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Betsy DeVos & black empowerment

Private schools have always been essential to black progress in America. As the author of a recent piece in The Atlantic wrote, "“Private means to create a public good were an integral part of black education.”

Private schools have always been essential to black progress in America. As the author of a recent piece in The Atlantic wrote about Betsy DeVos and the African-American roots of school choice, “Private means to create a public good were an integral part of black education.”

Long before anybody used the term “school choice,” black communities were striving for it, often by any means necessary. Which is why black parents, though overwhelmingly Democratic by party registration, are likely to find their views on educational options to be more in line with Betsy Devos, the Republican nominee for U.S. Education Secretary, than the white progressives trying to derail her. Crazy times.

I’m not black, and I’m not a historian. But I don’t think there’s any doubt that fighting for educational freedom has been at the heart of the black experience in America. And yet, somehow, that epic struggle is overlooked in these polarizing fights over school choice – which is a shame, given the possibility it might make the fights less polarizing.

If I were king, I’d make white progressives read Yale Professor James Forman and listen to choice advocate Howard Fuller. In the meantime, if their tribal impulses are getting revved up over Betsy DeVos – and I know from my facebook feed they are 🙂 — I’ll have the audacity to hope they check out this recent piece in The Atlantic, “The African American Roots of Betsy DeVos’s Education Platform.”

The author, College of Charleston Professor Jon N. Hale, offers a brief, nuanced look at choice through the lens of black history. That history isn’t always flattering to the choice “side.” Segregation academies, for example, did happen in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education. (Choice supporters have acknowledged that past, and noted how it differs from the ideals that spur today’s choice movement.) But that stain is a small part of a bigger story, in which private schools have been essential to black progress.

Writes Hale:

American history clearly demonstrates that communities of color have been forced to rely upon themselves to provide an education to as many students as possible. Students of color have rarely been provided a quality public education. As James Anderson demonstrated in Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935, black communities consistently had to provide their own schools by taxing themselves beyond what the law required, as white officials never appropriated public money equitably by race. Black civic leaders and educators had to forge alliances with philanthropists and “progressive” whites for further financial support.

Barred from the American social order, black educators, in effect, were forced to rely upon private means to meet the educational needs of their own children. African Americans established schools controlled by the community. Such “community-controlled schools” were by necessity administered by African Americans, taught by African Americans, and attended by African Americans.

Hale sums it up this way: “Private means to create a public good were an integral part of black education.”

The Atlantic piece mentions a few examples. We’ve explored others, including some that show how central faith was to many of these efforts. Continue Reading →

Pluralism and the new definition of public education

Berner coverWhen it comes to public education, the U.S. stands apart from many industrialized democracies. It excludes private and faith-based schools, and has generally relied on local governments as the sole providers of publicly supported education in a geographic area.

A new volume by Johns Hopkins University researcher Ashley Berner argues this arrangement is largely an accident of history. She points to a new definition of public education, which is publicly funded and publicly accountable — and encompasses private schools.

As she writes in her final chapter:

No One Way to School attempts to draw a more inclusive argument that rests upon the foundational goals of the common school, while affirming that they are better met by plural education, than by uniformity. Excellence, equity, opportunity, and citizenship resonate across America’s educational history.

She contemplates a three-sector approach to public education that fits alongside The Urban School System of the Future, the policy platform of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, and precious few others in today’s education debate.

Her ideas echo many of the themes we’ve tried to emphasize for more than six years on this blog. And they’re likely to stretch the thinking of people in just about every corner of the school choice movement.

She draws vital lessons from John Chubb and Terry Moe about the ways bureaucracy can vitiate academic excellence, but she abjures the hands-off regulatory approach they advocate as one of several “narratives that risk being counter-productive.”  Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Testing, Bright Futures, teacher absences and more

florida-roundup-logoSchool testing: After a hearing Wednesday, leaders of the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee say they expect to present a bill this legislative session that will cut down on student testing. “I think that what you’re hearing is that there is a complete consensus among the senators on this committee that there is some common ground that can be reached so we get back to a sense of sanity in this,” said Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs. School superintendents also asked the committee to return to paper-and-pencil testing, arguing that computer-based testing is too expensive and time-consuming; to allow nationally recognized tests like the PSAT, ACT and SAT to stand in for some state tests; and to give school districts leeway to set up their own evaluation systems for teachers. Sun-Sentinel. Orlando Sentinel. Gradebook. WFSU. Politico Florida. Sun-Sentinel. Tallahassee DemocratNews Service of Florida.

