Archive | Education and Public Policy

Charter school issues returning to Fla. Constitution Revision Commission

Next week, the panel rewriting Florida’s constitution could approve one or two charter school-related measures for the November ballot.

The first would free the state Legislature to create new types of charter school authorizers. Right now, courts have ruled only school districts can sponsor charter schools. This makes Florida something of an outlier. Of the 44 states that allow charter schools, 35 allow a statewide board, public universities or other organizations to oversee charters.

The proposal is part of P. 6003, sort of an omnibus K-12 public education measure. In addition to the charter school provisions, it would elevate civic literacy as a state priority and impose eight-year term limits on school board members.

Meanwhile, a second proposal would extend charter-like freedoms to school districts. It would require the Legislature to create a process allowing high-performing districts to apply to the state for “innovation district” status. If approved, they would be able to ask for waivers from certain state laws.

P. 6008 would build on the state’s new principal autonomy and Schools of Excellence programs, which free certain district schools from state education laws. It would also build on the thinking behind a personalized learning initiative, where some participating schools and districts say the state’s existing laws create barriers.

National tests bring celebrations, and some cautions, for Florida’s urban school districts

We’ve written before about the improving results in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, and the potential for improvement in Duval County.

The latest results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show those positive trends continue. But they also show there’s still work to do.

Urban school districts may have shown slightly more improvement than the nation as a whole, where results were largely stagnant.

The three Florida districts included in the Trial Urban District Assessment results provided their share of bright spots. In fourth-grade math, for example, Miami-Dade and Duval were two of just four districts that posted statistically significant score increases.

In both places, disadvantaged students helped drive increases.

Experts caution against using scores like the national assessment results released Tuesday to gauge things like the effects of specific policies or the performance of district leaders. However, the numbers paint a useful picture of how three Florida urban districts are doing.

Miami-Dade feels the love Continue Reading →

School choice bookshelf: Emotions, Learning, and the Brain

Public education exists, in part, to promote healthy human development. Therefore, our efforts to improve public education should be informed by the science of human behavior. Public education is most effective when its processes and systems are aligned with our best understandings of cognition, emotions, motivation, and learning.

Hence, my enthusiasm for Mary Helen Immordino-Yang’s 2016 book, Emotions, Learning, and the Brain: Exploring the Educational Implications of Affective Neuroscience.

Immordino-Yang is a neuroscientist and former public-school teacher who uses brain mapping technology to better understand how our brains work. Her focus in this book is the relationship between emotions, cognition, and learning. Her key finding is that emotions and cognition are inseparable and interdependent. They are two sides of the same coin. Emotions motivate cognition, cognition impacts emotions, and learning is controlled by this symbiosis.

Learning is hard work. It requires purposeful information processing, including attending to information, applying information, evaluating information, and filing information in memory. This level of cognitive effort requires motivation and motivation derives from emotion (and cognition).

As Immordino-Yang writes:

It is literally neurobiologically impossible to build memories, engage complex thoughts, or make meaningful decisions without emotion … we only think about things we care about … without emotion, all decisions and outcomes are equal—people can have no preferences, no interests, no motivation, no morality, and no sense of creativity, beauty, or purpose … emotions are, in essence, the rudder that steers thinking. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Amendments, H.B. 7069, educator bonuses and more

12 amendments proposed: The Style and Drafting Committee of the Constitution Revision Commission has consolidated 24 proposals into 12 amendments that it is recommending for the November ballot. Three education-related ideas — school board term limits, requiring a civics course for graduation and allowing the state to create a new entity to authorize charter schools — are consolidated into a single amendment. The other education proposal, which would allow high-performing school districts to have the same regulatory flexibility as charter schools, would stand alone. The proposals must be approved by the full CRC by May 10. Proposed amendments must be approved by 60 percent of the voters to be added to the state constitution. Miami Herald. News Service of Florida.

H.B. 7069 lawsuit: Lawyers on both sides of the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Legislature’s 2017 education law present their arguments to a Leon County judge and ask for a summary judgment. Those challenging H.B. 7069 say it strips local school boards of their constitutional authority, creates a separate system for charter schools outside local district control and changes the way local taxes are collected and spent. Lawyers for the state say the plaintiffs say provisions of the law are political decisions outside the court’s jurisdiction, and that the plaintiffs don’t have standing to bring the suit. Judge John Cooper did not rule Gradebook.

No bonuses for you: More than 1,000 Duval County educators have discovered that they won’t be getting their expected bonuses from the state under the Best and Brightest scholarship program. A revision in the law limits the bonuses to current classroom teachers, and excludes such employees as academic coaches, deans of students and school counselors, media specialists, psychologists, social workers, specialists and others. The district says it’s in no financial position to step in with payments for those who are missing out. Florida Times-Union.

Continue Reading →

Florida (still) an Advanced Placement course leader

Florida ranks no. 4 in the country for its percentage of high school students who have scored 3 or higher on at least one AP exam. Source: College Board.

Florida remains a leader in pushing high school students toward college credit.

The Sunshine State keeps its no. 4 ranking in the latest report on Advanced Placement courses from the College Board. Only Maryland, Connecticut and Massachusetts had a larger percentage of students pass at least one AP course. And only Massachusetts has made faster improvements over the last 10 years.  Continue Reading →

The messy history of school vouchers, teachers unions and racial segregation

On Martin Luther King Day, it is worth remembering the sacrifices people made to advance equity and desegregate public life in America, including our schools. Unfortunately, some activists have begun exploiting the occasion to retell history.

In the new revisionist stories, modern school choice supporters are close ancestors to the villainous segregationists of the past.

History, of course, is far more complicated. And that’s why it’s worth taking a closer look at some of the scholarship that underpins the misleading narratives about school choice.

Segregationists, it turns out, supported public and private schools alike. And meanwhile, teacher unions in the South ramped up their fights against school vouchers after discovering large numbers of parents used them for reasons other than racial discrimination.

Last year, Duke University historian Nancy MacLean claimed to have uncovered a shocking connection between James Buchanan, a school voucher supporter, and Sen. Harry Byrd’s anti-integration political machine. According to MacLean, Buchanan, a Nobel-winning economist, planted the racist roots of school vouchers by allying with segregationists to pass school vouchers into Virginia law.

A month after MacLean’s book Democracy in Chains was published, the American Federation of Teachers president Randy Weingarten claimed vouchers were the “polite cousin to racial segregation.” Numerous articles began to circulate arguing that school choice and racial segregation were inseparably linked. Continue Reading →

Fla. House panel unanimously backs home education bill

Sullivan portrait


A unanimous Florida House panel approved legislation that would limit requirements school districts can place on homeschoolers.

Rep. Jennifer Sullivan’s bill, HB 731 would also increase homeschoolers’ access to dual enrollment and career education courses.

Sullivan was home-schooled growing up. She said she was inspired to file the bill because of her educational background.

She said superintendents in some school districts are overstepping their authority. The bill comes in response to concerns among parents that districts add hurdles for homeschool registration. That has likely contributed to a decline in homeschooling numbers in some parts of the state, even though statistics show its popularity is growing statewide. Continue Reading →

In memory of Brandon Berman

Brandon Berman

Brandon sat quietly in his wheelchair but grew increasingly agitated as his lawyer, Clint Bolick, answered rapid-fire questions from an aggressive reporter.

His mother, Donna Berman, stood behind him, worrying he might erupt into a fit, or worse, a seizure.

Brandon’s service dog Cody even sensed the frustration and made a noise in defense of his best friend.

“Can we get him out of here?,” Brandon muttered about the reporter.

Another reporter noticed his agitation. “We’ve been trying to get rid of him for years,” he quipped.

Brandon, who had autism, smiled and kept his composure.

Brandon was 16 at the time. He and his mom had come to Tallahassee to attend a hearing for Faase v. Scott. Florida’s statewide teachers union filed the case to halt a 2014 law that expanded the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship and created the Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts (PLSA), a scholarship program for children with special needs.

After years of struggles in public and private schools, Brandon and his mom felt the new program finally offered a path to an education that would work for him. They, along with other parents and students, jumped into the lawsuit to come to its defense.

Lawyers for the teacher unions claimed tax credit scholarships were their primary target. Brandon and other children using PLSAs were simply “collateral damage.” The two programs were linked in a sweeping piece of legislation the union argued violated the state constitution.

Brandon, his fellow intervenors, and the state’s lawyers ultimately prevailed.

Their win set the stage for a series of other legal victories for Florida’s school choice programs. The infant program they helped defend has blossomed into the nation’s largest education savings account program. It’s now called the Gardiner Scholarship, and it supports more than 10,000 students with special needs.  Continue Reading →