An attempt at common ground between districts, charter schools

Can charter schools and districts really work together?

Squabbles about funding and facilities might make one wonder. But the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools believes charters and districts can get along – and must.florida consortium

That’s why the Fort Lauderdale-based consortium, which represents more than 400 charter schools across the state, has organized the first statewide task force of charter school and district leaders. The group meets Monday.

The idea is to get the two sides talking less about competing against one another and more about their common ground for kids. The consortium also hopes to identify school districts where charter school operators enjoy “productive, cooperative relationships,’’ and figure out how they got there.

Robert Haag

Robert Haag

“We wanted to create an opportunity for districts and charter schools to begin having an honest and respectful dialog, and a place where we could exchange constructive ideas and provide direction as to how to improve relationships between an authorizer and a charter school,’’ the consortium’s president, Robert Haag, said in a prepared statement.

“Districts and charter schools are often perceived as enemies but nothing could be further from the truth,’’ said Haag, who also serves as superintendent of Charter Schools of Excellence in Broward County. “We are allies in the pursuit of educational excellence.’’

In Florida, school districts serve as charter school authorizers – another source of tension between the two sectors. Last school year, 578 charter schools served more than 203,000 students in Florida, up from 516 during the prior year.

State Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, and the Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie are co-chairing the new group. For more information, call (954) 463-9595.



Florida schools roundup: Rick Scott, Common Core, dual enrollment & more

Rick Scott: The governor struggles to explain to reporters how PARCC is a federal intrusion, and his support of Common Core remains unclear. The Buzz. The Republican Party of Sarasota County leader calls Scott’s move to withdraw Florida from the consortium a conservative victory in education. The Buzz. At last month’s Education Summit, participants had a chance to sign off on a version of Scott’s executive order condemning PARCC and declined. StateImpact Florida. Scott defends his decision to withdraw from PARCC , while a state lawmaker files a bill addressing a common concern about the standards. News Service of Florida.

florida-roundup-logoCommon Core: During a heated discussion about the new standards, Brevard school board member Amy Kneessy calls 911 and tells the operator: “I’m getting scared, so I need somebody here.” Florida Today. Lee County’s assistant superintendent during a workshop on Common Core: “Our curriculum is under local control. Those are our choices and stay here in our district for decisions.” Fort Myers News-Press.

Funding: The growth in the number of children attending Florida public schools appears to be leveling off, meaning if lawmakers want to continue per student funding at the current level they will have to boost spending by at least an additional $113 million. Florida Current.

Career-ready: A two-year culinary program hopes to attract Broward County high school students to create a pipeline of future hospitality workers. Sun Sentinel.

Dual enrollment: Indian River State College offers St. Lucie and Indian River school districts a “one-year cost sharing program” to help comply with a new law that requires them to pay tuition for high school students taking courses at area colleges. TC Palm.

Inequality: A Broward County diversity committee finds the district’s public schools are still divided between the haves and the have nots. Miami Herald.

Raises: Polk County bus drivers, cafeteria staff and other blue-collar workers will see a slight pay increase and their health insurance covered. The Ledger. Pinellas County teachers will receive a 5.6 percent raise, on average, while other groups will get 5 percent raises. Tampa Bay Times.

Charter schools: The Florida House education committee expects to finalize a standard contract for school districts and charter schools during the 2014 legislative session. Florida Current. The proposed Polk Maritime Academy is the only one of four charter applicants received favorably by Polk County’s Charter Review Committee. The Ledger.

No smoking: Starting next school year, the Broward district wants to ban the use of tobacco-related products at bus depots, athletic fields, parking lots and off-campus school-sponsored events. Sun Sentinel.

Head Start: Palm Beach County commissioners agree to hand off operation of the Head Start preschool program for poor children to Lutheran Services of Florida. Sun Sentinel.

Learning issues: With 36,000 children identified as having special needs or disabilities in Miami Dade Public Schools, thousands of parents are seeking or maintaining formal accommodations to meet children’s needs. Miami Herald.

Superintendents: Polk County’s Kathryn LeRoy tells the school board she’s on schedule with her 100-day plan. The Ledger. Despite critics, Hillsborough’s superintendent gets a contract extension. Tampa Bay Times. More from The Tampa Tribune.

