Florida roundup: Charter schools, facilities, growth and more

Charter schools. The state Board of Education denies waivers that would have allowed three struggling charter schools to remain open. Miami Herald. redefinED. Some Hillsborough charters boast significant improvements in their school grades. Gradebook. Pinellas schools officials say they don’t know which schools a some students affected by a charter snafu have chosen. Gradebook. The incident inspires a critical editorial in the Tampa Bay Times. A mother says her child was kicked out of a South Florida charter for failing to complete volunteer hours. WTVJ. West Palm Beach’s proposed municipal charter clears an early hurdle. Palm Beach Post.

florida-roundup-logoFacilities.  A Herando charter school starts the new year in its own building. Tampa Bay Times. An Okaloosa charter finds a new home. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Growth. Orange County could lead the state’s school districts in enrollment gains. Sentinel School Zone. Charters account for most of the public school enrollment growth in Pasco. Gradebook.

Textbooks. Some Hernando students start the new year without textbooks. Tampa Bay Times.

Back to school. The first day goes off without a hitch. Palm Beach Post. A Context Florida column uses the start of classes as an occasion to bash the state’s education policies.

Discipline. Civil citations help students avoid legal trouble. Tampa Tribune.

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Three ‘double-F’ charter schools to close after board denies waivers

The first day of the school year brought grim news to three Florida charter schools, who learned this morning that they will have to close because of their performance.

State law requires the schools to lose their charters after earning failing grades from the state in two straight years. The state Board of Education voted unanimously not to offer waivers that would have allowed the schools to remain open.

So-called “Double-F” charter schools can only receive waivers if their students achieve higher learning gains than comparable public schools. The board agreed to deny waivers after looking at data for the three schools – one in Miami-Dade County, one in Broward and one in Columbia.

None of the decisions drew debate from board members, who noted afterward that they were simply following the requirements in state law.

Representatives from the three schools joined the board on a conference call to plead their case for another year to improve their scores.

Anthony Buzzella, the founder of Shining Star Academy of the Arts in Columbia County, said the school, which that morning opened its third year of classes, had raised its test scores after a dismal first year. But its improvements were not enough to shake its F grade. He also said the school’s drama, art and music programs have attracted students from three surrounding rural counties who, without those options, might not return to the public school system.

“Test results alone are not the sole indicator of our school’s effectiveness,” he said.

After the meeting, a few board members agreed that the decisions were difficult. Marva Johnson said the state should look for ways to assist new charters that stumble out of the gate, to prevent second-year struggles that can lead to their closure.

“It is a heavy decision to close a school,” she said. “I’d rather be having that conversation after the first year about how we can help.”

Foundation helps school choice scholarships go further

This school year, tens of thousands of families are expected to enroll their children in private schools with the help of Florida tax credit scholarships. For some of them, the scholarships might not be enough to cover all of their private-school tuition, meaning they’ll have to seek financial help from their schools, or come up with money on already tight budgets.



But this school year, more than 350 children in the Tampa Bay region won’t face that conundrum, thanks to a new fundraising effort designed to bridge the gap between their scholarships and the full cost of private school tuition.

Now in its second year, the Bridge Scholarship program, a project of the Tampa-based Riley Family Education Foundation, has doubled in size.

But Scott Riley, its chairman and namesake, has plans for bigger growth in the years to come. He wants to recruit sponsors statewide, and even envisions expanding the effort into other markets with private school choice programs that could use a slight boost.

A serial entrepreneur with roots in the Tampa Bay region, he says he views the first couple years as a “beta test.”

In its first few years, the foundation cobbled together support from local donors and Catholic foundations to support students in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, the onetime home of a Catholic boarding school he credits with turning around his own educational career. He is readying a pitch to businesses: The state’s existing scholarship program can allow their money to go further. They can pick the children they support, and follow their progress.

“We’ll be tying businesses into the community, and helping kids and schools get full tuition,” he said.

