Florida roundup: virtual schools, magnet schools, paddling & more

Virtual schools. Florida Virtual School is battling proposed budget cuts, reports Associated Press. A state investigation finds online provider K12 Inc. employed three teachers who lacked proper certification to teach some subjects, reports StateImpact Florida.

florida roundup logoMagnet schools. A Hillsborough high school best known for its football program starts an academic program heavy on dual enrollment. Tampa Bay Times.

Charter schools. Neighbors are upset about plans for a 2,000-student Academica charter school in East Kendall. Miami Herald.

District charter schools. The Polk district’s Step Up Academies for struggling students (no connection to Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog) are being asked by district officials to be even more like schools within schools. Lakeland Ledger.

Common Core. Protesters at the Capitol, reports StateImpact Florida. Tony Bennett’s thoughts on PARCC, also from StateImpact Florida. Continue Reading →


Florida town’s conversion to charter schools helped local economy, too

Editor’s note: This guest post is from Jesse L. Jackson, superintendent of Lake Wales Charter Schools in Lake Wales, Fla.

Superintendent Jackson

Superintendent Jackson

By early 2000, the once great tradition of outstanding local schools for Lake Wales’ citizens had reached a point of decline. It was at that time when concerned citizens, with the support of the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce education committee, decided to do something to reverse that trend. What emerged was not only an accountability driven charter school system, but, unexpectedly, the town’s biggest employer.

Since 2004, when five Lake Wales’ public schools were converted to public charter schools, and with the addition of Bok Academy charter school and the International Baccalaureate program to Lake Wales High School, a significant reversal has taken place in terms of quality and participation in our local schools. Many families that had previously decided to seek other opportunities to educate their children outside Lake Wales have found favor in our system, which now serves approximately 4,000 students. While the majority live in Lake Wales, many come from surrounding towns. Lake Wales Charter Schools pioneers such as Robin Gibson, Clint Horne, David Ullman and many others could feel quite satisfied when reflecting on the impact of their effort.

However, when the details are analyzed, it becomes quite clear the system offers more than just a great education for this community. The mere shift of the schools’ management from district headquarters in Bartow to Lake Wales has profoundly impacted Lake Wales’ economy.

Our principals are chief executive officers. They have the autonomy and responsibility to make decisions regarding the most effective way to run their schools, including financial matters. With each school’s annual budget ranging from roughly $2.5 million to $6 million, managing the operations of our charter schools is a huge responsibility. The autonomy provides our principals the freedom to make decisions regarding their engagement with businesses. Along with this freedom, they and other members of our leadership team have the responsibility and are compelled to adhere to the strictest finance and accounting principles to ensure our system’s finances are managed properly.

Our success as an effective school system has enabled us to evolve into a locally based multi-million dollar enterprise with an annual budget of more than $30 million. Continue Reading →


Balancing choice, regs in public education

seesawMy recent post about the importance of including parental choice in our definition of public education accountability drew a thoughtful response from Melissa Webber, the parent of a special needs child.

She writes, “I’m not sure I agree with the writer’s explanation of accountability. While I support parental choice and have in the past taken advantage of the McKay Scholarship, I think choice is a separate issue not to be confused with accountability unless parent empowerment actually affects positive change of a program to bring it up to regulation standards. One of the private schools I visited had no certified teacher, made no attempt to comply with sunshine standards and they weren’t bound to provide services spelled out in Blake’s IEP. Basically, it served as a disorganized daycare for middle school ESE kids. It was an easy choice for me to opt for another public school program. However, my choice to do so did not make the school more accountable. There should be much more oversight to insure at least minimal standards are met so the children of less informed parents do not suffer in the name of choice.”

The public good is best served when public education operates with maximum effectiveness and efficiency. Highly effective and efficient schools are best possible through a combination of regulations and consumer choice. Regulations provide the floor below which no school should operate, but regulations alone can’t produce excellence. Excellence requires consumer choice.

Ron Matus’ recent story about one of Florida’s top charter schools included this quote from the school’s founder and principal, Yalcin Akin: “If they like us, they come to our school. If they don’t like us, they don’t come. We have to have a high level of customer service and a high level of performance – or we will not survive.”

This necessity to meet parents’ needs or go out of business is part of accountability, and helps fuel the drive for excellence. Last year, Akin’s school had a waiting list of about 1,500 students.

Now consider Melrose Elementary in St. Petersburg. Only one student chose to attend Melrose’s magnet program this year. All the other Melrose students were assigned there by the school board and, if they don’t show up, their parents can be sent to jail.

Melrose is more highly regulated than Akin’s charter school, but it is not more accountable. As long as students are forced by law to attend Melrose, it won’t go out of business, regardless of its effectiveness. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: parent trigger, charter schools, school rankings & more

Parent trigger. Parent trigger is headed to the Senate floor, with growing potential for drama. Coverage from redefinED and The Buzz. The latest from Diane Ravitch’s blog.

florida roundup logoCharter schools. The Pinellas County School Board agrees to sell the site of a former middle school to a charter school venture started by Cheri Shannon, former head of the Florida Charter School Alliance, reports the Tampa Bay Times. More from the Tampa Tribune. Lawmakers adopt language that would reign in the kind of abuses that happened last year at an Orlando charter, reports Gradebook. The International Studies Charter Middle/High School in Miami is ranked No. 2 in Florida and No. 15 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking of top high schools, reports the Miami Herald.

Teacher quality. A piece of the parent trigger bill regarding ineffective teachers is attached to the teacher eval bill, just in case parent trigger doesn’t pass. The Buzz.

Teacher evals. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan urges Florida to make its teacher eval system better, reports the Associated Press. In an editorial, the Ocala Star Banner agrees but also says: “A full generation of Florida schoolchildren have gone through the FCAT process, and in spite of the many political, mechanical and bureaucratic foul-ups along the way, Florida is making remarkable and steady educational progress. That is largely thanks to its teachers and local school officials.”

Teacher conduct. The Hillsborough County School Board reverses an earlier decision to stop posting the names of employees facing suspension or dismissal. Tampa Bay Times.

Turnaround. In an attempt to jumpstart struggling Lacoochee Elementary, Superintendent Kurt Browning is replacing the entire staff. Tampa Bay Times.

Religion. The Hillsborough School Board is again wrestling with what religious materials are okay for students to circulate. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →


Drama mounts as Florida parent trigger heads to Senate floor

Florida’s parent trigger bill is headed to the Senate floor after another predictable party-line committee vote. But odds are rising that this year’s model will bring as much last-minute drama as its predecessor did last year, when several Republicans broke rank to kill the measure.

In the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, bill sponsor Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said a recent amendment giving school districts – and not the state – the final say in a school’s turnaround plan likely would be modified.

Proposed by Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, the amendment altered the original bill’s final arbiter, the state Board of Education, and made it more acceptable to parent trigger critics. But parent trigger supporters said it watered down the bill’s intent, which is to let parents have a bigger role in determining the best way to improve their children’s schools.

Stargel said Tuesday that neither she nor Simmons – nor the majority of the education appropriations committee that passed it April 11 – really wanted that language in the bill.

“We would not want parents to come together to work so hard to get 50 percent of the parents (to support a turnaround plan), and just have their voices taken under advisement, if you will,’’ she said.

Still, she said, any changes would happen after Tuesday’s vote. That raised concerns among some committee members, most notably Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.

Sen. Jack Latvala

Sen. Jack Latvala

“So that would lead me to conclude that you’re going to remove that exemption at some point in time – or attempt to remove it,’’ he said.

Answered Stargel: “We’re going to modify this bill going forward, but we’re not sure in what way.”

The committee voted 12-6 in favor of the measure, with Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto absent. The Fort Myers Republican had filed an amendment the day before, calling for the state to remain the final arbiter, but Stargel withdrew the proposal. Continue Reading →


Philanthropy magazine chronicles political evolution of ed reform, school choice

The cover story in this spring’s Philanthropy magazine opens with redefinED host John Kirtley walking beside a civil rights legend at the front of a record-setting 2010 school choice rally that urged Florida lawmakers to expand Tax Credit Scholarships for low-income students. It then drops backs a dozen years to trace his efforts at helping poor schoolchildren and, in the process, provides considerable detail about how and why he entered the arena of political action committees and campaign contributions.

The magazine is published by the Philanthropy Roundtable, which is directed by former Heritage Foundation educational affairs vice president Adam Meyerson, and the article certainly takes for granted that the public education system needs a profound push to get students back on track. But this story includes a variety of political and philanthropic voices, all of whom insist the charitable model for education reform must now apply business principles similar to those instituted by Kirtley and, more pointedly, be committed to stepping into the political arena to counter the powerful influences of teacher unions.

Those voices include New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who tells Philanthropy: “We have an obligation to stand up for our children, for their lives, their futures, their hopes and dreams. And that means putting their needs first.”


Florida roundup: Diploma options, magnet schools, students with disabilities & more

Graduation requirements. Gov. Rick Scott signs into law the bill that creates additional diploma options that emphasize career education. Coverage from Tampa Bay TimesOrlando Sentinel, Associated Press, News Service of Florida, Northwest Florida Daily NewsTallahassee DemocratSarasota Herald TribuneStateImpact Florida, WFSU.

florida roundup logoMagnet schools. Parents are pushing the Palm Beach County school district to expand a popular arts magnet. Palm Beach Post.

IB. Largo High in Pinellas gets official certification for its IB program. Tampa Bay Times.

Students with disabilities. StateImpact Florida writes up the bill that would give parents more power over their child’s IEP. Some experts say the Hillsborough school district is unique in not allowing parents to make an audio recording of IEP meetings, reports the Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher pay. Palm Beach County teachers and district official remain skeptical about potential raises coming from the state, reports the Palm Beach Post. Gov. Scott says he’s going to the mat for his proposal for across-the-board raises, reports the Tampa Tribune.

Teacher evals. Hernando Teacher of the Year highlights flaws in the new system. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →


Education profiteers? These folks?

These folks were among those that attended the school choice rally in Tally earlier this month.

These folks were among those who attended the school choice rally in Tally earlier this month.

It’s true: ALEC likes school choice. Walton likes school choice. Jeb Bush likes school choice. Some of the folks who like school choice even say bad things about traditional public schools and teachers unions.

But this is true too: President Barack Obama is a fan of charter schools. Former President Bill Clinton is ga-ga about KIPP. Liberal lions like Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Hubert Humphrey supported public funding for private options.

More importantly, this is true: Growing numbers of parents and politicians of all stripes like school choice. Many don’t bash public schools or teachers unions. Many could care less who the Koch Brothers are.

I know this is obvious to anybody who’s managed to take a peek beneath the surface of the choice debate. But at this time of year, with state legislatures in Florida and elsewhere in session, complexity is not a common commodity. Anything having to do with school choice is sealed into a boilerplate narrative about for-profit this and right-wing that. This year in Florida, the privatization label has even surfaced in stories about student data and IEPs for students with disabilities.

It’s different in the real world. Out here, parents are flocking to new learning options for the most personal of reasons: the success of their kids. Continue Reading →