Why I started my own school

Last day of school this year at Sunset Sudbury School in Davie, FL.

Last day of school this year at Sunset Sudbury School in Davie, FL.

Editor’s note: Dionne Ekendiz founded the Sunset Sudbury School in South Florida. In her own words, here’s why she did it.

I always wanted to become a teacher and make a difference in the lives of children. I truly believed in public education and wanted to be part of making it better. But like many “smart” students, I was dissuaded from that career path, especially by my math and science teachers. They encouraged me to do something “more” with my life, so I went off to MIT and pursued a degree in engineering. After 12 years as an engineer, computer programmer, and project manager in the corporate world, I finally had the confidence and courage to make a change. Others thought I was crazy to leave a great career, but I was driven to pursue my own passion.

teachers and choice logoI entered a master’s of education program and sought to get the most of my experience there. When I heard about a professor who was conducting research in the “best” public schools in the area, I volunteered to be his graduate assistant. This took me into the schools twice a week. I loved working with the students, but there were things I didn’t like about the environment. One of the most disturbing was how teachers and aides would yell at students to “stay in line” and “don’t talk” in the hallways. Those were the times that schools felt most like prisons to me. But still, I believed a good teacher could learn to control his/her students in a more humane way, so I didn’t let it bother me so much.

A year into my education program, I gave birth to my first child. Watching her grow and learn on her own, especially during her first years, made me see the true genius inside her. Indeed, it is a genius that exists in all children. She was so driven to master new skills like walking, talking, and feeding herself. I was always there with love, support, and encouragement, but my instincts told me to stay out of her way as much as possible and let her own curiosity guide her. Because of my own experiences with schooling and well-meaning teachers, I was determined to let my daughter make her own choices. I knew that with curiosity and confidence intact, she could do and be anything she wanted to.

It slowly dawned on me that everything I was learning about teaching was contrary to the philosophy I was using in raising my own daughter. The goal of teachers, in the traditional setting, is to somehow stuff a pre-determined curriculum into students’ heads. Some teachers do it more gently than others and make it more fun, but the result is the same. Teachers must stifle their students’ own interests and desires to meet the school’s agenda. Simply put, regardless of how nice a teacher is, s/he must coerce students into getting them to do what s/he wants them to do. What I was once willing to do to other people’s children, I wasn’t willing to do to my child. That was a huge wake-up call for me. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Common Core, school board transparency & more ALEC

Charter schools. A Lake County charter will get money to stay open despite an unfavorable audit that showed problems with record keeping for enrollment. Orlando Sentinel.

florida roundup logoCommon Core. The Manatee school board votes to release students early on one Wednesday a month next year so teachers can have more time to train for Common Core. Bradenton Herald.

ALEC. ALEC and Patricia Levesque respond to Progress Florida’s report suggesting ALEC has run amok in Florida ed policy. StateImpact Florida.

School spending. Business leaders propose cost-saving measures for the Pinellas district, including limiting sick leave payouts. Tampa Bay Times. Pinellas may also consider transferring its internal police force to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office to save money. Tampa Bay Times.

School grades. The Ocala Star Banner writes up fears of falling grades this year.

Teacher conduct. A Pinellas teacher is charged with felony child abuse after reportedly telling one student to put another in a choke hold. Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Tribune.

Transparency. The Pinellas school district isn’t publicly posting a number of key items up for consideration by the school board. Gradebook. An appeals court rules that a Broward whistleblower fired after reporting corruption may be able to get her job back. South Florida Sun Sentinel.


More school choice, better teacher quality

Merrifield: More school choice could make a teacher's job less Herculean.

Merrifield: More school choice could make a teacher’s job less Herculean. (Image from teacherportal.com)

Editor’s note: John Merrifield is an economics professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio whose primary academic interest is school system reform studies. He’s also editor of the Journal of School Choice, initiator of the annual School Choice and Reform International Academic Conference, and author of the critically acclaimed “The School Choice Wars.”

A recent Wall Street Journal article about a National Council on Teacher Quality report on widespread deficiencies in teacher training programs is the latest example of hand-wringing about teacher ineffectiveness. Without discounting completely the need to address this issue along with others in the teaching profession – such as low pay, tenure, high turnover, poor materials, and the tendency to draw the lowest ability students –  allow me to suggest the root of our teaching skill problem is actually the public school system’s monopoly on public funding.

