Florida roundup: Special needs, charter schools, ESOL and more

Special needs. Orange County schools used restraints on students with disabilities more than 1,000 times during the past school year, but the district uses them less frequently than the state average. Orlando Sentinel.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. The City of West Palm Beach identifies a site for a planned municipal charter school. Palm Beach Post.

Tony Bennett. The former state education chief accepts a $5,000 fine for using state computers for political purposes in Indiana, but an inspector general’s review clears him of any ethics issues in the school grading scandal that led to his resignation in Florida. PoliticoAssociated Press.

Advanced Placement. Alachua County students passed nearly two thirds of their AP exams. Gainesville Sun.

ESOL. Hillsborough County teachers face firing for failing to get training to teach English for Speakers of Other Languages. Tampa Bay Times.

Finance. An aging state accounting system affects the flow of payments to Florida schools. Associated Press. Santa Rosa district officials say their fiscal situation is improving. Pensacola News-Journal. The Walton school district is looking to replace its chief financial officer shortly after finding out it had run down its reserve balance. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Top teachers. Florida is set to name its Teacher of the Year. Lakeland Ledger. Gradebook. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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Report: Private schools can learn from successful charter schools

A new report argues supporters of private school choice can learn from public charter schools and should look for ways to “break down the walls” between the two sectors.

Graph

While most states have authorized charter schools for more than a decade, private school choice programs are starting to become more widespread. Chart from the Friedman Foundation’s report.

Private school choice programs serve only a few hundred thousand students nationally, a fraction of the 2.3 million enrolled in charters. But more states have created tax credit scholarship and voucher programs in recent years, and existing programs, including the tax credit and McKay scholarships in Florida, are growing.

A report released this morning by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice argues that as private school choice programs grow and proliferate, they can draw a few lessons from the charter sector about how to create more quality options for students.

Report author Andy Smarick – a consultant at Bellwether Education Partners who’s among the leading proponents of a “three-sector approach” to education reform – writes that private schools could learn from charters’ use of networks and incubators to improve their operations. He also advocates for a charter-style approach to accountability, in which participating schools get screened by authorizers — agencies that hold them to performance-based contracts in exchange for more freedom to operate.

That idea may prove controversial among private schools that have traditionally not seen as much regulation as their publicly funded counterparts. But as states debate how they will regulate private school choice programs, Smarick writes that authorizers would be in a position to fine tune their judgement calls about how private schools are evaluated. For example: Should they be publicly accountable for the performance of all their students, or just the performance of students who receive tuition subsidies through tax credit or voucher programs?

“The contractual relationship, if implemented properly, will also be more nuanced – rendering fairer judgments and respecting the unique characteristics of private schools – than, say, a single letter grade for a school that would be generated via a state’s accountability system,” he writes.

Other insights from the charter sector are more straightforward, such as the use of incubators and networks. Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: Campaigns, growth, class size and more

Campaigns. Democrats attack Gov. Rick Scott on education funding. PolitiFact rates them half true.  Pinellas school board candidates talk charter schools, Common Core and other hot topics. Gradebook.

florida-roundup-logoTransformation. The information revolution that’s playing out in other industries will bring dramatic changes to education in the coming years, former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings writes in the Wall Street Journal.

Growth. Lee County schools are growing, but the district is short on construction funding. Fort Myers News-Press.

Class size. The Duval school district faces a penalty under the state’s rules limiting class size. Florida Times-Union.

Closures. The Sarasota school district shuts down a school for emotionally troubled students, saying it would prefer to place them in mainstream classrooms. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Teachers. The Sun-Sentinel writes up the federal government’s plan to improve teacher equity. Pasco schools aim to limit teachers transferring during the school year. Gradebook.

Superintendents. Osceola’s superintendent gets a new contract. Sentinel School Zone.

Administration. An ousted Manatee County administrator could receive back pay and other compensation after complaints against him are dismissed. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Unions. Pasco county’s school superintendent and union president are at odds over his management style. Gradebook.

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Will FL charter school ruling deter wayward school districts?

Robin Gibson

Robin Gibson

If Florida public school administrators decide to convert their school to a charter school, they have the law on their side.

An administrative law judge’s ruling against the Miami-Dade school district last week was the first-ever ruling under Florida statutes that bar school districts from taking “unlawful reprisals” against employees who support charter conversions. But the question remains: Will those protections prevent school districts from derailing those efforts before parents and teachers can have their say, as happened in Miami-Dade?

According to the ruling by Edward Bauer of the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings, the district tried to deter efforts to convert the Neva King Cooper Educational Center to a charter school. When administrators kept at it, the principal and assistant principal were transferred out of their jobs into what their attorney, Robin Gibson, called a “purgatory kind of existence,” replacing their administrative duties with menial tasks like sorting crayons and organizing car keys.

Bauer ruled that was against the law, and that Alberto Fernandez, the center’s former principal, is entitled to $10,000 worth of bonuses he would have received if he had remained in his old job.

However, the district still managed to thwart the charter conversion. Bauer declined to reinstate the two administrators to their old positions, noting the law requires them to be returned to “equivalent” jobs and that there are new top administrators in place at the school.

Gibson said he will likely contest that part of the decision. For the time being, he said, “the district can privately congratulate itself on still being unscathed.”

Gibson said the ruling helps establish that if districts retaliate against employees who support charter school conversions, they’ll be breaking the law. Now, “the question becomes, what are they going to do in light of this decision?” Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: Technology, growth, testing and more

Technology. StateImpact delves into E-rate, the obscure funding source helping schools go wireless.  Hillsborough officials say they’ve worked most of the kinks out of their online gradebook software. Tampa Tribune. Manatee schools upgrade their Microsoft suite. Bradenton Herald.

florida-roundup-logoGrowth. Escambia officials are pushing a local school tax as a way to fund new buildings needed to accommodate an expected influx of jobs to the area. Pensacola News-Journal.

Teachers unions. The Sun-Sentinel reports on the Florida Education Association’s intervention in an ongoing leadership election dispute in Palm Beach County.

Testing. Collier County schools officials say they’re still waiting on the state to release a test item bank. Naples Daily News.

Low-income students. Hillsborough schools help outfit students with clothing, hygiene items, and other essentials. Tampa Tribune.

Retention. Collier schools look to get third graders up to grade level. Naples Daily News.

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StudentsFirst winding down FL operation

Rhee

Rhee

Michelle Rhee’s education reform group is scaling back its Florida operations, saying it wants to focus on policy battles elsewhere.

StudentsFirst will maintain a nominal presence in the state, but it’s pulling out most of its policy and outreach resources. Some of its leadership positions in the state, including state director, had already been vacant.

Lane Wright, the group’s regional spokesman, said StudentsFirst will keep operating in neighboring states. The group has been active in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

“We will still weigh in publicly on some education reform issues in (Florida),” Wright said late last week. “We will not be as heavily involved as we have been with our outreach and our policy.”

Wright said the decision was shaped in part by the fact that Florida has already adopted more of its policy agenda than any state besides Louisiana.

StudentsFirst’s state report card gives Florida especially high marks for teacher effectiveness, but its efforts to win changes in other areas met resistance. It was among the groups that pushed for the “parent trigger” legislation that died on tie Senate votes in 2012 and 2013. This year, it shifted focus to spending and governance, but a bill that would have required the state to measure schools’ return on investment did not make it out of the Legislature. Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: Charter schools, private schools, facilities and more

Charter schools. In the first ruling of its kind, an administrative law judge rules the Miami-Dade school district unlawfully retaliated against administrators who backed a charter conversion. Miami Herald. A Gainesville charter school will close after learning it will likely receive another F. Gainesville Sun. A Palm Beach Post guest columnist questions a proposal to let charters share in tax revenue earmarked for arts programs.

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Facilities. Leon County Schools spent more than the state average on recent additions to district schools, which, statewide, frequently exceed the statutory threshold for projects funded through the Public Education Capital Outlay. Tallahassee Democrat. An engineering report finds a Hernando middle school needs its roof fixed. Tampa Bay Times.

Tax Credit Scholarships. Catholic school principal Todd DeClemente explains the benefits of the program in a St. Augustine Record guest column. The author of a column to which he was responding is back with another item that flubs basic facts, confuses the First and Second Amendments, and makes false allegations about Step Up For Students, which helps administer the program and co-hosts this blog.

Growth. Pasco schools prepare for new construction to accommodate growing enrollment. Gradebook. Walton district officials expect to build two more schools. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Private schools. A Tampa private school listens to residents’ concerns as it looks to add a performing arts center. Tampa Bay Times. A Montessori school in the Keys faces opposition to a planned new location. Keynoter.

Homelessness. A Central Florida teacher pledges to live on the streets for a month. Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher conduct. A Broward teacher is set to be fired after 15 years of problems. Sun-Sentinel. A teacher is suspended for failing to report child abuse. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Nutrition. Some school districts offer free breakfast and lunch in schools with a high density of low-income students; others do not. Orlando Sentinel.

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