Florida schools roundup: Vouchers, Rick Scott, Teach for America & more

Tax credit scholarships. Expansion of the program (administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog) is one of 10 “issues to watch” during the upcoming legislative session. News Service of Florida. It’s also a potential land mine for Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election campaign, the News Service writes. House Speaker Will Weatherford, a leading supporter of program expansion, tells the Tampa Bay Times editorial board it’s a way to help the poor. Gradebook. The Fayetteville Observer in N.C. editorializes that N.C. would be wise to follow Florida’s model.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. Gov. Rick Scott or someone in his office suggested that MacDill Air Force Base go to Charter Schools USA, whose CEO Jon Hage is a Scott supporter, if it wanted a charter school. Tampa Bay Times. The Times editorializes that the state Board of Education should deny the proposed charter school’s appeal because “that would be best for military families, local control and the integrity of the charter school process.”

Florida Virtual School. Former Orange Superintendent Ron Blocker will be interim leader while the board searches for a replacement for Julie Young. School Zone.

Common Core. Opponents are hopeful now that there are bill in both the Senate and House to stop it. Gradebook. More from School Zone.

Regulatory accountability. A bill filed by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee (and head of the state superintendents association) seeks to ease the state into a new standards, testing and accountability system, including a three-year pause for school grades. The Buzz. More from The Florida Current, the Palm Beach Post and Extra Credit. A Senate Education Committee bill, meanwhile, would tweak school grades. Gradebook.

Teacher quality.Value-added scores for Florida teachers look “messy and absurd.” Hechinger Report. The Gates Foundation didn’t want them released. Answer Sheet. Continue Reading →


The myth of school vouchers & racism

BrownMany have tried to link vouchers and school choice to racism, but it can’t be done without a tortured reading of the law and civil rights history. So it was a surprise to see two civil rights attorneys at an elite American university doing exactly that last week. The attorneys, Elizabeth Haddix and Mark Dorosin of the University of North Carolina Center for Civil Rights, penned “The Ugly Truth About Vouchers,” where they argue vouchers are a tool of modern racism.

The authors begin linking school choice to racism by claiming private schools “are permitted to discriminate against students on the basis of race,” which is simply not true. Surely, they know better. As determined by the U.S. Supreme Court in Runyon v. McCrary (1976), no private school in the U.S. is permitted to discriminate based on race, color or national origin.

Next, Haddix and Doroson argue there are “historical links between racism and private schools” and, thus, the attempt to attach vouchers and school choice to the civil rights movement is “a twisted irony.”

Indeed, as they point out, many private schools across the nation grew in enrollment during the era of desegregation, as white students fled public schools that were enrolling black students. But to draw the link between racism and private schools is to miss the more important historical precursor: American public schools were themselves rooted in racism. African-Americans waited 235 years after the founding of the first public high school to get their first public high school. It would be another 84 years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Brown v. Board (1954) and nearly 20 more years before real integration efforts were made.

Don’t forget, public school districts and elected officials fought racial integration every step of the way. While it is true some parents jumped ship to private schools, some areas, such as Poquoson, Va., became their own independent districts, zoning African-Americans completely outside city boundaries. Other districts shut themselves down altogether to avoid integration. Furthermore, many urban areas faced “white flight” as white families segregated themselves into whiter public school enclaves. This segregation in public schools remains largely intact to this day. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: State tests, Common Core, teacher evals & more

State tests: The end of the much-maligned FCAT is no cause for celebration by critics, writes the Palm Beach Post. Sen. John Legg correctly recognizes there are too many standardized tests in Florida’s public schools, but his proposed solution of a test-free period around state-required tests is impractical, writes the Tampa Bay Times.

FL roundup logo snippedCommon Core: A state senator has submitted legislation to stop the Common Core State Standards from taking effect in Florida. The Buzz. The new state standards place more emphasis on cursive writing, but not everyone is on board as technology takes over the classroom. Fort Myers News-Press. Studies find textbooks are a poor match for Common Core standards. StateImpact Florida.

Teacher evals: The publication of teacher performance scores this week resonate in Leon County Schools, drawing criticism from school board members and fueling recruitment efforts by the local teachers union. Tallahassee Democrat.

Special needs: The state teachers union releases a video showing Polk County school administrators giving a standardized test to a blind child in a persistent vegetative state. Herald/Times.

State grades: The state Board of Education should listen to parents and educators who want to put the brakes on the grading plan, writes The Ledger.

Pay raises: Pasco County’s superintendent recommends new salary schedules for administrators and non-bargaining personnel that would increase their pay by 4 percent and 4.8 percent, respectively. Tampa Bay Times. The roughly 6,000 Palm Beach school district service employees like bus drivers, custodians and electricians will get a 4 percent raise under a new tentative labor agreement. Palm Beach Post.

School boards: Pinellas County School Board members vote unanimously to change the time allotted for public comments from the beginning of their meetings to the end, despite initial concerns the switch would discourage public participation. The Tampa Tribune. More from the Tampa Bay Times. The Palm Beach County school board hears some tough talk on a still-sparse budget for next school year. Palm Beach Post.

Continue Reading →


Anti-Common Core bill filed in FL Senate

Sen. Evers

Sen. Evers

From the News Service of Florida:

A Senate measure filed Wednesday mirrors an earlier House bill aimed at ending the state’s use of the Common Core education standards.

The Senate proposal (SB 1316), like its House companion (HB 25), would try to cripple the standards by requiring the State Board of Education to meet certain requirements before moving forward with the English and math benchmarks and would specifically bar the board from implementing common core in any other subject areas.

It’s unclear whether the bills, filed by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, and Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, will be heard. The State Board of Education voted earlier this month to amend the guidelines for what students are expected to learn in each grade, and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said they should now be referred to as the “Florida standards.”

While supported by the Obama Administration, the Common Core initiative started out as a project spearheaded by governors and school chiefs across the country. But it has prompted a backlash, largely among conservative activists who fear that it is a federal effort to seize control of education.


Proposed MacDill charter school loses first appeal

A charter school sought by MacDill Air Force Base in Florida has lost the first round of an appeals process.

The Florida Charter School Appeal Commission on Monday sided with the Hillsborough County School District, which had denied an application for the proposed school. The case will now go before the state Board of Education, which is scheduled to make the final decision March 18.

“As we’ve known from the very beginning of this journey, building a charter school on a military base is a very complex process and this phase is just one more step in that process,” said Colleen Reynolds, a spokeswoman for the applicant, Florida Charter Educational Foundation and its partner, Charter Schools USA.

“Although this advisory panel did not recommend overturning the district’s denial, the need for military families is well-documented and was reinforced again today,” Reynolds said in a prepared statement. “Ultimately, the State Board of Education will determine whether or not the denial should be overturned and we are committed to continue the fight for military families who want this educational option available on base for their children. We will not give up on doing what’s right for students.”

The foundation applied in August for a charter to build an 875-student K-8 school that would provide a middle school option for military families who live on and off the base. MacDill Charter Academy also would help ease crowding at the district-run elementary school at MacDill, proponents said.

The Hillsborough County School Board denied the application in December, following a recommendation from Superintendent MaryEllen Elia. Continue Reading →


FL charter school teachers top 12,000

Florida now has more charter school teachers than eight states have public school teachers, period.

The number of charter school teachers and other instructional personnel in the Sunshine State rose to 12,362 this school year, according to recently released Florida Department of Education data requested by redefinED. That’s up from 11,446 last year, or 8 percent.

FL charter school teachers chart

As we’ve written before, the growth is no surprise given Florida’s fast-growing charter school sector. And the numbers are still a fraction of the state’s 190,000 public school instructional personnel total. But they’re worth keeping tabs on.

Charter school teachers are for the most part non-unionized. And as the charter sector grows, teachers are increasingly weighing whether moving there is worth the trade-offs. (Last month, we wrote about one charter school teacher’s thoughts on that subject here.)

