Archive | Faith-Based Schools

Islamic schools can have benefits beyond the Muslim community

They’re part of a burgeoning immigrant community that often confronts bigotry and xenophobia. They’ve set up a growing network of academically effective faith-based schools. Those schools, often assumed to hamper their assimilation into American culture, may actually help them become better citizens.

That was the story of American Catholics before the turn of the 20th century. They faced an anti-immigrant backlash and a wave of religious bigotry that inspire Blaine Amendments and spurred the creation of Protestant-controlled common schools.

And it may be the story of American Muslims today, as Ashley Berner, of Johns Hopkins University, and Charles Glenn, of Boston University, argue in The 74:

Muslims in the 21st century are in a position similar to that of 19th-century American Catholics. To the majority culture, their beliefs may seem perplexing and their loyalty suspect, although, according to the Pew Research Center, American Muslims are overwhelmingly “mainstream and moderate” and 82 percent report being satisfied with their lives in this country. Despite the high educational attainment and remarkable economic success of America’s immigrant Muslims and their children, however, some Americans consider their presence a menace. Islamic schools have become a focal point for rumors and vandalism, and some otherwise sympathetic legislators have retreated from supporting school-choice programs because they don’t want to fund Islamic schools.

Such sentiments are intolerant and unwise. Islamic schools constitute a powerful antidote to the alienation from American life fostered on the Internet and by marginalized groups. More than 200 Islamic schools exist across this country, and they are growing in number and adding grades and academic heft each year. Their academic outcomes have not yet been explored in depth, but if they continue to provide high-quality instruction and robust character education, we should expect to see a new version of the “Catholic school effect.”

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The week in school choice: New opportunities

It’s National School Choice Week, and everyone’s celebrating — including 1.6 million Floridians.

Yet the politics of school choice are getting weird. A Senate confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos spawned countless memes, talk of fake gaffes and questions about her grasp of education policy details. Democrats like Al Franken and Maggie Hassan backed charters while panning vouchers. A committee vote’s been delayed one week and Democrats have formally asked for more question time. Some of her policy positions remain unclear, but some observers think her opponents were more interested in political theater than getting substantive answers. Opposition to her nomination may be intensifying among the usual suspects, but key Republicans remain on board. Are Democrats waging a foolish crusade against her? Some progressive education reformers express consternation about collaboration with President Trump’s administration. Other reformers argue it’s time to seize new opportunities.

The DeVos take you might not have read, but definitely should: The African-American roots of Betsy DeVos’ education platform.

Conservatives say they won’t abandon their federalist principles to promote school choice. DeVos says she doesn’t want to force vouchers on unwilling states. Rep. Luke Messer says congressional Republicans don’t, either.

In other words, for all the national political noise, the school choice movement’s biggest fights will still be at the state level.

Speaking of which … how about some good news?

For the first time in nearly 30 months, the nation’s largest private school choice program — one of DeVos’ favorites — is no longer under legal threat. Parents are overjoyed. And now, a similar policy may be in the works at the federal level.

Still speaking of which … big things are brewing in Nebraska. And universal tax credit scholarships are in the works in Arkansas.


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Florida schools roundup: Bathroom rights, discipline, sit-in protest and more

florida-roundup-logoBathroom privileges: Several Florida school districts will be watching closely when the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in the case of a transgender Virginia student who was denied the option of using the bathroom of the gender with which he identifies. Those arguments will be in February or March. The Marion County School District requires students to use the bathrooms of the gender they were born with, and Sarasota County officials have called a federal directive outlining bathroom use by transgender students “government overreach.” WUSFWLRN.

Discipline for teacher: A state administrative law judge says a teacher should be disciplined, but not fired, for urging a student not to come out as transgender. The Lee County School Board had recommended last year that Angel Villanueva, a Junior ROTC instructor at East Lee County High School, be fired for his remarks to the student and about students’ sexual preferences. The issue now goes back to the Lee County School Board for review. News Service of Florida.

Sit-in protest: Several students hold a sit-in protest at Terry Parker High School in Jacksonville to demand that an African-American studies course be expanded to a full year and be worth a full credit. The course now lasts a semester and is worth a half-credit. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says the district is considering the requested changes, and the protesting students will not be disciplined. Florida Times-Union.

New superintendent: The Lake County School Board approves a four-year contract with newly hired Superintendent Diane Kornegay. She will be paid $195,000 a year, and could earn another $35,000 based on her performance and student achievement. Kornegay’s goals for her first 100 days are to improve the relationship between the school board and the superintendent, build public trust, and evaluate the district’s financial, instructional and operations plans. Daily CommercialOrlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Bullying, union election spending and more

florida-roundup-logoSchool bullying: Parents and experts say bullying in schools is a far bigger problem than reported. National figures indicate 1 in 5 students have been bullied during the last school year. In Orange County, the number is 2 in 5, according to the report. But the official Orange County district numbers are 1 in 637. Statewide, the number is 1 in 806. One expert says there’s a “disconnect” between the amount of bullying that’s happening and the number of incidents reported. Orlando Sentinel.

Union election spending: The Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, has spent about $2.7 million on state legislative races. That’s about double the amount spent by those who support tax credit scholarships and voucher plans. FEA president Joanne McCall said: “This is not about Republican versus Democrat. This is about us versus them: public schools versus vouchers [and] for-profit charter schools.” Politico Florida.

Contract negotiations: The Hillsborough County teachers union and the school district reach a tentative agreement on a contract. All teachers would get a $200 cost-of-living payment, and teachers at the top of the pay scale would receive another $200 bonus. About a third of teachers will also get their previously scheduled $4,000 raises. The deal still has to be approved by union members and the school board. Gradebook.

Preschoolers sickened: Twenty-one preschoolers at Ave Marie Friends Preparatory School in Lauderhill are hospitalized with intestinal distress Monday. Food poisoning is suspected. The district is investigating. Sun-Sentinel. Associated Press. Continue Reading →

School choice scholarship helps earthquake survivor thrive in South Fla.

Shalala Dubuisson was 13 years old when a massive earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010, killing tens of thousands of people and turning her family’s world upside down. The last thing the traumatized teenager needed when her parents sent her to live in America in the aftermath was more turmoil, but that’s what she found in a place that was supposed to be a refuge.

Shalala’s new school in South Florida turned out to be different than her school in Haiti. Less discipline. More disrespect for teachers. And Shalala’s inability to speak English at first made her a target for bullies.

Problems continued in ninth grade, when Shalala began attending her zoned high school in Homestead. That’s when Christina Toussaint, Shalala’s older sister and de facto mom in the U.S., decided enough was enough.

“In less than a month she got into like three or four fights,” Christina said.

Connections within the local Haitian community led Christina to Ebenezer Christian School, a small, orderly school tucked between a shopping plaza and a residential area. She needed to find the right fit for Shalala and also wanted to enroll Chanukah, her 6-year-old sister.

Shalala Dubuisson graduated from Ebenezer Christian School last year and is now attending Miami-Dade College.

Principal Rose Flore Charles, who is Haitian, told Christina and her parents about the Step Up For Students scholarship, a program that gives low-income and working-class families tuition assistance to choose from more than 1,600 schools statewide.

“They could not afford a private school,” Charles said. “It was tough … especially because (Shalala) was very emotional after the earthquake.”

Even a glimpse into Shalala’s backstory makes it easy to see why.

On January 12, 2010, Shalala was staying late for math tutoring in Port-au-Prince when, suddenly, the world shook. She ran out of her school in time to watch half of it collapse.

As the ground continued to shake, Shalala could hear screams. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Florida grad rate lags, legislative leaders and more

florida-roundup-logoGraduation rates: Florida had the eighth-worst graduation rate among U.S. states and the District of Columbia in 2015, according to the White House. The state’s rate was 77.9 percent, its best ever but far behind the national average of 83.2 percent. The rate is measured by the percentage of students who graduate within four years after starting ninth grade. Orlando Sentinel.

Education leaders: New leaders for the Florida Senate and House mean new appointments after the election for legislators who will help set education policy. Here are some of the candidates to push education bills when the Legislature convenes in March. School recess, testing and choice are expected to be hot topics. Tampa Bay Times.

Superintendent search: The Sarasota County School Board is weighing the recorded opinions of the community as it prepares to select a new superintendent at today’s meeting. The finalists are Todd Bowden, the executive director of Career, Technical and Adult Education for the district; Brennan Asplen III, St. Johns County deputy superintendent; and Mark Porter, Monroe County superintendent. Superintendent Lori White is retiring in February. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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Florida schools roundup: Common Core, school threats, SAC funds cut and more

florida-roundup-logoCommon Core: National support for the Common Core State Standards has fallen to the lowest level in five years, according to a report iEducation Next, a journal published by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Program on Education Policy and Governance. Only about 42 percent of those polled support the standards, down from 90 percent in 2012. The report also shows that support remains as high as ever for testing, charter schools, tax credits to support private school choice, merit pay for teachers and teacher tenure reform. Sunshine State News.

School threats: School officials struggle to stay ahead of rumors and social media when it comes to online threats made against schools. Tampa Bay Times. Parents of students at Coral Springs High School are questioning how a former student could get on campus with a loaded gun. District officials say the school does not have a limited access single point of entry, which they plan to address with proceeds from an $800 million bond referendum, but there are no guarantees that it can’t happen again. Sun-Sentinel.

Money for SACs cut: The Hillsborough County School District has cut funding for school advisory committees, saying it has run out of money for the programs. SACs help districts put together improvement plans and vote on how to spend school bonuses. Tampa Bay Times.

Opt-out and election: Members of the Opt-Out Florida Network create a voter guide outlining candidates’ positions on state testing, and are campaigning for those who also oppose the state’s use of the Florida Standards Assessments. WFSU. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Closings, makeup days, rookie teachers and more

florida-roundup-logoSome schools still closed: Communities along Florida’s east coast are recovering from the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew last week, and schools in several districts remain closed today. Florida Times-Union. WJCT. WJXTWJAX. Florida TodayPalm Beach Post. WFTV. St. Augustine Record. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Fernandina Beach News-Leader. TCPalm. Palm Coast Observer. WWSB. The National Guard is helping get schools ready for the return of students. Associated Press. Palm Beach County School Superintendent Robert Avossa says the district will come up with a new half-day plan for possible use in future emergencies. Avossa drew some criticism last week when he declined to cancel the scheduled half-day Wednesday as Matthew was approaching the coast. Avossa said the logistics of arranging for buses would have been impossible. Palm Beach Post. Miami-Dade students are helping with hurricane relief efforts for Haiti. WSVN.

Makeup days: Some students may not have to make up the days lost when Hurricane Matthew struck last week. The state requires schools to have 180 days of classes, but that can be cut to as few as 170 if school districts have enough extra time built into their days. Sun-Sentinel. In several central Florida counties, makeup days are already scheduled. Orlando Sentinel.

Rookie teachers: Hillsborough County school officials are struggling to correct the longstanding problem of low-income schools having the least experienced teachers. An analysis shows that the district’s seven designated “Elevate” schools have low-income rates of 88 percent or higher, and 11 percent to 47 percent of the teachers are starting their first year. At several other schools with low-income rates ranging from 11 percent to 24 percent, first-year teachers make up 5 percent or less of all teachers. Tampa Bay Times. The Pinellas teachers union and the school district collaborate to provide mentoring to first-year teachers. Tampa Bay Times. Twelve percent of all public school teachers are in their first or second year, according to an analysis of U.S. Department of Education data. Education Week. Continue Reading →