A broad-shouldered, fast-talking son of an Irish Catholic from Massachusetts, Riley is founder and CEO of Financial Information Technologies, Inc., or Fintech. The company has built an electronic payments and data-processing platform for alcoholic beverage sales, and its 15-year-old business is growing. In 2010, it was named “business of the year” by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Riley says that success might never have been possible if a once-anonymous benefactor hadn’t interceded in his childhood. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Back to school, charters, choice and more

Charter schools. Pinellas plans to review charter contracts after a back to school “calamity” at one school. Tampa Bay Times. The Tampa Tribune editorializes in favor of a charter at MacDill Air Force Base. The first vote is coming soon on a planned municipal charter in West Palm Beach. Palm Beach Post. Charters are expected to enroll nearly 10 percent of the Palm Beach district’s students in the new school year, the Post reports.

florida-roundup-logoSchool choice. Miami-Dade’s superintendent says the district is riding a “tsunami’ of choice. Miami-Herald.

Dual enrollment. Daytona State College looks to boost the number of high school students taking classes. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Technology. An unexpected enrollment spike means there won’t be an iPad for every student at one Lake County high school. Orlando Sentinel.

Home education. It’s not back to school season for Florida’s ‘unschoolers.’ Tampa Bay Times.

Facilities. Lee County’s new lobbyist says he plans to wring more money, especially capital funding. out of the Legislature. Fort Myers News-Press.

Turnarounds. The Pinellas school district wants to expand a program that aims to increase parent involvement at struggling schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Campaigns. The Tampa Bay Times asks gubernatorial challenger Charlie Crist about education policies, including charters and choice, during a recent bus tour. It might not have been legal for him to campaign in a real school bus. Tampa Tribune. The Bradenton Herald looks at a group that aims to shake up the Manatee school board.

Superintendents. Senate President Don Gaetz debates industry certfications with the current Okaloosa County schools superintendent. Northwest Florida Daily News. More here. The Clay County Commission faces a lawsuit from the school board over an effort to switch to an appointed superintendent. Florida Times-Union. An emergency meeting on the issue is planned for today.

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Equality, ‘created equal’ & the case for school choice

created equalWhen the words fail the social critic, there always remains some “inequality” to be cursed. Our numberless differences provide the happy hunting ground for those us seeking either to praise or damn some aspect of American reality. The abstraction that is equality provides the gauge of justice for those differences we lament in the lives of Bill and Sally. Bill owns a plane; Sally, buses. Sally is robust; Bill is crippled. Bachelor Bill is a one-percenter; single mother Sally struggles. Bill is a man; Sally isn’t. Comes then The Word: Any difference in kind or degree can raise an issue of egalitarian injustice. It seldom occurs to us that, were we all to be made equally ill or impoverished, it would be difficult to claim that justice has advanced; the dead world of “On the Beach” was thoroughly equal. Equality of our objective condition is in itself, irrelevant.

Of course, early differences can, in fact, alert us to injustice, but not because we are, or should be, equal, but because some particular type and degree of difference merits that special regard that one owes his fellow human. The sceptic, of course, can doubt that one owes anything to anybody; but it is no answer to him that we are unequal. True, almost by definition, any duty to others will ordinarily involve differences of some sort; but nothing is clarified by invoking The Word. Mere difference is an empty moral vessel.

It may not in all cases seem an empty political or legal vessel. The state may act simply to reduce socioeconomic difference hoping, for example, to diminish hostility between groups. But notice that the word “thereby” signals a separate and immediate cause of the state’s concern quite distinct from inequality; the group antipathy may well have originated, not from difference, but from some irrelevant historic score. Quite the same holds in private law: A poor man recklessly injures me; our difference in wealth – and, perhaps, his jealousy – are irrelevant to the issue of his responsibility.

Equality, simply as such, has been hard for the critic to defend as a demand of justice. Seeking coherence, some philosophers would substitute “fairness” as the goal; that word may not tell us much, but at least it rejects sheer difference as our favorite object of suspicion. If we could distinctively improve the condition of the most miserable citizen by simultaneously making Bill Gates richer, even John Rawls might be satisfied.

Were the Founders, then, engaging in mere word play when they declared us “created equal.” Continue Reading →


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.