redefinED roundup: charter schools in Washington, vouchers in Wisconsin, Uncommon Schools & more

National. Uncommon Schools wins the 2013 Broad Prize for outstanding charter school network (Education Week). U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan praises charter schools for recent improvements but criticizes some for excluding high rates of students through disciplinary actions (Education Week). Tax credit scholarship programs are boosting Jewish day schools and yeshivas nationwide (The Jewish Press).

MondayRoundUp_whiteWashington: A coalition led by the state teachers union files a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s new charter school law (Seattle Times). The state’s three biggest districts take different approaches to the new charter law, with Spokane most aggressively embracing it (Associated Press).

Virginia: The Norfolk school district considers converting a fifth of its schools into charters (Virginian-Pilot).

Louisiana: Only one of 117 private schools participating in the state’s school choice voucher program is found to be in violation of financial rules (New Orleans Times Picayune). The state’s fledgling “course choice” program continues to grow, with 1,500 students enrolled so far (New Orleans Times Picayune).

Mississippi: Charter school supporters consider the possibility of luring a high performing charter network like KIPP (Jackson Clarion Ledger). The process for starting a charter school in Mississippi is a grueling one (Jackson Clarion Ledger). One parent offers a testimonial about the power of the Nashville Prep charter school (Jackson Clarion Ledger).

Wisconsin: Gov. Scott Walker says he’ll use test scores, graduation rates and other measures to determine the effectiveness of the newly expanded school choice voucher program (Green Bay Press Gazette). More from the Wisconsin State Journal. The statewide expansion involves a couple of twists on Walker’s part, including a veto of language that could have been used to circumvent the caps (Education Week). Private schools consider whether to participate (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). Critics say private schools that accept vouchers are shortchanging students with disabilities (Wisconsin Watch). Continue Reading →

School choice and ability grouping

Merrifield

Merrifield

For years, it was lost in the wreckage from the crash of the politically incorrect “tracking” of students. But now, the worthy concept of “ability grouping” is making a comeback. A June 9 New York Times article on its resurgence is good news, but in the current public school system the much-needed ability grouping by subject is especially costly, with a very a limited upside. If parents had more school choice – more freedom to choose within a system that could easily diversify its instructional offerings in response to families’ interests and needs – the power and attractiveness of the concept would be much greater.

Unlike tracking, which assumes an across-the-board, one-dimensional level of student ability – i.e., students are uniformly brilliant, average, or slow – ability grouping by subject recognizes children have strengths and weaknesses. Strengths probably correlate with interest/talent, so in a system of genuine school choices, parents recognizing those interest/talents would tend to enroll their children in schools specializing in those particular areas. They’d be in classrooms with children who are similarly passionate and able to progress at similar, fast rates. And, likewise, for necessary subject matter in which they are not as adept, again, they’d be in a room and school building full of kids more similar to them. Stigma gone; no self-esteem threat.

This is not to contend that all students in say, an arts- and music-focused school or in a science- and technology-focused school, wouldn’t study some or both those subjects along with standards such as English, math and history. But students in those schools are likely to be more connected and engaged because of the emphasis on things they have strong interest in and an aptitude toward. Undoubtedly, each type of school will attract some students that are strong across the curriculum, but many of the science school students might have a more difficult time with English and the arts and vice versa.

In a traditional public school, children don’t have a common level of ability in particular subjects or means of instruction because they only have their neighborhood in common. You can see the effect in the photo in the Times article. The system would benefit from the option of having a relative uniformity of subject ability in each classroom, but in traditional public schools, ability grouping means dividing classrooms into sets of kids with different abilities for the subject matter at hand. The teacher has to circulate between tables of children with similar abilities, dividing her time between groups and finding the time to differentiate lesson plans; something that taxes time and teaching talent. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Rick Scott, career education, school zoning & more

Charter schools. A Palm Beach County School Board member questions whether it’s appropriate to allow a charter school to stay in a district building that needs millions of dollars in renovations. Extra Credit.

florida roundup logoCareer education. Manatee students make a splash in two national competitions – one in technology, and the other for career and technical students. Bradenton Herald.

Rick Scott. A new web ad from the Republican Party of Florida highlights teachers who praise Rick Scott. StateImpact Florida, Gradebook.

School zoning. Alachua is looking for better ways to communicate with parents about exceptions that allow students to attend schools other than their zoned schools. Gainesville Sun.

School schedules. South Florida Sun Sentinel: “High school schedules in Broward County won’t change next year despite an arbitrator’s ruling this week that seven-period schedules violated a contract with the teacher’s union.” More from the Miami Herald.

School spending. Polk’s athletic budget has been cut 22 percent since 2007. Lakeland Ledger.

School food. Districts respond to a federal crackdown on yummy stuff. Sarasota Herald Tribune. Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: charter schools, teacher transfers, Head Start & more

Charter schools. The charter schools in Pinellas expect to add 1,400 students this fall, for a total of nearly 6,500. Gradebook. A new charter school in Naples is offering a summer camp to boost literacy skills for ELL students entering kindergarten. Fort Myers News Press. The struggling Tiger Academy charter school in Jacksonville shows big improvement in its third grade FCAT results. Florida Times Union.

florida roundup logoPrivate schools. Q&A with the new head of Tampa’s Carrollwood Day School. Tampa Tribune.

