Florida schools roundup: Charter schools, career ed, special needs & more

Charter schools: Nine people apply to serve on the local advisory board of a struggling St. Petersburg charter school. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoCareer Ed: Escambia County students tour a Gulf Power plant, part of a program to encourage them to seek energy jobs. Pensacola News-Journal.

Special needs: Young people with autism, attention-deficit disorder, muscular dystrophy, Down syndrome and other disabilities share their experiences with Palm Beach County elementary students. Sun Sentinel. A Hillsborough County middle school uses the buddy system to help students with special needs, and their classmates. Tampa Bay Times.

School safety: A circuit judge criticizes Duval County public schools for being unsafe. Florida Times-Union.

School boards: Palm Beach County school board members terminate lobbyists’ contracts worth $381,000. Palm Beach Post. Longtime Seminole County school board member Diane Bauer dies. Orlando Sentinel. Broward School Board member Katie Leach unexpectedly resigns. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →


Of civics and ‘sects’: debunking another school choice myth

The critic should not imagine this escapist attitude to be the specialty of the occasional occult and exclusivist faith-based school. Most of us can find it in the mirror.

The critic should not imagine this escapist attitude to be the specialty of the occasional occult and exclusivist faith-based school. Most of us can find it in the mirror.

The American Center for School Choice is committed to the empowerment of all families to choose among schools public and private, secular and religious. As in all programs of government subsidy – food stamps are an example – there will be limits on the product that can be chosen; the school preferred by the parent must meet academic standards and respect civic values. Taxpayers will not subsidize the choice of any curriculum encouraging hatred or violence.

Until the 1950’s public schools could, and did, broadly profess a religious foundation for the good society; and both history and serious contemporary research report the powerful contribution of religious private schools to civic unity. Nevertheless, skeptics of parental school choice for lower-income classes are inclined to worry: are faith-based schools perhaps separatist in their influence simply by teaching – in some transcendental sense – the superiority of believers? The critics’ principal target is an asserted practice of some religious schools to claim a favored access to eternal salvation for their own adherents.

If this allegation is an issue, it is not one for the lawyer; so long as a school teaches children to respect the civil law and their fellow citizens here on earth there could be no concern of the state. It is unimaginable under either the free exercise or establishment clauses of the 1st Amendment (plus the 14th) that government – federal or state – could undertake to censor the content of teaching simply because it includes the idea that the means of eternal salvation are accessible only to some. The State’s domain is this life only, and our governments have so far properly refrained even from asking such an inappropriate question of any school.

The content of religious teaching could become relevant to government concern – and subject to regulation – only insofar as it bore upon matters temporal. Racial distinctions by employers suggest a rough parallel; the school cannot discredit the aptitude of non-believers for strictly earthly vocations or civic participation. It may not teach that Catholics tend to make unsatisfactory mathematicians, or that Jews can’t cook. It may not warn its children to avoid personal relationships with children of non-believers. But note that such a limitation upon temporal stigma is not a restraint unique to religious schools; it is a standard curb on the teaching of the purely secular institution, whether this be Andover or P.S. 97. There is really nothing peculiar here to the faith-based school.

Thus, though the opponent of school choice is correct to worry about schools teaching the temporal inferiority of any group, he is bound in sheer logic to broaden his concern to include educators public as well as private. Just which category of school, by design or choice, most plainly radiates the earthly inferiority of particular groups would be a delicate political issue for the secular critic himself. The obvious candidate for this odious role would be the white suburban public school. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Private schools, charters, digital learning & more

Private schools: Dana Sostchin, a first-grade teacher who has taught for more than 20 years at Yeshiva Elementary School in Miami Beach, receives a Governor’s Shine Award from Gov. Rick Scott. Jewish Journal.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools: A new Brevard County K-5 charter school focuses on the classics,  with literature and Latin lessons. Florida Today. The governing board of University Preparatory Academy, Pinellas’s newest charter school, meets today. Tampa Bay Times.

Dual enrollment: Polk County high school students taking part in a dual enrollment program with Southeastern University get to tour the campus. The Ledger.

Digital learning: Two Pinellas County high schools get to expand their digital technology programs thanks to a $14,500 grant. The Tampa Tribune.

Common Core: Department of Education officials have received nearly 13,000 public comments on Common Core State Standards. Tallahassee Democrat.

Afterschool: Pinellas County schools make a final push to enroll students in the district’s new afterschool tutoring program, Promise Time. The Tampa Tribune.

Teacher pay: Miami-Dade teachers will vote on a $70 million deal that will provide raises of at least $1,100 to 21,000 instructors. Miami Herald. Lee County teachers approve a $1,700 raise for effective and highly effective teachers. Fort Myers News-Press. Continue Reading →


Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: Lawsuit in CA, a TFA critic, vouchers in CO and more


Ted Olson:

Ted Olson recently attended the Excellence in Education conference to speak about Vergara v. California, a lawsuit to ensure low-income students gain more equitable access to high quality teachers.

The reality is, low-income students are statistically more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers. Some of those teachers simply lack experience and others are truly ineffective no matter their experience level. (See these studies from the Center for American Progress and the Urban Institute and National Bureau of Economic Research for a few examples. Other researchers, like Eric Hanushek at Stanford University, suggest this can be inferred by other research on teacher quality in relation to experience and certifications).

The lawsuit argues that the student’s due process is being violated by a host of education policies including tenure and seniority privileges. These protections make it a) hard to fire bad teachers and b) more likely that it’s young teachers – who are more likely to be teaching low-income students – who are terminated. The lawsuit argues, correctly, that these rules disproportionately impact low-income students.

Olson is himself a pretty interesting character. He’s Republican lawyer who helped lead a lawsuit challenging Proposition 8, which banned same sex-marriage in California. At the conference he relayed his experience in this case and argued to the audience that winning education reform battles – like reforming teacher employment practices – requires winning over American public opinion just as was done with the gay rights movement in California.

Grade: Satisfactory


Catherine Michna – Tulane University

Catherine Michna is a postdoctoral fellow at Tulane University and a former Teach For America (TFA) teacher. She’s also a TFA critic. She refuses to write letters of recommendations for her students applying to TFA unless they are education majors.

Catherine really believes TFA is doing damage to students in urban public schools, and she cites four studies on her blog to prove it. But she leaves out several studies that show TFA corps members are no worse than and sometimes better than their traditional teacher peers – including the most recent research by Harvard and Mathematica Policy Research.

Michna is also concerned about TFA’s impact on teachers, arguing TFA “deprofessionalizes teaching.” She worries TFA corps members are more concerned about padding resumes rather than seeing teaching as a long-term career. Indeed, few TFA corps members remain in the teaching profession after four years.

But TFA works in low-income areas with a chronic shortage of teachers. These are school districts where turnover is already high and where students are more likely to be exposed to ineffective teachers. Taking away TFA would likely leave these students worse off.

Opposing TFA because it “deprofessionalizes teaching” would be like opposing Habitat For Humanity because it deprofessionalizes carpenters.

Grade: In Need of Improvement Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: New charters, Common Core, social media & more

Charter schools: Central Florida will see 14 new charter schools next year focusing on a range of themes from Montessori to military to science and technology. Orlando Sentinel. Ben Gamla Charter Schools take in more than $10 million in public funding. Miami Herald. A Lakeland charter school hosts free workshops to help teachers learn best practices for the classroom. The Ledger.

florida-roundup-logoSocial learning: Broward school district teachers and employees can use district computers to log onto previously blocked sites, like Facebook and YouTube. Sun Sentinel.

Common Core: Common Core State Standards could soon have an effect on report cards. As course work gets harder, students’ grades could take a hit. Tampa Bay Times.

District policies: Duval County’s superintendent wants to change a hiring policy that would allow applicants with a felony that happened more than 10 years ago to be eligible for a district job. Florida Times-Union. Manatee County parents want the district’s concussion policy updated. Bradenton Herald.

School budgets: The Manatee County School District has a $3.9 million budget shortfall. Bradenton Herald.

School security: Hillsborough school officials continue to debate the merit of added security officers at schools. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →


Florida is not ready for the future

piggyThe United States faces a staggering demographic challenge over the next two decades. Every state in the union faces this problem, and some have it harder than others. Florida faces one of the larger challenges in that the population of both young and old will be vastly increasing at the same time. This challenge will require fundamental rethinking of the social welfare state, including but not limited to K-12, higher education, pensions and health care.

The U.S. Census Bureau projects a substantial increase in the school-aged population in Florida (see Figure 1).


Of course, not all children under age 18 will be attending school in 2030 – most notably the children born in 2027 to 2030. So for a more precise measure of the school-aged population likely to be attending public school in 2030, we can consult a different set of Census estimates. This alternate data provides estimates on the population of 5- to 17-year-olds (see Figure 2). This substantially understates the likely size of Florida’s 2030 K-12 population, as it does not include 18-year-olds. The reader should also note the fact that 4-year-olds are eligible to receive public assistance for Voluntary Pre-K. Nevertheless, the same overall trend reveals itself: the Florida public school population is set to expand substantially.


Florida, in short, will need to find a way to educate far more than one million additional students each year by 2030. Note that Florida’s charter school law passed in 1996. The time between 1996 and now is the same at the amount of time between now and 2030. Charter schools educated 203,000 students in 2012-13.

The Step Up for Students and McKay programs educate another 86,000. It will take a very substantial improvement in Florida choice programs simply to get them to absorb a substantial minority of the increase in student population on the way. Otherwise, Florida districts will either find themselves overwhelmed with expensive construction projects, or can start using their facilities in early and late shifts, or both.

A giant new investment in school facilities will prove incredibly difficult because of the other meta-trend in Florida’s demographics: aging. The expansion of Florida’s youth population, while substantial, pales in comparison to that of the elderly population. Florida’s population aged 65 and older projects to more than double between 2010 and 2030, from approximately 3.4 million to almost 7.8 million (see Figure 3). Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: course choice in Louisiana, charter school performance in Boston, and more

MondayRoundUp_redAlabama: The state court will allow three parents to defend the new school choice program against a lawsuit from the Alabama Education Association that seeks to overturn it (Tuscaloosa News).

Arizona: GEICO donates $8 million to the state’s corporate tuition tax credit scholarship program (Arizona Daily Star).

Colorado: Education reformers in Douglas County are facing re-election again union backed candidates who want to roll back school choice (Denver Post)

D.C.: Academy of Hope starts a charter school to prepare adults for the workforce (Elevation).

Florida: A high-profile St. Petersburg charter school is facing growing pains while it looks for a new principal and plans to open another campus across the bay in Tampa (Tampa Bay Times).

Indiana:  A Columbus area charter school is short $250,000 after an unsuccessful capital campaign, a state funding cut and enrollment drop, and the school may be forced to close (Associated Press). Kevin Chavous, chairman of Democrats for Education Reform, says school choice needs bipartisan support (Indianapolis Star).

Iowa: Joy Pullmann, editor of School Choice News, says Iowa students would benefit from vouchers or expanded tax-credit scholarships (Des Moines Register).

Louisiana: WNBA basketball star and four-time Olympic gold medalist Lisa Leslie is a school choice advocate (The Advocate). The state superintendent of public instruction gets a tour of the new Course Choice virtual school program (The Times-Picayune). Enrollment in the voucher program is up 38 percent despite the U.S. Department of Justice’s misguided (and incorrect) lawsuit (The Times-Picayune, Associated Press). The DOJ is trying to prevent parents from defending the school voucher legislation in court (Education Week, National Review). Republican senators question the DOJ lawsuit (The Times-Picayune). A new documentary, “Rebirth” examines the post-Katrina New Orleans school system (Education Week). School performance is up and the number of low performing schools is down in New Orleans (The Times-Picayune, The Advocate). Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: District vs. charter schools, learning options & more

District vs. charter: District schools try new marketing tactics to compete with charter schools, which continue to grow. Palm Beach Post.

florida-roundup-logoLearning options: The U.S. education revolution could find its way to Latin America, with outdated and poorly performing schools that would greatly benefit from a dose of “flipped classrooms” and personalized learning, writes Andres Oppenheimer for the Miami Herald. Florida high school students have three different tracks that will lead to diplomas. Fort Myers News-Press.

Career ed: A Sarasota County high school program trains students for future hospitality careers. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Pam Stewart: Advice for Florida’s Education Commissioner: Keep it simple. Keep the focus on the students and their futures, writes The Ledger.

STEM: An Escambia elementary school receives a $5,000 STEM grant to beef up student offerings. Pensacola News-Journal.

Common Core: For Exxon Mobil, a new set of academic standards spreading across schools in Florida and nationwide offers the chance for U.S. students to compete more effectively. The Tampa Tribune. PolitiFact takes a look at Education Commissioner Pam Stewart’s claim that there isn’t any additional cost with implementing Common Core, and finds it Half True. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →