Military-style charter schools sprouting across Florida

From Acclaim Academy's facebook page: Students at the Duval school participating in a cadet promotion ceremony.

From Acclaim Academy’s facebook page: Students at the Duval school participating in a cadet promotion ceremony.

Like they are in other states, military-style charter schools are gaining a foothold in Florida.

There are new ones in Broward, Sarasota, Osceola and Duval counties – and more on the way. With a focus on rigor, structure, responsibility and respect, supporters say such schools experience fewer behavioral problems and better academic success.

Acclaim Academy, a fairly new charter schools outfit that embraces that formula, opened its first school in 2012 in Kissimmee, followed by another in August in Jacksonville. Local school boards, which authorize charter schools in Florida, recently approved three more academies to open next fall with one each in Duval, Orange and Palm Beach counties.

The schools feature high-tech equipment, with SMART boards for every teacher and take-home laptops for every student. But organizers defer to an old-school philosophy of discipline and rules, looking to the Army’s JROTC program as a format to promote structure, character and confidence.

Students are known as cadets. They wear Army fatigues. They participate in drills. It’s an experience that may lead some participants to the armed forces, but that’s not the academy’s mission.

“We’re not creating little soldiers,’’ said Bill Orris, Acclaim Academy’s director of education. Instead, the school is working to change the learning habits of 600 of the state’s most struggling students, he said. Continue Reading →


Florida Roundup: Tax credit scholarships, charter schools, testing and more

Tax credit scholarships. A bill to expand the program is pulled from consideration in the Senate. Associated Press. Orlando Sentinel. Times/HeraldScripps/TribunePalm Beach Post. The bill would have expanded access to scholarships for middle-class students. Sun-Sentinel. A Washington Post blog mischaracterized the program, Jason Bedrick writes for the Cato Institute.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. Orlando Science Schools rake in awards. Orlando Sentinel.

Testing. Miami-Dade’s superintendent raises questions about the FCAT’s replacement. StateImpact. Common Core opponents step up their criticism. Gradebook.

Administration. The Clay County School Board considers placing new limits on its superintendent’s power. Florida Times-Union. Manatee County Schools prepare for the looming retirement of three principals. Bradenton Herald.

School safety. Gun bills, including the so-called “pop-tart” bill to overhaul zero-tolerance policies, win approval in the House. Miami Herald.

SIG. Pinellas County Schools consider applying for federal School Improvement Grants. Gradebook.

Unions. The Tampa Tribune writes up the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association election.

Improvement. Florida schools don’t get enough credit for their improved performance, the Foundation for Excellence in Education is arguing in a new campaign. Saint Petersblog.



The Fact Checker Valerie Strauss might have used on school choice

pinocchio_4Washington Post education reporter Valerie Strauss is not known for an open mind on school choice, but she would have been wise to do a little homework before reprinting a 1,300-word oped from an anti-voucher activist in Florida. Had this column been submitted to The Fact Checker at the Post, 4 Pinocchios might not have done it justice.

The op-ed is written by a Palm Beach parent activist, Rita Solnet, who sincerely believes every parent wants his or her child to attend the school down the street. But her attack on a proposed expansion of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship suffers not only from a lack of sensitivity to the plight of desperately poor parents, mostly of color, who have their children on waiting lists. Unfortunately, it also shows a remarkable indifference to basic facts.

Let’s walk through some of the highlights:

The courts ruled Jeb’s first voucher program unconstitutional. Not to be outdone by the courts, Jeb created another ‘corporate voucher’ program that sidestepped the court’s concern over separation of church and state by using a middleman agency.”

This is a two-fer. The Florida Supreme Court did in fact rule against Opportunity Scholarships, but not on the no-aid-to-religion clause. Instead it found the first voucher program to violate the uniformity clause in the state’s public education article. More striking, the claim that former Gov. Bush rushed to enact a tax credit scholarship after the decision as a legal subterfuge is more than a little time-challenged. The court issued its decision in 2006. The scholarship program was created in 2001.

