Archive | Private Schools

The messy history of school vouchers, teachers unions and racial segregation

On Martin Luther King Day, it is worth remembering the sacrifices people made to advance equity and desegregate public life in America, including our schools. Unfortunately, some activists have begun exploiting the occasion to retell history.

In the new revisionist stories, modern school choice supporters are close ancestors to the villainous segregationists of the past.

History, of course, is far more complicated. And that’s why it’s worth taking a closer look at some of the scholarship that underpins the misleading narratives about school choice.

Segregationists, it turns out, supported public and private schools alike. And meanwhile, teacher unions in the South ramped up their fights against school vouchers after discovering large numbers of parents used them for reasons other than racial discrimination.

Last year, Duke University historian Nancy MacLean claimed to have uncovered a shocking connection between James Buchanan, a school voucher supporter, and Sen. Harry Byrd’s anti-integration political machine. According to MacLean, Buchanan, a Nobel-winning economist, planted the racist roots of school vouchers by allying with segregationists to pass school vouchers into Virginia law.

A month after MacLean’s book Democracy in Chains was published, the American Federation of Teachers president Randy Weingarten claimed vouchers were the “polite cousin to racial segregation.” Numerous articles began to circulate arguing that school choice and racial segregation were inseparably linked. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: School oversight, merit pay, testing and more

Private school oversight: A bill is filed for the legislative session beginning today that would tighten some standards for private schools receiving state scholarships. Under the bill, filed by state Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, private schools would be required to hire only teachers with at least a bachelor’s degree. The proposal would also tighten financial accountability, ban school owners with recent bankruptcies from receiving scholarship money, increase school inspections by the state and make it more difficult for schools to submit falsified fire or health inspection reports. Simmons says his bill is an attempt to strike a balance between too much regulation and not enough. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit scholarship and Gardiner scholarship programs. Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher merit pay: Two Republican legislators want to delete the requirement in state law that student test scores be used to evaluate teachers. The bills, filed by Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, and Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, would give schools boards the option of using student test scores in evaluations. “We don’t think student test scores should be tied to our evaluations,” says Plasencia. “It’s frustrated many teachers, and it’s driven some really good teachers out of the profession, a lot of them early.” Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher test-taking: The rising numbers of teachers failing the state’s newly revised Florida Teacher Certification Exam prompts state Rep. Robert Asencio, D-Miami, to file a bill that would require the Florida Department of Education to appoint a task force to study whether the test is appropriately measuring teacher competency and other issues. “Whenever we have such a high failure rate we have to figure out what’s going on,” says Asencio. WPTV.

Legislative session: Gov. Rick Scott delivers his final state of the state speech today at the opening of the legislative session. It’s expected to contrast his first one in 2011, when he called for sharp cuts in education spending. News Service of Florida. Associated PressTampa Bay Times. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WCTV. Politico Florida. The Senate is expected to pass a higher education bill Thursday that would permanently expand Bright Futures scholarships, and will consider a bill that would require high school students to complete a financial literacy course in order to graduate. News Service of Florida.

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Hiding dropouts, helping graduates, or both?

In 2018, new rules will change the way Florida public schools calculate graduation rates. They will have to include students who transfer to private online learning providers late in their academic careers.

TC Palm reported the change could cause graduation rates to dip 2 or 3 percentage points in some districts. A Tallahassee Democrat report from last year suggests the impact could be substantial in districts like Leon County, where graduation rates have surged.

But other districts may feel no effect at all. That’s because they don’t use the system described this spring by the Bradenton Herald. Districts would pay online learning providers like Smart Horizons Career Online Education something like $1,295 per student. Students would transfer from their public schools to the online vendor, in whole or in part, depending on whether they were likely to receive a diploma.

The Herald described it this way:

Almost all of Manatee County’s transfers at the end of the year are students who were dual-enrolled in Smart Horizons, an accredited online private school, during the second semester of their senior year, Greene said. Smart Horizons students take electives and career-training courses while at the same time taking core classes in a Manatee high school, completing remediation and retaking the state test.

