Another school choice option blooms in Florida: Cambridge

Move over AP and IB. Another rigorous college prep program is catching on in high schools across Florida and adding to the state’s pace-setting expansion of school choice.

cambridge 3The nonprofit Cambridge International Exams, now in more than 100 Florida schools, is tied to the prestigious University of Cambridge in England. That makes it attractive to parents and students looking for a competitive edge in college admissions offices. It also sounds good to education leaders wanting to promote their schools in an environment where more than 40 percent of Florida students now attend a school other than their zoned school.

Cambridge students are exposed to an international curriculum and can earn up to 45 college credits with an “AICE diploma,’’ an Advanced International Certificate of Education that is recognized by all Florida public college and universities, and some private schools.

Cambridge is promoted as somewhat less costly and time-intensive for schools to implement than International Baccalaureate, the larger, better-known program with a similar design. With its focus on critical thinking, in-depth problem-solving and strong writing skills, supporters say Cambridge also dovetails nicely with the state’s newly-adopted education standards.

“We are attempting to spread the word,’’ said Sherry Reach, Cambridge’s international manager for the Americas, who is based in Panama City. “The course and assessment program we are offering helps develop skills important in the language arts for Common Core.’’

Bay County was the first Florida district to try Cambridge in 1994. In 2000, after the state Department of Education studied it, the Legislature deemed it effective for use statewide the following year. Since then, more than 100 Florida schools have signed on with Cambridge, which offers programs for students ages 5 and up. Of those, 78 are high schools, said spokeswoman Jamie Mongiovi. Nationally, the program is in 240 elementary and secondary schools in 27 states, up from 80 schools in 2009.

“A lot of that growth has happened the last few years,’’ Reach said. Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: ESAs to grow in AZ, DOJ in LA and Cantor vs. de Blasio


Alabama: The state’s new tax-credit scholarship program has nearly reached the $25 million cap ( A councilman of Birmingham says the Alabama Accountability Act must be repealed (

Alaska: The state should abolish the Blaine Amendment and allow private school vouchers (Daily News Miner).

Arizona: Education reformers plan to rapidly expand the Education Savings Accounts program if the state Supreme Court approves (Arizona Daily Sun). The Arizona Daily Sun editorial board takes a stand against expanding Education Savings Accounts, instead arguing that the state should spend more money on traditional public schools. A Republican state senator owns businesses that have financial dealings with his own tax-credit scholarship organization (CBS 5).

California: Gloria Romero, a Democrat and former state senator, argues school choice is a parent’s right (OC Register). Some public schools that convert to charters are seen as charter schools in name only (Seattle Times, Joanne Jacobs). Market competition leads to collaboration in L.A public school choice (EdSource). The California Charter Schools Association calls for the closure of a low-performing charter school managed by UC Davis, Sacramento City College and the Washington Unified School District (Sacramento Bee). Will the state embrace charter schools (San Diego Tribune)? San Diego earns low scores on the Brookings Institution’s school choice index (Press Telegram).

D.C.: Thousands of parents attend a school choice convention to find the right school for their child (Washington Post). Democracy Prep, a charter school from New York City, will be taking over an Imagine charter school in the district (Washington Post).

Delaware: A judge blocks the closure of an all girls charter school on 14th Amendment grounds (Education Week).

Florida: Four school districts in the state rank in the top 25 for school choice according to a new Brookings Institution report (redefinED). Virtual charter schools grow (redefinED). The Duval County School District holds an expo to advertise public school choice options to parents (Action News Jacksonville). Legislators propose two competing charter school bills, one creating a standardized contract to make it easier to form charter schools and the other to require surety bonds before a charter school can open (Sun-Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times). Another proposed bill would allow charter schools to share space with district schools (Miami Herald).

Georgia: New rules require charter schools to score as well as or better than the state and district averages on the state’s 110 point grading scale, or risk having their charters revoked (Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

Illinois: An op-ed writer says Chicago has too much school choice (Chicago Business). Six Catholic elementary schools are slated to close by next year (Chicago Tribune).

