This week in school choice: Stop generalizing about charter schools

This week, Nat Malkus of the American Enterprise Institute examined the national debate over charter schools:

These political contests hinge on two competing narratives about what charters are and who they serve. Opponents often paint charters as public-privates that skirt public accountability and select the most advantaged students for their schools. Clinton played to that perspective last year, saying, “most charter schools, they don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them.” Supporters often view charters as hope-filled alternatives to traditional public schools for historically disadvantaged students. As Democrats for Education Reform President Shavar Jefferies put it, “In communities of color throughout our country, public charter schools are providing pathways to college and careers that previously were not available.”

And we continued to see new reasons why monolithic national narratives about charter schools make little sense:

Attempts to nationalize the charter school debate inevitably distort the picture of a movement that varies state by state, community by community, and school by school. And they obscure real lessons about how to serve children better under the new definition of public education.

Meanwhile… Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Retention lawsuit, testing penalty and more

florida-roundup-logoFeds reject request: A state judge schedules a hearing today on the lawsuit against the Florida Department of Education’s policy on retaining third-graders who do poorly on the state testing or opt out. The state asked a federal judge to take over the case, but the request was refused Friday. Fourteen parents are suing the state and six school districts, arguing that more factors should be considered if a student doesn’t do well on the test, and that students who are doing well should not need a test score at all. Gradebook. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. WFSU. Orlando Sentinel. Parents in Manatee County who think their child should be retained are told by school officials that there is no formal appeals process for that. Bradenton Herald.

Testing penalty: The company that administers the Florida Standards Assessments testing is refunding $4.8 million to the state for the problems with the testing in 2015. The American Institutes for Research has a $220-million, six-year contract with the state to run the annual language arts and math exams, which help determine school grades. Orlando Sentinel. Miami Herald.

Day 1: Schools open today in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Miami HeraldWSVN. Superintendent Lori White begins her final year when Sarasota County schools open today. White is retiring in February. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Teacher conduct: Administrators at St. Andrews School in Boca Raton are criticized in a report for doing nothing while a teacher had late-night meetings with students and even sleepovers. The report, commissioned by the Episcopal school, was released to parents. School officials have pledged to overhaul their policies. The teacher has not been charged with a crime, but is no longer employed by the school. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel. Associated Press. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Retention lawsuit, Zika uniforms and more

florida-roundup-logoRetention lawsuit: Education Commissioner Pam Stewart is asking a federal judge to take over the lawsuit filed against the Department of Education’s policies on retention of third-graders who do poorly on the Florida Standards Assessments reading test or opt out of it. The state made the request after the state judge presiding in the case said it troubled her that children were being held back after opting out. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker is holding an emergency hearing today on the request. Associated Press. News Service of FloridaPolitico Florida. Opting out of state testing is gaining popularity, but St. Johns County school officials say it’s not an option for their students. Those who choose not to take the tests must have a good cause exemption or take an approved assessment alternative. St. Augustine Record.

Zika uniforms: Zika virus “uniforms” are being handed out to students who attend any of the six schools in or just outside the affected area of Miami. The free uniforms consist of two long-sleeved white shirts and two pairs of khaki pants. The Florida Department of Health is also handing out insect repellent and tips on preventing mosquito bites. Miami Herald.

Contract agreement: The Lake County School Board and the teachers union reach a tentative agreement on a one-year contract. Teachers will receive raises of $1,500 to $2,000, and starting pay will be pushed to $40,000 a year. Daily Commercial. Continue Reading →

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School choice critic says drop the suit, but there’s a catch

It’s time to take the fight over the nation’s largest private school choice program out of the courts and into the policy arena.

That’s what John Romano, a Tampa Bay Times columnist who’s been a leading critic of tax credit scholarships, argues in this morning’s paper.

Florida’s First District Court of Appeal dismissed the lawsuit challenging the program in a unanimous decision Tuesday. The court held that the Florida Education Association and other groups did not have standing to bring the case. Among other things, the three-judge panel found the plaintiffs could not show the program harms public schools, and that the case attempts to address policy issues that aren’t for courts to decide. The lawsuit’s backers have less than a month to decide whether to appeal once more.

