Florida roundup: Charter schools, testing, choice lotteries and more

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. The Broward school board says ‘no’ to a charter school collaboration grant. Sun-Sentinel. A military-style charter in Osceola prepares to close at the end of the month. Central Florida News 13.

Special needs. A Jacksonville private school for children with special needs launches a fundraising effort that would allow it to double enrollment. Florida Times-Union. WLRN looks at Senate President Gardiner’s efforts to help children with special needs.

School choice. The fate of many students is decided in a quite room in district offices, where district officials conduct a school choice lottery. Palm Beach Post. Families of means can exercise school choice by moving, Wendy Rivera writes in the Orlando Sentinel.

Testing. Computer security experts say attacks on Florida’s standardized testing system may be acts of “hacktivism.” Palm Beach Post. Some school district officials affirm the state’s claim of a “cyberattack” on testing systems is legitimate; district IT staff are still working to fend them off. Tampa Bay Times. Miami Herald. Attacks and other glitches may hurt the tests’ credibility. Tampa Bay Times. Marion schools plan to add “testing facilitators.” Ocala Star-Banner.

Mental health. Duval schools plan to use a grant to place psychologists or social workers in every middle school. Florida Times-Union.

Sunshine. Palm Beach school board members hold a legally “questionable” private meeting with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Palm Beach Post.

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Florida mother of special needs child: ‘The rest of the country should be watching’

Last week, Katie Swingle spoke to the Florida Legislature about expanding access to Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts for special needs students.

She described her struggles, and recent success, looking for ways to meet the educational needs of her seven-year-old son, who has autism. Her remarks are noteworthy because – unlike so much testimony in Tallahassee – they came from the heart, and also because they highlight the different education options that parents of students with special needs often must try to navigate.

Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog and employs the author of this post, is one of two organizations currently administering the scholarship accounts. These are her words, lightly edited for length and clarity.

Swingle screenshot

Katie Swingle

We moved to Florida when (my son) was four, and we did an IEP in Lee County, where we were living. I was very excited about it. I’m a big public-school proponent.

I knew about McKay (Scholarships, which help special needs students attend private schools). So I went ahead and we did pre-K, just in case we needed the McKay scholarship funds, but that wasn’t my plan.

I really would rather have kept him in public school.

We started with Kindergarten, and within a week I knew we were in trouble. It wasn’t the school’s fault. I never will blame the school. Lee County was amazing, and they did everything they could to help me. My child is unique. It just was going to be impossible.

So I had to pull him out of kindergarten, which therefore made me ineligible for McKay (which requires prior public school attendance). I home-schooled him for kindergarten, and in the meantime my husband got a new job in Tallahassee, so we moved up here.

I didn’t know what I was going to do, and I found Woodland Hall Academy. In the meantime, he had just been diagnosed with severe dyslexia. I was excited to find Woodland Hall because they also have a specialty in dyslexia.

Twenty-eight thousand dollars a year in tuition and tutoring and therapy. Speech therapy, occupational therapy, ABA therapy, which some of you may know is applied behavior analysis, which has been found to be the most helpful in serving children with autism. It’s expensive.

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Florida schools roundup: Testing, education reform, violence and more

florida-roundup-logoTesting. State education officials investigate a denial-of-service attack on the state’s computerized testing system, which may have contributed to delays. Times/HeraldTampa Tribune. Orlando Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Florida Times-Union. Fort Myers News-Press. Associated Press. Naples Daily News. Daytona Beach News-Journal. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan talks testing in South Florida and says the state needs to “get its act together.” Sun-Sentinel. The Florida House advances its testing overhaul. Miami Herald. Scripps/Tribune. The Daytona Beach News-Journal covers students opting out of state assessments.

Rural schools. Residents in Alachua County’s Waldo community say they are prepared to fight to keep their elementary school open. Gainesville Sun.

Labor negotiations. Meetings, paperwork and parent communication may be casualties as Volusia teachers forgo out-of-school work to put pressure on the school district amid negotiations for pay raises and better working conditions. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Budgets. Alachua schools may cut back on elementary school resource specialists amid a budget crunch. Gainesville Sun.

Education reform. Education historian and ex-Floridian Sherman Dorn discusses former Gov. Jeb Bush’s policy agenda and its implications.

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Florida lawmakers pursue charter-like autonomy for traditional public schools

The advent of charter schools has presented traditional public schools with new competition that is often subject to less regulation.

Rather than stifle that competition, why not level the playing field, by giving district schools more flexibility?

Over the years, Florida lawmakers have pursued arrangements along those lines. An early attempt, as the Gradebook notes, ultimately faded without yielding much lasting change. A more recent effort, allowing districts to set up “Innovation Schools of Technology,” has yet to get serious traction.

This year, state legislators have proposed a new approach that would allow school districts to offer select principals a charter-like exchange. School leaders could receive greater control over their budgets and hiring, as well exemptions from certain state and local rules. In return, they would have to meet academic performance goals.

One thing may bode well for this latest effort. It’s already starting to get backing from district leaders.

Superintendent Robert Runcie

Superintendent Robert Runcie

Last week, Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie told the House K-12 Subcommittee that he sees two potential applications for the proposed “principal autonomy” program.

He said it would allow top-performing schools that already “have high-quality instruction going on” to serve as proofs of concept, from which other schools in the district could learn.

The promise of greater operational freedom could also bolster one of his planned initiatives, aimed at bringing top administrators into low-performing schools. He said he wants ambitious administrators to present ideas for turning those schools around, in a “‘Shark Tank’ type of interview process.” Those with the most compelling plans could receive up to $25,000 a year in financial incentives to put them into action.

“I would love for them to have this kind of autonomy and flexibility over their schools and their budgets, so they can do whatever it takes to ensure that those schools that have been chronically under-performing have the best opportunity to be successful,” Runcie said, while testifying in favor of a revised version of HB 357.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Manny Diaz, a Hialeah Republican and former public school administrator. It would create a pilot program, allowing six school districts to present autonomy plans for up to three schools to the state Board of Education. If the program succeeds after three years, he said he would like it to expand. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Special needs, testing, Jeb Bush and more

florida-roundup-logoSpecial needs. For eleven years, Florida’s Senate President and his wife have raised their son, who has Down syndrome, with the expectation that he will succeed in education and life. Now they are intent on ensuring the education system and other institutions operate on a similar belief in the potential of special needs children. Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald. Sarasota Herald-TribuneSome special needs students thrive when included in classes with other students. Fort Myers News-Press.

Testing. Florida officials were warned repeatedly about the potential for problems with the state’s new standardized testing platform. Miami Herald. The real problem is that testing is used for school accountability, Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano writes. The Times talks to students about the effects of testing issues. The next round of testing could put further stress on the system.  Florida Times-Union.  Palm Beach Post. PARCC’s online assessments, which Florida dropped, appear to be functioning smoothly. Orlando Sentinel.

Jeb Bush. Before he became governor, Jeb Bush championed a South Florida charter school that comes under scrutiny from the New York Times and the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau. Now a possible presidential contender, the former governor tackles federal education policy in the Washington Post.

Tax credit scholarships. The creator of Florida’s special needs McKay Scholarships writes that that the tax credit program helps students with great needs. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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A higher bar and dedicating funding for Florida’s charter schools, but how?

Raise the bar for charter schools that want to open in Florida, and give them access to predictable funding for facilities.

That was the bargain school district and charter school leaders suggested to the state Senate’s main budget panel on Thursday, but questions remain about the best ways to achieve both of those things.

The Legislature is working on bills that, among other things, would give districts clearer authority to screen prospective charter school operations based on their academic and financial history.

District superintendents, including Kurt Browning of Pasco County, suggested further measures to the Senate Appropriations Committee, like having the state keep a database tracking how various charter operators perform, which of their schools shut down, and why.

Robert Runcie, Broward County’s superintendent, told the panel that new charter schools should also be required to show proof that they have found a suitable building well before classes begin.

That would be easier to manage if they also had dedicated funding for buildings, which Runcie said should be structured in a way that avoids pitting charters and districts against each other. Right now, a shortage of facilities funding is a major cause of the revenue gap between charters and other public schools.

“Charters probably do need some source of capital funding,” Runcie said. “It needs to be a dedicated source that does not impact traditional schools.”

When charter schools don’t have access to dedicated funding for buildings, they might have to raid operational funds that could otherwise pay for things like teacher salaries.

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Florida roundup: Charter schools, testing, superintendents and more

florida-roundup-logoTesting. Testing resumes in Florida amid minor “hiccups” and continued cancellations in Duval County. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Florida Times-Union. Bradenton Herald. Completion rates climb. Orlando Sentinel. How does computer-based testing affect students? StateImpact. Testing opt-outs rise. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Charter schools. Charter school legislation is also on the agenda in Tallahassee. Miami Herald. Naples Daily News.

Superintendents. Hillsborough’s MaryEllen Elia bids farewell to her leadership post. Tampa Tribune. Brevard’s superintendent is also set to leave. Florida Today.

Planning. The Hillsborough school district will get representation on a local planning board. Tampa Tribune.

Start times. New legislation would give school districts more control over when classes can start. Gradebook.

STEM. Where is prep for physics teachers succeeding? Bridge to Tomorrow.

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Fifty years since ‘Moynihan Report,’ are schools rising to the challenge of poverty?

Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Editor’s note: This article draws on a symposium hosted by Education Next, which has become the subject of controversy over the journal’s latest cover. Here, we focus on its contents and their implications. –TP

Despite Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s warnings fifty years ago, the number of children born to single family homes increased while the associated disadvantages have grown even stronger.

The connection between single-parent households and poverty has been well known for decades. It was documented in a report by the late Senator on the hardships facing African-American families in the 1960s.

Yet, in the decades that followed, when looking at children’s educational outcomes, “the predictive power of single-parent family structure appears to have increased over time,” according to Kathleen Ziol-Guest, Greg Duncan and Ariel Kalil, co-authors of an article in the latest issue of Education Next.

The authors find that students in single-parent homes receive, on average, nearly two fewer years of schooling.  Furthermore, 40 percent of students in two-parent households go on to complete college, but the figure drops to less than 15 percent for students in single-parent households.

The Moynihan Report, released in 1965 during a time of racial segregation and tension, may have focused its attention on the African-American family, but researchers Sara McLanahan and Christopher Jencks find no evidence that single motherhood has different effects on black or white children.

Single parents can still have a positive impact on their children’s education. Zoil-Guest, Duncan and Kalil discovered that, among single mothers, for every 2 years of education of the mother there was a corresponding rise in educational attainment of the children by nearly one additional year. Other studies show that fathers active with their children’s lives decrease childhood delinquency and drug use and can raise their academic achievement.

Combined, mothers and fathers living together with their children leads to “stronger cognitive and non-cognitive skills” for the children as well as an increased likelihood to going to college, earning more money and forming “stable marriages themselves,” according to a study by the left-of-center Brookings Institute.

What can be done to mitigate the academic disadvantages of poverty and single-parent households?

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