K12 Inc. anxiously awaits FL grade

Company officials are questioning the state's accountability framework for virtual providers.

Company officials are questioning the state’s accountability framework for virtual providers.

Florida’s public school accountability system could be on the verge of snaring one of the nation’s largest online education providers.

K12 Inc. is expected to get an initial “incomplete” when letter grades for Florida public school are released this month. But it’s still possible the final grade, whenever it is released, could be unflattering – with serious consequences for K12’s operation in Florida.

The state awarded K12 a D last year, and the company’s appeal was stymied in part because of data conflicts with school districts. If the company receives a D or an F in the next three years, it could be forced to sever its ties with nearly 50 school districts, its five virtual charter schools, and new virtual charters expected to open next year.

That would be the first time a digital learning provider faces that penalty since lawmakers first created a new system of “approved providers” and district-managed virtual instruction programs.

Representatives for K12 and the schools it helps manage in Florida say it’s hard to predict what its grade will be, or whether it will receive one for the current school year. The main reason, the company says, is that it has struggled to obtain student information from the districts where it operates virtual instruction programs.

But company officials are also questioning the state’s accountability framework for virtual providers, which grades those providers based on combined results for independently run virtual charter schools and school district programs, over which they have less control.

The state Department of Education has indicated it would give the company a grade of incomplete, at least for now, while officials try to sort out issues with data reported by 17 districts that have contracted with K12. It is not clear when a final grade may be out.

To understand K12’s situation, a little history is in order.

Florida’s virtual education system took a turn in 2008, when a new law required school districts to create new virtual instruction programs. The revised law allowed districts to supplement local virtual programs by hiring outside providers like K12, which currently contracts with 48 districts. It also required districts to offer at least three different options, which often included locally run franchises of Florida Virtual School, the state’s publicly run provider.

In 2011, Florida law authorized virtual charter schools. Their boards can hire companies like K12, or other state-approved providers, to manage their schools.

Under the current grading system, the state can issue grades to virtual charters. It also issues grades to providers, which for grading purposes combine their virtual charters and district instruction programs together. Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Charter schools, budgets, testing and more

Charter schools. The mayor of West Palm Beach is pushing for a city-run charter school to help turn around “appalling” test results. Palm Beach Post.

florida-roundup-logo

Testing. The state releases sample questions and other new details about the FCAT’s replacement. Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Tribune. Tampa Bay Times. More from Sentinel School Zone. Education Commissioner Pam Stewart taps a panel of superintendents to weigh in on the state’s accountability system. Gradebook.

Teachers unions. The Florida Education Association takes over the Palm Beach County union amid an ongoing leadership election dispute. Palm Beach Post.

Career education. A South Florida high school adds more CAPE programs. Sun-Sentinel.

Budgets. The Fort Myers News-Press looks at the cost of school technology. A shortfall has Walton County schools bracing for cuts. Northwest Florida Daily News. Flagler County schools restore pay raises they couldn’t afford during the recession. Daytona Beach News Journal.

Common Core. StateImpact looks at the politics of the standards.

Books. Anti-censorship groups rally to restore a book to Pasco’s summer reading list. Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Tribune.

Rules. Alachua County schools may relax their dress codes. Gainesville Sun. Polk County schools move to restrict e-cigarettes and bandannas. Lakeland Ledger.

Administration. An administrative law judge sides with a Manatee County school district official ensnared by a scandal. Bradenton Herald.

Jeb Bush, parental choice & Florida’s extraordinary transformation

School choice doors have been opened in Florida. And parents and children are charging through.

School choice doors have been opened in Florida. And parents and children are charging through.

The private school voucher Gov. Jeb Bush signed into law 15 years ago as part of his sweeping education reform was so quickly challenged and invalidated by the courts that its enduring significance is sometimes missed. Indeed, the Florida Opportunity Scholarship did not survive. But its children have grown like weeds.

The numbers are eye-popping: When the Florida Supreme Court tossed out the state’s first private voucher in 2006, it was serving 733 students. This past school year, three other scholarship programs adopted while Bush was governor reached more than 222,000 students. Throw in charter schools and that number exceeds 451,000.

In other words, one of every seven PreK-12 public education students last year attended a privately operated school.

As the governor’s Foundation for Excellence in Education takes a look back at the effect of the A+ Plan this month, it is rightfully focusing on the impact on traditional public schools. The plan’s laser focus, after all, is on academic standards and the learning gains of every student. It is driven by school grades based on student performance, and the resulting academic data created a momentum of its own.

As an editorialist for what is now called the Tampa Bay Times, I was among the progressives who chafed at the sweeping nature of the change and the abrupt partisan politics that made it possible. And yet the data was a punch in the gut. The Times had for decades been a faithful defender of a desegregation plan that put black and white children together on the same campuses, even as the burden fell disproportionately on black families. And yet A+ provided a disturbing reality check. It revealed that the gap in academic performance between black and white children in Pinellas remained shockingly wide. The A+ plan, among its other legacies, has forced all of Florida education to take that gap seriously.

In the 1999 Legislature, though, the biggest political scrap was over the voucher. Opportunity scholarships were tied to the new school grades under the law, and were available to any student who attended a district school that had two failing grades in four years. A lawsuit challenging the voucher was filed on June 22, 1999, the day after Gov. Bush signed the education reform into law.

As it turns out, that was only the beginning of Florida’s extraordinary transformation in parental empowerment. Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Tax credit scholarships, home education, charter schools and more

Charter schools. The Sun-Sentinel castigates charters in an editorial calling for more regulation. The Palm Beach Post looks at a local charter with high test scores.

florida-roundup-logo Tax credit scholarships. The Orlando Sentinel does a Q&A on expanded eligibility.

Home education. A Christian school aims to support parents who homeschool their children with a new part-time program. Palm Beach Post.

Vouchers. The Sun-Sentinel criticizes McKay Scholarships in an editorial calling for stricter regulation.

Discipline. The Tampa Bay Times looks at a federal investigation into Hillsborough’s handling of discipline for minority students.

Superintendents. The Tampa Bay Times looks back at the Hernando superintendent’s first year. Hillsborough school board candidates focus on current superintendent MaryEllen Elia. Tampa Tribune.

Campaigns. Teachers jump into Volusia school board races. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Voters are split on a Brevard tax referendum. Florida Today.

Corporal punishment. Santa Rosa schools do away with corporal punishment. Pensacola News-JournalNorthwest Florida Daily News.

Administration. A study of effective principal supervisors comes to Broward. StateImpact. A Broward school district attorney worked with a lapsed law license. Sun-Sentinel.

Facilities. The Pinellas school district demolishes Largo High. Tampa Bay Times.

School boards. A Manatee County consent agenda leads to a glitch. Bradenton Herald.

Alternative schools. The Hernando school district prepares to consolidate two academies aimed at struggling students. Tampa Bay Times.

English Language Learners. Polk schools hire 22 bilingual teachers. Lakeland Ledger.

Catholic schools, gay employees and the duty of loyalty

Charles Glenn

Charles Glenn

In recent months, there has been a steady stream of high-profile stories about Catholic school policies towards gay employees. In one, the front page of the New York Times relayed the controversy at a Catholic school in Washington State that fired an administrator after he married another man. In another, the front page of the Boston Globe featured a story about a Massachusetts Catholic school that cancelled its job offer to a prospective food services director when it learned that he was in a same-sex marriage.

Predictably, the tone of both accounts, and the great majority of those quoted, was sympathetic toward the victims of these decisions. While I understand this instinctive reaction, I’d like to point out the implications of limiting the freedom of non-public schools to choose whom to employ.

First, a word about my own background: For more than 20 years, I was the Massachusetts official responsible for enforcing the law against discrimination in schools. After I became a professor at Boston University in 1991, I was appointed the university’s representative on the Governor’s Commission on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth. Currently I serve on the state advisory committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights. And I am not Catholic.

I am also vice president of a Geneva-based NGO that promotes educational freedom around the world. Experience with many countries has convinced me that we should be very careful about limiting the autonomy of non-public schools – and, indeed, of public schools, but that is another discussion – to preserve and express distinctive visions of the nature of a flourishing human life and how to promote it in children.

Educational freedom, both the freedom to provide education and the freedom to choose a school for one’s children, is protected as a basic human right by several international covenants, as well as by decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. These freedoms are interdependent: that of parents to choose is meaningless unless there are accessible schools with different approaches to education, and that of schools (and of educators) to create such distinctive approaches is frustrated if they must serve families whose children are assigned involuntarily and thus must provide a lowest-common-denominator education that no one will object to.

If schools are not allowed to differ on the basis of different understandings of the Good Life, as faith-based schools and also many independent secular schools do, they will differ only on test scores. Parents with more resources will always find a way to get their children into those with higher scores, either through moving to affluent areas or through paying tuition. Because they offer a distinctive education, a nationwide study by Jay Greene found, private schools in every region of the country were more racially-integrated than residence-based public schools.

But schools, whether private or choice-based public schools like the charters that have been so successful in Boston, cannot maintain a clear focus on their distinctive educational mission unless free to select teachers who are whole-heartedly committed to that mission, whether it be Montessori, or Catholic, or Jewish, or a focus on the arts.  Without a team of staff who agree on their shared mission and can work together on the basis of mutual trust, such schools of choice might as well pack it in. Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: School choice, campaigns, desegregation and more

School choice. Flagler County school district officials consider making parents responsible for transporting children who attend out-of-zone schools. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

florida-roundup-logo

Charter schools. One of Florida’s oldest charter schools could soon convert to a private institution after struggling academically. WFSU. A top Charter Schools USA official responds to the recent Sun-Sentinel investigation.

