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

Charter schools. Citing a lack of space with a building unfinished, a Pinellas charter turns away students and holds a new lottery days before school starts. Tampa Bay Times. A charter school opens in a former airport facility. Panama City News Herald. The Tampa Bay Times editorial board weighs in the Hillsborough charter school conflict.

florida-roundup-logoPrivate schools. A new private school will cater to children with autism and other special needs. Tampa Bay Times. Elite private schools in Miami-Dade get new leadership. Miami Herald.

School choice. Do private school choice programs obliterate public school enrollment? No, Matthew Ladner writes on Jay P. Greene’s Blog.

Career education. A Hernando aviation program hopes to attract more students. Tampa Bay Times.

Campaigns. Charlie Crist talks education on a statewide bus tour. Tampa TribuneNaked Politics. WFTV. The Tampa Bay Times compares his positions with Democratic primary challenger Nan Rich. The Palm Beach PTA surveys school board candidates. Palm Beach Post. A crowded field vies for a Volusia school board seat. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Retirement. Experienced Sarasota teachers are headed for the exits. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Facilities. Hillsborough opens a new LEED-certified elementary school. Tampa Bay Times. Brevard schools upgrade their security systems. Florida Today.

Back to school. Hundreds of first-year teachers gear up in Volusia. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Miami-Dade bus drivers prepare for the new year. Miami Herald. School staring means less crowded beaches in the Panhandle. Northwest Florida Daily News. Bay County teachers collaborate. Panama City News Herald.

Teacher conduct. A teacher who came to school drunk resigns. Tampa Tribune.


Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: Rules for thee but not for me; vouchers, charters and choice

MrGibbonsReportCardJulian Vasquez Heilig, associate professor, University of Texas, Austin

I am not sure whether Julian Vasquez Heilig wanted readers to laugh or cry when he published his latest brief on voucher research.

Vasquez Heilig sets up his paper by describing the attitudes, beliefs and motivations of voucher supporters. So who does he cite to provide a fair and accurate description of the beliefs of voucher supporters? None other than the National Education Association, the nation’s single largest voucher opponent (this is the actual citation).

To build a case against vouchers, he tries to show consensus among researchers, yet he provides few academic citations. The sources he does cite are over a decade old or inexplicably limited in scope. He even allows a blogger at an advocacy organization to summarize voucher research … twice. Interestingly, that blogger doesn’t have a single citation to back up her own single sentence summation.

NEAprofessorPadding the support for his own argument is bad enough, but Vasquez Heilig ignores whole swaths of voucher research, claiming much of the research was either not published in peer-reviewed academic journals, or was funded by pro-voucher groups.

Of course, Vasquez Heilig publishes this claim in a non-peer-reviewed outlet in the same week he tweets about his NEA Foundation trip to China. It is also worth noting he’s a research fellow for the union-backed National Education Policy Center and, contrary to his accusations of corporate influence corrupting research, lists himself on his resume as a former Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Young Researcher.

Grade: Needs Improvement


Rep. Geraldine Thompson and Bill Sublette

o-POT-MEET-KETTLE-570Charter schools in Orange County, Fla. are increasing racial and economic segregation, or so say state Rep. Geraldine Thompson and Orange County School Board Chair Bill Sublette.

They make this accusation after finding a handful of charter schools with demographics at odds with the district-wide average. But averages mask extremes on one end or the other, so comparing a single school, or even a handful of schools, to the average of a large district is not only unfair but inappropriate.

According to data from the Florida Department of Education, district schools in Orange County range from 26 percent to 100 percent minority. Charter schools range from 24 percent to 100 percent minority. Not much difference.

The same is true for economic segregation. District schools run from 7 percent free- and reduced-price lunch (FRL) eligible to 100 percent. The charters run from 0 percent to 93 percent.

It is worth noting that district-run schools seem more likely than charters to have extreme concentrations of minority or low-income students. Forty-four district schools in Orange – nearly a quarter of all schools – are 90-percent-plus minority, while 40 schools have a student body that is 100 percent FRL eligible.

Charter schools in Orange are drawing students from local neighborhoods much in the same way as district schools. Rather than pointing fingers at the 19 charters where students voluntarily enroll, Thompson and Sublette might want to scrutinize the 183 district schools where students are zoned.

Grade: Needs Improvement


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Florida Roundup: Tax credit scholarships, school board races and more

Tax credit scholarships. Education Week looks at the latest evaluation of Florida tax credit scholarships.

florida-roundup-logoTesting. The Fort Myers News-Press looks at the complications of the Lee school district’s discussion of opting out. More from the Naples Daily News.

Technology. Duval schools pour millions into upgrades. Florida Times-Union. WJCT.

Acceleration. Polk students may soon have more chances to skip grades or take advanced courses. Lakeland Ledger.

