Rocketship eyes Florida for charter school expansion

It’s early in the process, so early that Kristoffer Haines of Rocketship Education hesitates to share too much about the charter school network’s potential to come to the Sunshine State.

rocketshipYes, Rocketship recently won a $100,000 grant from the Florida Charter School Growth Fund, a partnership that philanthropists and education leaders created to help lure high-impact charter operators to the state. Yes, the California-based chain is looking at the Miami-Dade school district as the site of one of eight possible schools in Florida.

“But it’s mostly been exploratory in nature for us,’’ the senior vice president of growth and development told redefinED recently. “We’re really doing work on the front end trying to engage the community and understand what the needs are, who the providers are.’’

That’s a trademark move for Rocketship, a high-performing K-5 charter school network devoted to closing the achievement gap for low-income students. The concept started in San Jose, Calif., where there are eight schools. This year, the network expanded to Milwaukee, with one school that opened in August. Another school is set to open next fall in Nashville, and Rocketship is working with communities for possibly more schools in Indianapolis, Memphis, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans.

And, maybe, Florida.

Kristoffer Haines

Kristoffer Haines

“It’s incredibly, incredibly early in the process,’’ Haines said.

State education leaders had hoped such a move would happen sooner, after ponying up $20 million of Florida’s Race To The Top funds and signing on with the Colorado-based national Charter School Growth Fund to start a grants competition in 2011. The goal was to award dollars to the Rocketships, KIPPs, Yes Prep Academies and other successful national chains wanting to set up shop in the poorest neighborhoods. So far, most of the recipients have been home-grown charter operators – a few with a lot of promise, but little experience running a school.

Haines said Rocketship, which combines high-quality teachers with a personalized learning approach and strong parent-engagement focus, has always been interested in Florida. “We like working with states that are progressive, thinking outside the box,’’ he said. Continue Reading →


Common Core supporters, opponents clash in Florida

From the News Service of Florida:

Supporters and opponents of the controversial “Common Core” education standards clashed Tuesday in Tampa during the opening stop in a three-day round of public hearings across the state.

Those speaking at the hearing were closely divided among supporters and opponents of the standards, despite conservative and tea-party activists’ concerns that Common Core represents a vast federal overreach into local education. About four dozen states have adopted the standards, which were created in a state-led initiative but have been promoted by federal officials and education reform advocates.

The hearings were part of Gov. Rick Scott’s plan for dealing with the politically volatile issue. Scott has already begun distancing the state from a consortium developing tests for Common Core, and has suggested the hearing could come up with ways to amend the academic benchmarks.

The meeting featured an at-time raucous audience, with those on both sides of the issue loudly applauding those who agreed with them. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charter schools, Florida Virtual, Common Core & more

Charter schools: A new Broward County charter school with 60 students closes after school leaders fail to pay rent. Sun Sentinel. Rapper Pitbull is the latest in a long list of celebrities lending their star power to open a charter school, this one in Miami. NPR. In a divided vote, the Sarasota County School Board approves a new charter, granting permission for the district’s largest charter school to expand. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Choice: Pasco schools look to expand educational options for students and parents with more blended-learning classrooms and diploma programs. Tampa Bay Times.

Virtual Ed: Florida Virtual School’s 2-year-old trademark infringement lawsuit against K-12, Inc. heads to the state Supreme Court. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher pay: “Florida teachers deserve a salary increase, and they should have the benefit of knowing their new salary level as soon as possible so they can best plan their future,” Gov. Rick Scott tells school districts in a letter. Palm Beach Post.

Common Core: A public meeting in Tampa to debate the new standards draws about 200 people, including well-known opponent Sandra Stotsky, a former Massachusetts education official now affiliated with the University of Arkansas. Orlando Sentinel.  More from StateImpact Florida, The Ledger, The Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times. florida-roundup-logoThe state Board of Education opts not to adopt the reading samples associated with the new national benchmarks as well as the student writing samples and suggestions on how to structure math classes. Miami Herald. Board members struggle with what to call the standards. StateImpact Florida. The state Department of Education communication plans for standards avoids referring to them as Common Core. The Florida Current. Common Core 101, from StateImpact Florida. The standards do not constitute a curriculum, but they lay out general education principles and skills students should master at different grade levels. The Hechinger Report.

Safety net: Florida is going to keep in place a controversial safety net provision for the state’s school grading system. The Ledger. More from the News Service of Florida.

School spending: The Broward school district’s attempt to outsource much of its facilities department — a move designed to restore credibility — has instead raised new questions. Miami Herald. The Manatee County School District changes the way it pays for substitute teachers. Bradenton Herald. The Manatee school district pays $8,000 to a former district employee to coach the new director of communications,  who earns $90,000. Bradenton Herald.

