Florida schools roundup: Charters, armed guards, class size & more

Charter schools: The Miami-Dade school district rejects a charter application for a public safety-themed high school. Miami Herald.

florida-roundup-logoSchool safety: Hillsborough County school leaders continue to debate having armed guards at schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher pay: Raising the starting salary for new teachers is one of the best ways to boost the public schools, says the Palm Beach Post. Orange County is the only large school district without a teacher-raise plan. Orlando Sentinel.
Name change: StateImpact Florida talks to two students whose Duval County high school is getting rid of its name because it honors a Confederate soldier and member of the Klu Klux Klan.
Class size: Duval County Superintendent Nikolai Vitti believes the school district will pay less than a million dollars this year for its oversized classrooms. Florida Times-Union. While many districts have seen a drop in their enrollment, St. Johns County continues to grow but stays within class size limits. Florida Times-Union.
Community service: Escambia County middle school students make quilts for homeless people. Pensacola News-Journal.
Cell towers: The Pasco school board approves a cell phone tower on the campus of a local elementary school, despite parents objections. Tampa Bay Times.
Conduct: A Lee County high school student is arrested on charges of kicking a 72-year-old man and slapping an 89-year-old man. Fort Myers News-Press.


Reform-minded Catholic schools push to close reading gaps

It’s the benchmark for long-term academic success – having every student reading at grade level or higher by the end of third grade. And it’s the lofty mission of a new reading program for Catholic school students developed by the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education Academies.

ACE Readers is an innovative program for Catholic elementary school children in Arizona and Florida.

ACE Readers is an innovative program for Catholic elementary school children in Arizona and Florida.

ACE Readers is working with five Catholic schools in Arizona and Florida to beef up reading programs by purchasing hundreds of books for classrooms, sponsoring summer camps and giving teachers learning strategies that help target instruction. There also is a learning specialist assigned to each region to assist teachers and principals with training, and with implementation of tests and lesson plans.

The undertaking is funded by the big-box chain Target and orchestrated by ACE, an outreach program that trains future Catholic school teachers and administrators to strengthen the schools and the communities they serve. ACE Readers is an extension of that effort, with an eye on eliminating the achievement gaps that plague at-risk students.

Christian Dallavis

Christian Dallavis

“Literacy skills and reading ability are at the core of what kids need to know to do well at school,’’ said Christian Dallavis, senior director of leadership programs at ACE. “Our focus is on reading because we believe that without it, students don’t have the tools they need to succeed in high school, college and beyond. We want them to learn to read so they can read to learn.’’

Accomplishing that feat also helps with other goals – reviving Catholic schools and giving parents more high-quality options, Dallavis said.

“Having strong fundamentals like reading, math and other instruction has driven our enrollment up and provided more revenue to restore P.E., music and art – classes that had to be cut when the budget was to the bone,’’ he said. “It’s allowed us to be able to offer students and parents more.’’ Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charters, magnet schools, FCAT & more

Charter schools: University Preparatory Academy in Pinellas County names a new principal, a public school transformation coach from North Carolina. Tampa Bay Times. The Lake Wales Charter Schools board of trustees approves a pay bump for more than 400 instructional and non-instructional personnel. The Ledger.

florida-roundup-logoMagnet schools: Pinellas County School Board members explore reopening two shuttered schools, turning them into technology centers. The Tampa Tribune.

FCAT: Five standardized test makers formally apply to help create a replacement for the FCAT by 2015, and a sixth also wants to be considered for the job. Orlando Sentinel.

GED: StateImpact Florida looks at the growing alternatives to the GED.

Lobbyists: Contract extensions of two longtime lobbyists that the Palm Beach County School Board approved and then rescinded are back before the board. Palm Beach Post.

Outsourcing: The Broward County School Board will vote today on the first big piece of its construction outsourcing plan that already is generating controversy. Miami Herald.

Job switch: Hernando County’s superintendent moves her assistant superintendent to the district’s manager of warehouse and purchasing. Tampa Bay Times.

Wish lists: The Polk County School Board offers up its legislative priorities, with a “critical needs” tax at the top of the list. The Ledger. Continue Reading →


High school students try out MOOCs

As a rising high school sophomore in St. Petersburg, Fla., last summer, Curtis Brown III needed to brush up on the algebra he took more than a year earlier. But instead of hiring a tutor or reviewing textbooks, Curtis signed up for a MOOC – a massive, open, online course offered by a nearby community college.

Local high school students can sign up for a MOOC offered by St. Petersburg College.

Local high school students can sign up for a MOOC offered by St. Petersburg College.

And even though he only made it half-way through the free, self-paced course, it was more than enough, he said, to prepare him for more complicated math when the school year began. Now he’s ready to tackle pre-calculus.