If the student never passes the state test, has a 2.0 grade-point average in their core classes and successfully completes the Smart Horizons career training program, they will be transferred out of Manatee schools at the end of the year and earn a diploma from Smart Horizons. If they pass the state test while in Smart Horizons, they will earn a diploma from a Manatee high school, and the program will have served as a backup plan to ensure the student doesn’t join the ranks of the degree-less, Greene said.

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Private school choice a hit with public school employees

Toccara Barron, a public school science teacher in Jacksonville, is one of more than 1,400 public school district employees using a Florida school choice scholarship this year to send their children to private schools. Her oldest daughter attends a public school. Her youngest attends a private school thanks to a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship.

More than 1,400 public school district employees are benefiting from America’s largest private school choice program.

Their kids are a small percentage of the more than 100,000 low-income and working-class students who are using the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. But their participation further underscores the diversity of parents who value options.

Parents list their employers on applications to Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that helps administer the program. By my count, there are 1,471 district-employed parents in the mix this year. We don’t have a breakdown by job title, but eligibility is based on income. So, just as it was in past years, it’s likely most of these employees are custodians, bus drivers, teacher assistants and other “support staff.”

It’s not hard to find teachers who secured scholarships for their children, either, like this one and this one. Clearly, none of these employees are motivated by some twisted desire to dismantle public education. They simply want what all parents want: the school that best fits their kids’ needs.

Toccara Barron is one of them. She’s a science teacher in Jacksonville. Her oldest daughter is an eighth-grader in a magnet middle school. Her youngest is a first-grader at a private school.

Barron thought the private school was best positioned to give her youngest the individualized attention she needs to be challenged academically. Thanks to a scholarship, she was able to access it.

“All parents should have the right to choose a school for their child,” she said, “not just the ones who could afford to pay tuition.”

The scholarship parents who are district employees hail from 57 of Florida’s 67 districts. Another 60 scholarship parents work for charter schools. A half-dozen work for the public Florida Virtual School.

Even parents who work for choice schools, it seems, are happy to have more choice.

Survey: Many parents say they would prefer private schools, but why?

EdChoice is out today with its annual survey of Americans’ views of education.

Like in previous years, the advocacy group’s “Schooling in America” survey asked parents what type of school they would prefer for their child. And it found similar results. More than four-fifths of school children attend public schools. But many parents said they would prefer private schools.

Survey data show parents would prefer private schools for their children, even though they’re more likely to enroll in private schools. Chart by EdChoice.

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Florida schools roundup: Tax bill, Hope Scholarship, tech schools and more

Tax bill and school choice: The Republican tax bill contains a mixture of good and bad news for school choice advocates. On the plus side, the bill would allow families to tap up to $10,000 from 529 college savings plans for K-12 expenses, including private school tuition. But the bill does not include a tax credit for donations for private school scholarships. The bill would also cut the deduction for local income and sales taxes, which some advocates believe could have a negative impact on local taxes collected for schools, and the $250 deduction teachers use to cover classroom supplies. Education Week.

Hope Scholarship: A bill that creates a scholarship for bullied students that can be used to change schools will get a hearing before a Florida House subcommittee next week. The Hope Scholarship program would allow victims of bullying or harassment in public schools to transfer to another public school or qualify for a state tax credit scholarship, and also be eligible for transportation scholarships. Students would be eligible for the scholarship within 15 days of reporting “battery; harassment; hazing; bullying; kidnapping; physical attack; robbery; sexual offenses, harassment, assault, or battery; threat or intimidation; or fighting at school.” The bill was filed this week by State Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples. redefinED. News Service of Florida.