The current system generates classroom composition that is so heterogeneous in student ability and life experience that only an extraordinarily rare teaching talent achieves significant academic progress for a high percentage of students in public school classrooms. Policies like mainstreaming a lot of special needs children will make teacher and public luck, in the form of unusually homogenous classrooms, increasingly rare.

Data reveal a few schools at the top and bottom that perform well or poorly with all students, respectively. But the truth is, teachers are quite effective with certain students and not effective with others – something that is often concealed by comprehensive test score averages. In 2011, I analyzed this fact in Texas, which has test score data disaggregated into several student sub-groups, and is especially important in Texas because of its diversity: large black and Hispanic populations and considerable variation in urban and rural settings. We found schools that taught black students well, and Hispanic students poorly, and vice versa. Other schools did well with low-achieving students, but not well with high achieving students, and vice versa.

Many would like to believe schools do an equally good job, regardless of race, ethnic background, students’ average ability level, or socio-economic status. Sadly this is not the case, and the differences are significant. Each school typically does better than others with different groups because teachers have strengths and weaknesses, even when they are not hired for them. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: charter schools, virtual schools, ALEC & more

Charter schools. The updated CREDO study isn’t as flattering about charter school performance in Florida. Gradebook, SchoolZone, StateImpact Florida.

florida roundup logoVirtual schools. Pasco sets up a summer program for its e-school so students don’t take Florida Virtual School classes – and cost the district money in the process. Tampa Bay Times.

Private schools. The head of a high-end Tampa private school resigns after a rocky year. Tampa Bay Times.

Common Core. Could weed out some teachers. State Impact Florida. But will put teachers in the driver’s seat. Eduwonk. Some Florida teachers see a juggling act between the new standards and current curriculum. Tampa Tribune.

ALEC. Progress Florida says the state’s ed policy is run amok with ALEC. StateImpact Florida writes it up.

School grades. DOE appoints a task force to review grading policies before this year’s grades are released. Gradebook.

School spending. Seminole plans to move ahead with a property tax increase. Orlando Sentinel. Lake decides against changing school start times to make up for a projected $16.3 million deficit. Orlando Sentinel. Lee aims to save $1 million a year under new Superintendent Nancy Graham’s re-org. Fort Myers News Press, Naples Daily NewsThe Marion school board approves a staffing plan with 525 fewer positions. Ocala Star Banner.

School discipline. Black community leaders are concerned about high suspension rates for black students in Flagler. Daytona Beach News Journal.

Teacher merit pay. A judge denies FEA’s request to reconsider his decision to throw out a lawsuit challenging the state’s new merit pay law. South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Teachers. Badass Teachers Association says payback is coming. Orlando Sentinel.


Growth stalls at Florida Virtual School

The muscular growth of Florida Virtual School, the nation’s largest provider of online classes, has suddenly become anemic. And the culprit seems to be legislative changes made this spring to the state’s funding formula for education.

flvsOver the last five years, the highly regarded FLVS has seen a 24 percent annual growth in the number of course requests approved by guidance counselors at the end of the school year, according to FLVS figures.

Last year, the number grew at a robust 34 percent, from 150,578 approvals to 201,066. Course approvals are still up this year, but by only 1 percent.

FLVS officials are predicting at least a $34 million hit because of the legislative change, which may have unintentionally pitted the provider against school districts still reeling from the Great Recession. But the bigger problem may be that thousands of students are not getting classes that work best for them.

Evidence continues to surface that districts are denying students access to FLVS courses and/or pushing them toward other providers. A published report suggested a similar effort was underway at a leading charter school network.

“Denied choice is not just about the dollars,’’ said FLVS spokeswoman Tania Clow. “Ultimately, the one who suffers is the student.’’

In response to the sagging numbers, FLVS has instituted a hiring freeze, except in critical areas. And Julie Young, Florida Virtual’s president and CEO, is set to meet with Education Commissioner Tony Bennett next week to talk about the fallout. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Common Core, school grades, summer learning loss & more

Common Core. StateImpact FloridaDon’t let Common Core squeeze out science. StateImpact Florida: State Sen. John Legg says lawmakers still have a lot to do to get the state ready for Common Core.

Charter schools. New study from CREDO shows charter schools improving nationally, compared to traditional public schools, but with results varying widely from state to state. Coverage in the New York Times, Washington Post, Hechinger Report, Charters & Choice, Associated Press, Huffington Post.

florida roundup logoSchool grades. Gradebook: Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho calls on the state to change how it grades ESE centers.

