke Pines. He told the Senate Education Committee he became interested in computer science as he struggled with dysgraphia, which made it difficult for him to recognize letters and numbers. He overcame that obstacle by typing on a computer, and has since started learning to code.

His mother, Ryan Greenberg, joined him testifying in favor of the bill.

“When kids have a choice, they come to the classroom excited to learn and more than likely, will get a good grade in the class they choose,” she said. “This will be an important step forward in our state’s need to integrate technology into our education curriculum.” Continue Reading →

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The next Nevada? These are the states to watch for education savings accounts

Nevada’s universal education savings accounts were the most far-reaching educational choice program ever created, but they suffered a setback earlier this year when the state Supreme Court ruled the funding mechanism unconstitutional.

November elections swept pro-school choice Republicans from power. Potential legislative fixes a likely bargaining chip between Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Brian Sandoval, meaning it’s an open question whether the program will ever get funded.

While Nevada’s fate remains uncertian, educational choice advocates are looking to other states to follow up with legislation that might match its scope and ambition.

There’s no question education savings accounts will be on the agenda in state capitals all over the country next year. They’ve been passed by legislatures in six states and signed into law in five. A total 18 states drafted, studied or introduced ESA bills in 2016, and this fall’s elections may have tipped the political balance for educational choice in statehouses around the country.

Observers and education reform experts gathered in Washington last week for the Foundation for Excellence in Education conference had some ideas for states worth keeping an eye on.

Iowa 

The top choice of Robert Enlow, the president of EdChoice, Iowa already has a tax credit scholarship program.

Iowa lawmakers actually drafted a universal ESA bill a whole month before their Nevada counterparts back in 2015. But despite 24 co-sponsors, the proposal never gained traction. Another ESA bill to create a smaller pilot ESA program for 190 students could only make it out of a subcommittee in the Republican-controlled House.

The November elections may have changed the political calculus. Republicans gained control of the state Senate, and now observers across the political spectrum seem to believe some form of ESA legislation is in the works. Continue Reading →

Another left-leaning case for the new definition of public education

Milton Friedman and his free-market ideas may have been anathema to the political left, but he was right about one thing: School choice.

Daniel Grego, the director of Milwaukee’s TransCenter for Youth and an acolyte of the likes of Ivan Illich and Wendell Berry, made that case in the journal Encounter. His argument, outlined in a 2011 article we stumbled upon recently, is worth highlighting, in part, because it reinforces a theme we’ve explored on this blog for quite some time: The left-of-center appeal of educational choice.

“It is time for people on the left to overcome ‘the nonthought of received ideas’ and admit that giving poor families resources is a progressive public policy,” Grego wrote.

The writer helped lead an ill-fated effort, backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to bring more “small schools” to his city. An article in Milwaukee Magazine said he was intent on ending “the longtime war” between public-school supporters and advocates of the city’s pioneering school voucher program.

And while he wound up sharing Friedman’s conclusions about the benefits of educational choice, he followed a different intellectual path to arrive at that position.  Continue Reading →

Florida’s ‘bottom-up’ move to personalized learning

Florida is making a concerted push toward personalized learning — tailoring lessons more closely to individual students and allowing them to advance through school based on what they know, rather than the amount of time they spent in class.

Other states are, too, but there’s something noteworthy about Florida’s approach: It’s largely being led by school districts.

A state law passed earlier this year gives four districts and one university-based lab school the ability to participate in a pilot program to experiment with personalized learning.

A new report from the Foundation for Excellence in Education looks at personalized learning in three states, and notes Florida is taking a “bottom-up” approach. The law is intended to make way for changes districts are already carrying out, or at least hoping to pursue.

Lake and Pinellas Counties began their experiments a couple years ago, as part of a grant program funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The superintendent of Palm Beach County schools, Robert Avossa, was hired away from Fulton County, Ga., which is also participating in the Next Generation Systems Initiative Grant. The Seminole County school district and P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School are also allowed to participate in the pilot program.

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Home schoolers could help chart a path to customized education

“Blended learning.” “Customized education.” “Student-centered.” It’s hard to write about what’s possible in the future of education without getting stuck in a morass of jargon and buzzwords.

William Mattox of the James Madison Institute has produced a new policy brief that paints a clearer picture of what those mind-fogging terms aim to describe.

Imagine middle and high schools that look more like college, where students set flexible course schedules. Picture community institutions offering individual courses, and parents working with school administrators to create unique educational paths for each child.

Mattox, the director of the Tallahassee think tank’s J. Stanley Marshall Center for Educational Options, writes that these things are already happening at institutions like Circle Christian School, which was founded by a group of Central Florida homeschool parents. It now serves roughly 700 students in multiple locations, and boasts alumni with stories like this: Continue Reading →

Jeb Bush: Information is power for low-income parents

Jeb and Denisha screenshot

Denisha Merriweather interviews former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on school choice, education politics and more.

All parents should have access to “consumer reports” on schools in their area — public or private, magnet or charter — and be able to choose among them. Once their children are enrolled in a school, they should get meaningful updates on how well they’re doing.

It might seem simple, but for too many parents, that’s not how the school system works, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush says in a new interview.

The former Florida governor has returned to his role as chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, and has recently begun outlining a national education agenda.

He sat down recently in his Miami office with Denisha Merriweather, a former tax credit scholarship student, who is now seeking a master’s degree in social work at the University of South Florida. (Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer the scholarship program.)  Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: U.S. graduation rates, retention issues and more

florida-roundup-logoGraduation rates: The U.S. graduation rate hit a record 82 percent in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Education. That’s up three points from 2011, when the department began calculating the rate by the number of students who graduated with a regular diploma within four years. Florida matched the national average with an 82 percent graduation rate. Minority and low-income students also show gains, but continue to lag behind the average. Education Week.

Retention issues: Sarasota School Superintendent Lori White says the problems with retention for third-graders this year is prompted by the difference in the ways parents are dealing with testing. Last year, she says, the parents complained about the state’s standardized testing, and then their children took an alternate test, went to summer school or did more work to bolster a portfolio. This year, a few parents have rejected the options of further testing or submitting a portfolio. Gradebook.

Individualized learning: Patricia Levesque, head of the national Foundation for Excellence in Education and the state-focused Foundation for Florida’s Future, says Florida’s leaders should alter education policies to accommodate individualized learning in schools. Her remarks came at an education summit in Orlando, hosted by the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Politico Florida. Also at the conference, hotel developer Harris Rosen encourages other philanthropists to offer free pre-K and college scholarships in low-income neighborhoods. He has financed such a plan in the Tangelo Park neighborhood for the past 22 years. Politico Florida.

AP computer science: Florida is below the national rate for students passing AP computer science passing the AP Computer Science exam, according to the College Board and the National Center for Education Statistics. Bridge to Tomorrow. Continue Reading →

Choice, competition and the ‘postcode lottery’ in public services

When citizens were offered a choice of providers, and they no longer needed to win a “postcard lottery” to access the best options, public services started to work better. Managers made their operations more efficient. Outcomes improved, but costs actually went down.

At least, that’s what happened when England injected choice and competition into its National Health Service, according to this breakdown of recent research from the American Economic Association (hat tip: Matt Barnum).

If hospitals do not have to compete to attract patients, attention to patient comfort or even the standard of medical care might suffer. A study appearing in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy that earned a 2016 AEJ Best Paper Award looks to data from England and shows that a lack of competition in the hospital industry can be deadly.

In Death by Market Power: Reform, Competition, and Patient Outcomes in the National Health Service (PDF), authors Martin Gaynor, Rodrigo Moreno-Serra, and Carol Propper study a pair of 2006 reforms implemented by the National Health Service (NHS) in England that operates public hospitals which are obligated to provide medical care free of charge to every citizen. The changes were designed to get hospitals competing with each other in the hopes of improving service for patients.

Before the 2006 reforms, every NHS hospital in England … didn’t have to worry about competing with other hospitals for patients. In those days, patients were generally referred to a local hospital by their doctors based on their neighborhood of residence and the arrangements of local agencies that contracted with hospitals for care. Even hospitals operating in dense cities like London and Manchester, with many other hospitals a short drive away, were effectively shielded from competition.

Lack of choice led to complaints of a “postcode lottery” where someone living a few blocks down the street from you who just happened to be in a different district could have access to better hospitals with shorter waitlists and the latest technology.

“Postcode lottery.” The education analogies write themselves. It’s worth considering how the universally available, taxpayer-funded public service provided by schools on this side of the pond might, or might not, be similar to English hospitals.

Among other things:

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