This year, a massive voucher expansion bill was filed seeking a limit of close to the “B” word – nearly a billion dollars.”

That bill was actually passed back in 2010.That legislation created an automatic escalator allowing the program to grow up to 25 percent per year, so long as corporations are willing to donate, and so long as parents desire scholarships for their children. The current bill allows the program to grow slightly faster in order to reduce the current 34,000 waiting list quicker, but ultimately, provides only $44 million extra. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Tax credit scholarships, common core, charter schools and more

Tax credit scholarships. An advocate for the program, and vice president of Step Up for Students, which co-hosts this blog, withdraws his nomination to the Florida A&M University Board of Trustees. Times/Herald. Students in the program should be required to learn evolution, Brandon Haught, of Florida Citizens for Science, writes in a Tampa Bay Times guest column. Fund Education Now opposes the bill in an Orlando Sentinel guest column.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. A group that caters to female students in Manatee County wins approval from Bradenton city officials. Bradenton Herald.

Common Core. The Foundation for Excellence in Education is promoting Common Core with video snippets featuring teachers. StateImpact Florida. Associated Press.

Budgets. A Pasco STEM school could get a boost from lawmakers. Gradebook.

Race to the Top. Florida is making progress in year three of its federal Race to the Top grant, but it faces some hurdles, including legal challenges around its teacher evaluation system.  Associated Press. Gradebook. Education Week looks at how various states are faring.

School boards. A legal dispute simmers between the Marion County School Board and the Ocala City Council. Ocala Star-Banner.

Employee Conduct. A school security worker faces child-abuse charges. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Teachers unions. The Pinellas teachers union elects a new president. Tampa Bay Times.

Spelling bees. Miami-Dade schools crown their winner, the Miami Herald reports.


BAEO’s Ken Campell: Don’t be afraid to note hypocrisy of school choice critics



Ken Campbell, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, has advice for school choice supporters who may be frustrated by critics who distort the evidence and hew to tired arguments.

Call ‘em out.

“We have to recognize and not be afraid to call out the level of hypocrisy that exists in a lot of these narratives,” Campbell told redefinED for the podcast interview attached below. “Because honestly, most of the time, the people who are fighting against parent choice are people who have parent choice. They are people who are exercising choices for their kids every day. They are fighting to keep kids in schools that they never in a million years would send their own kids to.”podcastED-logo

Campbell continued: What they’re saying is, “If your kids leave, then we might not have the system survive. Now it’s okay if mine leave, but if yours leave … And there’s something about that, Ron, that chills me to my soul when I think about what that argument really says.”

Campbell’s comments come with “the narrative” cranked at full volume in the Florida Capitol. On Tuesday, lawmakers on a second straight House committee voted in favor of a bill to expand Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, the largest private school choice program in the country (and one administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog). But disappointingly, the vote again came along party lines. Democrats voted no, choosing to stand with the Florida PTA and state teachers union instead of the scores of low-income parents, many of them black, who came from all over the state to show support. At one point, Florida PTA President Eileen Segal told lawmakers in support that they were pitting parent against parent. “And it’s sad.”

No one called her out.

Campbell’s comments also come on the eve of BAEO’s annual symposium, the largest gathering of black school choice supporters in the country. This year’s event, which begins Thursday, will bring more than 700 people to New Orleans.

The location isn’t coincidence. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Tax-credit scholarships, charter schools, testing and more

 Tax credit scholarships. The bill expanding the program is likely headed to the House floor. More from the Scripps/Tribune. Times/Herald. News Service of Florida. The state should mandate that scholarship students take the state’s standardized science test too. Bridge to Tomorrow. Education activist Rita Solnet tears into the program on the Huffington Post, which is also picked up by the Answer Sheet. The legislation is controversial. Sun-Sentinel.


Charter schools. The Sarasota County school board renews a charter contract after a contentious debate. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Magnet schools. Two new Pinellas County programs are flooded with applications. Tampa Bay Times.

Testing. The first priority in choosing the state’s next assessment was having it ready for next year, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said Tuesday. Gradebook. Field tests from Utah can inform officials about how the new tests will work. WFSU. The new test should be an improvement from the FCAT, the Sun-Sentinel editorializes. South Florida schools tweak their testing calendars to accommodate Passover. Miami Herald.

Funding. The House’s budget proposal would boost spending on public schools. Times/Herald.

Administration. Alachua County finds eight semifinalists for superintendent. Gainesville Sun. Hillsborough officials spar over transportation issues. Tampa Tribune. Tampa Bay Times.

School safety. Bill aims to make it safer for kids walking to school. Gradebook. Hillsborough Schools hire a new security chief. Tampa Bay Times.

Homework. The load isn’t all that heavy for most students, a Brookings Institution report says. Orlando Sentinel.

Employee conduct. A former Manatee High School assistant principal is in a legal fight for his job. Bradenton Herald. A Brevard County high school teacher is on paid administrative leave after showing students a nude picture, in what was apparently an accident. Florida Today.

School facilities. A rural elementary school re-opens after mold problems. Florida Times-Union. More from the Independent Florida Alligator.


Florida school choice expansion could be headed for House floor

A bill that would accelerate the growth of Florida’s tax-credit scholarship program could be headed for a vote on the House floor.

Rep. Michael Bileca

Rep. Michael Bileca

The House Choice and Innovation Subcommittee approved the measure on a party-line vote Tuesday, after approving changes that would raise limits on the program’s growth and voting down a proposal to require that scholarship students take the same standardized tests as their public school peers.

After the changes approved Tuesday, the program could grow to about $401 million next school year, raising the cap for that year by about $43.6 million. That would allow as many as 76,680 students to receive scholarships. (The program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.)

The hearing was packed with parents, teachers, students, political activists and clergy members on both sides of the school choice debate. Students weighed in on both sides, including Artayia Wesley, an eighth-grader who said she has used a scholarship to attend St. Andrew Catholic  School in Orlando since she was in fourth grade.

“Before, I was academically challenged,” she said. “I wasn’t the best student in the class, grade-wise. But as I went to St. Andrew, now I’m an A-B student and working to be on the honor roll.”

Democrats on the committee, who opposed the bill, said they wanted the state to measure for scholarship students’s academic progress with the same standardized tests taken by public-school students. Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, introduced an amendment to create that requirement. It failed on a party-line vote after setting off a debate about how schools should be held accountable.

Representatives of the Florida Education Association and Florida PTA said they supported Jones’ proposal.

Continue Reading →


Florida Senate advances school choice accounts for special-needs students

The push to create individual accounts for students with disabilities picked up bipartisan support in its first Senate committee hearing Tuesday.

Sen. Stargel

Sen. Stargel

But the bill to create “personalized accounts for learning” that parents could use to pay for tutoring and therapy for their children also attracted opposition from groups like the Florida PTA and the statewide teachers union.

Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said the proposal would be confined to “a very small population of our students” with conditions like spina bifida and cerebral palsy, which would qualify them for a high level of accommodations in the public school system.

“It’s just very difficult for our system to meet all their needs,” she said during the Senate Education Committee hearing. “This gives them another option for their parents to decide the best approach to get their child the best education.”

Several public school teachers spoke against the bill. Joy Jackson, a teacher at Robert Renick Educational Center in Miami-Dade County, said the program could compete for scarce resources with the accommodations made by school districts.

“This is currently a very small population, but if history with these programs has shown us anything, it is that as soon as these programs are made available, they become quite large, quite fast,” said Lynda Russell of the Florida Education Association.

The bill received support in previous hearings from parents who educate their special-needs children at home. They were joined Tuesday by Elias Seife, a Miami-Dade parent who said his daughter has received “excellent support” in the public school system.
Continue Reading →