Archive | Religious education

Parents, the president and private school choice

Renee Oliver greets her daughter, Zoe, after meeting with President Donald Trump at St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando.

ORLANDO – Renee Oliver started sending her children to St. Andrew Catholic School in 2004. At the time, it drew Catholic families from surrounding communities in the western part of Orlando. But it remained financially out of reach for many who lived nearby.

Over the years, that’s changed.

The nation’s largest private school choice program has enabled schools like St. Andrew to open their doors to hundreds of families who couldn’t previously afford tuition, including some from its predominantly black neighborhood of Pine Hills.

“The school community came to reflect the community that it was in,” Oliver said.

She had to support her family on a single income after an on-the-job injury forced her husband out of work. Tax credit scholarships helped her send three of her five children to St. Andrew.

When President Donald Trump came to visit the school on Friday, she told him similar options should be available to all families.

Started in 2002, the tax credit scholarship is administered by Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog and pays my salary. It helps nearly 98,000 students across Florida — and the vast majority of students at St. Andrew — attend private schools.

While he hasn’t backed a detailed plan, Trump made a pitch to expand similar programs across the country. Parents like Oliver joined him around a table with Sen. Marco Rubio. The president expressed interest in the lawmaker’s efforts to create a nationwide tax credit scholarship.

At one point, Trump turned to Denisha Merriweather, a Florida scholarship alumna he highlighted during his recent address to Congress.

“We want millions more to have the same chance to achieve the great success that you’re achieving, right now,” he said.


Latrina Peters-Gipson, St. Andrew’s principal, is a product of Catholic schools. She developed a love of education as a college student in New Orleans. Weeks into her first year as a full-time classroom professional, Hurricane Katrina struck. Her family lost almost everything. The storm destroyed the Hyatt hotel where her husband worked. The hotelier helped her family relocate to Orlando. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Legislative issues, Trump’s visit and more

Legislative session: Vouchers, recess and capital funding for charter schools are among the hot education topics in this year’s legislative session, which begins Tuesday. Sunshine State News. School testing will again be a prominent issue during the session. Several bills have been filed to cut back on the number of tests, and to give options to the Florida Standards Assessments. News Service of Florida. Teacher bonuses are among the key education issues that will be debated by the Legislature. Tallahassee Democrat. The way the state calculates school funding may get another look from lawmakers this year. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Lake County school leaders say they oppose school vouchers, worry about recruiting and retaining teachers and don’t like the state’s current standardized testing process. Superintendent Diane Kornegay, school board member Kristi Burns and teachers union president Stuart Klatte made the remarks at an education forum last week. Daily Commercial. The Polk County School District is asking legislators to close the gap in per-student funding among districts. Polk ranked 64th out of 67 in per-student funding from the state this school year. Winter Haven News Chief. Senate and House leaders come to an agreement on the rules for the budget-making process for the legislative session. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida.

Trump’s visit: President Donald Trump praises students and educators at St. Andrew Catholic School during a visit Friday. Trump used the stop to promote school choice, and urged members of Congress to pass a bill to fund school choice for disadvantaged young people, including minority children. Orlando SentinelCatholic News Agency. Associated Press. WCSI. WFTV. Fox News. New York Times. News 13. redefinED. A profile of Denisha Merriweather, the University of South Florida graduate student who was held up by the president as an example of how school choice can help struggling students succeed. Washington Post.

Commission choices: Gov. Rick Scott appoints 14 people to the state Constitution Revision Commission. Several of the appointees have ties to education: Pam Stewart, Florida education commissioner; Marva Johnson, state Board of Education chairwoman; Nicole Washington, a trustee at Florida A&M University; Belinda Keiser, vice chancellor of Keiser University; Darlene Jordan, a member of the state university system’s Board of Governors; and Jose “Pepe” Armas, a trustee for Florida International University. Politico Florida. Gradebook. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of Florida. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Retention suit, school bells, demographics and more

Retention challenge: Parents who challenged the state’s third-grade retention policy – and won – are back in court this week. A circuit court judge ruled in August that the state and some districts were not offering a portfolio option for promotion of students who didn’t take the state assessment tests or didn’t pass them. The state appealed, and the case moves to the First District Court of Appeal Tuesday. Gradebook.

No bell tolls for them: Seminole High School in Pinellas County has ended the tradition of ringing a bell to change classes. School officials say it’s an effort to put more responsibility on students to manage their schedules. “It’s changed the tenor of the school because kids like being treated like adults,” said principal Tom Brittain. “How many colleges ring a bell?” Tampa Bay Times.

District demographics: There are now more Hispanic students in Palm Beach County public schools than whites or blacks. Of the 190,240 students in the district, 33 percent are Hispanic, 32 percent are white and 28 percent are black. The demographic shift has Superintendent Robert Avossa proposing to expand dual language programs, where subjects are taught in both English and Spanish. Sun-Sentinel.

Charter schools: More than 3 million American students are now enrolled in 6,900 charter schools, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. That’s up almost threefold in 10 years, but is still just 5 percent of total U.S. school enrollment. Education Week. Pembroke Pines’ charter school system, which opened in 1998, now has eight schools, 6,000 students and requires no subsidy from the city. It was the model by which the Cape Coral Municipal School Authority was started in 2004. Fort Myers Beach Observer. Continue Reading →

Islamic schools can have benefits beyond the Muslim community

They’re part of a burgeoning immigrant community that often confronts bigotry and xenophobia. They’ve set up a growing network of academically effective faith-based schools. Those schools, often assumed to hamper their assimilation into American culture, may actually help them become better citizens.