Instruction: The Polk County School Board agrees to improve instruction for juveniles at the county jail in response to complaints from a nonprofit civil rights group. The Ledger.

Conduct: A Hernando County exceptional student education teacher is arrested for having sex with a 16-year-old student. The Tampa Tribune. A civil trial is set for November to sort out allegations of negligence lodged by the parents of a former Morningside Elementary student who says she was molested in 2008 by a reading mentor. TC Palm.


Rick Scott defends decision to abandon tests tied to Common Core

From the News Service of Florida:

Gov. Rick Scott defended his decision to withdraw from tests linked to setting up a national set of educational standards, while a state lawmaker filed a bill addressing a common concern about the standards.

In his first public comments on the move, Scott on Tuesday explained why he ordered the Department of Education to stop managing the financial affairs of the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, of PARCC, which is developing the tests.

It was seen as a first step toward Florida trying to develop its own tests to measure student learning gains under the “Common Core” standards that Florida and almost four dozen other states have agreed to use.

Scott maintained his stance that using PARCC would allow the federal government to meddle in the state’s schools.

“If you look at it, it’s their entry point into having more involvement in our education system. … I want to continue that focus on high standards, but we don’t need the federal government intruding in our lives,” Scott told reporters.

When pressed, Scott did not say specifically how he thought tests developed through a state-led initiative could be an instrument of federal intrusion, or cite an example of federal intrusion through PARCC. The group has received a $186 million federal grant for its work on the tests, but the state Department of Education has issued statements dismissing as a myth the idea of PARCC being used for federal control of education.

“The federal government does not have a hand in development of the aligned assessments pertaining to CCSS,” according to an undated document on the agency’s website. “There are two state consortia responsible for developing Common Core aligned assessments as well as some states that have developed their own assessment programs, such as Kentucky and New York.”

The document is entitled, “Demystifying the Movement: Answers to Common Myths about the Common Core State Standards.”

During his press conference Tuesday, Scott also appeared to hedge when asked whether his logic could be used to get rid of the Common Core standards themselves. Continue Reading →


If privatization is bad, why don’t school choice critics target IB?

Robinson: Parents care about results. They usually have one concern - is their child learning and thriving? If so, you won’t find many complaints. Even if the CEO responsible for the curriculum is making a profit.

Robinson: Parents care about results. They usually have one concern – is their child learning and thriving? If so, you won’t find many complaints.
Even if the CEO responsible for the curriculum is making a profit.

One of the arguments I hear from people determined to limit school choice options is that private companies shouldn’t be involved in the business of educating our kids. Activists against accountability rail against corporations that administer tests. Charter school opponents argue that for-profit companies are trying to profit from our children. Anti-choice proponents label those of us involved in school choice as conspirators in an effort to privatize public education.

The truth is, numerous companies conduct legitimate and valuable business with our public schools. These entities produce textbooks, assessments, curriculum guides, software, and so much more. Schools could not effectively educate students without these supplemental tools and supplies.

But for the sake of argument, let’s put aside those facts and consider this:

Like thousands of other kids across the country, my own children benefit from the involvement of a huge, international conglomerate, an important player in one of this country’s most popular magnet programs – the International Baccalaureate program.

According to its website, “the IB works with 3,665 schools in 146 countries to offer the four IB programmes to approximately 1,133,000 students.”

How’s that for outside involvement?

My children attend an IB program at Williams Middle School in Tampa, Fla. I’ve been both a member of the school’s PTA and an elected officer for the past three years. As such, I’ve never heard a single parent complain about the fact that a foreign company is operating in Hillsborough County schools, nor have I heard anyone complain about lack of local control. In fact, parents aren’t complaining at all. They are lining up to get their kids into the program. Many don’t even know the background of this Geneva-based organization and even fewer seem to care.

All they know is the program works for their kids.

That’s what matters. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Rick Scott, PARCC, BOE appointment & more

PARCC: Gov. Rick Scott calls on state education leaders to drop out of PARCC, the assessments aligned with the new Common Core State Standards. But last year, Scott celebrated the fact that PARCC was coming to Florida. The Buzz. More from the Sun Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel, Miami Herald, StateImpact Florida, Associated Press, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Education Week, Sunshine State News, Pensacola News JournalDaytona Beach News-Journal, The Answer Sheet, Florida CurrentNPR and Wall Street Journal. florida-roundup-logoSome of Scott’s concerns  about PARCC are debunked on the Florida Department of Education’s website. Tampa Bay Times. There is nothing wrong with striving to make sure standards and assessments in Florida are as valid and fair as possible, writes Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano. “The real problem is risking everything that has already been accomplished by our students and educators by creating a mythical boogeyman just to score political points.” And this from the Tampa Bay Times: Scott’s declaration … is a serious setback for education reform.”

Board of Ed: Gov. Rick Scott on Monday appointed a former teacher as the newest member of the State Board of Education. The Buzz.

School buses: Lake County School Board members restore busing to more than 450 students who face dangerous walking routes to classes. Orlando Sentinel.

Charter schools: Academy of Arts & Minds, the high-performing but oft-scrutinized performing arts charter high school in Miami-Dade County files for bankruptcy. Miami Herald.

Teachers: The Call Me MISTER program seeks up to four black men a year to become teachers, providing scholarships for their tuition. In return, they must teach for at least five years in schools identified  as low performing. Florida Times-Union.

Achievement gap: The Tampa Tribune outlines Pinellas County’s new plan to help black students. Among the goals: Schools with high suspension rates for black students would receive training in “culturally responsive positive behavior interventions.”

Conduct: The Pinellas County School Board considers a recommendation to fire a bus driver who may have hit a student and then waited half an hour to report the accident. Tampa Bay Times. St. Lucie schools Superintendent Genelle Yost recommends firing a bus aide for allegedly verbally attacking a special-needs child. TC Palm. Hernando County’s superintendent recommends dismissing a teacher after a district investigation finds he falsified a recent application to renew his teaching certificate and failed to promptly report a conviction for driving under the influence. Tampa Bay Times.


Florida Gov. Rick Scott: Keep Common Core, retreat on PARCC

Gov. Scott

Gov. Scott

Common Core is okay. But the new, multi-state tests aligned to them may have to go.

So suggests Florida Gov. Rick Scott in documents set for release today.

In a draft executive order, Scott says “Floridians will not accept Federal government intrusion into the academic standards that are taught to our students.” The order then says the tests being put together by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, better known as PARCC, “do not meet the needs of our students or the expectations of state leaders” in terms of cost, test length and testing requirements – and constitute “excessive involvement by the United States Department of Education.” It says the state education commissioner shall recommend to the state Board of Education that the board terminate Florida’s role as the fiscal agent for PARCC and establish a competitive bidding process for new tests.

In a draft letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Scott also criticizes PARCC, saying it “has become a primary entry point for the involvement of the federal government” in many state and local education decisions.

But the letter also notes the state BOE adopted Common Core standards in 2010 after a process that began under former Gov. Jeb Bush and continued under former House Speaker Marco Rubio.

“This process resulted in the highest academic standards that could move our students and teachers away from ‘teaching to the test’ and toward a more independent, analytical approach to reading, writing and math,” the letter says.

Here is a copy of the letter to Duncan. Here is a copy of the executive order. And here is a letter to BOE Chair Gary Chartrand.

Statement from Patricia Levesque at Foundation for Florida’s Future here. Statements from six of seven BOE members here.

Other coverage: Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Bay Times (editorial), Education Week, Sunshine State News, South Florida Sun Sentinel, Palm Beach Post, Orlando Sentinel, Associated Press, Pensacola News Journal, Gradebook, The BuzzStateImpact Florida, Daytona Beach News Journal, Fort Myers News Press, Sarasota Herald Tribune, John Romano, The Answer Sheet, Florida Current, NPR, Bridge to Tomorrow, Wall Street Journal.


Seminole Indian charter school gives students the best of both worlds

The school day at Pemayetv Emahakv, a K-8 charter school in Florida, teaches students the Seminole Indian Tribe's native Creek language and culture.

The Pemayetv Emahakv, a K-8 charter school in Florida, teaches students the Seminole Indian reservation’s native Creek language and culture.

