Florida roundup: School choice, lawsuits, facilities and more

School choice. Responding to parent demand and competition from charter and private schools, the superintendent in Florida’s seventh largest district plans to add five new magnet programs in the coming years. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoLawsuits. The Florida Education Association says it will challenge this year’s major school choice legislation in court. The union will release specifics today, but says the lawsuit will focus on “the way it was passed.” Sentinel School Zone. Times/Herald. Education Week.

Facilities. An Okaloosa charter school eyes a new location. Northwest Florida Daily News. Seminole County schools weigh potential uses of local construction revenue. Orlando Sentinel.

Administration. Alachua County swears in a new superintendent. Gainesville Sun. The departure of a Lee County principal stirs controversy. Fort Myers News-Press.

Religion. An atheist group is allowed to distribute materials in Orange County schools, ending a lawsuit. Sentinel School Zone.

Teacher pay. Pasco schools pare back pay raises as other expenses rise. Tampa Bay Times.

School safety. The Flagler school board proposes changes to its student conduct policies. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Transportation. Hillsborough officials say they are improving the district’s bus system. Tampa Tribune.


Spending per pauper: An education funding stat that makes no sense

price per pauperThere are many in Florida who believe the state doesn’t spend enough supporting K-12 education. It wouldn’t be too difficult to make such a case given the fact that the U.S. Census Bureau ranks Florida 39th for per-pupil spending (table 11, page 11) while the U.S. Department of Education places Florida 38th.  Florida’s ranking even falls to 42nd if you include capital and debt expenditures.

So why are some critics ignoring those straightforward “dollars per student” statistics in favor of more convoluted measurements like “education revenues per $1,000 of personal income”?

Several groups in Florida use that statistic to claim the state ranks 50th in education spending. The U.S. Census Bureau’s measurement of “education revenues per $1,000 of personal income” (table 12, page 12) does place Florida 50th, but it is fairly meaningless measurement if your goal is to prove not enough money is spent on K-12 education. This is best demonstrated by the fact that the last-place region on this statistic is Washington, D.C.

Being 51st (D.C.) should be worse than placing 50th (Florida), but when looking at straightforward “dollars spent per student” figures, D.C. spends over $28,000 per pupil (including capital funds and debt). That is nearly three times more than Florida. If the goal is to get Florida to spend more, why cite a statistic that has the biggest education spender dead last?

So how can a region be ranked No. 1 on one measurement, but dead last on another at the exact same time? Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Advanced placement, advocacy, acceleration and more

Advanced Placement. More Pasco students are taking AP classes, and their performance is improving. Gradebook.

florida-roundup-logoAdvocacy. StudentsFirst is winding down in a total of five states. Education Week.

Acceleration. State Sen. John Legg talks up the benefits of collegiate high schools in the Lakeland Ledger.

Testing. A Collier County teacher is fired, accused of helping students cheat. Naples Daily News. An Orange County elementary school student strings together a series of perfect FCATs. Orlando Sentinel.

Tax credit scholarships. The St. Augustine Record corrects falsehoods printed in a recent guest column.

Safety. A private school teacher is arrested for child pornography. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The Okaloosa school board votes to put resource deputies in all schools. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Administration. A Lee County principal resigns amid turmoil. Fort Myers News-Press. The principal at a struggling Collier County school is moving on. Naples Daily News. Manatee schools train administrators in data-driven decision making. Bradenton Herald.

Continue Reading →


Sal Khan: Imagine if we built homes the way we teach students

The idea of competency-based instruction is not new. Florida educators were using technology to tailor student learning two decades ago, and it can trace its origin back more than a century.

But more recent advances in technology have allowed educators to begin upending the traditional “seat-time” model, in which students advance based on what they learn rather than move through the material in a fixed amount of time. That’s one of the goals of Khan Academy’s new “learning dashboard,” which lays out “missions” for students to complete, with the idea that completing a mission will signal mastery of specific math standards.

sal khanSalman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, explained the significance of the organization’s growth beyond video during a speech at this year’s National Charter Schools Conference in Las Vegas. Right now, the learning dashboard is focused on math — perhaps the subject where learning is most cumulative.  This is an excerpt from the keynote presentation he delivered on the conference’s first day, edited lightly for length.

(Right now, at most schools), we shepherd (students) together at a set pace. Class time, there might be some lectures. They might do some homework. The next day, we might a review homework a little bit, get a little bit more lecture. And you can continue that cycle for maybe, about two or three weeks. And then you have an exam.

Let’s say that unit was on basic exponents. And on that exam, I get an 80 percent, you get a 90 percent, and you get a 60 percent.

The exam has identified gaps. The person who got a 60 percent — 40 percent of the material, they didn’t really get. Even the person who got an A, got a 95 percent, what was that 5 percent they didn’t know? Even though that happened, the whole class then moves on to the next concept — say, negative exponents — pretty much ensuring that students are going to have trouble working on that.

And to put in focus how strange that is, imagine if we did other things in our life that way. Say, home-building. So you get the contractor in, and you say, ‘You have a total of three weeks to build a foundation, do what you can.’

So he does what he can. Maybe there are delays. Maybe some of the supplies don’t show up on time. Maybe some of the workers fall sick. And then, three weeks later, the inspector comes in and says, ‘Well, the concrete’s still wet over there. That part’s not quite up to code. I’ll give it an 80 percent.’

