Education Week: Florida schools rank high in achievement, low in funding

QC 2014 coverAnother year, another report, another Top 10 academic ranking for Florida’s oft-criticized public schools.

The Sunshine State ranks No. 7 in K-12 achievement this year, up from No. 12 last year, says Education Week in its latest annual “Quality Counts” report.

Released Thursday morning, the report for the first time since 2008 did not include overall grades or ranks for each state. (Florida ranked No. 11, No. 5, No. 8, No. 11 and No. 6 over those years.) It did, though, continue to offer grades and ranks for six separate categories, including the one that matters the most.

In K-12 achievement, Florida earned a C, up from a C- last year. Massachusetts and Maryland earned the highest grade, a B; New Jersey, a B-; and the others ahead of Florida, a C+. The nation as a whole earned a C-.

Florida has a far greater percentage of low-income students than the states ahead of it or immediately behind it (roughly 10 to 30 percentage points more). It also stands out because of how aggressively it has pursued school choice and top-down accountability.

Gov. Rick Scott credited teachers: “Today’s news that Florida jumped to 7th nationwide in K-12 achievement is the result of great work by our teachers,” he said in a written statement. Florida families depend on an education system that provides every student with a quality education, and that’s why in our last budget we fought to provide our teachers with a pay raise and secured more than $1 billion in additional investments for K-12 education.”

Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Achievement, charters, Common Core & more

Florida progress. Florida’s public education system ranks No. 7 in K-12 achievement this year, up from No. 12 last year, according to Education Week’s annual Quality Counts report. redefinED.

School choice. Four Florida districts – Duval, Miami-Dade, Pinellas and Brevard – rank in the Top 25 among big districts nationwide when it comes to meaningful school choice, according to the latest annual index from the Brown Center at Brookings. redefinED. Add another school to the growing ranks of Cambridge schools in Florida: Tarpon Springs Middle. Gradebook.

Charter schools. Virtual charters are on the rise in Florida, with three new ones approved last month. redefinED.

Common Core. Senators ask Education Commissioner Pam Stewart tough questions about the new Common Core standards and the tests that are supposed to go with them. The Buzz. Education Week. Post on Politics. News Service of Florida.

Superintendents. Miami-Dade’s Alberto Carvalho is a finalist for National Superintendent of the Year. Miami Herald. Gradebook.

Principals. Removal of the Pahokee High principal causes a stir. Extra Credit.

PE. Lawmakers propose a PE credit waiver for high school athletes. Gradebook.

School names. Westside High is the new name for Jacksonville’s former N. B. Forrest High School, named after the Civil War general and early KKK leader. StateImpact Florida. Associated Press. Orlando Sentinel.

Employee conduct. The Palm Beach County School Board fires or suspends five employees. South Florida Sun Sentinel.

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FL lawmakers ask tough questions about Common Core tied tests

From the News Service of Florida:

Commissioner Stewart

Commissioner Stewart

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart faced tough questions from senators Wednesday as she outlined how the state would move forward on tweaks to its current schools standards and select a new test for students.

Speaking to the Senate Education Committee, Stewart tried to tamp down concerns that a quick timeline for having a new test in place for next school year could cause problems.

“We’ve put every precaution in place to ensure that we will have an assessment that is appropriate for Florida’s students in the ’14-’15 school year,” Stewart said.

Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order in September requiring the state to end its role in helping handle the financial affairs of the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. The state is currently reviewing five applications by testing companies hoping to develop a new test for Florida.

Stewart is scheduled to select the winner in March.

Despite talk that the state might ultimately end up using PARCC, Stewart said the multi-state consortium did not participate in the state’s “invitation to negotiate” for the new test.

“PARCC did not apply,” she said in response to a question from Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, about whether the test might still be used. “I would suggest to you … it will depend on the five applications. It cannot be considered as part of the ITN.”

Pressed by Montford again about whether Florida could ultimately end up using PARCC, Stewart cited legal restrictions on what she could and couldn’t say.

“You have probably stepped into the arena of questions I could not answer,” she responded.

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, was more blunt while talking to reporters after the meeting, which Gaetz attended. Continue Reading →

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Familiar face in FL charter schools office

Adam EmersonThe Florida Department of Education’s new director of charter schools might be a familiar name to readers of this blog. He is Adam Emerson, former director of parental choice for the Fordham Institute, former education reporter for the Tampa Tribune – and the creator and first editor of redefinED.

Emerson started his new job on Monday, and he’ll oversee a charter school landscape that has doubled in enrollment in just the past five years and now serves more than 200,000 students. He was hired by the man he replaced. Adam Miller, the former charter director, was elevated last fall to executive director of Independent Education and Parental Choice.

Those who read this blog will remember Emerson for his eagerness to find common ground between traditional educators and those involved in newer learning options. He brought calibration to his arguments about accountability and regulation, a theme on which he expanded while working at Fordham – an institute that serves as a moderate and responsible voice in the national debate over school options.

Emerson’s appointment also reflects a growing professional diversity at DOE. Though he was schooled at Michigan State University as a journalist, he dug into education policy as a newspaperman and had become a bona fide wonk by the time he left Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that helps administer tax credit scholarships in Florida, and joined Fordham.