Enter Central Florida’s Brighton Indian Reservation, past cattle fields and citrus groves, and it doesn’t take long to understand the priorities of this Florida Seminole Indian Tribe.

There’s a casino, but there’s also a new elder affairs building and a star-shaped veterans center ringed with giant bronze statues. And there’s a charter school that’s become the community’s heartbeat.

Inside Pemayetv Emahakv, which means “Our Way,’’ students in kindergarten through eighth grade straddle two worlds – one rooted in their rich, proud heritage; the other in the wider space where they must compete and succeed like their counterparts across the planet.

So they study Creek, the tribe’s native tongue, along with the state’s new science standards. They string Indian beads into necklaces and read books on Kindles. They cook fry bread in chickees and take standardized tests in state-of-the art classrooms.

Students, most of whom are from the Seminole Indian Tribe, learn to string beads into jewelry the same way their ancestors did.

Students, most of whom are from the Seminole Indian Tribe, learn to string beads into jewelry the same way their ancestors did.

“We wanted a native curriculum,’’ said Michele Thomas, a parent and administrative assistant at the school and a Florida Seminole Indian. “That was the sole purpose. This school was built to save our language.’’

It’s no accident the school is a charter. That’s what gave it the flexibility to offer deep immersion in Seminole culture. It’s no surprise, either, that it’s part of a growing trend of charter schools opening on American Indian reservations across the country.

There are now 31 of them, according to a recent report by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Twelve opened on Bureau of Indian Affairs lands between 2005 and 2010.

Some of the increase is due to a decades-old Congressional moratorium on new schools operated by the federal Bureau of Indian Education, which oversees public schools on American Indian reservations. That meant tribes couldn’t expand existing ones, either.

Charters offered an option.

But much of the growth can be attributed to a desire by American Indians to preserve their fading culture.

Students line up to ride the bus to the reservation's swimming pool.

Students line up to ride the bus to the reservation’s swimming pool.

“When we were growing up, our grandmas were around,’’ said Cecelia Thomas, a Seminole tribal member and bookkeeper at the school where two of her children attended. “Our uncles were around. Our mom and dad were around. We all lived on the same street or in the same little house. We just seemed to be a tighter-knit family.’’

Customs and language were passed down, from generation to generation. But even Thomas, 45, has lost some of those connections. Like a lot of parents her age on the reservation, she can’t speak her native tongue fluently so she can’t teach it to her children.

Before the charter school, she said, “our language was dying.”

Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Common Core, PARCC, achievement gap & more

Common Core: “I completely agree with former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and bipartisan leaders across the country that the Common Core standards are simply better than what we have been relying on… ” writes Charlie Crist for the Tampa Bay Times. florida-roundup-logoA Florida Insider Poll on the fate of Common Core finds 70 percent predict the new measures will stand, and 30 percent predict Florida will pull out three years after its implementation. The Buzz. The Polk County school district has been using Common Core State Standards in their lessons as well as the current Sunshine State Standards. The Ledger. And so has Sarasota County schools, says Superintendent Lori White. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. “They’ve been called everything from leftist indoctrination to another tool meant to debase teachers and public education,” writes the Fort Myers News-Press, which takes a look at the new standards in Lee County.

PARCC: Education Week looks at who has the authority to withdraw from the testing consortium tied with Common Core State Standards, saying Gov. Scott can’t do it alone.

Accountability: Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano writes “The people who scream loudest about accountability in schools need to cool their jets for the next couple of years.”

Guns in schools: The Miami Herald spends three months investigating how much of a threat guns really pose to South Florida schools.

Achievement gap: Pinellas County schools Superintendent  Mike Grego gives more details on a new plan to boost academic performance for black students. Tampa Bay Times.

Sick day: More than 300 Manatee County students from an elementary school came down with stomach-flu-like symptoms, prompting the district sanitize the school and to warn parents to keep sick kids home. Sun Sentinel.

School boards: Board members across the state will receive a more than 3 percent raise this year. That means pay for each board member in Broward and Palm Beach counties will increase to $42,455. Sun Sentinel. Hillsborough County School Board members April Griffin and Susan Valdes use Superintendent MaryEllen Elia’s review to whine, posture and settle old scores, writes the Tampa Bay Times.

Continue Reading →