Facilities. The Pensacola News-Journal tours a school construction project.

Campaigns. The AFL-CIO gets involved in a Collier County school board race. Naples Daily News. Collier candidates respond to Daily News surveys.  Common Core is an issue in Seminole school board races. Orlando Sentinel.

STEM. Miami-Dade students are poised for publication in a scientific journal. Miami Herald.

Administration. The Manatee district faces withering criticism from a former coach in the wake of a sex abuse case. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. It also faces a separate lawsuit by the accuser. Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald. A Marion County administrator is a finalist for principal of the year. Ocala Star-Banner. Southwest Florida school officials convene to talk standards, employee benefits and more. Bradenton Herald. A former Hernando administrator sues over a job transfer. Tampa Bay Times.

Back to school. Brevard outfits teachers with donated supplies. Florida Today. Manatee schools hand out teacher grants at a back-to-school rally. Bradenton Herald. Pasco kindergartners get a jump on the new year. Tampa Bay Times.

Discipline. Bay County adds “pop tart” protections to its code of conduct. Panama City News Herald.

Teacher conduct. A former private school teacher faces professional sanctions. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.


Democrats divided on ed reform shouldn’t forget Republican inroads



Earlier this year, during the last week of Florida’s legislative session, House Speaker Will Weatherford stood in the rotunda of Florida’s Capitol, posing for pictures with student activists who thanked him for helping push through a bill that had divided legislative Republicans. Earlier that day, the Senate had teed up a vote to grant in-state tuition to immigrants who had come to the country illegally as young children.DONKEY1a

The activists, many of them Latinos, were now posing for pictures with the Republican Speaker, who, still in his thirties, may have a long political career ahead of him and who, at the same time, was helping to push separate legislation to expand school choice. It was possible in that moment to imagine the self-described acolyte of Florida’s “education governor” rebuilding a more diverse, right-of-center coalition like the one that helped Florida elect two Bushes but frayed in two straight presidential elections as the state backed Barack Obama. It was possible to see him laying the groundwork for an equal opportunity platform in which education would be a key plank.

This week, it also became possible to envision Democrats seizing that mantle – if they can resolve their own internal feuding enough to beat Republicans to it. The timing turned out to be ideal for “Dem Divide,” a series of redefinED posts that explored Democrats’ current divisions on ed reform and parental choice – and ways they might be overcome.

As Dana Goldstein noted last Sunday on MSNBC, “the politics have changed.”

The Obama administration is at odds with the two major teachers unions on charter schools, teacher tenure and other issues, with tensions that trace back to the 2008 campaign, when the unions supported Hillary Clinton. But, as Goldstein suggested, Clinton may be preparing to triangulate toward an embrace of charter schools, too, as her husband already has. Why? Because from New York to Indiana to Florida, the news is increasingly Dem vs. Dem.

It’s worth recapping what the voices in the redefinED series had to say about it.

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Florida roundup: Single-gender schools, testing, accountability and more

Single gender. The Hillsborough District responds to an ACLU complaint. Tampa Tribune.

Tax credit scholarships.Sunshine State News reports on the latest evaluation of student results.

florida-roundup-logoDigital learning. A Collier bring-your-own device policy proves popular. Naples Daily News.

Testing. The Lee County School Board discusses a district-wide testing boycott. Fort Myers News-Press.

Accountability. Brevard’s superintendent discusses falling school grades. Florida Today.

Budgets. The Manatee school district faces an investigation into bond funding it could not account for. Bradenton Herald.

Campaigns. A “contract” between voters and five school board candidates stirs controversy in Collier. Naples Daily News. The Tampa Bay Times profiles a three-way race for an open school board seat in Pinellas while a columnist looks at a controversial incumbent in Hillsborough. The Tampa Tribune profiles a different Pinellas race, while the Bradenton Herald looks at one in Manatee.

English language learners. Pinellas looks to review its policies for students who need help learning English. Tampa Tribune.

Superintendents. Hillsobrough’s MaryEllen Elia gets a contract renewal. Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Tribune.

Facilities. Polk County delays the release of impact fee revenue to the local school district. Lakeland Ledger.


Study: Florida tax credit scholarship students continue to keep pace

The low-income students who participate in the country’s largest K-12 private school choice program are keeping pace with students of all income levels nationally, according to the latest independent evaluation.

The latest annual report, released Tuesday, tracks learning gains for participants in the Florida tax credit scholarship program in the 2012-13 school year.

Overall, the results are similar to previous years. The report shows students who participate in the program are among the state’s most disadvantaged, and that on average, they meet one of the most basic expectations for student learning: A year’s worth of growth after a year’s worth of instruction.