Having worked with Adam, I profess no objectivity here. I do know him as earnest and measured, the husband of a public school teacher, a believer in the public good and a sap for educational turnaround stories. He joins some talented and conscientious people in the choice office, and we wish him well.

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Which FL districts have the edge on school choice?

brookings report coverFour Florida school districts again rank in the Top 25 big districts nationally when it comes to providing meaningful school choice, according to the latest annual report from the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution.

The Duval County and Miami-Dade County school districts tied at No. 13, the report says, while the Pinellas County School District comes in at No. 19. All three districts earned C+ grades. The Brevard County School District was one of eight Florida districts to earn a C, coming in at No. 22.

The rankings are based on 13 categories, including the breadth and quality of learning options, including charter schools, magnet schools and virtual courses, and the accessibility of private schools through vouchers and tax credit scholarships. The think tank also looked at how well districts close or restructure undersubscribed schools; if they provide comparative data to parents; and whether they provide transportation to choice schools. (See the scoring guide here.)

There wasn’t much fluctuation from last year’s rankings, when Miami-Dade came in No. 10. The Recovery School District in New Orleans was again No. 1 (with an A), followed by New York City (with an A-). Denver climbed from No. 24 to No. 5 after moving to a common application for all public schools, including charters.

In all, 14 Florida districts are on the list. Thirty-four districts nationwide received F grades, including Osceola in Central Florida. (See scoring for each district here.) Continue Reading →

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Virtual charter schools on rise in Florida

Virtual charter schools are ramping up in the Sunshine State with three Florida Virtual Academies expected to open next fall, bringing the total number of schools in the charter network to eight.

School boards in Clay, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties signed off on the academies last month. The schools will have local non-profit governing boards that partner with Virginia-based K12 Inc., one of the nation’s largest providers of online education.

The concept of virtual charters was approved by the Florida Legislature in 2011, part of the Digital Learning Now Act that also required public high school students to take at least one online course. Also, state law requires larger districts to provide students with at least three options for virtual instruction, which include a district-run program; a franchise of Florida Virtual School or a contract with another online provider; or an agreement with another district, state college or virtual charter school.

Osceola County became home to the first Florida Virtual Academy charter school in 2012. Since then, other academies have gained approval in Duval, Broward, Pasco and Palm Beach counties.

“Many states have a variety of digital learning options, including district-based online programs, virtual charter schools, and other models,” said K12 spokesman Jeff Kwitowski. “Each has its own characteristics and distinct offerings, giving families more options and choices.”

Miami-Dade County also has a virtual charter, Somerset Virtual Academy. The school, operated by Academica, a for-profit charter management company based in Florida, started enrolling students in grades 6-12 in August of 2012.

In Hillsborough, school officials unanimously approved the Florida Virtual Academy application. But they also expressed concern about how the K-12 virtual school would collaborate with the district’s own virtual academy, which also contracts with K12 Inc. for curriculum. District staff said details still must be settled, but recommended approval.

In Pinellas, where the board finalized its contract with the academy, debate among members centered on K12 Inc., according to The Tampa Tribune. Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: Common Core, magnet schools, best principals & more

florida-roundup-logoVirtual schools. Florida Virtual School is developing an online course for teachers about online teaching. Getting Smart.

Magnet schools. Raising re-segregation concerns? ActionNewsJax.com.

Career academies. Alachua holds its annual forum. Gainesville Sun.

Charter schools. A charter school in Palm Beach County is starting a STEAM Academy. Palm Beach Post.

Common Core. So PARCC maybe sorta kinda isn’t really out of the running after all. Education Week. Common Core critics continue to push. Gradebook. Some conservative groups aim to channel Common Core opposition into school choice support. Politico.

Turnaround schools. State officials see good and not-so-good in Pinellas. Gradebook.

School spending. Manatee puts together a comprehensive plan to address fiscal errors identified in audits. Sarasota Herald Tribune.

School facilities. Parents at a Sarasota elementary say something at the school is making their kids sick. Sarasota Herald Tribune.

Principals. A Florida TaxWatch analysis lists the six best in the state, based on math and reading gains. Five are in Miami-Dade. Miami Herald. The Buzz. The Florida Current. One’s in Pasco. Gradebook. Continue Reading →

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More charter schools for U.S. military bases?

There’s a noteworthy backdrop behind the tug-of-war over a proposed charter school for MacDill Air Force Base in Florida: The U.S. Department of Defense is re-thinking how its on-base schools serve military families. And charter schools are among the options being considered.

dodAs part of an ongoing assessment, the DOD is looking at the costs and operations of 60 schools, on 15 North American military bases, to see if it can better balance expenses with the educational needs of its military families. The study, conducted by the Rand Corp., will look at school programs and performance, and offer recommendations that could result in some DOD schools becoming charters.

Although eight military bases across the country already have embraced the model, the DOD is not advocating charters or any other option, said Elaine Kanellis, a department spokeswoman. The nontraditional public schools, which tend to have lower per-pupil costs, are just one idea among several being considered.

Other alternatives include leaving the schools as they are, or closing them and transferring students to local district schools. The department also could create a new public school district under state law.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution,’’ Kanellis said.

Rand will talk with focus groups of parents, teachers, military personnel and education experts. The nonprofit think tank also will compare the performance of DOD schools to surrounding schools. A final decision will be made at the Pentagon level when the study ends, sometime after the summer.  Continue Reading →

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