Romano writes: Continue Reading →

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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 →

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Florida schools roundup: Recess time, construction, planning and more

florida-roundup-logoExtra recess time: The Miami-Dade County School District adds 15 minutes a week to recess time for preschool, kindergarten and elementary school students. That gives those students an hour of free play time each week. Miami Herald.

Construction planning: Palm Beach County school officials are optimistic that a 1-cent increase in the sale tax will be approved by voters in November, but they’re making plans for construction projects with or without the money the tax will generate. If the tax hike passes, the district will build four new schools and rebuild seven others, and replace roofs and air-conditioning systems. If the tax doesn’t pass, a scaled-back plan will focus on repairs instead of replacements. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

Collaborative time killed: Teachers in Palm Beach County will not be required to attend weekly 90-minute collaborative planning sessions with other teachers, School Superintendent Robert Avossa has decided. Teachers union officials had complained about the time spent on forced collaboration. Palm Beach Post.

Alternative discipline: Highlands County students who commit minor disciplinary infractions will be assigned after-school service work instead of being given in-school suspensions. Among the jobs will be completing assigned work projects and/or helping with school beautification. Highlands Today.

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Report: Florida scholarship students make gains despite disadvantages

Florida’s tax credit scholarship program continues to enroll some of the most disadvantaged students from among the state’s lowest-performing public schools, according to the latest evaluation of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program. After they receive scholarships and enroll in private schools, they keep academic pace with all students nationally, based on their standardized test results.

The report is the eighth annual evaluation of the test score progress, and the second conducted by researchers at the Learning Systems Institute at Florida State University. Researchers examined the reading and math scores of 34,469 students in 1,285 private schools during the 2014-15 school year. Scholarship students in grades 3-10 have been required to take a state-approved nationally norm-referenced since 2006.

The tax credit scholarship program is administered primarily by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog and employs the author of this post. It is the largest private school choice program in the country. Of the 69,950 students who received scholarships during the 2014-15 school year, 67 percent were black or Hispanic , and 53 percent lived in a single-parent household. The average household income was $24,135, or only 5 percent above poverty.

FSU researchers measure academic growth for students by comparing their national percentile ranking for one year to the next. A difference of zero reflects that the student has experienced the same academic growth as all other test-takers. In a finding that aligns with previous evaluations, researchers determined “the typical [scholarship] student tends to maintain his or her relative position in comparison with others nationwide. It is important to note that these national comparisons pertain to all students nationally, and not just students from low-income families.”

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Researchers found that, on average, low-income students who receive Florida school choice scholarships make comparable gains to their peers at all income levels nationally. Source: FTC annual program evaluation.

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Florida schools roundup: Scholarships upheld, retention suit, tax hike and more

florida-roundup-logoScholarships upheld: An appeals court affirms a lower court ruling that the state’s teachers union and other groups do not have legal standing to challenge the program that uses corporate tax credits to issue scholarships to low-income students. The groups claimed the program diverts fund from public schools, but the court ruled there was no evidence of harm. A further appeal is being considered. Step Up For Students, which administers the Tax Credit Scholarship Program, hosts this blog. Associated PressredefinED. Politico. Orlando Sentinel. Pensacola News Journal. Tampa Bay Times. News Service of Florida. WFSUWUSF. Palm Beach Post. Sunshine State News.

Retention lawsuit: A Leon County judge has decided to hold another hearing Monday in the lawsuit against the state’s policy to retain third-graders who do poorly on the Florida Standards Assessments reading test or opt out. A group of parents is suing the state and six school districts, arguing that more factors should be considered if a student doesn’t do well on the test, and that students who are doing well should not need a test score at all. Gradebook.

Sales tax hike: The Osceola County School Board will ask voters on Nov. 8 to approve a half-cent increase in the sales tax to renovate and maintain schools, reduce the number of portable classrooms and upgrade security and technology. The tax would begin in January and is expected to produce about $25 million a year over the next 20 years. Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher bonuses: All Bay County School District employees on the instructional salary schedule are now eligible for bonuses under the state’s Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship program. Before the school board approved the change, employees such as guidance counselors, math coaches and media specialists were not eligible. Panama City News Herald. Continue Reading →

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