Florida schools roundup: Jeb Bush, Common Core, charter schools & more

Charter schools: Lobbyist John Sullivan makes the leap from charter schools to Duval County public schools, in an effort by the district’s superintendent to compete. The Buzz. 

florida-roundup-logoCommon Core: Proponents say the new standards will make students more competitive while opponents argue against government intrusion during the final public hearing on the matter. The Buzz.  The Department of Education has received more than 7,000 emails and online comments about the new standards. Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Tax Watch weighs in on having assessments aligned with the new benchmarks. Tampa Bay Times. When it comes to Common Core, “we need the governor to lead,” writes the Sun Sentinel.

Jeb Bush: “Criticisms and conspiracy theories are easy attention grabbers,” the former Florida governor says about Common Core opponents at the Excellence in Education National Summit in Boston. The Buzz.

Class size: A group of Broward parents are angry about their school’s last-minute decision to create a new classroom inside an unused portable to meet class-size requirements. Sun Sentinel.

Teacher absences: Last school year, the Polk County school district had more than 80,000 absences among its 7,000 teachers. In about 13,000 of those instances, no substitute was available. The Ledger.

Teacher supplies: The Wishing Well, a project to provide Manatee County teachers with free school supplies, may close. Bradenton Herald.

Bullying: Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd visits a middle school to talk to students about bullying. The Ledger. Continue Reading →


Jeb Bush to Common Core critics: drop the conspiracy theories



Jeb Bush, among the most vocal and visible supporters of Common Core academic standards, took a hard jab at critics Thursday, suggesting they drop the conspiracy theories and offer solutions.

“What I want to hear from them is more than just opposition,” he said to 800 people in Boston, gathered at the annual conference put on by his Foundation for Excellence in Education. “I want to hear their solutions for the hodgepodge of dumbed-down state standards that have created group mediocrity in our schools.”

“Criticisms and conspiracy theories are easy attention grabbers,” he continued. “Solutions are hard work.”

Bush’s comments come as opposition to Common Core continues to generate a sharp-edged anxiety in his home state and beyond. This week, hundreds of Florida supporters and opponents turned out for public forums ordered by Gov. Rick Scott. Some critics said the standards, which the Republican-dominated Florida Board of Education adopted in 2010, were tied to fascists and communists. The term ‘Common Core’ has become so radioactive the state board actually debated this week whether to use it.

At a panel discussion following Bush’s speech, political strategist Mike Murphy said polling shows most of the public still isn’t familiar with Common Core. The heaviest opposition, he said, comes from Republican primary voters, who, when they’re first asked about the standards, are opposed 2-to-1.

“They think it’s a secret plot controlled by red Chinese robots in the basement of the White House,” he said. “No wonder they don’t like it.” Continue Reading →


Next week: A chat with Kathleen Shanahan



A close ally of former Gov. Jeb Bush, Kathleen Shanahan has been a leading voice for education reform and school choice in Florida, arguably the leading state for both. And coincidentally or not, as her second and final term winds to a close on the state Board of Education, she’s been increasingly critical of ed policy shifts under Gov. Rick Scott.

This week, Shanahan voted against another extension of a “safety net” for school grades, calling it “sad” the board was “voting on something that’s going to have no integrity.” She also lit into the Department of Education’s reticence to use the term “Common Core,” dubbing it “sort of mushy.”

What else does the outspoken Shanahan think about the past, present and future of education in Florida? Ask her. She’ll be our guest next week for a live, written chat.

As we’ve said before, the chat is like a press conference with a typewriter. We ask questions. You ask questions. Our guest types furiously. :)

To participate, come back to the blog on Thursday, Oct. 24. We’ll start promptly at 10 a.m., so click in to the live chat program – which you’ll find here on the blog – a few minutes before then. In the meantime, if you have questions for Shanahan that you’d like to send in advance, you can leave them in the comments section, email them to rmatus@sufs.org, tweet them to @redefinEDonline, and/or post them on our facebook page.


Florida schools roundup: Charter schools, Jeb Bush, Common Core & more

Charter schools: “One size fits all doesn’t work for all children so now it’s about letting parents choose what’s best for their children,” Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi says about a new charter school for children with exceptional needs that her late father helped start. The Tampa Tribune. A new Pasco County charter devoted to serving high-level Title I students, wins preliminary district approval. Tampa Bay Times. Pinellas school officials say a new St. Petersburg charter school has kept key information from the district, jeopardizing student safety. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoPrivate schools: An Episcopal private school in Clearwater celebrates its 45th anniversary. Tampa Bay Times.

Pam Stewart: Florida’s new education chief will have to address Common Core, but she also needs to focus on school funding, a shaky school grading system, teacher evaluations and more, writes the Sun Sentinel. 

Jeb Bush: ProgressNow New Mexico asks the IRS to look into Jeb Bush’s nonprofit Foundation for Excellence in Education’s spending on travel, hotel and other expenses for government officials. Palm Beach Post.

Common Core: The second public hearing on the new benchmarks pits critics against supporters in another heated showdown. Miami Herald. A little fact-checking and context on the first hearing on the standards from StateImpact Florida. Florida is moving ahead with the Common Core. Florida Times-Union. Leaders in Florida should stand up to misguided and ill-informed political attacks and demand answers from both liberal and conservative critics, writes Michael J. Petrilli and Michael Brickman for the Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →


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.”