Summer learning loss. Gradebook: High-poverty schools in Pinellas have the lowest turnout for a new district program to stem summer learning loss. Tampa Tribune: Overall turnout for the Pinellas program is less than expected, too. Tallahassee Democrat: Leon offers a summer course for students who failed the Algebra I end of course exam.

Educator conduct. South Florida Sun Sentinel: A teacher’s aide at a Palm Beach County charter school is accused of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old he met at church. Tampa Bay Times: A former Pinellas County elementary school is sentenced to two years in prison for possession of child pornography.

Teacher data. GradebookDOE offers help to teachers whose info may have been compromised.The Gainesville Sun writes up the data breach. So does the Pensacola News Journal.

STEM. Northwest Florida Daily News: Parents pack an Okaloosa County School Board meeting to show support for a STEMM (science, technology, engineering, math and medical) academy.


Time for a ‘Brown’ ruling on religious discrimination in education

Charles Glenn: it's time for a ruling on par with Brown v. Board of Education that ends legalized discrimination on the basis of religion.

Charles Glenn: it’s time for a ruling on par with Brown v. Board of Education to end legalized discrimination in education on the basis of religion.

New Hampshire joined other states in adopting a tuition tax credit program in 2012; now this has been partially blocked by a ruling that illustrates how urgently the United States needs a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court doing, for legalized discrimination on the basis of religion, what Brown v.  Board of Education did for legalized discrimination on the basis of race. In fact, the two institutional forms of bigotry – one adopted by Southern Democrats, the other by Northern Republicans – are intertwined historically.

The 2012 New Hampshire law allows businesses to claim credits against business taxes owed equal to 85 percent of amounts they donate to state-designated “scholarship organizations.” The organizations then award scholarships up to $2,500 to attend non-public schools or out-of-district public schools, or to defray costs of home schooling.

Opponents charge that this violates Article 83 of the state constitution, which stipulates “no money raised by taxation shall ever be granted or applied for the use of the schools of institutions of any religious sect or denomination.”

After a one-day hearing and more than six weeks of pondering, Judge John M. Lewis ruled June 17 that funds raised through tax credits were public funds (even though they had never been in government coffers), and could not be used for scholarships to religious schools. This left the door open for their use for scholarships for non-religious schools.

State Rep. Bill O’Brien, who had been House Speaker when the law was enacted, told the Manchester Union-Leader the ruling “does not address why it is permissible for the state to allow tax breaks for religious organizations through college scholarships, but it is not permissible when it’s a tax credit of this nature.”

According to the Union-Leader, “Charles Arlinghaus of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy said, ‘The final decision in this case was always going to come from the Supreme Court, which I’m sure will uphold the law. No education tax credit has ever been struck down by a Supreme Court in any state. This ruling is particularly odd. The entire program is fine unless a parent by their own choice chooses a religious school. By this logic a program is illegal if neutral and only legal if actively hostile to religion. That’s absurd and I trust the Supreme Court will find it so.’”

Whatever the results of the appeal, it is a timely reminder of the need for a decision at the highest level to undo the lingering effects of religious discrimination in the American legal system. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: charter schools, dual enrollment, school spending & more

Charter schools. They’re becoming more involved in the political process, reports the Florida Times Union. The Bradenton Herald takes a look at the challenges ahead for Rowlett Elementary, the Bradenton magnet that’s becoming a charter school. So does the Sarasota Herald Tribune. (Sidebar on other charter school conversions here.) The fledgling Ben Gamla charterschool  in Pinellas closes because of a dispute with its national board, reports the Tampa Bay Times. The Lake Wales Charter School system has more than 400 students on a waiting list for its middle school, prompting debate how to expand, reports the Lakeland Ledger.

florida roundup logoDual enrollment. Districts are chafing at having to pick up the tab, reports the Tampa Bay Times. More from the Northwest Florida Daily News.

School choice. The lottery process will be a topic for discussion at a school choice summit in Palm Beach County. Extra Credit.

Common Core. Training helps teachers instill love of math, reports StateImpact Florida. It’s clear, concise and good for kids, says a teacher at a high-poverty school in this column by Karin Choweth at Ed Trust (H/T Tampa Bay Times).

Testing. The Happy Scientist raises questions about the science FCAT. Miami Herald.

Humanities. Don’t forget them amidst the growing emphasis on STEM. Tampa Bay Times.

School technology. Hillsborough teachers like BYOD. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →