Florida schools roundup: Charters, private schools, teacher pay & more

Charter schools: A troubled Lee County charter school withdraws its application for a local campus, a month after Collier County board members ordered the closure of the company’s Immokalee campus due to widespread mismanagement. Naples Daily News. The fate of a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base will be decided next week. The Tampa Tribune. MacDill’s proposal gets a preliminary No from the district due to concerns with the local governing board. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoPrivate schools: Students from Seacrest Country Day Academy in Naples channel Secretariats owner during history lessons. Naples Daily News.

Career academy: A Pasco County district high school will launch a gaming technology career academy in the fall. Tampa Bay Times.

Cambridge: Cambridge college prep programs and exams are being introduced in several Orange County public schools. Orlando Sentinel.

Honors classes: Incoming freshmen in Pinellas County could find that their honor courses are worth a little less toward their grade-point averages than college-level courses offered at the high schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher pay: Palm Beach County school and union officials continue working to hash out a salary plan before winter break. Palm Beach Post. Pinellas County Schools and its teachers union reach an agreement to pay teachers up to $29 an hour to work with students before and after school next year. Tampa Bay Times.

Athletic transfers: Suggesting the Lee school district is doing a disservice to student athletes if it fails to adopt stricter policies on athletic transfers implies that students shouldn’t pursue their dreams, that competition is a bad thing and that students should settle for what the system deals them — without question, writes Michael Smith for the Fort Myers News-Press. Continue Reading →


FL district may deny charter school sought by MacDill Air Force Base

MacDillOne of the nation’s best-known military bases may be at odds with one of the nation’s biggest school districts over a proposed charter school.

Officials with the 200,000-student Hillsborough County School District in Tampa, Fla., have recommended an initial denial for a charter school sought by the community at MacDill Air Force Base, the headquarters for U.S. Central Command.

In a Dec. 4 letter released by the district Thursday afternoon, Hillsborough’s charter schools director told an official with the Florida Charter Educational Foundation, the not-for-profit partnering with Charter Schools USA and the base to run the proposed school, that the district is recommending an initial denial “based on the application as written.”

The issue centers around the district’s “inability to determine the identity of the governing board.”  The director noted, however, that a final recommendation is pending an upcoming meeting with the charter school’s organizers, and that it is possible the recommendation for denial could be withdrawn.

The initial recommendation comes after Superintendent MaryEllen Elia publicly raised concerns about the application and said the district could meet the needs of military families.

The applicants plan to meet with the district at 8 a.m. Monday. Their proposal for the K-8 MacDill Charter Academy is among seven going before the Hillsborough school board on Tuesday. In Florida, school boards authorize charter schools in their districts. The other six charter applications have received recommendations for approval.

The proposed 872-student academy would offer a middle school option currently not available on the base, as well as hundreds of more seats for a growing population of families with young children moving into new on-site housing. Part of the district’s concern is it already has an elementary school on the base, A-rated Tinker Elementary.


Mr. Gibbons Report Card: charter schools, charter schools and charter schools


Sen. Jeff Clemens – D-Lake Worth, Fla.

Sen. Clemens filed SB 452 last week, a bill that would prohibit authorization of new charter schools unless the charter provides an instructional service unique to the district. Clemens’ reasoning? He thinks it’s a “poor use of our tax resources” to duplicate efforts.

I can sympathize with worries about wasting tax dollars, but who determines how different the charter and district schools must be from one another? All this bill does is create another layer of bureaucracy on education, which is what charter schools were created to escape in the first place.

Public school principals and teachers often have little say in the operation of their schools. Bureaucrats determine the appropriate number of books, globes, maps, computers, teachers and, in some districts, even the temperature of the classroom. Charter schools were created so teachers and principals could be freed from that to innovate new ideas – big or small – to educate students.

It would be a shame if Clemens’ bill eroded that freedom.

Grade: Needs Improvement


Shelley Redinger and Spokane Public Schools

While the state teacher union is busy suing to stop charter schools from ever enrolling a single student in Washington state, the Spokane Public School District – led by superintendent Shelley Redinger – has been busy courting charter school operators to provide more options to students.

Once again, it is great to see public school officials seeing themselves as stewards of a child’s education rather than defenders of a single method of education. Also, kudos to the editorial board of the Spokesman-Review for recognizing the district leaders for their efforts!

Grade: Satisfactory


P.L. Thomas – Education professor at Furman University

Charter schools in South Carolina don’t have access to the same capital funds as public schools so, like charter schools in many places, they make do with smaller facilities. As a result, they are less likely to have gyms, libraries, computer labs and federally approved kitchens (which means they can’t get free- and reduced-price lunch subsidies). Because of this, South Carolina charter schools want more money from the state. But Furman University Professor P.L. Thomas says they shouldn’t get it.

Why? Thomas points to research that finds charter schools in South Carolina don’t produce significantly higher achievement results than public schools. It’s true: With a lower per-pupil funding, less adequate facilities and fewer certified teachers, charter schools only manage to get the same results as the better-funded, better-equipped public schools.

Grade: Needs Improvement


An argument for school vouchers amidst fight over Obamacare

Linda Greenhouse

Linda Greenhouse

Arguments supporting parental school choice can crop up in unexpected places. Even in a left-leaning take on a particularly controversial piece of Obamacare.

In her Nov. 28 column, Linda Greenhouse, the esteemed former New York Times reporter who covered the U.S. Supreme Court for 30 years, discussed two current Supreme Court cases focused on whether corporations can be required to provide health benefits that are inconsistent with their religious beliefs. The cases are part of a flood of litigation challenging whether the government can force employers, including churches, to provide employee benefits such as birth control.

Greenhouse concludes her column by suggesting that forcing employers to provide a prescribed set of health benefits does not violate their religious beliefs since the employees are choosing how to use these benefits, not the employer. She cites parents using publicly funded school vouchers to pay private school tuition to bolster her argument:

“By paying employees as the law requires, neither a corporation nor its owner is endorsing the employees’ choice of what to spend their money on – no more than a local government endorses a parent’s choice to use a taxpayer-funded voucher for religious-school tuition. The Supreme Court for  decades has embraced the notion that an intervening private choice of this sort, even when a government program is clearly designed to channel public money to religious institutions, avoids what would otherwise be a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.”

Greenhouse isn’t just any legal observer. She won a Pulitzer Prize covering the Supreme Court. She now teaches at Yale Law School. As a longtime Greenhouse reader, I feel comfortable describing her as a left-of-center progressive Democrat. For someone of her stature and political persuasion to acknowledge the constitutionality of parents using school vouchers to attend faith-based K-12 schools – an argument more often advanced by the political right – is another small but significant milestone in the redefinition of public education. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charters, private schools, special needs & more

Charter schools: Pinellas County’s University Prep organizes a local board and moves forward in the search for a new principal. Tampa Bay Times. A proposal for a charter school on MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa still awaits a recommendation from Hillsborough district staff. Tampa Bay Times.  

florida-roundup-logoPrivate schools: Florida Air Academy in Brevard County has done away with text books and moved to iPad-only classes. Florida Today.

Virtual school: The exponential growth Florida Virtual School and online learning have experienced will continue as we transform education worldwide, writes Julie Young for the Tallahassee Democrat.

Special needs: Special needs students in Hillsborough County are treated to music lessons. Tampa Bay Times.

Hydroponics 101: A Cape Coral high school’s aquaculture and hydroponics class draws students from around Florida and even outside the state. Fort Myers News-Press.

Lawsuit: The Hillsborough County School Board will vote next week on a decision to pay more than $500,000 to the family of a special-needs child who drowned behind her Riverview middle school. Tampa Bay Times. More from The Tampa Tribune.

Quality teachers: The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida launches a fundraising campaign to raise $50 million to pay for more high-quality public school teachers in high-demand areas like math and science. Florida Trend.  Continue Reading →


FL bill proposes new way to curb charter schools

A Florida lawmaker wants to bar new charter schools if they can’t prove they’re unique.

Senate Bill 452, filed last week by Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, would require charter schools to meet a specific instructional need that local district schools can’t in order to obtain approval.

Sen. Jeff Clemens

Sen. Jeff Clemens

“I think charter schools are there to serve the needs that the (traditional) public school system can’t,’’ Clemens told The Florida Current. “If they’re just going to do the same thing that we’re doing in public schools then I think it is a poor use of our tax resources.’’

It’s unclear who, exactly, would determine whether there’s an unmet need, and whether a proposed charter school could fill it. But the bill would seem to give school districts more power to turn down charter applications. In Florida, district school boards are the sole authorizers of charter schools, though the state Board of Education can overturn denied applications on appeal.

Clemens could not be reached for comment.

Not surprisingly, his bill drew criticism from charter school supporters, including Jim Horne, a former Florida legislator and education commissioner who lobbies for Charter Schools USA.

“It is interesting now after 18 years of Florida charter schools when we have statistical data that clearly shows that Florida charter schools are outperforming district managed schools in most grade levels and gaining increasing market share that suddenly we see legislation that is aimed at severely limiting the growth of charter schools,’’ Horne said in an email to redefinED. “In other words, if you can’t compete with them then let’s just stop them from opening in the first place.”

Clemens’ bill isn’t likely to get traction in the Republican-dominated Legislature. But it’s another sign of rising tension between school districts and charter schools as parents continue to flock to the latter. In Florida last school year, 578 charters served 203,000 students – up from 389 schools serving 117,040 five years ago. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Teacher evals, charters, audits & more

Teacher evaluations: Nearly every teacher in Broward and Palm Beach counties earns top marks last school year. Sun Sentinel. A majority of Brevard teachers earned the highest possible rating. Florida Today. The First Coast has more than 4,000 highly effective public school teachers. Florida Times-Union. florida-roundup-logo97.9 percent of teachers evaluated statewide are rated effective and highly effective, and less than 1 percent are unsatisfactory. Tampa Bay Times. The Florida Department of Education and the Florida Education Association have asked the First District Court of Appeal to rehear a case concerning whether teacher value-added model ratings are public record. Tampa Bay Times. No teacher in Pinellas County public schools received a poor rating last year. Tampa Bay Times. The state also releases district administrator eval results. StateImpact Florida. In Collier County, there are no bad teachers. Naples Daily News.

Charter schools: Two autistic sisters report being repeatedly sexually assaulted by older students at a West Palm Beach charter school. Palm Beach Post. A Miami-Dade charter school awards a $400,000 grant to an unaccredited private college – the charter’s partner in a dual-enrollment program. Miami Herald.

District schools: A state audit of the Manatee County School District operational finances could cost the financially embattled administration $7.2 million. Bradenton Herald. More from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

New super: The Flagler County School Board announced a 15-member committee that will help steer the search for the district’s next superintendent. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

College ready: The percentage of high school graduates ready for college when they get there is increasing statewide and in the Tampa Bay region. Tampa Bay Times.

Early start times: A bill that would make it impossible for Florida high schools to start before 8 a.m. has brought new urgency to a debate that has gone on for years. The Tampa Tribune.

Pranks: A parent complaint prompts a Pasco middle school to clamp down on a slapping prank. Tampa Bay Times.


Despite progress, Florida still has far to go, PISA results show

The latest international test results confirm what Florida education reformers have been saying for years: Despite arguably the biggest academic gains in the nation over the past 15 years, Florida students still lag too far behind.

PISA report coverReleased Tuesday, the math, science and reading results on the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment tests, better known as PISA, show 15-year-olds in both Florida and the nation are middling, or worse, compared to their peers around the planet.

Sixty-five countries and economies participated in the tests, which have been given every three years since 2000. Florida, Massachusetts and Connecticut were the only states whose scores were reported separately.

In math, the U.S. mean score of 481 fell below the mean of 494 for the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In science, the U.S. mean of 497 fell below the OECD mean of 501. In reading, the U.S. mean of 498 was just above the OECD mean of 496.

Florida students scored 467 in math, 485 in science and 492 in reading, far below Massachusetts (at 514, 527 and 527, respectively) and Connecticut (at 506, 521 and 521 respectively). It’s worth noting that Florida has a far higher percentage of low-income students, 56 percent, compared to 34.2 percent for Massachusetts and 34.5 percent for Connecticut.

The trend lines for the U.S. were flat in all three areas. It ranked an estimated No. 26 of the 34 OECD countries in math, an estimated No. 17 in reading and an estimated No. 21 in science.

The three states didn’t participate in prior PISA tests, so it’s unclear from those tests whether they are making gains relative to their peers in the U.S. and beyond. Other academic indicators, including NAEP scores, AP results and graduation rates, show Florida students are among the national leaders in progress.

But when it comes to proficiency, too many aren’t there yet. Continue Reading →