Charter-like? Not quite. But more flexibility may be coming to some Florida schools

It’s an idea gaining momentum in Florida this legislative session: letting a few district schools choose curriculum, lease buildings and enjoy wiggle room when it comes to class size.

Sound familiar?

The concept, coined “district innovation schools,’’ would allow high-performing public schools to operate with some of the same freedom that has helped many charter schools succeed.

Assuming the legislation passes – and its odds look good at this point – it remains to be seen whether the innovation schools can carve out flexible terms during collective bargaining with teachers unions – like, say, having more power over hiring and firing. But even if that doesn’t happen, some observers said, the added leeway still could make a difference.

Sen. Montford

Sen. Bill Montford

“We’ve learned a lot from charter schools,’’ Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat and the bill sponsor, told redefinED. “They have been able to think outside the box.’’

Montford is a former Leon County superintendent and CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

Charters are funded by taxpayer dollars, but have their own governing boards and power over personnel decisions. They also can meet the state’s stringent class-size mandate for core classes on a schoolwide average instead of class by class – something districts must do or pay hefty fines.

The result, some say, is charters can be more innovative, creative – and academically successful. Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: teacher eval lawsuit, Michelle Rhee, budget requests & more

Teacher evaluations. The NEA and FEA file a federal suit against the new teacher evaluations system in Florida. Coverage from the Orlando Sentinel, Associated Press, Times/HeraldTallahassee Democrat, Gainesville Sun, Pensacola News JournalGradebook, Education Week, PolitiJax, State Impact Florida, New York TimesAnswer Sheet. FEA statement here. Lawmakers need to fix glaring flaws, editorializes the Lakeland Ledger. The Miami-Dade system plows ahead with its own remedies, reports the Miami Herald. School districts around the state are cooperating more to create the hundreds of new tests needed for the teacher evaluations, reports the Tallahassee Democrat.

florida roundup logoTony Bennett. Indiana folks make up his inner circle at DOE. Gradebook.

Michelle Rhee. Michelle Rhee was in Tallahassee Monday, meeting with lawmakers. Naked Politics.

School choice. With rezoning issues out of the way, Bay County cranks up its district school choice process. WJHG.com.

Career education. A big hit in Okaloosa. Northwest Florida Daily News.

School spending. The state Board of Education is not happy after the Department of Education says it overestimated the budget request for new technology by $342 million, reports StateImpact Florida. The Pasco school board decides, for now, not to follow Superintendent Kurt Browning’s proposal to cut media specialists and reading coaches, reports the Tampa Bay Times. The Sarasota board follows through on plans to cut media specialists, reports the Sarasota Herald Tribune. Continue Reading →

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School choice for low-income students strengthens public education

all hands on deckEditor’s note: This piece ran in Monday’s Gainesville Sun.

Parents with financial means long have chosen their children’s schools by where they live or which private tuition they pay, but Florida is approaching a remarkable threshold in school choice. Last year, 1.5 million students — or 43 percent — attended something other than their neighborhood school. Of special note, 51,023 of the poorest among them are attending a private school at public expense.

This move toward customizing public education is owed to a simple proposition — that different children learn in different ways — and it represents an extraordinary commitment to equal opportunity. In Alachua County last year, 5,800 students chose magnet or choice programs or used open enrollment, and another 2,200 went to charter schools. This year, 335 low-income students are also attending private schools through state-backed scholarships.

That last learning option, called Florida Tax Credit Scholarships, gives pause to the Alachua League of Women Voters. Its respected president, Kathy Kidder, recently questioned the program’s constitutionality and accountability. She cited a state Supreme Court case, the 2006 dismissal of a voucher given to students in schools judged to be failing, without noting two prominent U.S. Supreme Court precedents that affirm the scholarship’s constitutionality.

The first, a 2002 case from Cleveland, rules that religious schools cannot be excluded from private voucher programs as long as the primary goal is education and parents aren’t coerced into choosing. The second, a 2011 case from Arizona, finds tax credit scholarships to be in a separate constitutional arena altogether. In Arizona, the court ruled that tax-credited contributions are not government expenditures.

The more important measure, though, is educational progress. The $4,335 scholarship is available only to children in K-12 whose household income qualifies them for free or reduced-price lunch, and this year the average income is just 6 percent above the poverty line. Two-thirds of the students are black or Hispanic, and more than half live in households with only one parent. More striking, the students who choose the scholarship are the lowest academic achievers from the public schools they leave behind.

The encouraging news is that these same students, according to the latest annual standardized test scores, are achieving the same gains in reading and math as students of all income levels nationally. Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: merit pay cheers, parent trigger stink, teacher evals & more

Parent trigger. Parent trigger is not worth the fuss, writes Orlando Sentinel columnist Beth Kassab: “We’re wasting time with political gamesmanship over a bill that both sides are making a bigger stink over than it’s worth.”

FL roundup logo snippedTony Bennett. New Indiana Superintendent Glenda Ritz accuses former super Tony Bennett, of wasteful spending on technology. Indianapolis Star.

English language learners. The growing challenge of growing numbers of ELLs. Associated Press.

Teacher retention. Pinellas is looking at ways to better recruit and retain teachers at high-needs schools. Finally. Gradebook.

Teacher evaluations. The Florida Education Association is planning to file suit over the new eval system, with details coming today. Gradebook and Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher pay. Miami-Dade teachers get performance-based bonuses – and cheer. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →

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Charter school + “alternate dimensions” = accelerated science education

Edwin Cruz, 14, is a ninth-grader at Orlando Science School and a member of the robotics team.

Edwin Cruz, 14, is a ninth-grader at Orlando Science School and a member of the robotics team.

Kristopher Pappas, a sixth-grader at Orlando Science School, looks like a lot of 11-year-olds, like he could have a Kindle and a Razor and put a little brother in a headlock. But Kristopher says he wants to be a quantum mechanic, and with a blow dryer and ping pong ball, he proves he’s not an idle dreamer. He turns on the blow dryer and settles the ball atop the little rumble of air stream, where, instead of whooshing away, it shimmies and floats a few inches above the barrel. The trick is cool, but it’s Kristopher’s explanation that fries synapses. “You got to give Bernoulli credit,” he begins.

Bernoulli?

As a whole, Florida students don’t do well in science. The solid gains they’ve made over the past 15 years in reading and math haven’t been matched in biology, chemistry and physics. But schools of choice like the one in Orlando are giving hope to science diehards.

Akin

Akin

Orlando Science School is a charter school, tucked away in a nothing-fancy commercial park, next to a city bus maintenance shop. Founder and principal Yalcin Akin has a Ph.D in materials engineering and did research at Florida State University’s world-renowned magnet lab. His school opened in 2008 with 109 sixth- and seventh- graders. Now it has 730 kids in K-11 and serious buzz as the science school in Orange County, the 10th biggest school district in the nation. Only 26 schools in Florida can boast that 80 percent of their eighth graders passed the state science test last year (the test is given in fifth and eighth grades). At least two thirds were magnets or charters. Orlando Science School was one of them.

The kids are “constantly challenged, which is what you want,” said parent Kathi Martin. One of Martin’s daughters is in ninth grade; the other is in seventh. Mom wasn’t excited about the neighborhood school; the science magnets were too far away; the private schools didn’t feel like home. During a visit to Orlando Science School, she said, something clicked.

It’s “a school where it’s cool to be a nerd,” she said.

In 2006, the Orange County School Board denied the charter’s application. The state approved it on appeal.

Last year, 1,500 kids were on the waiting list. Last month, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer paid a visit.

“This is about word of mouth,” said Tamara Cox, the mother of eighth-grader Akylah Cox. “The parents recognize the value of what’s going on at OSS. That’s why there is such a need and such a calling for it.”

For every bad story about charter schools in Florida, several good ones go untold. Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: charter schools, virtual schools, diploma paths & more

Virtual schools. In an Orlando Sentinel op-ed, U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, politely suggests to the Florida Legislature that cutting funding for Florida Virtual School is a bad idea.

florida roundup logoCharter schools. Many charter schools struggle under the state’s funding system to spend enough in the classroom, reports the Daytona Beach News Journal. Parents of struggling Bradenton Charter School plea with Manatee board members to keep the school open, reports the Bradenton Herald.

Magnet schools. The possibility of new ones is under consideration in Pinellas as the district looks at potential remedies for 11 struggling schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Parent trigger. Education Commissioner Tony Bennett suggested changing the bill to give school boards final say reports StateImpact Florida. The bill is a “simplistic sham,” writes the Palm Beach Post.

Diplomas. The House unanimously passes a bill to provide alternative pathways to graduation, including more emphasis on career education, and sends it to Gov. Rick Scott. Coverage from Tampa Bay Times, South Florida Sun Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel, Associated Press, Tallahassee Democrat.

Board of Education. The Tampa Bay Times documents the downfall of former board member Akshay Desai’s health care business.

Educator conduct. Four Orange County staffers are disciplined after making disparaging comments on facebook about students with disabilities. SchoolZone.

Testing. FCAT time again, notes the Daytona Beach News Journal. Preparing for the FCAT and other tests online has been a challenge, writes the Tampa Bay Times. Testing time is eating into computer use, reports the Palm Beach Post. A prime example of testing going too far, writes Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell. Continue Reading →

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redefinED roundup: L.A. charter/district partnership, FL parent trigger, N.C. district charters & more

California: Parents of a persistently low-performing public school in Los Angeles took advantage of the state’s parent-trigger law and overwhelmingly voted for the district and a charter operator to take over operations (Los Angeles Times).

Florida: An amendment to the Senate version of the parent trigger bill gives school boards – not the state – final say on a turnaround plan for a failing school (redefinED). The House passes one of the most far-reaching education bills in history, changing high school graduation requirements and bolstering career education (Tallahassee Democrat). Superintendent Alberto Carvalho shows off an innovative district magnet school that uses interactive technology and new teaching methods in what he says isn’t the classroom of the future, but of today (Miami Herald).

MondayRoundUpTexas: Lawmakers in the Senate passed a charter school bill that calls for dramatic changes to the state’s two-decades-old system, including allowing charters reasonable growth and the shut down of poor performers (Austin American-Statesman). Despite House representatives’ ban on a school choice bill that creates school vouchers, Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick pleaded with fellow lawmakers to help families send their children to private schools (The Texas Tribune).
Minnesota: The St. Paul school district improves its school choice application process, but many parents are still upset they lost the lottery (St. Paul Pioneer Press).
Maine: A legislative committee rejected a plan to divert $1 million in public school dollars to set up a legal defense fund for the Maine Charter School Commission. Proponents wanted the contingency fund to help pay for legal challenges concerning charter school applications (The Maine Public Broadcasting Network). More from the Kennebec Journal.

North Carolina: Flawed charter school applications could prevent at least 27 out of 69 schools from opening independent public schools in 2014, the Public Charter School Advisory Council found (Charlotte Observer). More from the Raleigh News & Observer. A new bill would allow districts to create their own charter schools (Winston-Salem Journal).

Illinois: As push for more charter schools increases, Chicago’s public schools could close 54 schools to offset a $1 billion deficit (The Guardian). The Illinois House is moving to put a three-year moratorium on Internet charter schools just days after a handful of suburban districts rejected the online proposals (Daily Herald). More from the Daily Herald. Continue Reading →

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Ken Campbell: La. parents reaping benefits of ed reform, school choice

Campbell

Campbell

This week, NBC’s Education Nation is visiting New Orleans on its national tour to get a first-hand look at education challenges and opportunities being faced by local regions. On a national scale, Louisiana, more particularly New Orleans, has long been considered a hotbed for education reform. But this week’s visit is another chance to zero in on the many changes that have taken place and the progress that has been made as part of the massive reform movement  that  has  emerged. Long  before  the  state  took  on  a national profile, the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) was at the forefront of the education reform movement in Louisiana – advocating on behalf of parents and students and fighting for expanded educational options across the state.

It’s no secret that in the last few years, Louisiana has adopted a number of education reforms centered on school choice and teacher accountability, among other key issues. Just last year, Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law one of the most advanced and comprehensive education reform bills in the nation. BAEO has been on the ground for more than a decade to help bring these reforms to life.

Early on, we waged a battle against the status quo and promoted the belief that students must come first in all efforts to improve education in Louisiana. We provided a voice for Black children from low-income and working-class families and demanded they have an equal opportunity to compete and succeed. We have seen parents asking for help to rescue their children from failing schools and we have seen the passage and implementation of a comprehensive scholarship “voucher” program that allowed thousands of Louisiana children to trade their destitute educational environments for private schools that gave them hope and a greater chance to achieve. Along the way, we’ve helped parents fight for “choice” and “options,” as well as navigate the system and better leverage the options that are available to them today.

And while there is much more work to be done, we are proud today to see Louisiana has come a long way because of education reform. Today, many of the parents we met early on are reaping the benefits of their hard work and commitment to advocating for their children. Even more, we see those parents feeling empowered, standing up and volunteering to be a voice, not only for their children, but for all of the children who deserve access to a high-quality education. Continue Reading →

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