Archive | Parent empowerment

Tuthill: Ownership leads to outcomes in public education

Doug Tuthill is president of Step Up For Students, which helps administer the nation’s largest private school choice program (and co-hosts this blog).

(Below is an edited version of a talk Step Up For Students President Doug Tuthill gave to the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Prosperity Summit on May 3, 2018, in Orlando, Florida. The words have been modified slightly for length, clarity and focus. Step Up For Students also publishes redefinED.)

Let’s start with the good news. Public education in Florida has never been better. The most recent results from the Nation’s Report Card showed Florida students leading the country in Reading and Math gains.

Now the bad news. While Florida’s low-income students lead the nation in reading, only 25% are proficient. We look good because the rest of the country looks so bad.

We all understand the power of ownership. No one washes a rental car before returning it. Unfortunately, public education today turns too many adults and children into renters. We need to move from a system that disempowers and alienates too many adults and children, to one that empowers and engages them.

The Florida tax credit scholarship program our nonprofit helps run illustrates the importance of empowering families, students, and educators. We give scholarships to Florida’s lowest-income, lowest-performing children to attend a private school or a public school in another district. The scholarships are worth about 60 percent of what we spend to educate children in district schools, and yet we’re seeing good results.

Once on scholarship, these low-income students keep up with all students nationally on standardized test growth, and, if they are on scholarship for four or more years, they are 40 percent more likely to attend college. Choice leads to ownership and ownership produces better results. And in the case of our scholarship, better results for much less money.

There are several reasons why our public education system is so poorly designed, but two key historical reasons stand out. First is the hostility Protestants felt toward Catholics in the early days of the Republic. Second is the batch production revolution in manufacturing that occur in the late 1800s. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: March, Hope operators, security, CRC and more

Student activism: Hundreds of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, parents and teachers are traveling to Washington, D.C., for the March For Our Lives rally Saturday. Another 800 or so marches calling for stricter gun laws are planned in cities around the world, and more than a million people are expected to participate. Miami Herald. Associated Press. Other Florida students will take part in local ceremonies. Sun-SentinelOrlando Sentinel. Gradebook. Palm Beach Post. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Bradenton Herald. Naples Daily News. Florida Today. Fort Myers News-Press. TCPalm. Five Stoneman Douglas students who have become national figures in the #NeverAgain movement to change gun laws make the cover of the April 2 Time magazine. Sun-SentinelMiami Herald.

Schools of Hope operators: Two charter school companies apply to become Florida’s first “Schools of Hope” operators. Somerset Academy, which recently took over the Jefferson County School District, and the Texas company IDEA Public Schools were approved by the Department of Education, and the Florida Board of Education votes on their applications Tuesday. Hope operators get a streamlined process to open schools in areas with persistently low-performing schools, and access to low-cost loans for facilities and grants to pay for things such as longer school days. redefinED.

School security: The Miami-Dade County School Board is considering a pilot program giving schools the option of requiring students to wear clear backpacks. Miami Herald. Hendry County schools will require students to wear clear backpacks for the 2018-2019 school year, but Charlotte and Lee counties will not. WZVN. Charter schools are struggling to find money for school security. There’s no road map for agreements between local public districts and charters on finding guards for schools, who those armed guards will be, or who will pay for them. redefinED. The Sarasota County School approves spending more than $1 million beyond what it will receive from the state to place armed law enforcement officers in each of the district’s 21 elementary schools. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Monroe County School Board is considering asking voters to approve a tax increase to pay for police officers in schools. Key West Citizen. At a town meeting, Hillsborough County parents quiz school officials on what’s been done and what’s being planned to keep students safe. School officials say their plans hinge on funding. Complying with state laws will create a $16 million deficit in security costs for the district, they say. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →

Does parental authority ‘work’?

A friend has sent me a long article from The Wall Street Journal of Jan. 29. It was a report on the Milwaukee school voucher program, now approaching middle age. Roughly 25 percent of the districts’ children attend private schools, most with public help in the form of vouchers for low-income families seeking transfer from their assigned “public” school. The article’s declared intention was to determine the system’s success, bearing the end-all headline: “Do Vouchers Work?”

The answer, we are told, would depend solely upon the test scores of children in chosen private schools compared to one another and to assigned government schools. No other measured success was even suggested. Citing various reports, the authors conclusion was that scores among chosen voucher schools correlate with the degree of social class mix in the student body. That is, they go up when the proportion of a school’s pupils from poor families stays below some level, elusive but real; when disadvantaged kids dominate the scene, scores tend to drop.

Continue Reading →

Army of choice parents is growing in strength

Parents in their orange “parent power” shirts gather outside the Miami-Dade County School Board.

Though 1.7 million students in Florida now choose their schools, their parents’ voices are sometimes ignored by policymakers. We at the Florida Parent Network are changing that, and a new partnership promises to strengthen our army.

The new pact, which combines the organizing and communications efforts of the Florida Parent Network, the Florida Charter School Alliance and Charter Schools USA, breaks new ground in the parental empowerment movement.

In other states, the movement is often splintered between those who advocate for private school scholarships and those who support charter schools – and, for that matter, those who take advantage of other educational options. This agreement signals that Florida is taking a different path.

To date, the Parent Network has drawn primarily from those who choose three different private school scholarships that last year served 139,00 students with economic disadvantage and special needs. FPN has now joined forces with charter schools, which 280,000 students chose last year. Continue Reading →

Fla. House advances wide-ranging education bill

The Florida House has combined a wide range of education initiatives into a single bill, triggering an intensely partisan debate over the future of public education.

