Running for school board & supporting parental choice

You won’t hear Brian Graham bashing the public schools.

The candidate for Clay County School board comes from a long line of educators, and works for a school district himself. But expanded school choice, he said, can create healthy competition and drive improvement in the public school system.

Brian Graham Clay County SB Cand_MG_5492“The free market doesn’t just apply to business,” he said. “The free market also should apply to education, and limiting parents’ options or students’ options does not benefit the students.”

The theme of unleashing the free market might resonate in Clay County, a Republican stronghold southwest of Jacksonville.

A seasoned Republican operative, Graham has worked on campaigns for the likes of U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Orlando, and former state Sen. Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville – both of whom championed school choice policies when they were in the Legislature.

He is currently the community relations coordinator for the Bradford County school district. So far, he’s received more campaign contributions than any other school board candidate in Clay County. He’s running for the seat vacated by his mother, an elementary school administrator. His grandmother and great-grandmother also taught in public schools.

If he’s successful this fall, he will join the small but growing ranks of school board members around the state – including his friend Jason Fischer in neighboring Duval County – who say school districts should embrace the full range of options available to parents, and look to add more of their own.

Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Budgets, campaigns, discipline and more

Budgets. Miami-Dade’s superintendent plans to lower tax rates while boosting spending. Miami Herald. The Pasco school board trims a list of staff additions. Gradebook.

florida-roundup-logoCampaigns. A liberal Democratic caucus questions Charlie Crist’s education record, including his positions on school choice, and promotes Nan Rich, his Democratic gubernatorial primary opponent. Tampa Tribune. Sunshine State News. The Pinellas teachers union makes an endorsement for an open school board seat. Gradebook.

Testing. The Pinellas school district plans to scrutinize students’ FCAT writing responses. Tampa Bay Times.

Discipline. The Duval school board rewrites its code of conduct. Florida Times-Union. Discipline is among the top issues for principal candidates in Lakewood Ranch. Bradenton Herald.

Cellphones. Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties adopt more relaxed policies, saying cellphones have become educational devices. Pensacola News-Journal.

Financial literacy. Florida is the first state in the nation to adopt national standards. Gradebook.

Summer. The Pasco school district takes kids outdoors with a summer adventure camp. Tampa Bay Times.

Rural charter schools overcome obstacles to create new options

The proliferation of charter schools around the country has come more slowly to rural areas.

Yet nationwide, nearly 800 rural charter schools are grappling with limited funding, diffuse populations, and, in some cases, resistance from local school districts. Away from the spotlight of major media markets, they haven’t gotten as much attention as their urban counterparts.

But perhaps they should.

Terry Ryan is president of the Idaho Charter School Network. At an annual gathering of charter school advocates and educators in Las Vegas, he opened a discussion of high-performing rural charters by pointing out that only 27 percent of rural high school graduates make it to college – a sign, he said, that students in those areas could benefit from more options.

Michael Hayes, director of Crestone Charter School in southern Colorado, said it took time for a new “laboratory for learning” to take root in the Rockies and ease tensions with the local district. He recalled supporters in the early years leaving school board meetings and finding the tires on their cars had been slashed.

Over time, he said, the school learned to collaborate with the district and began to serve as a community gathering place, offering yoga lessons in a multi-purpose room known as Rainbow Hall.

“It took us 16 or 17 years to feel permanent, like we might not go away the next year,” he said. Now, “they know that we’re here to stay, that we’re not going anywhere.”

Asked what policies could help newer schools achieve a similar sense of permanence, Kylie Holley, principal of the Pataula Charter Academy in southwestern Georgia said: “Hands down, equitable funding.” Continue Reading →

Race, representation and the parental choice movement

In the face of a well-funded, organized opposition around the country, the education reform and parental school choice movements need to become more representative of the communities they aim to help.

A panel at a charter school conferences discusses diversity and community involvement.

A panel at a charter school conferences discusses diversity and community involvement.

Kenneth Campbell, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, was not alone in making that case Tuesday at the National Charter Schools Conference in Las Vegas.

Kicking off a panel discussion, he pointed to incidents around the country, from the latest skirmish over charter schools in New York City to a short video that he said portrays the rise of an all-charter school district in New Orleans as a “nefarious plan” by outsiders looking to “take over schools.”

“It really gives me the sense that there will be increasing efforts, and I think more sophisticated efforts, to ensure that the vulnerable places that we have in the reform movement can be exploited,” he said.

Campbell said shoring up those vulnerabilities will require the movement to build stronger ties with the low-income and minority communities in which it works, and to give those groups the ability to “jointly own reform.”

Issues of race and representation have often lurked in the background of the movement to expand school choice and equal opportunity in education. Charter school supporters confronted them publicly during several speeches and workshops at the Las Vegas conference.

“We have allowed people who are not representative of the people that we’re serving to control this movement and be the face of this movement,” Jamilah Prince-Stewart, the director of community engagement at ConnCAN, said during the panel Campbell introduced. As a result, she said, it should be no surprise when “the very people that we’re trying to help are not receptive to what we’re delivering.” Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Hardship, school counselors, superintendents and more

Hardship. A Venice high school student is recognized for overcoming homelessness. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

florida-roundup-logoSchool counselors. First Lady Michelle Obama praises school counselors in Orlando. Orlando Sentinel.

Superintendents. Alachua County’s new chief prepares a series of school visits as he takes office. Gainesville Sun.

Administration. Hernando schools get a new assistant superintendent. Tampa Bay Times. Collier and Lee County schools shake up their top ranks. Naples Daily News. Duval schools approve new administrator appointments. Florida Times-Union. Finalists for a principal job will explain their qualifications to faculty, staff and the public. Bradenton Herald.

School grades. Top Pasco officials tell administrators not to pay much attention to this year’s letter grades. Gradebook.

Math instruction. Leon County students go to summer algebra camps before taking another try at their must-pass end of course exams. Tallahassee Democrat.

Employee conduct. A Manatee County administrator considers returning to the job after an administrative law judge rules against his firing. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald.

Vals and sals. Pasco schools aim to do away with honorary titles for graduates. Tampa Bay Times.

K12 Inc. anxiously awaits FL grade

Company officials are questioning the state's accountability framework for virtual providers.

Company officials are questioning the state’s accountability framework for virtual providers.

Florida’s public school accountability system could be on the verge of snaring one of the nation’s largest online education providers.

K12 Inc. is expected to get an initial “incomplete” when letter grades for Florida public school are released this month. But it’s still possible the final grade, whenever it is released, could be unflattering – with serious consequences for K12’s operation in Florida.

The state awarded K12 a D last year, and the company’s appeal was stymied in part because of data conflicts with school districts. If the company receives a D or an F in the next three years, it could be forced to sever its ties with nearly 50 school districts, its five virtual charter schools, and new virtual charters expected to open next year.

That would be the first time a digital learning provider faces that penalty since lawmakers first created a new system of “approved providers” and district-managed virtual instruction programs.

Representatives for K12 and the schools it helps manage in Florida say it’s hard to predict what its grade will be, or whether it will receive one for the current school year. The main reason, the company says, is that it has struggled to obtain student information from the districts where it operates virtual instruction programs.

But company officials are also questioning the state’s accountability framework for virtual providers, which grades those providers based on combined results for independently run virtual charter schools and school district programs, over which they have less control.

The state Department of Education has indicated it would give the company a grade of incomplete, at least for now, while officials try to sort out issues with data reported by 17 districts that have contracted with K12. It is not clear when a final grade may be out.

To understand K12’s situation, a little history is in order.

Florida’s virtual education system took a turn in 2008, when a new law required school districts to create new virtual instruction programs. The revised law allowed districts to supplement local virtual programs by hiring outside providers like K12, which currently contracts with 48 districts. It also required districts to offer at least three different options, which often included locally run franchises of Florida Virtual School, the state’s publicly run provider.

In 2011, Florida law authorized virtual charter schools. Their boards can hire companies like K12, or other state-approved providers, to manage their schools.

Under the current grading system, the state can issue grades to virtual charters. It also issues grades to providers, which for grading purposes combine their virtual charters and district instruction programs together. Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Charter schools, budgets, testing and more

Charter schools. The mayor of West Palm Beach is pushing for a city-run charter school to help turn around “appalling” test results. Palm Beach Post.

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Testing. The state releases sample questions and other new details about the FCAT’s replacement. Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Tribune. Tampa Bay Times. More from Sentinel School Zone. Education Commissioner Pam Stewart taps a panel of superintendents to weigh in on the state’s accountability system. Gradebook.

Teachers unions. The Florida Education Association takes over the Palm Beach County union amid an ongoing leadership election dispute. Palm Beach Post.

Career education. A South Florida high school adds more CAPE programs. Sun-Sentinel.

Budgets. The Fort Myers News-Press looks at the cost of school technology. A shortfall has Walton County schools bracing for cuts. Northwest Florida Daily News. Flagler County schools restore pay raises they couldn’t afford during the recession. Daytona Beach News Journal.

Common Core. StateImpact looks at the politics of the standards.

Books. Anti-censorship groups rally to restore a book to Pasco’s summer reading list. Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Tribune.

Rules. Alachua County schools may relax their dress codes. Gainesville Sun. Polk County schools move to restrict e-cigarettes and bandannas. Lakeland Ledger.

Administration. An administrative law judge sides with a Manatee County school district official ensnared by a scandal. Bradenton Herald.