Massachusetts charters, evidence and school choice politics

Will the evidence on school choice ever change the politics? Right now, Massachusetts is putting that question to the test.

Nationally and in Florida, the evidence on charter schools is mostly mixed. Studies show they generally raise student’s test scores at about the same rates as traditional public schools, though they do it with less money. Research looking at how well charter school graduates do later in life is also hardly clear-cut.

But in Massachusetts, it’s a different story. Studies have found Boston charters are more effective than traditional schools at raising student test scores by a wide margin. A new study published by Brookings Institution shows charter school students in Boston do better than their peers in traditional schools by a wide range of measures, and are more likely to make it to college.


The urban results don’t carry into the suburbs and rural areas of Massachusetts, where charter schools don’t perform as well. But right now, voters are considering a referendum to raise a cap on the number of charter schools in the state. And the Brookings authors (Sarah Cohodes of Columbia Teachers College and Susan Dynarski of the University of Michigan) note that the cap does not currently limit charter growth in rural and suburban areas. In other words:

Massachusetts’ charter cap currently prevents expansion in precisely the urban areas where charter schools are doing their best work. Lifting the cap will allow more students to benefit from charter schools that are improving test scores, college preparation, and college attendance.

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Florida schools roundup: Superintendent jobs, suspensions, testing and more

florida-roundup-logoSuperintendent jobs: Duval County School Board chairwoman Ashley Smith Juarez says she asked Superintendent Nikolai Vitti to resign because she thinks his plan to gradually close the achievement gaps between white and minority students is too timid. “To accept these results is to accept the racism that has plagued our district for decades,” Smith Juarez says. “That is unacceptable.” Florida Times-Union. The list of candidates to become Sarasota County school superintendent is narrowed to four: Todd Bowden, Andrew Rynberg, Mark Porter and Brennan Asplen III. All work in Florida. Current Superintendent Lori White retires in February. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WFLA.

Suspension options: Pinellas County school officials are considering options to further reduce out-of-school suspensions for elementary school students. Among the proposals: detentions, student work details, Saturday classes and having parents shadow their children at school. The district’s suspension rate (suspensions as a percentage of total enrollment) was 8.6 percent two years ago and fell to 5.2 percent last year, but officials want to lower it further. Tampa Bay Times.

Testing optional: Almost 900 colleges and universities no longer require applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. Sunshine State News.

Bright Futures: The state’s Board of Governors is considering extending the Bright Futures scholarship program to cover summer classes. The proposal is getting a push from Gov. Rick Scott, who thinks it will help students graduate from state universities in four years. News Service of Florida. Associated Press.

Contract negotiations: The Polk County School District proposes no pay raises for teachers this year. Union officials say they are disappointed, and will make a counteroffer. Negotiations continue Sept. 30. Lakeland Ledger. Bay County teachers will get raises and bonuses this year under a preliminary agreement between the district and the teachers union. Panama City News-Herald. Continue Reading →


One man’s war on Florida’s desegregated schools

Black and white students at Industrial class. Orange Park school, 1898. Clay County Archives.

Black and white students in industrial class at the Orange Park school, 1898. Clay County Archives.

“We do not refuse anyone on account of race,” Orange Park Normal and Industrial School principal Amos W. Farnham wrote to William N. Sheats in the spring of 1894.

In a letter to William N. Sheats, Florida’s top education official, Farnham described a faith-based institution in Clay County that was racially integrated 60 years before Brown v. Board of Education. Black and white students went to chapel, ate meals and learned together. Boys at the school, he wrote, “play baseball, ‘shinney,’ marbles and other games together.”

Those words would soon spell trouble for the school, its students and its teachers.

Sheats, who would later be hailed as the “father of Florida’s public school system,” was an unrepentant segregationist and racist who launched an 18-year campaign to destroy the upstart school. His staunch opposition to racial integration fueled a decades-long crackdown on dozens of schools — many of them private institutions run by religious aid societies. It also inspired laws that subjected Florida to national ridicule and dashed hopes of racial progress after Reconstruction.

Known as the Sheats Law, a Florida statute barring black and white children from being taught in the same school was struck down in court, 120 years ago next month.

A school with a mission

Orange Park Normal and Industrial School was founded by the American Missionary Association (AMA), a protestant abolitionist society, with a mission to educate the children of freed black slaves.know_your_history_final

The school took its name from the surrounding town, an enclave of northern transplants just south of Jacksonville on the banks of the St. Johns River. It first opened its doors to 26 students, including 16 boarders, in October 1891. By the fall of 1892, its enrollment swelled to 116 students.