Oh, great. That’s a C. Let’s build the first floor. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: School grades, charter schools, campaigns and more

School grades. This year’s elementary and middle grades, the last to be based on FCAT scores, brought more A’s, more F’s, and an even more pronounced trend among charter schools. Tampa Tribune. Miami Herald. Tampa Bay Times. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Florida Times-Union. Orlando Sentinel. Florida TodayBradenton Herald. redefinED. More than 300 schools – three times more than last year – will be required to provide an extra hour of reading instruction. Tampa Bay TimesSentinel School Zone. Fort Myers News-Press.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. WJXT profiles an administrator focused on turning around struggling charter schools in Jacksonville. The Palm Beach school district says it will give charters one more year of transportation services. Palm Beach Post. A new Alachua school will have a year-round schedule. Gainesville Sun.

Special needs. A district review finds problems with Broward’s special education programs. Sun-Sentinel. A charter school for children with autism continues its switch to a private school. Tampa Tribune.

Campaigns. Gov. Rick Scott and Charlie Crist keep assailing each other’s education records, but “neither candidate has released anything approaching a detailed education plan.” Orlando Sentinel. The Northwest Florida Daily News reports on the expense of running for Okaloosa County School Board, and the Tampa Bay Times does the same in Hillsborough.

Digital learning. Pinellas schools prepare major technology upgrades. Tampa Tribune.

Continue Reading →


Florida charter schools earn A’s, F’s at higher rates than district schools

Florida’s charter schools received a bigger proportion of both A and F grades than their district-run counterparts for the 2013-14 school year.

florida's charter schoolsIt’s a pattern that’s held for the past few years, and it’s no different in the the elementary and middle school grades released this morning by the state Department of Education.

More than 41 percent of the state’s charter schools earned preliminary A’s for the 2013-14 school year, compared to about 34 percent of district schools.

Of the 420 charter schools that were graded, 42, or 10 percent, received F’s. Less than 6 percent of the more than 2,300 district schools received the lowest possible letter grade.

Overall, the state accountability report, the last for middle and elementary schools before the state moves to a new grading formula, presents a mixed bag for Florida’s public schools. Across the board, they earned A’s and F’s in larger proportions this year than a year ago.

Juan Copa, the states deputy education commissioner in charge of accountability, said schools’ ratings rose on average, meaning compared to a year ago, “more students are performing on grade level or better – including our most struggling students.”

Next year, the grading formula will be simplified as the state prepares to replace the FCAT with new assessments tied to the Florida Standards. The grades released today are considered preliminary because the calculations can be appealed to the state. Grades for high schools will be released later this year.

For charter schools across the state, this year’s results carry some good news, and some bad.

KIPP Impact Middle School in Jacksonville,  where more than 70 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches and 99 percent are minorities, improved its grade from a C to a B. Five schools, including two charters – the bilingual BridgePrep Academy Interamerican Campus in Miami-Dade and Orlando’s Renaissance Charter School at Chickasaw Trail – climbed all the way from F’s to B’s.

On the other hand, eight charter schools face closure after receiving F’s for two consecutive years.

As expected, K12, Inc. received a grade of incomplete for its statewide program. But five Florida Virtual Academies it operates did receive grades. Three received D’s. One, in Duval, received a C and the fifth, in Osceola, received an F. None of the virtual charters had received letter grades previously.

Copa noted that 2013 legislation lowered the minimum number of tested students a school would need to receive a grade. He said that may help explain the increased number of F schools in a year when schools raised their average scores. More than two dozen charters that did not receive a letter grade last year did receive one this year.

“There are now more schools graded this year, and many of those are high-performing schools but some of those are low-performing schools,” Copa said.

Coverage elsewhere:


Orlando Sentinel


Miami Herald


Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: MO vouchers needed, comic strips and charter schools and how not to do diversity

MrGibbonsReportCardDes Moines Independent Community School District

School districts aren’t allowed to base enrollment policies on race anymore. So, to achieve “racial balance,” the Des Moines Independent Community School District’s diversity plan allows it to base admissions and enrollment decisions on socioeconomic status.

The district looks at whether students are eligible for the free and reduced priced lunch (FRL). Eligible students are then designated as “minority students” (not kidding).

If a transfer request into the district, out of the district, or between schools within the district, causes the percentage of “minority students” within a school to tip 10 percentage points below or above the district average, the district will deny the transfer. According to The Des Moines Register, the district has already denied 245 of 386 open-enrollment requests for the upcoming school year.

Of course, basing racial balance on the demographic average of an arbitrarily drawn geographic boundary may be silly when you look at the big picture:


*data from the Iowa Department of Education

Des Moines Independent is surrounded by whiter, wealthier districts, making the effort to ensure racial balance within the district an exercise in futility. If one truly wanted more racial balance in schools, the quickest and easiest way would be to shut down Des Moines Independent and have it absorbed by neighboring districts.

Of course, the transfer denials could really just be about keeping $6,300 of state support per student within the district …

Grade: Needs Improvement (or closing)

Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Charter schools, school grades, top teachers and more

Charter schools. A veteran Pasco County teacher prepares to open a charter school to realize her vision for what education should look like. Tampa Bay Times. A South Florida city commission considers zoning changes after rejecting a charter school application. Tamarac Talk.

florida-roundup-logoSchool grades. They’re coming out today for middle and elementary schools. The Times offers a sneak peak of Tampa Bay-area results.

Top teachers. A Central Florida art teacher is named Teacher of the Year. Associated Press. Lakerland Ledger.

Common Core. Hillsborough schools officials plan public meetings on the Florida Standards. Tampa Bay Times.

Testing. Collier County teachers face consequences for helping students on exams. Naples Daily News,

Administration. Top Manatee County administrators say under a new superintendent, their district is overcoming years of past problems. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Campaigns. Collier school board candidates talk special needs and other issues at a candidate forum. Naples Daily News.

STEM. A Collier high school student excels at a Google science fair. Fort Myers News-Press.