Six Florida school districts now have more than 1,000 charter school teachers within their borders, with Miami-Dade and Broward topping 2,000. This DOE spreadsheet shows the breakdown by district and by personnel category.


Florida schools roundup: Charters, private schools, STEM & more

Charter schools:  A charter school sought by MacDill Air Force Base in Florida has lost the first round of an appeals process. redefinED. The state charter appeals commission sides with the Hillsborough County School Board in its decision to turn down the application. The Tampa Tribune.

florida-roundup-logoPrivate schools: Tampa’s Jesuit High School debaters eye national championships. The Tampa Tribune. Private schools’ FCAT fears mirror the frustrations Florida parents have with the assessment, writes Scott Maxwell for the Orlando Sentinel. 

STEM: Students and supporters celebrate the launch of Polk County’s first High School High Tech program that allows students to explore STEM career paths. The Ledger.

Michelle Obama: The First Lady unveils a widespread expansion of afterschool exercise and snack programs during her visit to the Miami-Dade school district, part of her “Let’s Move!” healthy kids program. Miami Herald.

Common Core: Brevard middle and high schools may adopt 30 new textbooks as part of English and math standards being rolled out next school year. Florida Today.

Teacher evals: A former Florida Schools superintendent thinks back to a time when teachers were judged solely on how they delivered a lesson while in the presence of a principal. Florida Times-Union.

Support: Teachers, parents, politicians and local business leaders gather to discuss how to improve students’ success rates at one of the lowest performing schools in Escambia County. Pensacola News-Journal.

Principals: Leon County Schools employs a high percentage of black principals compared to the rest of the state and nation. Tallahassee Democrat.

School boards: Orange School Board members say they won’t buy land for high schools in rural settlements. Orlando Sentinel.

Continue Reading →


Breaking from the herd on charter schools

Not surprisingly, leaders from some of Florida’s largest school districts lined up last week against a proposed state House bill that would make it easier for charter schools to open. What was unexpected, though, was one superintendent breaking from the herd.

Superintendent Robert Runcie

Superintendent Robert Runcie

Broward County’s Robert Runcie not only supported the measure, he made a plea for everyone to work together.

“We need to move to an era where there is true collaboration going on between school districts and charter schools,’’ Runcie told the Florida House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee. “It’s the only way that we’re ever really going to fulfill the promise of providing every student and providing every school with the type of quality education that they need.’’

Runcie’s comments are noteworthy for all kinds of reasons. The 260,000-student Broward County school district is the second biggest in Florida and the sixth biggest in the nation. Florida, a leading charter state, is experiencing great tension – even animosity – between school districts and charters. And this particular legislative meeting was yet another example, with one lawmaker, Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, describing the charter school bill as the “wrecking ball of traditional public education.’’

For Runcie, the comments are also part of an emerging pattern.

Last summer, the Harvard graduate and former Chicago Public Schools administrator helped lead a statewide task force of district and charter school administrators. Their objective: to help the Florida Department of Education develop language that both sides can agree upon for the state’s new standard charter school contracts.

While that’s still a work in progress, Runcie most recently stepped up to show equal support for charter school teachers in Broward by agreeing not to withhold an administrative fee from their pay raises.

The money is part of a statewide $480 million allotment for teacher pay hailed by Gov. Rick Scott and approved last session. By law, districts can charge charter schools a 5 percent fee for processing funds that come from the Florida Education Finance Program. In Broward, that fee on the dollars earmarked for charter school teacher raises added up to about $11,000, said Robert Haag, president of the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools, which made the request.

Runcie not only complied, Haag said, but approved back pay for charter school teachers from July 1, when the raises went into effect.

“That was incredible,’’ Haag told redefinED, adding that he believes Runcie’s gesture will serve as a catalyst for other district leaders. “Listen, we don’t care if they keep 5 percent from our schools. But withholding 5 percent from our teachers? We can’t do that!’’

Continue Reading →