The school provided a primary education for grades 1-8 as well as teacher training, vocational training and college preparatory coursework for older students in grades 9-12. In addition to typical courses of the day such as grammar, rhetoric, mathematics and calisthenics, the school also taught music, stenography, typing, agriculture, botany, horticulture, wood-working and printing. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Anti-violence plan, superintendent’s job and more

florida-roundup-logoSchool violence: The Miami-Dade School District becomes the first in the country to implement the Sandy Hook Promise in all its schools. It’s a violence-protection program started by parents who lost children in the Newtown, Conn., elementary school massacre in 2012. It emphasizes social inclusion by reaching out to isolated students, and trains students and staff to see warning signs. Miami Herald.

Superintendent’s job: The chairwoman of the Duval County School Board member asks School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti to resign or face termination at a meeting Friday, according to Vitti. He says he won’t quit. Chairwoman Ashley Smith Juarez has accused Vitti of not being truthful with the board. She also has criticized the district’s performance on state exams, and says Vitti’s goals for improving those scores are not aggressive enough. Florida Times-Union.

CPR training: Orange County students are now being required to take CPR training before graduating. The training will be provided during a physical education course or another required course. Orlando Sentinel.

Impact fees: A Lake County commissioner urges the school board to waive part of the school impact fees on builders. Leslie Campione wants the board to reduce the fees on homes built within two miles of existing schools in established neighborhoods. Doing so could cost the school district about $1 million a year. Orlando Sentinel. Daily Commercial. Continue Reading →


The demise of the neighborhood school in South Florida

“Neighborhood schools could soon be a thing of the past,” the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported this weekend.

As our annual “changing landscape” analyses reveal, choice is becoming the norm in Florida’s public education system. More than four in 10 students choose some option other than their assigned public school; in Miami-Dade County, these choosers now constitute a majority of all public-school students.

The Sun-Sentinel reveals districts are playing a crucial role in driving this trend, and that they’re creating magnet programs and other new options in part to compete with charter schools proliferating in their backyards. Continue Reading →


Lessons from New Orleans on charter school screening

If charter schools are well-vetted before they’re allowed to open, will they be more likely to succeed?

A new review of authorizing in the almost-all-charter, post-Katrina education system of New Orleans suggests: It depends.

Whether they’re trying to rein in charter schools that are likely to fail or aid the growth of high-performing schools, people who care about charter school quality have paid a lot of attention recently to the importance of authorizing.

A policy brief released last week by the Education Research Alliance looks at charter applications submitted to Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to try to see whether the screening of charter applications could predict whether schools were likely to do well.

It finds much of the information prospective charters included in their applications (whether their school would partner with a for-profit company, whether its governing board members had education backgrounds, the number of schools run by the same operator, the number of minutes students would spend in the classroom) seemed to have little bearing on schools’ success, either at having their applications approved, or at raising student achievement once they opened.

One measure examined by the researchers did seem to predict which schools would be approved, and which would later have their contracts renewed: The ratings the school received from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which helped vet charter applications for Louisiana’s state board, and followed up with school visits and interviews of potential school leaders.

The report concludes: Continue Reading →


The week in school choice: The Florida approach

The court battle over the nation’s largest private school choice program isn’t over.

The statewide teachers union wants to bring the lawsuit challenging Florida’s tax credit scholarships* to the state Supreme Court. The legal fight reflects a national divide over civil rights and the future of public education.

The NAACP has historically supported labor groups like the teachers unions. Florida Branch President Adora Obi Nweze said that because not all children can attend a charter school or obtain a voucher, it is not a policy the group can support, according to Politico Florida.

Some self-described lifelong NAACP members strongly disagree.

“The NAACP is on the wrong side of history on this,” said the Rev. R.B. Holmes Jr., a Tallahassee pastor and former president of that city’s NAACP chapter. He describes the nation’s most storied civil rights organization as “a part of who I am.”

This year, the program serves 92,000 low-income children, and more than 1,200 scholarship parents are school district employees. Many of those employees are unionized.

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Florida schools roundup: No homework, school choices, recess drive and more

florida-roundup-logoNo homework: Mandatory homework is out at Henry S. West Laboratory School, a public K-8 in Coral Gables. School officials say students will no longer be graded on homework or penalized if they don’t finish the optional assignments. Principal Barbara Soto Pujadas says the school’s families are overstressed and overscheduled. Miami Herald.

Neighborhood schools: The concept of neighborhood schools is shrinking, as school choice, magnet schools and charter schools give students and their parents more options than the school around the corner. More than 130,000 south Florida students are now in charter schools, which is double the number from a decade ago. And next year, parents can send their children to any public school in the state that has space available. Sun-Sentinel.

Recess for schools: Duval County parents start a petition drive to have 20 minutes of recess every day in every elementary school in the county. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is resisting, saying he doesn’t want to force the requirement on teachers even as he is encouraging them to accept research that says students do better academically if they get free time. Florida Times-Union. Associated Press. Continue Reading →