Technical school boom: These are boom times for career academies and technical education, with more high schools opening that emphasize career choices over a college education. For the past 10 years, state lawmakers have pushed career academies that offer industry certifications, and continue to consider alternative paths to a diploma. “The workforce is not demanding four-year-college-degreed people,” says Jim Stone, director of the National Research Center for Career & Technical Education. “The workforce is demanding people who can do something.” Tampa Bay Times.

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Florida schools roundup: Charters, regulations, recycling success and more

Creating charters: Erika Donalds, a member of the Collier County School Board and the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, has already proposed constitutional amendments that would eliminate pay for school board members and impose term limits on them, end the election of school superintendents and allow legislators to “make provision” for educational services in addition to the free public schools. Now she’s proposing an amendment that would allow legislators to create “alternative processes to authorize the establishment of charter schools within the state.” If the amendment is approved by the 37-member commission, it would need the support of 60 percent of voters to go into effect. Gradebook. Donalds may have gotten some inspiration on the proposal of no salaries for school board members from Eric Robinson, who is on the Sarasota school board and thinks taking a salary is a conflict of interest. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Regulatory relief: State Rep. Mike Bileca, R-Miami, says he is interested in finding more state regulations that can be removed from top-performing public schools through the Schools of Excellence program. The program, which was authorized through the state’s new education law, H.B. 7069, provides greater flexibility and autonomy to the principals of the highest-performing 20 percent of schools at each level. redefinED.

Recycling success: Two years ago, 2nd-graders at Old Kings Elementary School in Flagler Beach began a recycling campaign for plastic and later boycotted disposable plastic lunch trays. That interest in the environment blossomed, and led to every school in the district using trays made of recycled paperboard, which will remove 1.4 million plastic trays from county landfills and save the district $14,000 a year. Flagler Live. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Displaced teachers: Florida education officials say they’d like to hire teachers who were displaced when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in late September. The state is waiving the application fee for a teaching certificate and will accept unofficial transcripts. But there are still several hurdles Puerto Rican teachers must clear before getting a job in a Florida classroom. Many will have to pass expensive tests. And others are finding that their certifications don’t align with the Florida requirements. In Puerto Rico, elementary teachers are certified in K-3rd and 4th-6th grades. In Florida, it’s either pre-K through 3rd or all elementary grades. State officials say they have no plans to adjust certification requirements or waive test fees. Governing.

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Florida schools roundup: Education amendments, book ban and more

Education amendments: Two Florida school officials are offering amendments to the state constitution that would provide more public financial support for schools other than traditional public schools. Marva Johnson, a member of the Florida Board of Education and Florida Constitution Revision Commission, is urging changes that would allow public money to be used for private schools “in the event that a student’s right to an education that meets his or her individual needs and learning differences.” Erika Donalds, a member of the Collier County School Board and the commission, is proposing an amendment allowing the Legislature to make a provision for “other educational services that benefit the children and families of this state that are in addition to the system of free public schools.” If the amendments are approved for the ballot, they would need the support of 60 percent of voters to go into effect. Tampa Bay TimesredefinED. News Service of Florida.

District’s book ban: The superintendent of the Dixie County School District has issued a ban on instructional materials that contain “profanity, cursing or inappropriate subject matter.” Mike Thomas issued the ban after a parent complained about sexual references in the book A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest Gaines, but Thomas denies any connection between the complaint and the ban. Thomas says a committee will be formed to review instructional materials. Gainesville Sun.

Educators honored: Five finalists are chosen for Orange County teacher of the year. They are: Kenneth Boyd, music teacher at West Orange High School; Cindi Brasch, a teacher for the “hospital homebound”; Kyle Dencker, computer science teacher at Timber Creek High School; Bernie Hendricks, band director at Ocoee High School; and Sandy Mercer, a teacher for disabled students at Lake Silver Elementary School. The winner will be announced in December. Orlando Sentinel. Larissa Bennett, counselor at Virgil Mills Elementary School in Palmetto, is named school counselor of the year by the Florida School Counselor Association. Bradenton Herald. WWSB.

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