Archive | Teacher 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: Test scores improve, proposed tax hikes and more

FSA test results: Florida students improved their test scores in the state’s math, science and social studies exams, and in reading in some grades, according to results released Thursday by the Florida Department of Education. The Florida Standards Assessments measure reading and math for students in grades 3-12, science for 5th- and 8th-graders and end-of-course exams in biology, civics and U.S. history. Test results also show a narrowing of the achievement gap between white and nonwhite students in language arts, algebra 1 and geometry. Testing results are part of the formula used to assign grades to individual schools and districts. Orlando Sentinel. Sun-SentinelBridge to TomorrowFlorida Department of Education. More reports on how school districts around the state did in the testing. Ocala Star-Banner. Palm Beach Post. TCPalm. Tampa Bay Times. GradebookWJXT. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Gainesville Sun. Space Coast Daily.

Proposed tax hikes: If the Palm Beach County School Board agrees to the placement of a property tax increase on the November ballot, it would be the third school tax increase voters have been asked to approve in the past four years. This time, the request is for an extra $1 per $1,000 of taxable property value, which would be used for teacher salaries, school security and mental health care. The tax is projected to raise $200 million a year for four years. The board vote is scheduled Wednesday. Sun-Sentinel. A school tax referendum in Hillsborough County is likely to be delayed beyond November because it might take up to eight months or longer to get the financial audit that is now required by the state before voters can be asked to approve an increase in taxes. District officials say when they contacted the Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability to request the audit, they were told there might be a six-month wait and that the results would have to be posted for two months before a vote could take place. Tampa Bay Times.

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Putting Florida’s newest K-12 scholarship program in perspective

Florida’s newest K-12 scholarship program takes a novel approach. It targets children who attend public schools, and fall short on third- or fourth-grade reading assessments. It offers them $500 to pay for tutoring or curriculum to help raise their reading scores.

John Legg, a former Florida Senate Education Chairman, explains the significance in a new column for The 74:

This scholarship was championed by Michael Bileca, a Miami-Dade Republican, who is chairman of the House Education Committee, and is conceptually reminiscent of the free tutoring programs developed by bipartisan education advocates under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. This scholarship is driven by the educational principle that children must learn to read so they can then read to learn.

Notably, though, Bileca did not try to simply thread more money into district elementary reading budgets. When asked why he instead sought the reading scholarship, which gives parents the decision on how to spend it, he was direct: “The parent is the most influential person in the child’s life.”

His point — giving all parents more influence over the way their child learns — is the core principle of educational choice. This scholarship, perhaps more than any other, helps to underscore the broad dimensions of this belief. Though our national debate on choice still gets mired in the strict dichotomy of public vs. private, that distinction is rapidly losing its relevance.

Legg is also co-founder of a Pasco County charter school and a member of the board of Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog and will help administer the Reading Scholarship program.


‘A voice of calm’ for students with Autism

Trina Middleton, education director at JSA, has been lauded for her leadership at JSA.

Abigail Maass never spoke. It was hard for her to connect with others. She grew impatient easily.

Her struggles mirrored those of children everywhere who grow up with profound autism.

This all changed when she met Trina Middleton, a teacher with Duval County Public Schools.

Middleton said she consistently encouraged Abigail and gave her many opportunities to do different activities. She also enrolled her in intensive Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy. ABA is a therapeutic approach that helps people with autism improve their communication, social and academic skills.

“It is just believing in her abilities and supporting her and celebrating with her,” she said.

Priscilla Maass, Abigail’s mother, said Middleton’s belief in her daughter made all the difference. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Testing exemptions, changes, security and more

Testing exemption request: Broward County School Superintendent Robert Runcie is asking Gov. Rick Scott to grant an exemption from state testing to all Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students. “Taking these tests during this time of mourning and recovery is not reasonable, nor is adding the burden of taking these tests — in addition to future course work — appropriate,” wrote Runcie. Scott has said he doesn’t have the authority to grant such an exemption; that it would have to come from the Legislature. But the next legislative session doesn’t start until March 2019, when the next round of testing will be beginning. The education bill Scott signed this year exempted Stoneman Douglas students, including graduating seniors, from taking standardized tests this spring. Miami Herald.

Testing changes opposed: The Duval County School Board approves a resolution urging the Florida Board of Education to hold off approving the state’s plan that would allow students to take alternative tests to the algebra I and 10th grade language arts exams required for graduation. Duval board members say eliminating the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test as an option will cost students and schools money to take the approved alternatives, the SAT or ACT, and will create different standards for graduation and state college academic placement. Gradebook.

School security: Clay County School Board members approve a school security plan that retains school resource officers in every high school, places deputies in every middle school and hires safety “assistants” to be stationed in every elementary school. The cost will be about $1.2 million. WJXT. The Putnam County School Board rejects a task force’s recommendation to arm school employees as part of the state’s guardian program. Superintendent Rick Surrency warns the board that pursuing other options could cuts in teaching positions and other jobs. WJXT. Largo city leaders say they won’t contribute to paying for putting officers in Pinellas County schools. WFTS. A debate about paying for school security springs up in Marion County. School officials say charter schools get their own funding under the state’s Safe Schools program and are responsible for making sure they have armed guards. Law enforcement officials think the district is responsible for covering all schools. Ocala Star-Banner. An associate superintendent for the Orange County School District and a mother of five talk about practical ideas for keeping students and teachers safe for the 3 to 7 minutes it takes for officers to arrive in an emergency. Orlando Sentinel. The push to arm teachers in schools around the United States is stalling out. Washington Post. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: March, walkouts, Cruz’s brother, votes and more

March For Our Lives: More than 1 million people are expected to attend March For Our Lives rallies Saturday in Washington, D.C., and at least 800 other sites around the world, according to the students who have organized the rallies in response to the school shootings in Parkland on Feb. 14 that killed 17. They are calling for stricter gun regulations. “It just shows that the youth are tired of being the generation where we’re locked in closets and waiting for police to come in case of a shooter,” says Alex Wind, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Associated Press.