Teacher transfers. Alexander Russo takes a look at a recent study examining involuntary transfers in Miami-Dade.

School spending. Pasco anticipates $1 billion in capital expenses through 2025 and $711 million from all funding sources. Gradebook. Pasco considers shifting some school start times to save money on bus routes. Tampa Bay Times.

Superintendents. The Tampa Bay Times profiles new Hernando Superintendent Lori Romano.

Porn. Pasco deputies arrest a 15-year-old high school student for possession of child pornography after school officials find a photo on her iPhone of two teens having sex. Tampa Tribune, Tampa Bay Times.

Head Start. The feds uphold the suspension of the Jacksonville Urban League as a program provider, citing health and safety issues. Florida Times Union.

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The school where Bible truth & evolution built a bridge

Editor’s note: This is a sidebar to Monday’s profile post about Daniel and Suzette Dean, a Tampa, Fla. couple whose private school is at the heart of their community development vision.

At Bible Truth school, Lizzie Bilogo-Nguema, 12, helps 3-year-old Delilah Prevot with math. The school features a lot of interaction between students of different ages.

At Bible Truth school, Lizzie Bilogo-Nguema, 12, helps 3-year-old Delilah Prevot with math. The school features a lot of interaction between students of different ages.

The big girl scooched the little one gently back to the center of the chair, then pointed to the work sheet on the table. Today’s topic: kindergarten math. Can you count the elephants in the first clump, Lizzie, 12, asked Delilah, 3. Now in the second clump? Now can you add them? Beneath the rainbow of clasps in her braids, Delilah correctly counted the answers out loud.

“Good job. You got it,” Lizzie smiled. “Do you know how to write a 10?”

Scenes like this play out all the time at Bible Truth Ministries Academy. The tiny private school in Tampa, Fla. often goes out of its way to put students of different ages together and frequently to have older kids teach younger ones. That kind of multi-age, multi-grade set-up isn’t unheard of – it’s a fundamental part of Montessori schools, for example – but in the case of Bible Truth, the origin of the idea is noteworthy.

A think tank called the Evolution Institute recommended it. Bible Truth followed up. And the fact that the entities have a warm relationship is a sign that bridge-building is possible even in that tense place where schools, faith and science collide.

“We get so caught up in the vessel. It doesn’t matter to me” where good ideas come from, said Daniel Dean, who co-founded Bible Truth school with wife Suzette. “If it makes sense, it makes sense.”

“It starts with, what do they want for the children and the families? – which is what I want,” said Jerry Lieberman, who co-founded the institute and has known the Deans for seven years. “We both want them to have an excellent education, and we both want to remove obstacles that stand in their way.”

The school doesn’t teach evolution. Lieberman doesn’t dwell on it.

But as its name suggests, the little institute with a board full of top-notch scientists is big on it. Its mission is to use evolutionary science to solve real-world problems. In education, that translates, in its view, into classroom practices that echo the way children have adapted to learn – in mixed-group settings, with lots of physical movement, with an emphasis on self-directed play.

The group’s co-founder and president, David Sloan Wilson, an internationally respected evolutionary biologist, carved out “10 simple truths” about childhood education from an evolutionary perspective. A lot of it hinges on choice, community, cooperation. In the Binghamton, N.Y. school district a few years ago, the 10 points were converted into classroom practices and tested in a year-long program for at-risk 9th and 10th graders. The result: Students in the program outperformed their peers in a control group. They had less absenteeism, higher standardized test performance – and a 30-point jump in the scores behind school grades.

The institute is hoping to secure funding to test the program in other school districts, and in both public and private schools.

In the meantime, it’s been working informally with Bible Truth. Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: school grades, charter schools, Common Core & more

Charter schools. The Pembroke Pines Charter Schools system, which recently cut teacher pay, is asking parents to pay $1,000 per student per year to restore the system’s reserves. South Florida Sun Sentinel. Gov. Rick Scott signs the bill boosting accountability for charter schools. Orlando Sentinel.

florida roundup logoCommon Core. FEA President Andy Ford says too much testing could sour the public on it. StateImpact Florida.

School grades. Tony Bennett meets with the school grades task force, which  includes a number of superintendents, but says he won’t make changes just to soften the blow of bad grades. Orlando Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times, StateImpact Florida, Palm Beach Post, News Service of Florida, Tallahassee Democrat.

Dual enrollment. Tony Bennett says districts and state colleges need to better collaborate in the wake of the Legislature’s decision to shift costs to districts. Gradebook.

Parent power. The Pensacola News Journal writes up the new law that gives more power to parents of students with disabilities.

Superintendents. Duval’s Nikolai Vitti: “Folks here know that public education can be better. And they’re willing to put their shoulder to the wheel to make it better.” StateImpact Florida.

Teachers unions. The Broward union wins an arbitration case involving changes to the high school schedule. South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald.

Tardiness. Alachua looks for ways to crack down on chronic tardiness. Gainesville Sun.

School spending. Walton will consider upping the millage rate for capital improvements. Northwest Florida Daily News.

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