Florida schools roundup: Charters, Common Core, teacher pay & more

Charter schools: A new St. Petersburg charter school opens up applications for its board – something the school’s leader recently was criticized for not having in place. Tampa Bay Times.  The Lake Wales Charter School System plans to refinance the remaining $4.1 million on a loan to build the Edward W. Bok Academy campus. The Ledger.

florida-roundup-logoCommon Core: StateImpact rehashes some of the comments made during the public hearings on the new education benchmarks. Can Florida learn something from Kentucky, which has been using the standards since 2011? StateImpact Florida. Teachers in subjects like social studies have been asking students to spend more time reading “informational texts,” such as historical documents. Tallahassee Democrat.

Jeb Bush: In the battle between Florida’s self-proclaimed “education” governors, former Gov. Jeb Bush leads by a wide margin, writes the Sun Sentinel.

At risk: A new report finds 99 percent of Duval County high school seniors who took part in a program for at-risk students graduated. Florida Times-Union.

Teacher pay: Santa Rosa County remains among the 51 school districts that hasn’t negotiated teacher raises. Pensacola News-Journal.

Class size: In Duval County, 95 percent of the district’s English, math, science and social studies classes meet the state-mandated requirements. Florida Times-Union.

School spending: Broward school board members continue to debate outsourcing construction services, an effort considered to be a giant step toward cleaning out a department repeatedly cited for gross mismanagement and waste. Sun Sentinel. Manatee County School District’s new Citizen Budget Advisory Committee plans to survey the community about funding priorities. Bradenton Herald. Plans for a new Largo High in Pinellas County are in the works. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →


The vanguard for a new generation of Catholic schools

ACE teachers-in-training Ben Horton and Ashley Logsdon talk with redefinED recently about being a part of the University of Notre Dame's effort to revive Catholic schools. Both students are earning a cost-free master's degree in education in return for their work in Tampa Bay area schools.

ACE teachers-in-training Ben Horton and Ashley Logsdon talk about being a part of the University of Notre Dame’s effort to revive Catholic schools. Both students are earning a master’s degree in education, teacher certification and the experience of a lifetime as they lead classes at local Tampa Bay area schools.

While getting a history degree at a small Catholic college in New Hampshire, Ben Horton figured he had two options after graduation: law school or teaching. Then, a scholarship his junior year sent him to Belfast, Ireland, where he taught at a Catholic school near the Peace Walls dividing Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. There, among the children of working-class families struggling with violence, drugs and teen pregnancy, he discovered a passion for teaching – and his faith.

“I like trying to give kids some hope, some opportunity, some guidance,’’ Horton said.teachers and choice logo

Now the 24-year-old University of Notre Dame graduate student teaches middle-schoolers at the Holy Family Catholic School in St. Petersburg, Fla. It’s part of a two-year service program developed by the Indiana university’s Alliance for Catholic Education, or ACE.

With 180 teachers nationwide, the program is similar to the bigger and better-known Teach for America, but with a faith-based twist. The goal: to train future educators specifically for Catholic schools, which are dealing with declines in enrollment and aging staff. The hope is to help revitalize those schools, so long and so proudly the cornerstone of urban education, and maybe even boost the faith itself.

ACE teachers in service spend two years in the program, earning teaching credentials and making lasting friendships.

ACE teachers in service spend two years in the program, earning classroom cred and making lasting friendships.

“Catholic schools in a sense are the future of the church,’’ said Horton, who will finish the program in June with a master’s in education, teaching credentials and a plan to work in Catholic schools. “What ACE is doing, it’s really a noble mission because these schools serve such an important role.’’

It’s a task that comes as the country struggles to answer big questions about education, said Amy Wyskochil, director of operations for the service program and a former ACE teacher. The alliance also trains future Catholic school principals, and it partners with local dioceses to strengthen their schools’ academics, enrollment and leadership.

Brianna Hohman teaches second-graders at St. Joseph's Catholic School in Tampa. She loves the job, but plans to pursue a different field after graduation.

Brianna Hohman teaches second-graders at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Tampa. She loves the job, but plans to pursue a different field after graduation.

“Education is the most important challenge facing our country,” Wyskochil said. “Each year, millions of students fail to reach their potential because they lack access to a quality education. Catholic schools are a critical part of how we will solve our country’s educational crisis. We need talented, committed new teachers to meet that challenge by becoming Catholic school teachers.”

Horton, a lifelong Catholic school student, started teaching at Holy Family last year. The school, with 204 students in K-8, has maintained a steady enrollment thanks to a healthy parish, said Sister Flo Marino. But when veteran teachers started to retire four years ago, the superintendent signed on with ACE.

“We just felt that it was a great opportunity to have young, vibrant, interesting people taking on the job of education,’’ said Marino, the only remaining religious sister at her school. “It gives schools that opportunity to revive their programs.’’ Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: special needs vouchers in Oklahoma, charter schools in Wisconsin and more


Arizona: The Arizona Education Association escalates its lawsuit to stop Education Scholarship Accounts by asking the state Supreme Court to overturn the program (East Valley Tribune).

California: The Daily Press in Victorville endorses school choice and joins the ranks of those questioning Politico’s selective reading of the education research on vouchers (Daily Press). County zoning codes will slow Rocketship’s growth in California (Mercury News).