Board member rips walkout: Marion County School Board member Nancy Stacy says Superintendent Heidi Maier’s plan to allow student walkouts on campuses April 20 is “pure liberal fascism at its finest.” Stacy says Maier is being used by the “political idiots of the left.” In a series of emails to the superintendent, Stacy also wrote that: “We all know the students didn’t arrange a thing here or Tallahassee or nationwide. This is another example of why we need (school) vouchers for parents to escape this abusive manipulation of their children’s minds.” Ocala Star-Banner.

Cruz’s brother arrested: The brother of accused Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is arrested after deputies say he trespassed onto the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School campus. Zachary Cruz, 18, had been warned to stay away from the school. He said he went to the school to “reflect on the shooting and to soak it in …” Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Palm Beach Post. Associated Press.

School tax votes today: Voters in Sarasota and Manatee counties go to the polls today to vote on increasing property taxes by 1 mill for schools. A yes vote would increase revenue for schools in Sarasota County by about $55 million a year, and by about $33 million a year in Manatee. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald. Continue Reading →

Loving the Earth, lauding school choice

The students at Mangrove School routinely visit nature parks and beaches. More than half the students beyond preschool use school choice scholarships.

This is the latest in our series on the center-left roots of school choice.

SARASOTA, Fla. — At a nature park bedecked by oaks and palms, a teacher at Mangrove School mimics a wolf call through cupped hands, signaling to scattered students that it’s time to breeze over. “Let’s greet the day,” the teacher says. They all join hands, then take turns facing east, south, west, and north as their teacher offers thanks. To the rising sun. The palms and coonti. The manatees and crabs. Even to the soil.

So class begins at another choice school that defies stereotypes – and conjures possibilities.

On the one hand, Mangrove School is just another one of 2,000 private schools that accept Florida school choice scholarships. On the other, its mission to “honor childhood,” “promote world peace” and “instill reverence for humanity, animal life, and the Earth” is impossible to square with a pernicious myth – on the policy landscape, the equivalent of an invasive species – that school choice is being rammed into place by forces that progressives find nefarious.

“I hear that, and I look around here, and I think it’s very strange,” said Mangrove School director Erin Melia, a former chemist with a master’s degree in education. “I would think it (the perception) would be the opposite. The people most in need of choice are the people left behind.”

Mangrove School started as a play group 18 years ago. Now it has 43 students from Kindergarten to sixth grade, including eight home-schoolers who attend part-time. Nineteen of 35 full-timers use some type of school choice scholarship, most of them the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for lower-income students.*

“We’re just trying to be available to as many families as possible,” Melia said.

That’s a standard view among private schools participating in Florida choice programs, including plenty of “alternative” schools. (Like this one, this one, this one and this one). Those private schools serve more than 100,000 tax credit scholarship students alone. Their average family incomes barely edge the poverty line, and three in four are children of color. Yet the narrative about conservative cabals feels as entrenched as ever.

Blame Trump and the media.

Last March, six weeks after he was inaugurated, the most polarizing man on the planet visited an Orlando Catholic school and held up Florida school choice scholarships as a national model. Just like that, they became a bullseye. In subsequent months, The Washington Post, The New York Times, NPR, Scripps, ProPublica, Education Week and Huffington Post all took aim. Every one of them prominently mentioned the connection to Trump and/or Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Ditto for the Orlando Sentinel, which punctuated the year with a hyperbolic series that attempted to portray the accountability regimen for private schools as broken.

Not a single one of those stories offered a nod to the fuller, richer history behind school choice. Or to its deep roots on the left. Or to the diverse coalition that continues to support it. So, again, a reminder: Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Education bill, gun politics, school safety and more

Education bill: The Senate Education Committee unanimously approves a major rewrite of the House’s omnibus education bill, H.B. 7055. The Senate version would put armed law enforcement officers at every school in the state, make state scholarships available to bullied students with substantiated claims, boost oversight of private school choice programs, require charter schools to return facilities to districts if they close, and create a comprehensive mental health program for schools, among other things. It also removes the provision that would decertify teachers unions if membership falls below half of the members represented. The revised bill now moves on to the Senate Appropriations Committee. redefinED. Associated Press. Gradebook. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida.

Parkland and politics: The Florida House overwhelmingly rejects a proposal to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines as about 100 students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School look on. The vote was 71-36 against H.B. 219, Students say the shootings have changed them, and vow to continue fighting for school safety. Miami Herald. Sun-SentinelPalm Beach Post. Politico Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. After meetings with superintendents and law enforcement officials, Gov. Rick Scott says he will have a plan of action in response to the shootings in Parkland to take to legislators by Friday. “We have two weeks left in session at that point, and my goal is to get something accomplished,” says Scott. Politico Florida. WKMG. News Service of FloridaFlorida Politics. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A Senate hearing on a bill that would allow designated people to carry concealed weapons at schools is postponed Tuesday. Miami Herald. President Donald Trump calls on the Justice Department to ban all devices like bump stocks, an attachment that can turn a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic one. Associated Press. New York Times. The Broward County Charter Review Commission says it will consider giving voters the chance to decide what guns should be permitted in the county. Sun-Sentinel. Pinellas County School Board member Linda Lerner wants the board to officially support a ban on assault weapons. Gradebook. Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna is criticized by the chairman of the county’s Republican Party for giving excused absences to students who wanted to join a rally at the Capitol. Tallahassee Democrat.

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