Public-school choice. Duval County’s superintendent wants to allow parents to enroll their children in any district-run school they choose, creating the first “open enrollment” policy among Florida’s major urban districts, the Florida Times-Union reports. More from First Coast News, WOKV.
Military charter schools. It’s not clear what effect a bill provision, soon to become law, will have on efforts at MacDill Air Force Base, Hillsborough Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia tells the Tampa Bay Times.
Digital learning. How much will it cost for school districts to reach the state’s technology goals? WFSU asks.
School grades. House and Senate panels advance legislation to overhaul school grades, and avoid holding school districts to consequences during the first year of new standards. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Florida Current. WCTV.
School boards. Candidates for the Palm Beach County School Board are already raking in the dough. Extra Credit. State officials consider the Manatee County School Board’s request for an investigation. Bradenton Herald.
School safety. A House bill that would allow at least one designated school employee to carry a gun on campus clears the House education committee. Orlando Sentinel. Associated Press. Miami-Dade officials oppose the plan. Miami Herald.
Testing. Does it matter if teachers don’t know yet what will replace the FCAT? StateImpact Florida.
Special-needs students. A Washington Post blogger continues the drumbeat against the state’s testing policy for students with disabilities, relaying a video by the Florida Education Association.
School lunch. Grants expand push for organic food, breakfast and dinner in Orange County Schools. Orlando Sentinel.
The latest evidence that school districts are increasingly acting like commercial businesses comes from the two urban districts in the Tampa Bay area.
The Tampa Bay Times reports that, “Increased competition for students, declining enrollment in the middle grades, and a need to offer more attractive options to families is leading Pinellas County Schools to open new magnet programs at four middle schools next fall.”
According to Bill Lawrence, the district’s director of student demographics, assignment and school capacity, “It’s important in this day and age, with competition in public education, that we have to do this. Some of our children are choosing other options, so it’s important we do it.” And Amie Hornbaker, the district’s new communications specialist, said, “We try not to say we’re selling (to parents), but essentially, we are.”
This concern with market share is a logical response to the expanding array of schooling options now available to families, including low-income families. But I’m uncomfortable with school districts becoming businesses in a competitive market place.
I know this sounds counterintuitive, or even hypocritical, coming from the president of the country’s largest private school choice organization.
I believe public education should operate as a well-regulated market. Educators should be empowered to own and manage schools and all parents – not just the affluent – should be empowered to match their children with the schools that best meet their needs. And I’m pleased many district school leaders are increasingly seeing families, and not their bureaucracies, as their primary customers. But if school districts become competitors in a market-driven public education system, who is going to objectively regulate this system?
Good regulatory oversight is a necessary component of an effective school choice system, but that’s not possible if the primary regulator is focused on maximizing its market share. And that’s what is increasingly happening in public education today. A good example is how Florida school districts are treating charter schools.
Bang for the buck. Florida’s education system gets a lot of it. Florida Watchdog.
Charter schools. Broward sees its eighth charter school close this year, raising questions about accountability, reports the South Florida Sun Sentinel. The Imagine charter schools network will close its struggling elementary school in Pinellas, but keep its middle school open, reports Gradebook. The C-rated Athenian Academy charter school in Pasco is suing the school district for barring its plans to grow enrollment, reports the Tampa Bay Times.
Career education. A Pasco student in Wiregrass Ranch High’s information technology career academy highlights the potential of choice and career education. Tampa Bay Times. The Tampa Tribune writes up the changes in graduation requirements that put more value on career education.
Dual enrollment. The Palm Beach County school district and Palm Beach State College are hoping to hash out an agreement over dual enrollment costs in the wake of a legislative change. Palm Beach Post.
FCAT. More results coming this week. Gradebook.
Last year, 43 percent of Florida’s PreK-12 students attended a school other than their assigned neighborhood school. This enthusiastic embrace of school choice by parents is forcing school boards to rethink their roles and responsibilities. Should they fight to prevent parents from attending non-district schools? Or should they embrace parent empowerment and help ensure all their community’s students have access to the schools – neighborhood, magnet, charter, virtual or private – that best meet their needs?
This dilemma was on full display at a recent Palm Beach County, Fla. school board meeting. The board was reviewing what to do about three struggling charter schools when one board member, Marcia Andrews, suggested the board should do more to help these schools succeed. “We’ve got to kind of change how we do business,” she said, according to the Palm Beach Post, “so they’ll know we’ll partner with them, so they’ll be successful.”
Some of her colleagues disagreed. They argued that when parents choose charter schools they take their funding with them and that hurts the district. They also worried about the costs of helping charter schools when district budgets are already stretched tight.
This caused another board member, Frank Barbieri, to join Andrews in calling for greater collaboration and support. “I don’t want to hear about ‘we’re taking money from our kids and giving it to these kids,’ ” said Barbieri. “These are our kids. Let’s help them.”
Statistics from Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, which I help administer, support the these-are-all-our-kids position.
To appreciate the significance of what Nikolai Vitti is saying about parental choice, one must first read his resume. He’s a 36-year-old with a Harvard education doctorate who served as chief academic officer to nationally recognized Miami-Dade school superintendent Alberto Carvalho before being chosen in the fall to run the Duval County school district, the 22nd largest in the nation.
So Vitti is, by anyone’s definition, a comer on the national public education scene.
And he says this: “I support choice because I think parents need options, especially those that do not have the financial means to go to a private school.”
And this: “I just don’t believe that anyone should tell a parent where they should send their child to school. I’m vehemently opposed to limiting options, especially to parents whose children are in lower performing schools or parents who don’t have the financial means to have the same flexibility that a parent would have of means. And that’s historically what’s happened with our public education system.”
These statements, in an enlightening podcast posted to this blog on Monday, are all the more impressive given that the school district he now commands has an uneasy history with private school choice. The pressure on him to continue to wage high-profile war is certainly great. But Vitti comes from a place, and perhaps a generation, where choice is not a dirty word. He openly praises charter operators such as KIPP, even borrowing from some of their practices while in Miami, and asserts that competition is making school districts up their game. In one of his first meetings on the new job, he recommended, and the school board approved, 12 new charter schools.
Vitti, then, is owed more than a pat on the back. He is also trying to break through the political divide to encourage open-minded debate on how to make choice actually work. Toward that end, he brings legitimate concerns to the table and needs to be heard.
Public education is implemented by private entities – textbook publishers, teachers, building contractors, software developers, teachers unions, parents – with private concerns. Privatization occurs when government allows these private concerns to usurp the public good.
Republicans often blame teachers unions for privatization, but these criticisms are unfair. For more than 15 years, I was a teachers union leader responsible for helping negotiate teacher employment contracts with school boards. In these negotiations, I was legally obligated to represent the private interests of teachers. Albert Shanker, a long-time national teacher union leader, was often criticized for stating his job was to represent teachers and not students or the public, but he was simply asserting a legal fact. Teachers unions sell memberships to teachers and in exchange are legally required to represent them. School boards are responsible for representing the public. If a school board signs a union contract that promotes privatization by allowing the private interests of teachers to trump the public good, that’s the school board’s fault.
Democrats, on the other hand, like to blame for-profit corporations for privatizing public education, but these criticisms are also off target. For-profit corporations have the same legal obligation as teachers unions to advocate on behalf of their stakeholders. If a school board negotiates a contract that puts the interests of a for-profit corporation above the public good, again, that’s the school board’s fault.
School boards also further privatization when they respond to parental choice by acting like private corporations more concerned with protecting their business interests than the public’s interest.
In Indiana last week, The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne reported that its local school board discussed how it could more successfully compete for students against charter and private schools. Board members were unhappy about potential losses in market share “because losing students means losing funds.” Board member Steve Corona worried about competition from charter and private schools putting district-owned schools “out of business,” and board President Mark GiaQuinta said the district needed to do a better job making the case against charter schools.
Here in Florida, the Florida Times-Union reported last week that school board members in Duval County rejected two charter school applications because they feared losing additional market share in district-owned schools that were already losing enrollment.
Similar discussions are occurring at school board meetings around the country.