That was the story of American Catholics before the turn of the 20th century. They faced an anti-immigrant backlash and a wave of religious bigotry that inspire Blaine Amendments and spurred the creation of Protestant-controlled common schools.

And it may be the story of American Muslims today, as Ashley Berner, of Johns Hopkins University, and Charles Glenn, of Boston University, argue in The 74:

Muslims in the 21st century are in a position similar to that of 19th-century American Catholics. To the majority culture, their beliefs may seem perplexing and their loyalty suspect, although, according to the Pew Research Center, American Muslims are overwhelmingly “mainstream and moderate” and 82 percent report being satisfied with their lives in this country. Despite the high educational attainment and remarkable economic success of America’s immigrant Muslims and their children, however, some Americans consider their presence a menace. Islamic schools have become a focal point for rumors and vandalism, and some otherwise sympathetic legislators have retreated from supporting school-choice programs because they don’t want to fund Islamic schools.

Such sentiments are intolerant and unwise. Islamic schools constitute a powerful antidote to the alienation from American life fostered on the Internet and by marginalized groups. More than 200 Islamic schools exist across this country, and they are growing in number and adding grades and academic heft each year. Their academic outcomes have not yet been explored in depth, but if they continue to provide high-quality instruction and robust character education, we should expect to see a new version of the “Catholic school effect.”

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: Financial literacy, religion, start times and more

florida-roundup-logoFinancial literacy: Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, files a bill that would require students to take a half-credit course of financial literacy in order to graduate from Florida high schools. She’s been trying to get this bill passed since 2014. Hukill is the new chairwoman of the Senate Education policy committee. Gradebook.

Religion in schools: State Rep. Kim Daniels, D-Jacksonville, files a bill that would prohibit school districts “from discriminating against students, parents, and school personnel on basis of religious viewpoints or expression,” would require a school district to “treat a student’s voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint on an otherwise permissible subject in the same manner that the school district treats a student’s voluntary expression of a secular viewpoint” and would allow students to wear clothing, jewelry or accessories with a religious message. Florida Politics.

DeVos protest: Teachers in several areas of Florida join a national protest against Betsy DeVos, the nominee to become U.S. secretary of education, and for public schools. Similar rallies were held in at least 25 states. Protesters worry that DeVos will emphasize school choice, and especially charter schools, at the expense of public schools. WKMG. Miami Herald. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

School start times: Start high school later in the day, says a majority of the 30,000 people in Orange County who took a district survey. Students, their parents, employees and others were asked to choose from three options: keep start times the same, start 20 minutes later than the current times that range from 7:10 to 7:30 a.m., and start no earlier than 8 a.m. School board members, who caution that changing schedules is complicated, will discuss the survey Thursday. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →

A new approach to Catholic schooling spreads to South Florida

As Kayla Yaks advanced at St. Luke Catholic School in Palm Springs, Fla., she developed a passion for art and a plan for what she wanted to do after eighth grade.

She’s hoping for a coveted slot at Dreyfoos School of the Arts, one of the most sought-after magnet programs in the Palm Beach County school district.

But Kayla said this year, she noticed some changes at her school – changes that got her thinking beyond high school.

This fall, St. Luke officially became a Notre Dame ACE Academy, part of a national effort to revitalize Catholic schooling.

Kayla Yaks

Eighth-grader Kayla Yaks is learning to set long-range goals, including preparing for college.

There were signs of change students could see. Posters hung around the PreK-8 campus encouraged them to think about a pair of long-range goals: college and heaven. Teachers attended a summer workshop in South Bend, which helped instill a belief that each of their students is capable of reaching both.

There may have been bigger changes happening behind the scenes, but just a few months into the school year, the culture shift had made an impression.

“It showed me that I should have more than one goal, and I can go forward and do something higher than what I just accomplished,” Kayla said.

The emphasis on goal-setting and college attendance would seem familiar to anyone who’s visited a charter school run by an organization like KIPP. But the similarities don’t end there. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: AP exams, expulsions, prayer fight and more

florida-roundup-logoAP exams report: Orange County leads Florida in the number of students who took and passed Advanced Placement exams last year, and was the eighth-ranked district in the nation, according to College Board officials. More than 20,000 Orange students took at least one AP class, an increase of almost 16 percent. The number of AP tests passed was up 11 percent, to 15,407. Among states, Florida ranked third with almost 31 percent of its high school graduates taking and passing at least one AP course in 2015. Orlando Sentinel.

Expulsions up: Expulsion are up in the Hillsborough County School District after six years of decline, according to a district report. Last year, 508 students were expelled, compared to 458 the previous year. Black students, who represent 21 percent of the population in the schools, made up 55 percent of all middle and high school expulsions. Tampa Bay Times.

Prayer fight: As Tampa Cambridge Christian School fights the Florida High School Athletic Association in court over the constitutionality of a pregame prayer in last year’s state championship football game, its team is again in the playoffs. The FHSAA did not allow the team to broadcast a prayer over the public address system last year, leading the school to file a federal lawsuit. And if the team makes it to the title game this year, it will again ask to use the public address system for a pregame prayer. WUSF. Continue Reading →