Colorado: The Denver Post endorses the pro school choice candidates for the Douglas County School Board (Denver Post). Residents of Denver have two choices for school superintendent – support the ed reformer currently in office or return to the old ways with the challenger (Denver Post). The Douglas County voucher program is in limbo waiting for the state’s Supreme Court to decide whether or not to hear a case challenging the program’s very existence (Our Colorado News).

D.C.: Public school enrollment grows in D.C. but district charters grow even faster (Washington Post). D.C. will be implementing new measures to oversee charter school contracts with third parties (Washington Post).

Indiana: Columnist Mathew Tully writes in favor of school choice in Indiana (Indianapolis Star).

Iowa: A survey shows parental approval for education savings accounts is growing (Catholic Globe).

Louisiana: Amazing things are happening in post-Katrina New Orleans education (National Review). Seventeen of the 19 course choice programs were not approved by the NCAA and may impact the scholarships of college-bound high school athletes (The Town Talk). Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Homeschoolers, private schools, charters & more

Charter schools: Too many charters are failing, pointing to an urgent need for more budget oversight by the state, writes the Sun Sentinel. More students are enrolling in Pinellas County’s charter schools, leaving some school board members to worry it’s at the detriment of public schools. The Tampa Tribune. St. Petersburg’s struggling University Prep needs to follow its contract and mend fences with community leaders, who also need to be willing to come back to the table, writes the Tampa Bay Times. A charter school principal embraces the universal truth that students do better academically when their parents are involved in their education, writes Bill Maxwell for the Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoPrivate schools: Indian Rocks Christian School in Pinellas County was one of three national winners of a $30,000 school cafeteria makeover in Uncle Ben’s (the rice company) contest. Tampa Bay Times. Collier County residents support a new German school to help immerse children in their native language and culture. Naples Daily News.

Magnet schools: Palm Beach County school district officials look at building arts-themed magnet schools in the county’s southern communities. Palm Beach Post.

Special needs: A new audit finds that Orange County schools are not meeting the needs of thousands of students with disabilities. Orlando Sentinel.

Homeschoolers: In Florida, there are 75,081 homeschoolers. Parents are choosing the option for many reasons: dissatisfaction in the school district, to foster more family time or to simply be in control of the education experience. Bradenton Herald.

Common Core: Critics don’t want to debate the new standards, they just want education officials to listen and to hold off implementation. StateImpact Florida. Florida’s public hearings were supposed to be about answering questions about the benchmarks, but the conversation was drowned out by emotional outbursts and political jabs aimed at the federal government. Times/Herald. Officials expect schools to start teaching the new standards over the next year, yet educators remain unsure when, and how, their students will be tested on them. The Hechinger Report. As the fight over Common Core continues, Palm Beach County school officials move ahead with books aligned to the new standards. Palm Beach Post. PolitiFact takes aim at the Common Core. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →


The most important thing in ed reform

How old do you think those children were, debating Shakespeare, comparing two great plays? They were 10.

How old do you think those children were, debating Shakespeare, comparing two great plays? They were 10.

Inspiration often comes from unexpected places. Thursday night, for the education reform crowd, it came from Michael Gove. He’s the education secretary in England, and he was the keynote speaker for the Foundation for Excellence in Education conference in Boston. If people didn’t know who he was before, well, they do now.

Gove’s speech was that good, touching on everything from teacher quality to principal autonomy to England’s version of charter schools. I’ll post it in its entirety when it surfaces. In the meantime, here’s a transcript of the kicker – an explanation and an anecdote about what Gove argued is the most important thing in ed reform.

If you’re rich or wealthy, if your parents are well-connected … you have the option to go to camp. You have the opportunity to visit the theater or the art gallery. You’ve been read to every night. You have the pick of all the books at Barnes & Noble. Who knows? You may very well have your own iPad mini, to be able to download the latest Harry Potter. Everywhere you go, you’re surrounded by an environment and an atmosphere that wants you to do well, and which opens the glory of what’s been written or created to your enjoyment.



But if you’re a poor child … there aren’t those connections. There isn’t the money to go to the museum or the art gallery or the theater. The only place that you will get access to the greatness of human civilization is in school. So we betray those poor children. What do we say? That the greatness of literature, or the wonder of history, or the majesty of poetry, or the tremendous language that is mathematics, or the discoveries of science, shouldn’t be introduced to them, because it’s all too hard and irrelevant to their lives? We rob those children of the inheritance to which they are due, if we dumb down our curriculum, if we lower our expectations, and if we refuse to give those children the challenging diet of great writers, great thinkers and great creative that we know can inspire them to greatness in turn.

And that’s why the most important thing in education reform is to believe that every child is capable of greatness. And to behave in every way as if you know that to be true.

I was recently in a school in West London. And I walked into the class and the class was discussing Shakespeare. They were discussing the play ‘Julius Caesar.’ And I asked the children, ‘Why is it that Julius Caesar is murdered?’ One of the boys put his hand up. ‘Because the Roman Senate, sir, thinks he might be an usurper. They think he might be someone who does not have a legitimate claim to the crown, or to be emperor.’ I thought that was an amazing answer, with a great understanding of the play. And I said, ‘Usurper, that’s a wonderful word. Is there anyone else who can think of another usurper?’ All the hands went up. I picked one at random and he said, ‘Macbeth, sir. Macbeth kills Duncan. And he is an usurper as well. He doesn’t have legitimacy. He should not be wearing that crown.’

How old do you think those children were, debating Shakespeare, comparing two great plays?

They were 10. Continue Reading →


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.