Proposed charter school contracts draw fire from Florida school districts

School districts continue to raise concerns about proposed, statewide uniform charter school contracts that are set to be in place next year.

Three district representatives appeared this week before the Florida House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee to share their worries about the contracts, which were mandated by new legislation passed last spring and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott. Meanwhile, a published report suggests mounting opposition in some districts.

Mike Grego

Mike Grego

“If charter schools desire to fill a niche or an innovative purpose in a community, we ought to be able to evaluate what that niche is,” said Pinellas County Superintendent Mike Grego, according to The Tampa Tribune. “A standardized contract does not allow local school boards to do that, which is shortsiding the whole purpose of charter schools, which is to stand out and be different.”

Ruth Melton of the Florida School Boards Association told redefinED it’s still too early in the process to say whether the group opposes the standard contract, but “we are legitimately concerned and these concerns are very real.’’

While the association can appreciate the need to streamline the process, every district is different, Melton said, and every charter school has different needs. It really comes down to whether the agreement can be amended. “If yes, good. They’re on the right path,’’ she said.

But if it means the district or the charter school has to justify their reasons to amend the contract to any outside parties (such as the Florida Board of Education), then the process gets complicated, expensive and, possibly, violates the district’s constitutional right to bargain and negotiate.

“We would not be comfortable with any legislation that violates the constitution,’’ Melton said. “And I don’t think legislators would, either.’’

The idea behind standard contracts, state officials have said, is to streamline the contract process, set a baseline for expectations so both sides have the same starting point, and create an opportunity for more meaningful negotiations. The contract, if approved by lawmakers next spring, will go into effect until next year.

Charter school supporters, who also testified before lawmakers this week, have raised concerns about the new contracts, too. But generally, they support the idea.

A draft contract now on the table took four months to create with input from both charters and districts, said Adam Miller, who oversees school choice at the Florida Department of Education.  While the contract shortens timelines for negotiations, it does not mean changes can’t be made, he said.

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Florida’s long-term NAEP gains easily outpace the nation’s

Hanging Boxing GlovesFlorida made small gains over the last NAEP cycle, but how does its growth compare over the long haul? Pretty good.

If you go all the way back to the beginning of NAEP time (which can vary from 1990 to 2003 depending on the grade, subject and sub-group), Florida’s gains since then best the national gains in 38 of 40 categories. If NAEP gains were heavyweight boxing, Florida’s career record would be 38-2 with 11 KO’s (beating the average by 10 or more points).

Florida’s average gain per category is 21.5 points (about two grade levels worth of advancement). Its average spread over the national gain is 7.1 points (nearly a grade level).

One caveat: In the two areas where Florida was beat by the national average (4th grade math by English Language Learners (ELL) and 8th grade math by low-income Hispanics) the results may be biased because so few states had enough ELL and Hispanic students to compare.

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Florida schools roundup: Florida Virtual, MOOCs, private schools & more

Florida Virtual: Tom Vander Ark gives his 10 lessons from the nation’s largest provider of online learning. No. 1 – Big vision. Education Week. The lead attorney for the state-run FLVS argues K12, Inc. tried to trick parents by using two similar names, Florida Virtual Academy and Florida Virtual Program. WFTV.

florida-roundup-logoMOOCs: Massive Open Online Courses – it’s the latest trend in education and it’s coming soon to a school near you. Times/Herald.

Private schools: St. Thomas Aquinas High School, a private school in Fort Lauderdale, makes its mark as a digital innovator with a $1.6 million classroom renovation. Sun Sentinel.

Charter schools: The superintendent of The Schools of McKeel Academy works off-site for a week during an investigation into a grievance against him. The Ledger.

Common Core: A Florida teacher talks about his experience reviewing the new standards. Education Week. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education reform think-tank, tells Florida lawmakers to stay on track with Common Core. Tampa Bay Times. More from the Orlando Sentinel.

 NAEP: Reading and mathematics achievement of the country’s eighth-grade students improved in the last two years, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. But fourth-grade performance remains stubbornly mixed. Education Week. Florida’s average fourth-grade reading score remained, as it has been for a decade, above the national average.  Orlando Sentinel. More from the Pensacola News-Journal, Tallahassee Democrat, and The Tampa Tribune. Continue Reading →

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Florida’s low-income students fare quite well against their peers

Florida’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results in reading and math place the Sunshine State squarely in the middle of the pack (except in 4th grade reading where Florida ranks in the top 10). But comparing states without controlling for demographic differences isn’t entirely fair.

Since every state has differences in student demographics, the most accurate way to compare states is to compare similar subgroups. And one of the best ways to judge the efficacy of a state’s education system is to see how it performs for the students in most need of help.

We looked at the results for low-income students by race in Florida and compared the results with their peers in other states. The table below provides both a raw score comparison with the national average and Florida’s rank for each subgroup. As you can see, Florida performs quite well.

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UPDATE: Two points of praise for Florida on the NAEP 4th grade reading exam: Florida’s low-income Hispanic students beat the average (of all students regardless of race or income) in 18 states and D.C. Florida’s low-income black students best the average (of all students) in New Mexico and D.C.

Note: the reason there are not 51 places in the ranking is because not every state has a large enough sample size of the racial demographic group to compare with other states.

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Florida students again showing progress on “nation’s report card”

After a brief stall, Florida students and teachers are again making nationally notable gains on a closely watched test.

Released Thursday, the latest results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, better known as “the nation’s report card,” show Florida students making solid growth between 2011 and 2013 on three of four tests that are used to compare achievement from state to state.

The NAEP reading and math tests are given every other year to representative samples of fourth- and eighth-graders in all 50 states.

Fueled by the performance of low-income and minority students, Florida was one of only four states that made statistically significant score gains on both the eighth-grade reading and eighth-grade math tests. It was also one of only seven states that showed a statistically significant increase in the percentage of students scoring at or above the basic level on fourth-grade reading, with a jump from 71 to 75 percent. (See charts below for the Florida and U.S. trend lines.)

The improved scores are “an example of what can be accomplished when we focus on what is important,” Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said in a written statement.

The latest results will have academic repercussions in the Sunshine State, a national leader in ed reform for more than a decade, and, maybe, political and legal ones. For embattled ed reformers, they bring a sigh of relief. For critics, they bring more evidence, despite oft-repeated arguments, that Florida public schools continue to improve faster than schools just about anywhere.

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MathNAEPRanks

Here’s the context:

Between the late 1990s and 2009, Florida was arguably the national pacesetter on NAEP progress, moving from the bottom tier of states on all four core tests to the middle tier or better on three of them. It is impossible to sort out which factors led to rising trend lines, but Florida’s escape from the national cellar coincided with the sweeping policy changes ushered in by former Gov. Jeb Bush. Generally, the changes stressed higher standards, expanded school choice and top-down regulatory accountability. More specifically, they included school grades, private school vouchers, third-grade retention and an intense focus on literacy in early grades. Over the second half of that span, Florida also modestly shrunk class sizes and rolled out a popular, voluntary pre-kindergarten program, both prompted by voter-approved amendments to the state constitution.

Then came 2011. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Magnet schools, charters, Common Core & more

Magnet schools: The Palm Beach County School Board wants to open an arts magnet at the middle and high school level. Palm Beach Post.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools: Health officials confirm that an illness affecting students at a Palm Beach County charter school was Norovirus. Palm Beach Post.

Common Core: The debate over the Common Core academic standards is shifting from Da Vinci Code fiction to facts, writes Beth Kassab of the Orlando Sentinel. In addition to pressing lawmakers to stick with Common Core, Pasco district officials recommend creating a transitional accountability plan as the state moves from one set of standards and tests to another. Tampa Bay Times.

StudentsFirst: The education reform group expands into Florida with a new state press secretary – Lane Wright, Gov. Rick Scott’s former spokesperson. The Buzz.

Teacher pay: The Palm Beach County School District and the local teachers union remain far apart on just how much more money the district should spend on teacher raises. Palm Beach Post. The Miami-Dade School Board approves a one-year deal with the United Teachers of Dade to provide raises of at least $1,300 for most the district’s 21,000-plus teachers. Miami Herald.

School spending: The Palm Beach County School Board reimburses one of its members $13,424.50 in legal fees rung up in defending herself against state ethics complaints last year. Palm Beach Post. More from the Sun Sentinel. Continue Reading →

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Next week: A chat about faith-based schools

Peter Hanley (at left) and Robert Aguirre

Peter Hanley (at left) and Robert Aguirre

The U.S. is home to 21,000 faith-based schools. They serve 4.3 million students. They’ve long been an integral part of the American mosaic. Yet today, many of them are under intense financial strain, particularly in urban areas where, for generations, they’ve admirably served low-income students. At a time when American public education could use help from every quarter, the plight of faith-based schools remains sadly overlooked.

To raise awareness and spur action, the American Center for School Choice (which co-hosts this blog) created the national Commission on Faith-based Schools. It’s holding its first school leadership summit Nov. 19. To tell us more about these efforts – and to answer your questions – two center leaders will join us for a chat next week: Peter Hanley, the center’s executive director; and Robert Aguirre, a member of the board of directors and the commission chair.

The chats are live, interactive and in writing. We describe them as a press conference with a typewriter, with the floor open to anyone who wants to ask a question.

To participate, come back to the blog on Tuesday, Nov. 12. We’ll start promptly at 11 a.m., so click in to the live chat program – which you’ll find here on the blog – a few minutes before then. In the meantime, if you have questions for Hanley or Guerra, you can pose them in advance (which, depending on turnout, may make it more likely that they’ll be able to answer it.) You can leave them in the comments section, email them to rmatus@sufs.org, tweet them to @redefinEDonline, and/or post them on our facebook page.

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We need more cooperation between school districts and school choice

Southside Fundamental in south St. Pete. Photo by Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times.

A struggle over an empty school building in Milwaukee speaks to the growing conflict between urban districts that are losing enrollment and school choice operators who are eager to take advantage. As a School Board member in St. Petersburg/Pinellas, Florida, I saw the same tensions.

Selling vacant property can generate much-needed capital for school districts and eliminate an unnecessary maintenance expense from the books.  For example, Milwaukee was spending more than $1 million a year trying to maintain the vacant schools. But selling the building to charter entrepreneurs also can mean potentially losing students, and funding, to schools of choice.

St. Marcus Lutheran School, a high-achieving voucher school, and Milwaukee College Prep, a charter school, both sought to purchase the long vacant Malcolm X Academy building. But the Milwaukee Public School district refused the offers, prompting a Wisconsin legal institute to accuse officials of “playing shell games” and “skirting the law.” District officials have kept many buildings off the market claiming they still want to make use of them.

The plan for the Malcolm X property calls for the district to sell the vacant building to a local developer for $2.1 million. The developer will then remodel half the building into a community center and rent the other half back to the Milwaukee Public School District for a fee of $4.2 million. Without question, the proposed deal is controversial.

Milwaukee isn’t the only school district that seems to be using its control of real estate to halt the expansion of school choice. According to a recent Education Next report, blocking access to vacant buildings is a common tactic of urban school districts. It also happened here in my own back yard in the Tampa Bay region. Continue Reading →

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