Districts and charter schools, working together: Sarah Yatsko, podcastED

The four Florida school districts planning unprecedented collaborations with high-impact charter schools can look around the country for models of what to do – and what not to do.

SarahIt’s not unheard of for districts and charter schools – often thought to be competitors – to find ways to work together.

Dozens of school districts around the country are doing it now, and about 20 of them have entered formal “compacts” with charter operators in their jurisdictions. Sarah Yatsko, a senior research analyst at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, has studied many of those collaborations.

“These sectors – by their very nature, there is a competitive element to them, and that just simply can’t be ignored,” she says. podcastED-logo

The collaborations that succeed tend to be the ones where both sides recognize their “mutual self-interest.” One aspect of a collaborative effort that seems to be going well, she points out, is Philadelphia, where districts and charters are working together on a joint mentoring program aimed at preparing top educators for administrative positions.

Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Campaigns, facilities, STEM and more

florida-roundup-logoCampaigns. StateImpact compares the education plans of gubernatorial contenders Charlie Crist and Rick Scott. Florida’s governor’s races is among the targets of teachers unions’ campaign operations. Intercepts.

School boards. A 20-year Hillsborough school board veteran is poised to retire. Tampa Tribune.

STEM. Science programs help students improve their problem-solving skills. Florida Today. Duval middle schools plan to invest in STEM labs. Florida Times-Union.

Facilities. An administrator and track coach plans to walk from Orlando to Tallahassee to raise money for athletic facilities. Central Florida News 13.

Administration. An administrator who left the district in the wake of a sex abuse scandal accuses the Manatee school district of failing to follow through on an agreement. Bradenton Herald.

English language learners. The federal government has yet to respond to Florida’s request for a hearing on accountability rules for students still learning English. Gradebook.

Teachers. A Boynton Beach teacher goes missing. Palm Beach Post.


Florida school boards: Standard charter contracts unconstitutional

Florida school boards are questioning the constitutionality of standard charter school contracts as the state Board of Education gets set to vote on rules creating them.

Their objections appear in hundreds of pages of recent comments and letters to the state Department of Education. The Florida School Boards Association wrote in July: “We view this as an unconstitutional encroachment on the school board’s authority to operate, supervise, and control all public schools within the school district.”

The comments and letters were obtained by redefinED through a public records request. They reflect more  than a year of public pushing and behind-the-scenes wrangling over standardized charter school contracts. The rules creating them are set to come before the state board at its November meeting.

The proposed contracts were set in motion by a 2013 law. Backed by charter school advocates, the law required the Department of Education to develop a standard contract that would serve as a starting point for agreements between charter schools and every district in the state. The stated goal: To streamline the contract process, set a baseline for expectations and create an opportunity for more meaningful negotiations.

In a state with nearly 650 charter schools, and dozens more opening each year, charter advocates have also raised concerns that districts were trying to constrain charter schools with troublesome contract provisions that went beyond requirements in the law.

DOE officials started drawing up the draft contract in the summer of 2013. They started with a draft that combined provisions from existing charter contracts used by several school districts, then spent more than a year revising the proposal based on feedback from half a dozen public hearings and written suggestions from districts and charters alike.

But even as they suggested changes, school boards, superintendents and their Tallahassee associations began raising constitutional objections. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Lawsuits, magnet schools, charter schools and more


Magnet schools. The City of Coral Gables looks into buying slots for its residents in a local magnet school. Miami Herald.

Charter schools. An Imagine School cuts teacher pay to come up with funds to repay a loan. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

PLSAs. The Daytona Beach News Journal explores Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts, Florida’s latest educational option for special needs students.

Lawsuits. Capitol News Service looks at the campaign opposing the lawsuit challenging Florida’s tax credit scholarship program.

Facilities. Manatee schools look at the impact of population trends in their district, which could require them to build new schools. Bradenton Herald. St. Johns officials bemoan a decline in the amount of property taxes districts can levy for building projects. St. Augustine Record.

Gender gaps. The Tampa Bay Times highlights an “alarming” academic gap that could spell trouble for boys.

Class size. The Tampa Tribune looks at Pinellas schools’ use of co-teachers to comply with state class-size rules.

STEM. A proposed AP Engineering course would be most effective as part of a program that also includes physics and calculus. Bridge to Tomorrow.

Continue Reading →


Districts: Why wait for quality charter schools to come to us?

Competitive grants are prompting some of Florida’s urban school districts to take a new approach to charter schools. Rather than wait for charter schools to come to them with applications, they’re in a position to actively recruit them.

Take, for example, Hillsborough, which is one of the four districts to apply for charter collaboration grants through the state Department of Education.

The district’s request for $3.3 million in grant funding notes that typically, its staff vets applications from charters that choose to apply, and makes recommendations to the school board, which decides to approve the school or reject it.

“This random process of solicitation by a charter school does not always meet the needs of the students in the district,” its application states. “HCPS needs a proactive process to bring charter schools to the district and enhance capacity to support and monitor positive student outcomes.”

Hillsobrough’s plan starts with identifying neighborhoods with high academic needs, which are closely tied to poverty. In its application, the district notes that 43 percent of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches score proficient on the FCAT, compared to 76 percent of students who don’t.

The district, Florida’s third largest, says it plans a competitive process where different charter operators will submit proposals for schools that would operate in those neighborhoods. It would help them open schools aimed at helping the district’s more than 2,000 over-age middle schoolers, many of whom are concentrated in high-poverty areas of Tampa.

Once the charter operators are chosen, the district plans to use the grant funding to help the new schools get off the ground – something it says it does not have the resources to do on its own – and to help them find suitable facilities.

Proposals from the state’s two largest districts, Broward and Miami-Dade, also describe plans to solicit proposals from charter organizations with proven track records, which would open schools in some of their most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Both districts say they plan to work with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers to develop a competitive selection process.

“This grant gives the District an opportunity, for the first time, to actively solicit proven high-impact charter school operators to serve the District’s students,” Broward’s application states.

The fourth district to submit a proposal, Duval County, has plans to work with KIPP on an expansion of its Jacksonville schools.

State education officials are vetting the districts’ proposals to decide which ones will receive grant funding.

Check out the grant applications below:






Florida roundup: Lawsuits, charter schools, Common Core and more

florida-roundup-logoLawsuits. WFSU looks at the latest developments in Florida’s school choice lawsuits and the drop-the-suit campaign.

Charter schools. A new Pasco charter school focuses on teaching classics. Tampa Bay Times. A charter school faces criticism for not giving teachers money earmarked for pay raises. Sun-Sentinel.

Common Core. A state Senator asks his local school board to resist implementation of the standards. Leesburg Daily Comercial.

Testing. The Orlando Sentinel goes deep on the anti-testing backlash. Sentinel columnist Beth Kassab weighs in. Miami-Dade schools pare back some assessments in response to recent outcry. Miami Herald. The Marion County School Board pushes back against state testing requirements. Ocala Star-Banner.

Campaigns. A mysterious outside group pours money into a Sarasota school board race. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Continue Reading →


Former school choice scholarship student tells success story in WSJ

Denisha Merriweather

Denisha Merriweather

Switching to a different school didn’t just make dreams come true, “it allowed me to have dreams I didn’t know I could have,” writes a former school choice scholarship student in an op-ed published today in the Wall Street Journal.

Denisha Merriweather of Jacksonville, Fla., says by fourth grade, she disliked school so much she thought she’d eventually drop out. But at the urging of her godmother, and help from a tax credit scholarship for low-income students, she enrolled in a private school, graduated with honors and became the first member of her family to attend college. A few months ago, she earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary social science and is now headed to graduate school.

“This didn’t happen by chance, or by hard work alone,” she writes. “It happened because I was given an opportunity.”

Merriweather’s piece notes the lawsuit that the Florida teachers union, Florida School Boards Association and other groups filed Aug. 28 to end the 13-year-old scholarship program, which is administered by non-profits like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog. The program serves nearly 70,000 students this fall, more than two thirds of them black or Hispanic.

Merriweather is also featured in a new TV ad, paid for the Black Alliance for Educational Options, which encourages the teachers union and school boards association to drop the lawsuit. In the Wall Street Journal, she said she hopes people who care about disadvantaged children pause to hear stories like hers. Read the full op-ed on the Wall Street Journal here.

Continue Reading →


Charter school authorizers wrap up gathering in Miami

NACSA logoState and district education officials are heading back from Miami, where the National Association of Charter School Authorizers is wrapping up its annual conference.

The group represents the school districts, nonprofits and other organizations that sponsor and regulate charter schools.

Improving charter school authorizing might not pack as much sizzle as other education policy issues, but it’s getting increased attention from people who want to improve the quality of the education system as a whole. And it’s definitely relevant to Florida’s debates over charter school accountability.

In Florida, authorizers are basically synonymous with school districts, but other states allow nonprofit organizations to sponsor charters, and 17 states have active, statewide charter school authorizing bodies.

Creating a statewide charter school authorizer is part of NACSA’s recently released package of policy recommendations. The goal, according to the group, is to give charters at least two potential authorizers to choose from in each jurisdiction. Courts, however, have blocked efforts to create a statewide authorizing body in Florida.

The authorizers group also recommends setting a floor for charter performance by automatically closing charters that fail to meet minimum academic standards. Florida, which requires most charter schools to close if they receive two F’s in a row, is one of just seven states with “default closure” provisions on the books – a topic covered in this Education Week dispatch from the NACSA conference.

The group’s policy brief recommends creating exceptions to the automatic closure rule for some schools that cater to struggling students.

It also recommends creating standards for schools looking to have their charters renewed, and setting accountability standards for authorizers themselves. The full set of policy papers can be found here.