Campaigns.  Palm Beach school board candidates declare public education is “under attack.” Palm Beach Post. Rick Scott’s campaign hits Charlie Crist on teacher layoffs; PolitiFact says “mostly false.”

Desegregation. An historically black Orlando neighborhood awaits news about a planned new school. Orlando Sentinel.

Virtual education. A new law change will make it easier for students to meet their online course requirement. Orlando Sentinel.

Finance. The Brevard school board agrees to ask voters for a six-year, half-cent sales tax for facilities, technology and security. Florida Today. Okaloosa school board candidates debate the merits of centralized budget control in the school district. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Administration. The state inspector general wraps up a probe of top Manatee  County school district administrators. Bradenton Herald. Volusia schools appoint new principals. Daytona Beach News-Journal. So do Leon County Schools. Tallahassee Democrat.

Labor. The Broward school district’s handling of annual contracts draws criticism from employee associations. Sun-Sentinel.

School safety. Duval schools consider self-defense policies for students. WJCT.

Gov. Rick Scott: Special needs scholarship program is just the start

GovScottPLSA

Gov. Scott spoke Thursday at the Conductive Education Center of Orlando

Last week, Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation creating a second-in-the-nation scholarship account program and doing away with special diplomas for students with disabilities.

But during a campaign appearance Thursday with the incoming senate president at an Orlando special education center, he said there would be more to come.

“Going forward, I want to do more,” Scott told reporters afterward. “I want to expand the scholarship accounts. I want to make sure individuals with disabilities can get a job. I want to make sure providers aren’t stuck with regulation that doesn’t make sense.”

The goal of the Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts is to allow parents of students with certain disabilities to use public money on a wide array of education-related services, rather than just tuition at a single school. Some parental choice advocates see these types of “education savings accounts” as part of the next wave in customizing education. (The Florida accounts will be administered by scholarship funding organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.)

Scott, who is in the midst of a tough re-election battle, addressed a group of parents, special needs advocates, and former foster children at the Conductive Education Center of Orlando, in the backyard of Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who is set to become senate president after the November elections.

The center caters mostly to children with conditions like cerebral palsy. It’s part of the international conductive education movement, but apart from an offshoot in Sarasota, there is no other option like it in Florida.

As a result, it draws parents from all over the country, who seek out its intensive programs that help their children develop cognitive and motor skills. “We moved from Oregon just to come to this school,” said Rhonda Canfield, whose daughter has learned to walk with the help of a walker and to ride an adaptive bike.

One factor in the decision, Canfield said, was the state’s McKay scholarship program, which helped her afford tuition. When children with cerebral palsy have access to therapies that enable them to leave their wheelchairs, she said, “their quality of life can be so much better.”

Joseph Raymond helped start the center 12 years ago. He said that for many students, the program is intended to help them develop skills that allow them to attend public schools. But its uniqueness also helps underscore why scholarship programs should give parents flexibility. Continue Reading →

Survey: Support and opposition growing for school vouchers

Public support may be growing nationally for school voucher programs, but so is opposition, according to a new survey by a pro-parental choice think tank.

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice polled more than 1,007 U.S. adults in its latest annual survey on a wide range of education-related topics, from school spending to Common Core State Standards.

The results of the 2014 Schooling in America Survey, released Thursday, show nearly two out of three Americans support vouchers, and suggest more people are forming opinions about them. The survey found support for vouchers has climbed seven percentage points over the past two years, while opposition grew by five percentage points.

Public opinion

A Friedman Foundation survey gauges public opinion on parental choice options.

The survey first asked people whether they support “school vouchers” without providing a definition, and found 43 percent in support and 21 percent in opposition. Support rose to 63 percent, and opposition to 33 percent, after people were given this definition:

A school voucher system allows parents the option of sending their child to a school of their choice, whether that school is public or private, including both religious and non-religious schools. If this policy were adopted, tax dollars currently allocated to a school district would be allocated to parents in the form of a “school voucher” to pay partial or full tuition for their child’s school.

A separate question provided a definition of tax credit scholarship programs and found a similar level of support (64 percent) but less opposition (25 percent) than it did for vouchers. Florida has both voucher and tax credit programs. While vouchers are funded directly through the state budget, tax credit scholarships allow companies to reduce their tax bills by donating money to scholarship funding organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.

The survey found less support but still a majority (56 percent) in favor of education savings accounts, which will soon be available to special needs students in Florida under legislation signed last week by Gov. Rick Scott.

The survey also shows people younger than 34 are more likely to support vouchers than those older than 55.

The results contrast with a Florida-based survey published earlier this year. The Sunshine State News poll showed “voters” narrowly oppose voucher programs. Because it surveyed likely voters and not the general population, it included a greater proportion of older people, who were less likely to support private school choice programs. It also worded its question differently, asking about scholarships for “low-income” students.

The Friedman Foundation has a mission of promoting educational choice. It provides a breakdown of its findings, methods and survey questions along with the full report. The American Enterprise Institute this afternoon will host a panel discussion and webcast on the results.