Bright Futures: The Florida Senate releases its plan to revise higher education, and one of the key points is an expansion of Bright Futures scholarships. The proposal would increase the scholarships to include all tuition and fees, plus $300 for books per semester. And those who receive the scholarships would be able to use them for summer classes. The estimated cost is $151 million. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. SaintPetersburgBlog.

Teacher absences: Duval County has one of the highest teacher absence rates in Florida and in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. More than half of Duval’s teachers miss two or more weeks during the 2013-2014 school year – almost twice the national average of 27 percent and well above Florida’s rate of 39 percent. Florida Times-Union.

Financial progress: The state auditor general’s three-year audit of the Manatee County School District’s finances shows far fewer problems than the district had in 2014. This audit found just nine operational problems compared to 32 in 2014. And there were no financial findings this time, compared with nine three years ago. “Where we were three years ago was close to an F, so we are getting closer to an A,” said audit committee chairman Joseph Blitzko. Bradenton Herald. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Turnarounds, bonuses, choice, discipline and more

florida-roundup-logoTurnaround concerns: A battle is developing between state and local education officials over control of schools. The Department of Education has been actively intervening to turn around low-performing schools, sometimes requiring schools replace principals and teacher. That puts the state “on the verge of overstepping their authority,” says Bill Husfelt, Bay County superintendent. “Tallahassee talks about the federal government and the control they have, and then the state turns around and does the same thing to local institutions.” Politico Florida. Principals at three struggling Palm Beach County schools are getting more money and more authority to turn around their schools under a new state program that will measure whether cutting bureaucracy leads to better student performance. Sun-Sentinel.

Teacher bonuses: The governor and members of the Florida Senate and House have all signaled an interest in reworking the bonuses program for the state’s teachers. The current law gives up to $10,000 to teachers who are rated highly effective and scored in the top 20 percent on their SAT or ACT tests. The Florida Board of Education is pushing for a $43 million bonus program that would “support bonuses for new teachers who show great potential for and veteran teachers who have demonstrated the highest student academic growth among their peers.” News Service of Florida.

School choice: Parents in Palm Beach County have reversed a trend of choosing charter schools over the district’s public schools. Three years ago, charter schools added 4,100 students while public school enrollment declined by 700. This year, district schools have added 2,436 students, and charter schools just 330. Palm Beach Post.

Discipline disparity: Black students were suspended at three times the rate of white students during the 2015-2016 school year in Manatee County, according to the school district’s records. Black students make up about 14 percent of the district’s enrollment, but drew 33 percent of the out-of-school suspensions. Bradenton Herald. Continue Reading →

Bill could let Fla. charter school students participate in private school activities

Rep. Byron Donalds


A bill filed this week would allow Florida’s charter school students to play sports, or take part in other extracurricular activities, at private schools.

The state already has a “Tim Tebow” law that allows homeschool students — as well as students enrolled in charters or other schools of choice — to sign up for teams at their zoned public school, or other public schools they would otherwise attend.

The goal of the law is to give students in educational choice programs access to extracurriculars that might not otherwise be available.

HB 119 would give private schools the ability to expand those options for charter school students who “develop an agreement” to participate. It would apply to “interscholastic extracurricular activities,” which would include chess clubs or debate teams. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Teacher pay, testing, budgets, pot concerns and more

florida-roundup-logoEducation goals: The head of the Senate’s K-12 appropriations subcommittee wants to raise teacher pay by changing the state’s teacher bonus plan, cut standardized testing and keep offering longer school days to the state’s lowest-performing schools. State Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, outlined his 2017 legislative session goals during the subcommittee’s first meeting. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. WOFL.

Budget problems: Voters just approved a sales tax increase that will provide the Palm Beach County School District $1.4 billion over the next 10 years. But school officials say it isn’t enough to offset cuts in funding from the state, and they expect to have to cut budgets for at least the next three years. Sun-Sentinel.

Pot dispensaries: Florida legislators should protect children by adopting laws that ban medical marijuana dispensaries within 2,500 feet of schools, forbid any products that look like candy, and ban the products on school property without supervision, members of the Miami-Dade County School Board say. Miami Herald.