Louisiana: Gov. Bobby Jindal asks the court to reconsider the decision to allow federal monitoring of the voucher program to ensure racial balance (Times-Picayune). The U.S. Department of Justice is asking the court for the power to veto any voucher award (Cato Institute, National Review, Catholic Online). A state panel suggests a new way to fund the Course Choice program (Shreveport Times). New Orleans tops the Brookings Institution’s school choice index (Watchdog). School choice empowers parents (Business Report). New Orleans shows how urban districts can create real achievement growth through school choice (US News and World Report). Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charters, magnets, Common Core & more

Charter schools: The Legislature considers proposals that would make it easier for the nontraditional public schools to open and provide more oversight. Sun Sentinel. Renaissance Charter Inc., one of the largest charter school operators in the country, is growing in North Florida despite a mixed record of achievement. Florida Times-Union. Lawmakers look at changes to the charter school process, including state review of applications. The Tampa Tribune.

florida-roundup-logoMagnet schools: Turning three Polk County schools into magnet schools next fall leaves some students traveling farther to a new school. The Ledger.

Same-sex schools: WLRN in Miami looks at the latest legislative proposal to create more single-gender classrooms in Florida.

Teachers: In a year when Florida’s public school teachers are getting substantial raises, substitutes will see no bump in their paychecks. Orlando Sentinel.

School safety: St. Lucie County School District students will see new deputies in their schools, thanks to a national grant allowing the school resource officer program to expand. TC Palm. School mental health workers grapple with the best way to offer students such services in a patchwork, underfunded system. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Common Core: Republican Party of Florida activists vote  to oppose the Common Core education standards in a sign of growing anger over the national school benchmarks. News Service of Florida. Gov. Rick Scott says the state will unveil its revisions to the standards next week. News Service of Florida. More from The Florida Current.

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FL Gov. Rick Scott tries to ease conservative fears about Common Core

From the News Service of Florida:

Gov. Scott

Gov. Scott

ORLANDO – Looking to calm a rising furor in the grass roots of his party, Gov. Rick Scott said Saturday that a state set of revisions to nationwide education standards will be unveiled next week.

One day after a caucus of the Republican Party of Florida’s state committeemen and committeewomen backed a resolution opposing the Common Core standards, Scott also said he would support legislation specifying that curriculum is a local responsibility and limiting what information can be gathered about students.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said earlier this week that her department would propose about 40 changes to the voluminous education benchmarks. Scott’s remarks Saturday, to the annual meeting of the state GOP, signaled that he hopes the changes will soothe conservative fears about the standards.

“Here’s what we’re going to ensure: These are Florida standards,” he said. “They’re not some national standards; they’re going to be Florida standards. This is our state. We’re not going to have the federal government telling us how to do our education system.”

The overwhelming majority of the changes Stewart is set to propose would add material to the state’s version of the standards, officials say.

Common Core started out as a joint project by officials in about four dozen states, but some conservatives have grown worried that the standards will instead lead to unprecedented federal intrusion in local schools. The opposition to the guidelines has opened a rift on the right between those arguing against the benchmarks and members of the school accountability movement, like former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, who backs the standards.

On Saturday, Scott spoke about legislative proposals only in vague terms. He did not stop to answer questions despite shouted requests from reporters who jogged toward him as he left the Rosen Centre Hotel. Continue Reading →


FL GOP activists slam Common Core

From the News Service of Florida:

ORLANDO - A gathering of Republican Party of Florida activists voted Friday evening to oppose the Common Core education standards in a sign of growing anger among the party’s grass-roots members over the school benchmarks.

The resolution, which was approved by a caucus of state committeemen and committeewomen as part of the run-up to Saturday’s annual party meeting, is not binding on the GOP.

RPOF officials, speaking on background, quickly moved to downplay the significance of the vote against the guidelines, which have support from members of the school-accountability movement led by former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

But the vote also seemed to show that resistance to the standards has not died down since Gov. Rick Scott ordered the state Department of Education to begin backing away from a test based on Common Core and to review the standards. Continue Reading →


Thanks to school choice scholarship, he’s a 21st Century learner

Jordan Garcia

Jordan Garcia

Cristina Valdes noticed her fourth-grade son’s interest in learning start to fade and his behavior slip during the 2011-12 school year at their local elementary school and immediately took it as a red flag.

Instead of concentrating on his teacher’s lessons, Jordan Garcia asked to take unnecessary bathroom breaks, roamed the halls and fooled around seeking attention, his mother said.

“Jordan’s conduct at school had reached a crossroads and I saw him pulling further away from his interest in school and more towards acting up and being the class clown,” said Cristina. “I felt that if I did not intervene now, I may lose him by the time he started middle school.”

What perplexed Cristina the most was that her son’s grades were among the best in his class, but Jordan’s conduct and a general lackluster for his studies blemished that academic success. What she learned was that her son was often the first in class to finish tests and schoolwork and then he was left without anything structured to do. Jordan didn’t notice his slide, however, but admitted he was bored in school.