Outsourcing: Miami-Dade County school bus drivers protest the board’s vote to study a plan to outsource the district’s $69 million transportation system. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →


‘Common Core State Standards is not a dirty word’



The wild debate about Common Core veered into unexpected territory Tuesday, with the board that governs education in the nation’s fourth largest state having a lengthy debate about whether to actually use the term.

In response to mostly-Tea Party-driven objections, Florida Gov. Rick Scott directed the Florida Department of Education to take public input on the standards, both on its website and at three public forums. But the DOE doesn’t refer to them as Common Core State Standards, instead describing them on the site as “Florida’s currently adopted English language arts and mathematics standards.”

That’s technically true. The Florida Board of Education adopted the standards in 2010. But board member Kathleen Shanahan raised objections to the term “Florida standards,” saying it could create confusion with the public and “disenfranchise” thousands of Florida teachers who are already teaching Common Core State Standards.

At one point, Shanahan asked the department’s communications director if DOE was going to use the term Common Core State Standards in its communications efforts. When she indicated she wasn’t satisfied with the answer – “Is that a yes or a no?” – Commissioner Pam Stewart offered that until the department is finished getting public input and making recommendations to the board, “I don’t know that we know what we’re going to call it.”

Shanahan, who has close ties to former Gov. Jeb Bush, continued to object: “We have instructional people in classrooms teaching (CCSS) and we’re all of a sudden going to walk it back and be sort of mushy about it until we get more input.”

Stewart then explained that technically, teachers in grades K-2 were teaching Common Core this year, but teachers in other grades were still teaching a blend of Common Core and the previous state standards.

Board Chair Gary Chartrand weighed in next: It’s okay to say Common Core State Standards.

“We’re doing the right thing” by getting public input, he said. “But until such time, I believe Common Core State Standards is not a dirty word. It’s something people understand. And it is a lightning rod. I understand. There’s a lot of emotion around it. But let’s not back away from it.”



Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: AEA points fingers and parents marching in NYC

MrGibbonsReportCardAlabama Education Association

The Institute for Justice, a national civil-libertarian oriented legal firm, stepped in last week to defend Alabama’s new tax-credit school choice program, which benefits low-income children.

But the Alabama Education Association (AEA), which opposes school choice, is using this as an opportunity to toss the carpetbagger label at the Alabama school choice movement.

According to the Washington Post,

AEA spokeswoman Amy Marlowe said the intervention was not a surprise. “This is an orchestrated political maneuver that was shopped around throughout Alabama and has finally been filed by attorneys from outside the state,” she said.

ijWhy even bring up the “outside the state” part if not to try and persuade the public that school choice is something being imposed upon them by non-native groups. This carpetbagger argument is made in many states regarding all sorts of school reform efforts. But it is a claim the AEA should stop using because it can be fired right back at them. After all, they aren’t afraid to take money, or seek help, from outside the state.

According to Mike Antonucci, who authored an Education Next report on teacher union spending, the National Education Association spends millions influencing politics in states each year, including in Alabama. According to NEA disclosures required by the U.S. Department of Labor, the NEA gave the AEA $2,518,513 in grants and contributions (p. 233), spent $314,436 on lobbying in Alabama (p. 199) and provided $1,936,229 in legal aid and for member recruitment (p. 149) – all in 2011-12 alone.

Grade: In Need of Improvement


State Impact Florida:

Sammy Mack over at NPR took a look at Florida’s K-12 education employment figures and it turns out the budget cuts, while painful, didn’t create the kind of catastrophe for teachers that some imagined. Instead, support staff took the big hit. Since 2007-08, the support staff in Florida public schools shrunk by 15,045 employees – a decline of 13 percent. But by comparison, the state now has 151 fewer teachers and 78 more administrators since the 2007-08 peak, a change of -0.08 percent and +0.67 percent, respectively.

To be fair, the state did hit the low point in 2009-10, losing more than 4,000 instructional staff – down 2.5 percent from peak employment. Both instructional staff and administrators saw a recovery in employment since that time, but school districts continued to cut support staff.

It is good to see media outlets putting these figures into perspective. Hopefully more reporting like this will discourage Chicken Little’s of the future.

Grade: Satisfactory


New York City charter school parents

parentsmarchNew York City charter schools tend to do fairly well (including some new evidence from the Hamilton Institute) – even with less money than traditional public schools in the city. Despite this fact, Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio has virtually declared war on charter schools. I documented his threats in my last report card.

In response 17,000 parents, students and supporters took to the streets last week, marching in support of charter schools in what may have been the largest school choice rally ever. It was a show of force that may make de Blasio pause.

Clearly, parents and students are happy with this option and they are willing to show it.

