redefinED roundup: Tax credits in Arizona, vouchers in Wisconsin, charter schools in New Mexico & more

Illinois: The Chicago Teachers Union and privately-run charter schools railed against potential district funding cuts (Chicago Tribune). Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration  will partially restore funding to the United Neighborhood Organization so the charter school operator can finish a new soccer academy high school by this fall (Chicago Tribune).

MondayRoundUpArizona: The Senate approves the expansion of a school choice program that adds kindergartners and increases funding for students who leave charter  schools for private schools (Associated Press). More from the Arizona Daily Star. The legislature passed a bill expanding the type of corporations eligible to participate as donors in the state’s tax credit scholarship program and streamlined the approval process (Cato Institute).

Louisiana: Lawmakers find new funding stream for voucher program (Education Week). More from the Associated Press.

Indiana: A new state law will give high-performing school districts or schools more flexibility in designing their own curriculum, professional programs and schedules (Indianapolis Star). Another new law limits how much state aid charter schools can receive to target adult drop0outs (Associated Press).

Wisconsin: Wauwatosa School District officials protest the opening of an independent charter school in the city because it could directly compete with them for students and state funds (Journal Sentinel). Gov. Scott Walker says he is comfortable with the slow expansion of the school voucher program (Associated Press). Critics of the statewide school voucher expansion continue calling attention to campaign donations given to Sen. Alberta Darling, co-chair  of the committee that recommended the start of the expansion (Wisconsin Public Radio). State Superintendent Tony Evers speaks out against the state budget proposal to expand the voucher school system (Journal Sentinel). A traditional elementary school starts a special program for gifted students with great success (Education News).

Maine: Senate Democrats pass a bill that gives communities more input and control over approval of charter schools, but there still are more hurdles (Morning Sentinel).

Florida: Nearly every teacher and parent at Rowlett Magnet Elementary voted to go forward with plans for a charter conversion school (redefinED). Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Common Core, summer camps, digital classrooms & more

Common Core: Sen. John Legg tries to clear up confusion about the Common Core State Standards. Tampa Tribune.

florida roundup logoStepping down: An elementary school principal makes good on his threat to retire following an ethics complaint against a Palm Beach County school board member whose children attended the school. Palm Beach Post.

Going digital: Students at Cardinal Newman High, a private school with less than 700 students, will either lease an iPad from the school or buy their own and bring it in to school next year. Palm Beach Post. Lawmaker says state needs to phase out pencil-and-paper school tests and go digital. StateImpact Florida. Lakes Wales’ charter school hosts technology summit – for teachers. Ledger.

Failing: Poor performance that is not acceptable at a charter school is just as unacceptable at other public schools, editorial notes. Tampa Bay Times.

CAPE: Pinellas County school board looks at district’s career academies and number of student certifications. Tampa Tribune.

STEM camp: Hillsborough County is seeing more summer camps devoted to the teaching of science, technology, engineering and math. Tampa Bay Times.

Special Ed: Hillsborough County schools will use the summer to focus on special education needs and train workers, including aides and bus drivers. Tampa Bay Times.

Lawsuits: A mother sues the Pinellas County School Board, alleging her son was beaten so severely by other students that he had to have a testicle removed. Tampa Bay Times. An Atheist group sues the Orange County school district for blocking the distribution of pamphlets in schools. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →


A charter conversion with parents and teachers speaking in one loud voice

Rowlett Magnet Elementary teachers react after hearing the final vote count for converting their district school into a charter school. Florida law requires a majority of teachers and parents vote for the conversion.

Rowlett Magnet Elementary teachers react after hearing the final vote count for a charter conversion school.

In a state that has found itself politically deadlocked over whether parents should be given the power to change who runs a public school, a Bradenton elementary magnet school pulled its own type of trigger this week. The vote to convert to a charter school was made under existing Florida law, which calls for both parents and teachers to approve, and the results were a disquieting declaration of educational independence. Parents: 480-26. Teachers: 57-4.

This is an arts school mimicking art, conducting what amounts to its own version of Won’t Back Down, the Hollywood drama that featured a band of parents and teachers who fought to turn their own school around. Yes, there are clear differences: Rowlett Elementary is not suffering. It is a popular magnet school that has received an A or B rating from the state over the past five years and has enjoyed the financial fruit of a Rowlett Family Association that raised $170,00 just last year.

Parents gathered at Rowlett Magnet Elementary in Bradenton, Fla., recently to witness the final vote count to turn the district school into a charter school.

Parents gathered at Rowlett Magnet Elementary in Bradenton, Fla., recently to witness the final vote count to turn the district school into a charter school.

But Rowlett is a racially and economically diverse school, in a middle- to low-income neighborhood, and what is familiar is the powerful sense of self-determination. The campaign has brought together teachers and parents who in other circumstances might have been skeptical of such tools. One of the parents is an active member of a group in Florida, Fund Education Now, that has taken credit for defeating the parent trigger bill the past two years.

“It’s not the direction I thought we would be going in after 13 years,” said principal Brian Flynn, a 34-year school district employee who has led the school since it opened in 2000. “It’s not about wanting to leave the district. We wanted to be able to continue the type of programs that we have always offered.”

“We will be able to continue the excellence, the programs, the tone, that Rowlett already has,” parent Glorianne Flint told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. “What is the School Board going to do to continue the wonderful programs that Rowlett has? The district can’t give us that answer.” Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: School counselors, accreditation, Common Core & more

School counselors: Lee County schools’ tight budget has left the district with one school counselor to every 532 high students, one to 565 middle school students and one to 923 elementary students. The recommended ratio is 1-250 at every school level. News-Press.

florida roundup logoIvy league: This senior and farmerworker’s son might be the first kid from rural LaBelle to go to an Ivy League college. News-Press.

High marks: Duval County schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti gives himself high marks on a self-evaluation after seven months on the job. Florida Times-Union.

New Super: Polk County’s new schools Superintendent Kathryn LeRoy lays out her plan to improve academic achievement and address the budget deficit. Ledger.

Imagine: Recently-shuttered Imagine Charter School in St. Petersburg performed better on the FCAT this year than many other neighborhood schools, though scores remain extremely low. Tampa Bay Times.

Fired: Scott Kimbrough, a Seminole County teacher accused of having sex with two female students, has been fired. Orlando Sentinel.

Suspended: A first-grade teacher in Hernando County was suspended after an investigation into allegations that she yelled at a student, made disparaging remarks about him and hit him in the chest with a backpack. Tampa Bay Times.

Accreditation: Miami-Dade public schools is looking for districtwide accreditation from AdvancedED. Miami Herald.

Common Core: Education Commissioner Tony Bennett on the new national education standards: “I do believe that Common Core will be the hinge point where we get our focus back, especially in problem solving and critical analysis at the lower levels.” StateImpact Florida. Continue Reading →


Doug Tuthill: Choice & customization will force teacher unions to adapt, someday



Editor’s note: This is the fourth and final post in a series on the future of teachers unions.

Over the last 20 years, the federal government and state governments have used standards, assessments and regulatory accountability to assert more top-down control over classroom teachers. As state-mandated teacher evaluation and merit pay systems have become ubiquitous, the level of teacher disempowerment and alienation has soared, and teacher unions have hunkered down and become even more defensive and conservative.

School choice is the way out – not only because it is breaking down public education’s 19th Century industrial management model, but because teacher unions are so economically tied to this model they are fighting to preserve it, even though it is bad for teachers and students. Ironically, teacher union dues today are used to perpetuate a dysfunctional management system, and to protect teachers from being abused by this same system. It’s crazy.

I say this as a former teacher union leader.

I started teaching in fall 1977. In January 1978, I sat at a table with other teachers and heard a divorced mother with two young children tearfully tell us she had rejected her boss’ sexual advances and now he was ending her employment contract. At the time, we didn’t have a union or a union contract.

I was 22 years old and became a union organizer while sitting at that table. We organized ourselves, collected cards and successfully petitioned the state to hold a collective bargaining election. We won a court case management had filed to block the election. Then we won the election and bargained and ratified a contract that included protections against arbitrarily firing employees.

In 1984, I joined a more mature union (and the school choice movement) when I moved to St. Petersburg, Fla. to help start one of the state’s first magnet schools. The Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association had been a professional association for several decades before turning into an industrial union in the late 1960s. By 1984, its collective bargaining agreement had been in place for more than a decade, and it had established a collaborative working relationship with management.

After the intensity of building a union from scratch, PCTA felt stagnant. The union was part of district management. It did a great job protecting teachers from the abuses of a politically-managed bureaucracy, but there was no energy or vision for progress. PCTA’s only internal and external message was, “We need more money.”

Pinellas teacher salaries increased by an average of 45 percent from 1981 to 1986, yet teachers were still miserable. More money was great, but they wanted greater job satisfaction. Individuals become teachers because they want to make a meaningful contribution to children’s lives, but that’s difficult – and often impossible – in a mass production bureaucracy that treats teachers like assembly line workers and students like identical widgets.

We attempted reform from within. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Special needs students, CAPE Act, school grades & more

Wharton grad: Superintendent Maryellen Elia defends principal who cut short a graduation speech by salutatorian Harold Shaw. Tampa Bay Times.

florida roundup logoSpecial needs: Rodgers Middle School, where a student with Down syndrome drowned last year, no longer will have full-time exceptional student education classes. Tampa Bay Times.

Budget fixes: New Polk County schools Superintendent Kathryn LeRoy looks at ways to reduce $12.7 million shortfall. One way: eliminating a $2.5 million summer reading remediation program. The Ledger.

Funding: Columnist John Romano takes issue with Gov. Scott bragging about Florida, criticizing the state’s level of student funding and practice of steering money to for-profit education companies, among other issues. Tampa Bay Times.

Turnaround plans: When the state education board meets next week, it will review turnaround plans for 58 schools. Gradebook.

School grades: John Padget, the new vice chairman of the state education board, says Florida schools should have prepared for the tougher standards tied to school grades. Gradebook.

Sleeping in: Some Broward County schools will start later in the coming school year and the district works to streamline bus routes and cut transportation costs. Sun Sentinel.

Wi-Fi: The Boynton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency will talk about providing the families of Galaxy Elementary students who qualify for free lunch with home Wi-Fi. Sun Sentinel.

Testing: Pasco school leaders take a look at latest testing scores for instruction ideas. Tampa Bay Times.

Tax hike: Seminole County School Board approves a property-tax increase to pay for building repairs and program improvements. Orlando Sentinel.

Lt. Gov.: Orange County schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins is the leading candidate for Florida’s next lieutenant governor. Orlando Sentinel.

Principal shuffle: Broward County school district’s plan to shuffle low-performing principals has angered parents and teachers. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →


Gary Beckner: Teachers need a professional association, not a union

Gary Beckner

Gary Beckner

Editor’s note: This is the third of four guest posts on the future of teachers unions.

We are at a critical crossroads on the path to education reform in America. Stakeholders from all walks of life and political stripes are beginning to understand that in order to compete in a global economy we must focus on choice and technology to prepare our students for the future.

Likewise, we must also recognize that in order to drive needed change in instruction we must also examine how the teacher workforce is represented. Just as a one-size-fits-all system is not working for students, a labor union model solely fixated on protecting the status quo is no longer serving the needs of all educators in a modern workforce.

Choices in education have opened up avenues for advancing the teaching profession like never before. Virtual schools, technology, and non-traditional charter schools allow teachers to set new schedules and adapt their vision for education to a school that meets their specific needs. These innovations have brought new experienced professionals into the profession and have allowed other talented educators the ability to stay on in different capacities.

According to a membership survey by the Association of American Educators, the non-union teacher organization that I lead, teachers support laws that advance choice and promote options. For example, 68 percent of member educators support an Indiana law that provides a tax credit to parents who send their children to a private or parochial school of their choice. Similarly, 74 percent of survey respondents support Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, which allow parents of special-needs students to use state education dollars in a school that meets the student’s needs.

Despite this groundswell of support from educators themselves, the nation’s largest teacher unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, continue to stand in the way of commonsense education reform for the sake of preserving their own monopoly. Not only is this harmful to America’s students, it degrades the professionalism of one of the most revered career choices. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Charter school conversion, black males, budget fixes & more

Going charter: An overwhelming number of parents and teachers voted in favor of converting Rowlett Magnet Elementary in Bradenton into a charter school. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. More from the Bradenton Herald.

florida roundup logoJob cuts: Plans to cut and downgrade Polk County school district positions are put on hold. Ledger.

Budget fix: Residents tell a local newspaper how Polk County schools can offset its $12.7 million shortfall. One common solution: eliminate school board salaries. Ledger.

Black males: Broward County looks to figure out how to boost academic success of young black boys. Miami Herald.

Disney ED: Broward County schools hopes the Disney Institute can help the South Florida district make its schools a more pleasant place for students, parents, and district employees. Miami Herald.

In debt: Palm Bay Academy charter school in Brevard County is $12.2 million in debt and way behind on bond payments. Florida Today.

High demand: Sarasota County Technical Institute gets a new precision-machining lab that will help the school train students for high-skilled manufacturing jobs. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Music man: Flagler Beach music teacher Rodney Harshbarger is up for a national award. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Outsourcing: Volusia County school district looks at using a private company for groundskeeper services to help plug a $19 million shortfall. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Common Core: A quick primer on the new national education standards that have divided conservatives and created a backlash of criticism. Miami Herald.