Each year, schools that serve students on the scholarship program report their test scores to an independent research team led by David Figlio of Northwestern University, who analyzes their performance on national norm-referenced tests and compares the results to students nationwide.

This is the seventh such report, and the bottom line is familiar. As Figlio writes, tax credit scholarship “participants on average keep pace with national norms, suggesting that they neither gain ground nor lose ground on average relative to a national peer group that includes not just low-income families but also higher-income families.”

The report also finds:

  • Students who participate in the program, which is expected to serve 67,000 next year, tend to be among the most disadvantaged, not only compared to public school students as a whole, but also among the low-income students who qualify for scholarships.
  • They come disproportionately from low-performing schools, and tend to be among the lowest performers on standardized tests, a tendency Figlo notes is “becoming stronger over time.” Similarly, students who leave the program and return to public school tend to be the lowest performers among scholarship students.
  • The typical student in the program scores in the 47th percentile nationally in reading, and in the 45th percentile in math – numbers Figlio notes have changed very little over time.

Data on student learning gains have more or less held constant from one year to the next, though the report notes wide variation among students in the program. More than one in 10 students fell behind by more than 20 percentile points in reading, while exactly one in 10 made outsize gains of the same amount. The numbers for math were similar.

There was also major variation between schools.  Continue Reading →


Money leads Democrats to put teachers unions over poor kids

Gloria Romero

Gloria Romero

Editor’s note: This is the last post in our series on the Democratic Party’s growing divide over ed reform and ed choice.

While in the belly of the beast of government, I had a front row seat on how the wheels of government are greased to function for politically connected interests. Over time, I chose not to just be a cog in the ever-churning wheel of special interests and status quo, from both the left and the right. I saw a political system, led by Democrats, that was all too willing to ignore the needs of ordinary citizens, particularly the poor and minority kids I represented in East Los Angeles.DONKEY1a

There is no aspect of state government operations or public policy in California, particularly education policy and budgeting, that is untouched by the power of the California Teachers Association (CTA) and its affiliates in Sacramento. With approximately 300,000 members, each paying some $1,000 a year in dues, it commands the most powerful war chest in California, raising over $300 million annually to finance its operations. From 2000-2010, CTA spent over $210 million on political campaigning — more than any other donor in the state, even outspending the pharmaceutical, oil, and tobacco industries combined.

Its political war chest is legendary. It dominates elections, including school board races in which voter turnout is anemic, often less than 10 percent. Political consultants fear crossing them because of the potential to be “blacklisted.” Almost half the entire California budget funds education thanks to Proposition 98, a 1988 initiative crafted by CTA. Democratic legislators fear interfering with it even though few understand how the formula functions.

Former Democratic Senate President Don Perata was one of the few to challenge it, comparing it to a “runaway escalator.” In retribution, CTA ran ads against him. It was not interested in “taking him out”; rather, the message was akin to sending dead fish to fellow caucus members so they would have to choose loyalty: their own president or CTA.

Former CTA staffers are ensconced in legislative leadership offices. Legislation benefiting their membership flies through the Capitol. Indeed, class size reduction was sold to voters as “benefiting kids.” In fact, it has more so grown the numbers of dues-paying members rather than improved the academic skills of, particularly, poor and minority children.

California teachers are amongst the highest-paid in the nation; yet, there is little accountability for student achievement or teacher performance. Laws make it almost impossible to fire teachers for incompetence or misconduct. Charter schools, mostly non-union, are attacked by the teachers unions. Any hint of privatization, including opportunity scholarships for kids in failing schools, are “off the table.” The 2010 Parent Empowerment Act I wrote, giving parents unprecedented tools to fight for their kid, like parent trigger and open enrollment, continues to be vilified.

Money flows to those who control the levers of power, and in California that means Democrats. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Charter schools, campaigns, facilities and more

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. Charters in conflict with the Hillsborough school district say they want the matter brought to a hearing. Tampa Tribune. Gradebook. Conflict is brewing over a proposed municipal charter school in West Palm Beach. Palm Beach Post.

Back to school. Frank Biden rallies charter school educators as they prepare for the new year. Palm Beach Post. Seminole, the third district to open for classes, sees a smooth start. Orlando Sentinel.

Acceleration. Alachua schools will allow some eighth graders to take Advanced Placement Physics. Gainesville Sun.

Graduation. New rules, including an online course requirement, take effect for the Class of 2015. Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers.

Campaigns. The Tampa Tribune looks at a crowded field and an ethnic attack in Hillsborough school board races. Brevard holds a forum on a tax referendum. Florida Today. The superintendent looms large in Clay County school board elections. Florida Times-Union. The Bradenton Herald profiles two Manatee County School Board races. Collier school board candidates take part in a forum. Naples Daily News. The Northwest Florida Daily News offers a voters guide.

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