Grade: Satisfactory


Florida schools roundup: Charter and magnet schools, Common Core & more

Charter schools: Nearly a dozen employees sue a shuttered Fort Lauderdale charter school, saying they are owed $40,000. Sun Sentinel. University Preparatory Academy’s assistant principal tells a community group that most of the 69 students who have withdrawn from the school came from Pinellas County fundamental schools, but the Tampa Bay Times finds that’s not so.

florida-roundup-logoCivics magnet: Leon County’s new history and civics-based magnet program opens at the 157-year-old Woodville Elementary. Tallahassee Democrat.

Parents ROCK: A new Collier County parents’ group forms as ROCK, Rights Of Choice For Kids. Naples Daily News.

Career Ed: A Polk County career education center lets students learn while helping others get the eyeglasses they need. The Ledger. 

Common Core: Florida is three years into implementing the new standards, with the benchmarks fully in use in kindergarten through second grade. StateImpact Florida. Common Core opponents will host press conferences and a rally throughout the day in an attempt to slow down the standards. The Tampa Tribune. To the parents questioning the impact that Common Core State Standards will have in our public schools, I say: Demand answers! writes John Romano for the Tampa Bay Times. Proponents of Common Core should have met with opponents early on and explained the plan in greater detail, writes Lloyd Brown for Sunshine State News.

Teacher pay: A tentative agreement has Miami-Dade school teachers getting a raise of at least $1,100, and a chance to earn the $2,500 raise pledged by Gov. Rick Scott this year. Miami Herald.

Florida BOE: Florida Board of Education member Sally Bradshaw, resigns two months before her term ends. The Buzz. Continue Reading →


Florida Board of Education member Sally Bradshaw resigns

Sally Bradshaw, a Florida Board of Education member with close ties to Jeb Bush, abruptly resigned over the weekend.

Sally Bradshaw

Sally Bradshaw

Appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011, Bradshaw said in a two-paragraph letter to Scott on Sunday that “family obligations” would prevent her from serving out the remainder of her term, which was set to expire in December. “I appreciate your efforts to ensure that Florida’s K-12 system continues to lead the nation in reform and accountability,” she wrote. The resignation was effective immediately.

A former Bush chief of staff, Bradshaw and other board members with strong Bush allegiances have been critical of the board’s direction in recent months on school grades and Common Core. In July, she was on the losing end of a 4-3 vote to continue a safety net that prevented schools from falling more than one letter grade this year. “I don’t understand when it became acceptable,” she said at the time, “to disguise and manipulate the truth simply because the truth is uncomfortable.”

“We are grateful for Sally’s service and commitment to ensuring the highest quality in our education system,” Scott said in a statement. “She has worked hard to continue the legacy of high standards that began under the great leadership of Governor Jeb Bush.”

Board of Education members are appointed by the governor and subject to confirmation by the state senate.

Other coverage: Associated Press, Gradebook, The Buzz, Sarasota Herald Tribune.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report, which was updated to include Scott’s statement and the links to other coverage.


Private school operator polishes diamonds in the rough

Kat Crowell-Grate holds the key to a new building recently donated for her school. "There's not been one time we haven't met our needs,'' she said.

Kat Crowell-Grate holds the key to a new building recently donated for her school, Kingdom Christian Academy. “There’s not been one time we haven’t met our needs,” she said.

Kat Crowell-Grate was leading Sunday school classes in her hometown of Ocala, Fla., when she discovered many of her students couldn’t read. So the retired accountant started a tutoring program.

teachers and choice logoThat led to a substitute teaching job where she caught the eye of a local principal, who told her, “You missed your calling.’’

The principal spoke too soon. Nearly a decade later, the ordained minister runs Kingdom Christian Academy, an inner-city private school for 33 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Most can’t afford to pay anything, and almost all have some sort of learning disability or behavioral disorder.

“It is so easy to accept the child with the perfect pony tails and the boy with a clean haircut,’’ said Crowell-Grate, who has a grandson with special needs. “But it takes a real teacher to reach down and pull the uncut diamond in the rough and polish that diamond.’’

Kingdom Christian Academy caters to students in prekindergarten through 12th grade with a special focus on STEM - and the Bible.

Kingdom Christian Academy caters to students in prekindergarten through 12th grade with a special focus on STEM – and the Bible.

That means reminding her students every day to tuck in their uniform shirts, offering to tutor them on Sundays after church, or helping their moms and dads get high school diplomas. “We educate the entire family, making them more self-sufficient,’’ Crowell-Grate said.

Across the country, school choice has become the mantra of students and parents in search of a better way to learn. But customization offers plenty of opportunities for educators, too. More options bring freedom from a one-size-fits-all mentality that dictates curriculum and schedules, and even which students to serve.

To Crowell-Grate, that’s what school choice is all about: Finding the kids who need the most help and doing what needs to be done. Continue Reading →