The revised HB 7055, approved this morning by the Appropriations Committee, adds components the House has debated elsewhere to an already-substantial education bill.

Among other things, the initial bill would:

  • Allow school districts to create new “autonomous” public school networks.
  • Create a new scholarship program to help attend public-school students who struggle with reading*.
  • Tighten oversight of private school choice programs.

Some key additions include: Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: A call for reform, teacher pay, KIPP and more

A call for reform: Legislators and local school officials are calling for better oversight of private schools that get millions of dollars from the state’s three scholarship programs. A series in the Orlando Sentinel last week detailed how some of those schools hired uncertified teachers with criminal backgrounds and submitted falsified fire reports for years without the state taking action against them. State Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, remains a supporter of the tax credit, Gardiner and McKay scholarships, but agrees that “there’s some place between no regulation and over-regulation.” Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner scholarship programs. Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher pay: Gov. Rick Scott has pushed for higher teacher pay in the past, but now is saying that the decision is out of his hands. “The way our system is set up in our state those decisions are made at the local level,” Scott said during a discussion with teachers. “What I tell everybody is, ‘You have to be active with your school board members, your superintendents.’ ” Associated Press. Scott did say that his budget proposal will include $63 million for teachers to help buy classroom supplies, an increase of $18 million over last year. That would bump the $250 a year teachers receive for supplies to $350. WTLV.

‘Schools of hope’: The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) charter school network is working on establishing a “school of hope” in the Liberty City area of Miami. The tentative agreement calls for the Miami-Dade County School Board to provide KIPP Miami with a facility, and KIPP would receive a state grant to help disadvantaged students and share its training programs with the district. The “schools of hope” program was set up by the Legislature to offer financial incentives so charter companies could move into neighborhoods with persistently struggling schools. KIPP is the nation’s largest nonprofit charter school network. redefinED.

Continue Reading →

Parents, teachers support converting Fla. Gulf Coast school to a charter

When Kevin Jackson learned about a grassroots effort to convert his daughter’s middle school to a charter, he became newly hopeful about improving student achievement. In recent years, the Manatee County school has mostly been stuck at a “C” letter grade or below.

“I am so excited for my community and for the parents,” he said. Lincoln Middle School “has developed a negative stigma as far as the area. Now we get an opportunity to compete with the best.”

Jackson said the charter school would have more flexibility to create programs tailored to students’ needs. About 44 percent of the school’s population is Latino, he said, and every student is on free and reduced lunch.

“A charter would allow us to venture outside the box to give our Hispanic population different resources,” he said.

If the change takes place, Lincoln will join 22 other schools that also converted to charters with a majority vote from parents and teachers.

Florida law allows parents and teachers to convert any traditional public school to a charter by petition. But that rarely happens. In some places, administrators and teachers have faced retaliation for aiding conversion efforts, even though the law protects them.

In Manatee County, however, at some key officials support the change. Their district is home to one past charter conversion, and it looks like a success. Rowlett Academy for Arts and Communication did well as an elementary school, and it’s set to add middle grades this fall.

At Lincoln, the principal, a teacher and parents argue such a change will enable the school to better serve its population while providing more autonomy and accountability.

A call to change

Concerns about Lincoln’s performance prompted teachers and parents to come together to lobby for change. Nearly 70 percent of students perform below grade level. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Capital for charter schools, a hack attack and more

Charter schools: Florida charter schools could get an extra $96.3 million from school districts that will now have to share the tax money they collect for capital projects, according to Florida House estimates. That’s nearly 7 percent of the money school districts could have after debt service is subtracted, as H.B. 7069 stipulates. The $96.3 million is a maximum  estimate, says Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah. Charter schools need to meet certain academic and financial standards and have been operating for two or more years to be eligible for the money. Miami-Dade and Broward will be among the districts hardest hit in sheer dollars, but tiny Sumter and Franklin counties will have the highest percentages of shared dollars, at 33 and 24 percent, respectively. Miami Herald. Manatee and Sarasota counties are two of the counties that will have share higher percentages of their capital funding with charter schools under the new education law. Sarasota is third in the state at 13.54 percent, and Manatee is 11th at 9.26 percent. Manatee School Superintendent Diana Greene says the district will continue with plans to build three new schools, but the law could have an impact on smaller projects. Bradenton Herald. Wayman Academy of the Arts is one of five charter schools in Duval County to earn an A grade  from the state this year. The school, which draws its students from a poor neighborhood in Jacksonville, now has received every possible grade from the state in its 17-year existence. Florida Times-Union.

District hacked: The St. Lucie County School District’s Twitter account was hacked last week, and several racially charged messages were posted and stayed online for more than nine hours before being removed. The cyberattack was just one of several against school districts around the United States, according to St. Lucie School Superintendent Wayne Gent. School officials are unhappy with the difficulty they had contacting Twitter and its response time. “It took way too long,” Gent said. “It should’ve been done immediately.” TCPalm.

Fighting failure: As the 2016-2017 school year began, another first year of a rebuilding process began at Fairmount Park Elementary School. It had a new principal, new and inexperienced teachers, and a history of failure. Fairmount is located in a poor St. Petersburg neighborhood and in 2014, was one of five city elementary schools labeled a “failure factory.” But this year it had a plan, and better resources, and hope. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →