At this private school, STEM gets a boost

At St. Luke's science camp, teaccher Diann Bacchus talks sheep brain with (from top, clockwise) Tyler Dempsey, 12, Widmaier Maurice, 13, and James Pabisz, 13. The Notre Dame Center for STEM Education helped St. Luke kick off the 2-week camp last year.

At St. Luke’s science camp, teacher Diann Bacchus talks sheep brain with (from top, clockwise) Tyler Dempsey, 12, Widmaier Maurice, 13, and James Pabisz, 13. The Notre Dame Center for STEM Education helped St. Luke kick off the 2-week camp last year.

On a summer morning when some middle schoolers were sleeping in or headed to the beach, 12-year-old Ariana Rendona and two dozen other students were in a classroom at St. Luke Catholic School, using X-acto knives to slice up sheep brain. Behind goggles and lab coats, they took turns differentiating grey matter from white matter and cerebrum from cerebellum.

“Disgusting but fun,” Ariana said.

For she and other students at St. Luke, a PreK-8 school that serves a heavily Hispanic population in Palm Springs, Fla., science immersion has suddenly become a thing. Over the past 18 months, St. Luke has done what many schools, public and private, either can’t or won’t: make STEM a priority.

It added 20 minutes to the school day just for STEM, hired a STEM coordinator, invested in STEM-oriented professional development for the entire teaching staff and instituted a two-week STEM summer camp for students like Ariana. Much of this has been done in partnership with the new Center for STEM Education at Notre Dame, an outfit that has quickly and quietly launched several projects aimed at bolstering science instruction in Catholic schools and beyond.

The result: Engaged students. Happy parents. Another potential selling point for a private school in an increasingly competitive school choice market. And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, a template and inspiration for other schools.

About three-fourths of the 170 students at St. Luke are minorities, and nearly 70 of them use the state’s tax credit scholarship program for low-income students. (The program is administered by non-profits like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.) For them, more exposure to high-quality STEM instruction is especially important, said Sue Sandelier, St. Luke’s principal, and Diann Bacchus, its science coordinator.

“Money is a struggle for many of the families here” but solid grounding in STEM can lead to high-paying careers for their children, said Bacchus, a longtime educator in both public and private schools. “I see it as their way out.”

St. Luke’s aims are notable for all kinds of reasons. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Charter schools, lawsuits, budgets and more

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. A charter school board ends its relationship with a  troubled management company. Panama City News Herald. Charter schools will soon face more scrutiny before opening in Florida. Tampa Tribune.

Lawsuits. A Gainesville Sun guest column supports the lawsuit challenging Florida’s tax credit scholarship program. Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog and employs the author of this post, helps administer the program. An Education Week blogger surveys the legal landscape around tax credit scholarships and vouchers.

Digital learning. Santa Rosa schools benefit from a technology grant. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Summer. Duval schools beef up their summer programs to provide kids a safe environment. Florida Times-Union. Palm Beach third graders attend a reading camp that could decide whether they get promoted to fourth grade. Palm Beach Post. Some Collier school cafeterias remain open to provide meals for students in need. Naples Daily News.

Growth. Brevard schools brace for an enrollment surge. Florida Today.

Teacher quality. The Miami Herald scrutinizes a new teacher bonus program.

School boards. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune tells the once-hidden story of an ailing school board member.

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This week in the school choice: The movement matures

We hope you’ve had a happy Fourth of July weekend.

Last year, we wrote about how school choice is no longer an experiment. This week, we saw more signs private school choice is maturing, in Florida and elsewhere.

A new fund launched with the goal of growing high-quality private schools that serve families of limited means, and Florida’s three private school choice programs grew past 100,000 students enrolled.

People are asking the next big questions about the future of these programs, like how they can help educators start better schools and how to make the next generation of options work.

And yet, private school choice programs to continue to fight in the courts for survival, and more legal battles may be on the horizon.  Continue Reading →


Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: School choice is not morally corrosive

Mr. Gibbons' Report Card

 Arthur Camins

Arthur Camins writes that individuals must make sacrifices to serve the greater good. Consequently, the education philosopher from Hoboken wants to eliminate school choice programs, including charter schools.

His reasoning is rooted in a skewed understanding of what individual choice means. “Be out for yourself and don’t worry so much about your neighbors or community,” he writes, believing this to be the mentality of parents and choice advocates. Addressing Democrats’ growing support of charter schools, he argues, “the spread of charter schools is morally corrosive and drains money from other local schools.”

Arthur Camins

Arthur Camins

To Camins, the act of choosing a better school for your child hurts those left behind. Fortunately, there appears to be evidence to the contrary, especially for low-income minorities attending charter schools (see pages 65-66 and 69). Camins doesn’t have to travel far either to see the small but positive impact of charters on low-income students in Newark and across the river in New York City.

Instead of offering choice, Camins proposes reducing class sizes further and increasing funding for education. Those ideas that are not mutually exclusive of school choice, and by the  we’ve been reducing class sizes and increasing per pupil spending for fifty years now. How long will it be before we achieve the equity and quality he dreams of?

One of the bigger problems with inequality in education is the fact that wealthier parents can afford to flee bad schools. To his credit, Camins remains logically consistent and condemns the socio-economic segregation we see today in public schools. The question is whether government bureaucrats will ever achieve the “proper” racial and socioeconomic balances through geographic school assignment. They’ve taken too long already.

Grade: Needs Improvement
Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Special needs, school choice, tests and more

florida-roundup-logoSpecial needs. A charter school for students with learning disabilities plans to expand. Tampa Bay Times. Parents say adults with special needs need help transitioning to independent living. Naples Daily News.

School choice. Tax credit scholarships are part of a broader range of education options, Jon East writes in the Sun-Sentinel. Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarships and employs both East and the author of this post.

Teacher evaluations. Decreasing the proportion of teacher evaluations tied to student test scores might actually hurt teachers’ ratings, prompting a shift in the stance taken by the Pasco teachers union. Tampa Bay Times. The Ocala Star-Banner talks to teachers about “testing culture.”

Teacher quality. The Sun-Sentinel looks at the state’s new teacher bonus program.

Migrants. The Palm Beach school district is accused of unlawfully booting an unaccompanied minor from Guatemala out of regular classes. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

Second chance. A student previously arrested for mixing toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil to make an explosive is now succeeding in college. Lakeland Ledger.

Property values. They’re up, which bodes well for school funding. Ocala Star-Banner.

Continue Reading →


Throwback Thursday: How private school choice has grown

Education media-watcher Alexander Russo marks Throwback Thursday with a look at 16 years ago, when school vouchers were a relatively novel idea. A July 1999 Atlantic article questioned whether they could ever reach enough students to have a real impact on the larger school system.

Add these numbers up and you get 74,000 children — about 0.1 percent of students. Add 200,000 for those students in the 1,200 charter schools around the country (which also give parents a choice), and the proportion comes to only 0.5 percent of schoolchildren. In other words, the school-choice debate is taking place utterly at the margins. At this rate, for all the fuss, it’s hard to imagine that any impact could be made on the skills and life chances of students stuck in our worst public schools in time to prevent what the Reverend Floyd Flake, a voucher advocate and a former Democratic congressman from New York, calls “educational genocide.”

Continue Reading →


Charter school prevails in legal battle over busing

A school district was wrong to require a charter school to provide county-wide bus service, an administrative law judge ruled this week.

In competing legal actions, the St. Lucie County school district had argued the Renaissance Charter School at Tradition needed to provide busing to students who lived more than two miles away to comply with a local policy. The district contended the lack of busing was a barrier to equal access for students.

The charter school countered the district did not have the legal authority to impose such a requirement, noting among other things that the cost of busing would strain its budget, and that the district did not provide county-wide busing to all of its own students.

In an order issued this week, administrative law judge Darren Schwartz agreed the district’s busing requirement overstepped its legal authority.

The law says a lack of transportation cannot be a barrier to charter school access, but it gives charters flexibility to decide how to provide it. It specifically says schools can work with “parents” to help arrange transportation, which is what the charter school at Tradition did. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Superintendents, military charters, submarines and more


Charter schools. A military charter school says it will “start from scratch” on a sweeping restructuring plan after getting an earful from parents. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Florida Times-Union finds out more about the collapse of Acclaim charters.

Facilities. A Broward County school languishes in disrepair, with relief not expected until next year. Sun-Sentinel. The Bay district teams with developers to build a new K-8 school expected to relieve crowding. Panama City News Herald.

Superintendents. Hillsborough’s new chief outlines plans during his first day on the job. Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Tribune.

School boards. A new executive director takes over at the Florida School Boards Association. Gradebook.

Spending. The Brevard school district has shelled out millions for software it hasn’t received. Florida Today. Continue Reading →