“I found my work very easy and since the teachers didn’t have anything else for me, I would make paper balls and try to make three-pointers into the garbage cans,” said Jordan, now a sixth-grader. “My classwork was not very challenging and the homework was easy.”

Cristina also pinpointed the issue and tried to address it.

“I would review his assignments and I saw a lot of repetition in his curriculum. He simply wasn’t being challenged academically. I met with his teachers on several occasions which validated what I already knew – my son was a smart kid, but was bored, which lead to a change of attitude and the beginnings of bad behavior,” said Cristina. “

At one point, she had her son tested for the gifted program, but he missed that option by just a few points, she said.

When Cristina was searching for options, a friend told her about the Step Up For Students school choice scholarship program, eventually leading her to Highpoint Academy near their Miami-area home. (Step Up co-hosts this blog.)

“I was thrilled after meeting with Highpoint Academy,” said Cristina. “They represented what I had envisioned for Jordan’s education including interactive teaching methods, small student-teacher ratios and a curriculum that I knew would challenge my son.” Continue Reading →


Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: A namecalling columnist, collaboration in Houston, and a correction on a candidate’s calculation

MrGibbonsReportCardJames Gill – columnist, The Advocate

In December, the state auditor of Louisiana recommended more accountability measures for the private school voucher program, including some non-fiscal measures like ensuring participating schools are “academically acceptable.”

“Academically acceptable” could mean a lot of different things, and it’s worth debating. To longtime Louisiana columnist James Gill, there is apparently only one litmus test and only one conclusion to draw.

To use his direct words: “Schools that deny evolution can only churn out ignoramuses, which seems an odd way to spend the public dollar.”

The comment is as inflammatory as it is absurd, and we shouldn’t mistake this as an informed position on education policy.

James Gill

Let’s just forget for the moment about Louisiana’s “Academic Freedom Act,” which still allows creationism (along with other origin theories/myths) to be taught in public schools. That law was passed in 2008 and amends a 1987 Supreme Court ruling that struck down a Louisiana Law requiring Bible-based creationism to have equal time in public classroom with evolution.

While creationism has long been a part of private (and public) school education in the U.S., we should remember that evolution is a chapter within biology textbooks at the high school level. And while learning creationism may put college-bound students behind their peers in biology class, one bad science course does not make anyone an ignoramus.

Faith-based schools should give factual explanations of what leading scientists have discovered, as challenging one’s own beliefs is an integral part of education. That said, banning schools that teach creationism might work to the detriment of students who may be well-served by the school’s instruction in other subjects, such as literature, mathematics and languages.

I welcome a more rational, less caustic, debate about requiring evolution in private schools, but let’s get kids proficient in basic reading and math before we elevate the importance of a specific topic within a single course.

Grade: Needs Improvement


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Florida schools roundup: Charters, digital ed, homeschooling & more

Charter schools: A Florida House subcommittee looks at having the state Department of Education review charter applications before they go to the districts for approval. redefinED.  More from The Buzz.  Lawmakers also talk about possible legislation looking at allowing charter schools access to underutilized district buildings. Herald/Times. The draft bill may help ease the way for out-of-state charter groups that want to open high-performing schools in Florida. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoDigital learning: Miami-Dade County school district plans to roll out 100,000 laptops and tablets to students by August 2015. Miami Herald. K12 Inc. focuses on expanding and using technology-based learning programs from pre-kindergarten through college on a global basis. Businessweek.

Homeschooling: Palm Beach County homeschoolers participate in National Geographic Bee. Sun Sentinel.

School construction: Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will launch a statewide awareness campaign next week to create a new revenue source for construction and renovations at schools, colleges and universities. The Buzz.

Petition: Civil rights groups target Florida with a petition drive and grassroots movement to overturn the state’s race-based educational achievement goals. Reuters.

Common Core: Cursive writing could survive in Florida schools after all, thanks to newly implemented education standards. Sun Sentinel. Students in Hillsborough County schools will field test the multi-state Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test this year, despite state leaders rejecting the exam. StateImpact Florida.

Extended day: A new state report finds that a majority of selected schools that added an extra hour of reading instruction in 2012-13 showed improvement. Tampa Bay Times.

Teachers: The Education Foundation – Champions for Learning names its 25 Teachers of Distinction in Collier County. Naples Daily News. State funding helps Polk public schools and USF put on a two-day training program to entice minority and male college students to become local elementary teachers. The Ledger.

Continue Reading →