“It did help,’’ said Curtis, who hopes to graduate high school with a diploma and an associate’s degree. “I used it as a refresher.”

MOOCs have been all the rage in higher education. And despite plenty of debate, they’re finding a place in K-12, too.

Supporters say much like colleges and universities, high schools can use MOOCs to more easily and cost-effectively supplement their curriculum. MOOCs offer classes with unlimited enrollment, potentially help students customize their learning and provide an opportunity to increase digital learning skills. They can also be another tool to help determine if high school students are ready for college-level courses and, if they’re not, to get them help before they spend time and money on remediation in college.

Dr. Jesse Coraggio

Dr. Jesse Coraggio

“The way we envision it, it’s in our best advantage to have these kinds of support tools,” said Jesse Coraggio, associate vice president of research and grants at St. Petersburg College, which is piloting a math MOOC for high school students and rolling out reading and writing MOOCs later in the school year.

Like other online platforms, such as Florida Virtual School, MOOCs allow students to work independently at their own pace. But while FLVS assigns teachers to students and offers live learning sessions, MOOCs typically feature recorded lectures and provide little or no interaction with instructors. Students usually don’t pay for a MOOC or receive credit for the course, though some colleges and universities are experimenting with the concept.

In Florida this year, lawmakers authorized MOOCs in high school subjects with end-of-course exams like Algebra I and Geometry. Providers must be approved by the state Department of Education and courses must be taught by Florida-certified teachers.

While those MOOCs are being developed, four Florida school districts, including Pinellas County, where St. Petersburg College is located, are testing MOOCs in other areas. Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: charters win in WA, voucher suit begins in NC, FL district denies military base charter & more

MondayRoundUp_redAlabama: Applications for the state’s new tax credit scholarship program are now open (Alabama Opportunity Scholarship FundWTVY)

Arizona: Three charter schools will be shut down for poor performance (Arizona Business Journal).

California: The L.A. metro area has the largest number of students attending charter schools in the nation (LA School Report). Charter school growth booms in L.A. and San Diego (San Diego Union Tribune).

Georgia: NPR asks “what is school choice?” (WABE). Hall County ranks No. 1 in the nation for charter school enrollment growth (Access North Georgia). Charter school enrollment grows in the state as more schools request permission to convert to charters (Atlanta Journal Constitution).

Florida: If Catholic schools were a district, they’d be the 9th largest in the state (redefinED). 80,000 students attend charter schools in Miami-Dade, making it the 6th largest (numerically) metro charter area in the nation (Miami Herald). A virtual charter school is approved to set up shop in Pinellas County (Tampa Bay Tribune). Across the bay in Hillsborough, a school board votes down a charter school request by MacDill Air Force Base (redefinED). The number of students using “opportunity scholarships” to leave poor-performing schools doubles in Duval County (Florida Times Union). Florida Virtual School offers students flexibility (Townhall.com).

Indiana: Gov. Mike Pence wants vouchers for pre-k students (Indianapolis StarGreenfield Reporter). Pence thinks charter school networks should be allowed to operate more like school districts (Courier-Journal). Public school districts will have to hold lotteries for public school choice if demand exceeds supply (Education Week). Gary ranks 5th in the nation for charter school enrollment (Post Tribune).

Louisiana: The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry is the most influential organization on education reform, according to a Brookings Institute study (Times Picayune). New Orleans has the largest percentage of students attending charter schools of any city in the nation…for 8 years in a row (Times Picayune). Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Common Core, school safety, FEFP & more

Common Core: The quick rollout of the new education standards in South Florida has some educators worried that students still trying to learn English could be left behind. Sun Sentinel. Catholic schools are quietly embracing the Common Core. The Tampa Tribune.  Religious schools are mindful of the new standards but some are also proceeding with caution. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

florida-roundup-logoMore on PISA: The stagnant results from the PISA test ought to be a warning that we are not getting the job done. And our kids deserve better, writes the Palm Beach Post.

School safety: Across the country, parents and educators are saying or thinking the same thing: How do we make schools and children safer? Florida Times-Union.

Funding: Hernando County  board members breathe new life into an effort to increase funding and challenge parts of the state’s complex funding formula, the Florida Education Finance Program or FEFP. Tampa Bay Times.

Retention: The number of third-graders in Southwest Florida being held back a grade have decreased, yet, good cause exemptions are on the rise. Fort Myers News-Press.

Fine arts: Research shows the more arts courses Florida students enroll in, the more likely they are to take the SAT and score well on standardized tests. And conversely, students who appear to be struggling academically generally take fewer arts courses than their peers. StateImpact Florida.