Superintendent favorite: Diane Kornegay emerges as the consensus favorite to become the next Lake County school superintendent. Kornegay, who is deputy superintendent at the Clay County School District, is the only one of the six finalists who will be interviewed further Monday and Tuesday. If she’s hired by the school board, Kornegay will succeed the retiring Susan Moxley. Orlando SentinelDaily Commercial. Continue Reading →

School choice and parent satisfaction

Ed Next school choice graph

Chart by Ed Next

Parents who send their children to magnet, charter or private schools tend to be significantly more satisfied than those whose children attend zoned schools, according to a new look at survey data by the journal Education Next.

The analysis is based on federal government surveys of parent attitudes, which were conducted in 2012 and updated this year.

Private schools enjoy significantly higher ratings than the three public options. That holds true whether families are black or white, rich or poor, urban or rural.

But magnet schools have higher parental satisfaction than assigned district schools, and charter schools receive similar, or perhaps slightly higher, ratings from parents compared to district schools of choice.

During an event discussing the findings, both Chris Cerf, who leads the Newark public school system, and Paul Peterson, the senior editor of Ed Next, said that while the survey didn’t directly probe the reasons for parents’ preferences, there’s likely something about schools of choice that creates a sense of ownership and leads to higher satisfaction. Continue Reading →

A history teacher on the school choice frontier

Ken Brockington was one of the best teachers I ever had. Cerebral. Serious. Always dapper. In the mid-1980s, he inspired me and countless others in AP American History. Time has fuzzed the details, but I can’t forget Mr. B’s yellow suit, or his red pen. “Interesting,” he’d write in the margins of my papers, next to yet another half-baked idea, “but keep thinking.”

Me and Mr. B

Me and Mr. B. Ken Brockington taught me AP American History in high school. Little did I know that he’d become a school choice pioneer.

The teenage me had no clue, but Mr. B was a pioneer. In the late 1960s, he was on his way to law school when a brief gig as a GED teacher detoured him into the teaching profession – and on to a new frontier. In Jacksonville, Fla. he became one of the first black teachers in integrated public schools. To get a sense of the challenge, consider many of those schools were named after Confederate generals, and one was named after the founder of the KKK. That’s where Mr. B taught me.

Today, at 68, Brockington is again surfing history. After 30 years as a teacher and principal in one of Florida’s biggest school districts, he’s now the academic dean of a private school. Cornerstone Christian seeks to uplift disadvantaged kids, and it’s able to serve them thanks to the Florida tax credit scholarship, the nation’s largest private school choice program.

teachers and choice logoEducators like Ken Brockington are part of another sea change in American education. At its heart, the school choice movement is fueled by the same drive for educational opportunity that spurred Brown v. Board of Education, and there’s no state where choice is becoming mainstream faster than Florida. Despite much-publicized skirmishes, like the lawsuit against tax credit scholarships and the NAACP attack on charter schools, choice is here to stay.

Take it from a history teacher.

Parents aren’t going back, Brockington said: “They’re beginning to understand the power of choice.”

Teachers aren’t going back either. Mr. B (now Dr. B) said many of his colleagues are exceptionally skilled, but constrained in conventional schools. “Choice will allow them to get outside the box,” he said.

As fate would have it, I am again in Mr. B’s orbit.

I work for Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that helps administer the tax credit scholarship and hosts this blog. This year, the program is serving 95,000 students, including 7,000 in Jacksonville and 229 at Cornerstone. When work brought me to Jacksonville last month, I got to thank Mr. B in person for teaching me. As a bonus, I got to learn from him again.

The lawsuit that aims to kill the scholarship program is led by the state teachers union. Brockington was a union member; at one time, he said, he was the local vice president. But he had no qualms about switching from public school to private school more than a decade ago.

At the time, Cornerstone contracted with a social service agency to teach some of the city’s most “at-risk” students – students with, as Mr. B described it, “a suitcase of problems.” Teen moms. Dads in jail. A long list of learning disabilities. Today’s students, while not as disadvantaged as those in the past, still face so many of the hurdles that come with poverty.

Mr. B said this is where he can best help them. Their academic outcomes aren’t where they should be, yet, but they’re getting the right mix of toughness and compassion, he said: “They’ve been written off. But now there’s light at the end of the tunnel.” Continue Reading →