AVID: The international program expects a lot from students, who take honors and Advanced Placement classes to prepare for college, a goal many of the students might not have considered otherwise. The Tampa Tribune.

Grad rates: While graduation rates at seven of the Treasure Coast’s 13 high schools worsened last year, the majority of schools have seen their rates rise since 2011. TC Palm. Continue Reading →


Charter schools dragging down grad rates? Look closer

lee-corso1The Palm Beach Post reported yesterday on the graduation rate disparity between district and charter schools in Palm Beach County, one of the biggest school districts in the nation, and the numbers sure made charter schools look bad.

Though the district graduation rate was 76.3 percent, district-run schools had an 82 percent rate while charters had a 37 percent rate, according to an analysis by the district’s director of research, evaluation and assessment. He blamed charters for the 1-point drop in the district rate. “There aren’t as many students in charter schools,” he told The Post. “But there’s a distinct difference in what they do to our graduation rate.”

The disparity was so large our crack research team at redefinED took a dive into the state data to see what was going on. The first thing that stuck out about Palm Beach was the proportionally larger number of charter school students attending alternative, at-risk or special needs schools.

Including alternative and special needs schools in the graduation rate comparison isn’t fair since, according to the Florida Department of Education, transfer students are added to the same-grade-level cohort at their new school. For example, if a student enters X High as a freshman and transfers out to Y High just before the start of the senior year, the student would be added to the cohort of seniors at the new school. Thus, alternative schools are getting dinged on grad rates for enrolling students who transfer from other schools (while at-risk of dropping out) and then don’t graduate.

As it turns out, 57 percent of charter school students eligible for graduation in Palm Beach County appeared to be attending schools that identify themselves as alternative education or specializing in at-risk or special needs students. Only 2 percent of graduation-eligible students in the district-run schools were in a similar setting.

When you separate out these types of schools, the district graduation rate jump to 83.3 percent while the charter school rate jumps to 83.2 percent. In other words, when making an apple-to-apples comparison, charter schools in Palm Beach County don’t perform any different.


It should be noted that the “regular” charters serve more free- and reduced-price lunch students than their district counterparts, 55 percent to 37 percent. They also graduate 80 percent of their FRL students, compared to 74 percent within the traditional district schools.

Blaming charter schools for the 0.7 point drop in the overall district graduation rate is premature. This is especially true when you consider that Mavericks High School – a charter that serves at-risk student – is just two years old. Those students had to come from somewhere and it is highly likely the vast majority came from district-run schools. Had Mavericks never been founded, many of those kids (most of whom did not graduate with a four-year standard diploma) would have been counted against their district-run school. That alone would constitute up to a 2.2 point drop in the graduation rate of district-run schools.


Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: voucher lawsuit, charters, and schools of terror!

MrGibbonsReportCardNorth Carolina Justice Center

The North Carolina Justice Center, which bills itself as a civil rights advocacy organization for low-income families, has joined the North Carolina Association of Educators (a NEA affiliate) in a lawsuit to stop the state’s new voucher program, which ironically is for low-income students.

The lawsuit attempts to make a constitutional argument over the funding mechanism (which wouldn’t stop a tax-credit scholarship system like here in Florida) but the Institute for Justice, a civil rights and pro-school choice law firm, believes the voucher program will be ruled constitutional.

The Justice Center is supposed to fight for low-income families, not for a particular mode of educating them. According to plaintiff Mike Ward, a former state superintendent of public instruction in N.C., vouchers “tear away millions of dollars that are badly needed by the public schools” (emphasis added).

Worrying about students who remain in public schools is a valid concern. The good news is, there is no evidence that suggests those students are hurt by school choice. Heck, the public schools’ per-pupil funding doesn’t even go down because of vouchers.

The Justice Center, like the News & Observer editorial board, has its heart in the right place. But its focus should be on who is being educated, not how or where.

Grade: Needs Improvement


Charter schools

Charter school growth continues on a rapid pace across the nation, suggesting parents and students alike want something different. There is nothing stopping district schools from converting to independently operated franchises of the district where they operate, freeing teachers and principals to use their resources in more innovative way. (Well, nothing but the bureaucracy and other well-funded and entrenched special interests of education. But that’s another story.)

According to the latest market share report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, New Orleans charter schools have the highest market share in the country – at 79 percent – for the 8th year in a row. Detroit became the second city in the U.S. to have more charter school students than traditional public school students. The largest population of charter school students is in Los Angeles, with nearly 121,000, followed by New York City and Philadelphia.

Growth is going gangbusters in Florida, with Duval and Hillsborough counties exceeding 25 percent growth on the year. But the top two spots in growth rates go to Hall County, Ga., and San Diego.

Check out the full report.

Grade: Satisfactory

Continue Reading →