Education needs the ‘tech surge’

digital economy

Editors’s note: State Sen. John Legg is a Florida certified teacher with more than 10 years of classroom teaching experience. He is also a school administrator and the current chairman of the K-20 Education Policy Committee in the Florida Senate.

During the White House’s much-maligned rollout of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama suggested that purchasing health care insurance would be as easy as ordering “a TV from Amazon.” However, the president found himself several weeks later admitting the Affordable Care Act website has significant problems.

The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services is supporting President Obama’s call for a “fix” by sending in the nation’s best and brightest for a “tech surge” to solve the implementation problems. But instead of deploying a tech surge to redesign a website, perhaps our nation’s future would be better served if a tech surge was deployed upon our educational system.

Our nation, indeed our global economy, has dramatically changed. Individuals that have digital and technological skills are, and will continue to be, in demand. America has a growing talent gap when it comes to workers with technology skills. Florida, meanwhile, ranks first in computer training, second in space and defense industries, third in engineering services, and fourth in Internet and telecommunications services, according to the 2012 Cyberstates report. In tech employment overall, it ranks fifth.

It is imperative that our education system equip Florida students with fluent digital and technological skills. Many of Florida’s business and education leaders have seen firsthand the need for policies and investment in technology in our schools. Continue Reading →


School districts should regulate school choice, not compete with it

School districts have owned and managed public schools for 150 years, and the results indicate they are not well suited for this task. Public education would be improved if, instead, local school boards regulated their communities’ schools.

School districts have owned and managed public schools for 150 years, and the results indicate they are not well suited for this task. Public education would be improved if, instead, local school boards regulated their communities’ schools.

Florida’s Duval County School District is losing students to charter schools, and the district’s entrepreneurial superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, is fighting back.

But his efforts to regain lost market share raise an important question: Should districts place maximizing student enrollment over ensuring all children have access to the learning options that best meet their needs?

Most school boards and district superintendents want to maximize district enrollment, but this is not the best way to ensure student success. K-12 students today are incredibly diverse. School districts have never been able to meet the needs of all students, which is why parents are demanding more school choice options and flocking to charter schools, private schools, virtual schools, and homeschooling.

The Duval school district is the sixth largest in Florida and 22nd largest in the nation. Its enrollment has dropped from 126,873 in 2003-04 to 119,188 today, while enrollment of charter schools within the district has increased from 609 to 7,795 over the same period. Duval’s private schools now enroll more than 24,000 students.

That Duval parents are choosing non-district schools in increasing numbers suggest these schools are adding value to the community’s K-12 education system. Ideally, we’d expect the community’s top public educator to celebrate this success, but Vitti, like most district superintendents, sees these schools as competitors to be defeated and not assets to be nurtured.

According to Jacksonville’s daily paper, the Times-Union, “Vitti’s fight is two-pronged. The district must determine how to retain students whose parents are thinking of moving to a charter, while also convincing charter-school parents to return to the school district.”

To help recapture lost enrollment, Vitti instructed his principals to call charter school parents and convince them to return to district schools. “The superintendent has decided that principals will be rewarded for successfully bringing back students who were slated to join a charter,” the Times-Union reported. “The reward could be reflected in their evaluation, he said, or by extra pay.”

School districts are the only charter school authorizers in Florida. The Duval district is responsible for reviewing, approving and managing charter school contracts, but may soon begin paying its principals to help put these same charter schools out of business. This conflict of interest is harmful. It undermines public education and the public good. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charters, cyberbullying, ESE aides & more

Charter schools: A new St. Petersburg charter school under fire for missteps wants to open another school in neighboring Hillsborough County. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoPay raises: Polk County school district teachers, principals, assistant principals, paraprofessionals and clerical staff will get a raise this year. The Ledger. Lee County school leaders approve a 3.3 percent raise for district support staff. Fort Myers News-Press. Hillsborough teachers will get a 4 percent pay raise. The Tampa Tribune. Pasco County principals get a pay bump. Tampa Bay Times.

Class size: Broward schools face a $1.1 million fine this year for failing to meet state class size caps. Sun Sentinel. A Pasco County school turns to team teaching to comply. Tampa Bay Times.

Strategic plans: Polk County moves forward with a plan to pull the district’s state grade to an A by 2017-18. The Ledger. Duval County school leaders eye a legislative platform that includes dual enrollment and textbook funding. Florida Times-Union. Brevard County school board members vote unanimously to seek a half-cent sales tax in the 2014 election. Florida Today.

ESE aides: The special needs workers soon will get benefits, new titles and for some, a pay boost. Tampa Bay Times.

School zones: Public backlash influences a Broward County school board member to withdraw her boundary change proposals. Sun Sentinel.

Accreditation: Pinellas County school board members vote unanimously to seek accreditation from AdvancED. Tampa Bay Times.

Struggling students: Palm Beach County school officials now will separate academics from consequences to keep troubled students from falling further behind in class work. Palm Beach Post. Continue Reading →


With school choice scholarship, student escapes bullying & thrives in new school



When Gianna Viale started first grade at the Good Shepherd Catholic School in Orlando, she had no idea there were forces working behind the scenes to ensure she would have the best educational opportunities available to her. But the one person who loves her the most was shaping her life: her mom.

Gianna’s mom, Maria Galindo, made a promise to herself when her daughter was born that no sacrifice would be too great when it came to making sure her daughter had every opportunity she could afford. Being a single mom, Maria admits that she plays the role of mother and father, filling her daughter’s heart and mind with unconditional love and understanding. She acknowledges that though many personal sacrifices were made for her daughter in the early years, the first major decision for Maria came while Gianna was in kindergarten.

“Her kindergarten was a good school, but I noticed that the other parents were not as involved with their kid’s education as I was,” said Maria. “There were certain things I noticed that made me feel a bit uncomfortable. They weren’t horrible things, but I felt that if I was uncomfortable, then my daughter must also feel uncomfortable.”

Maria’s suspicions were verified when she learned her daughter was being bullied and teased from older kids, even while still in kindergarten. She decided to search for a different environment.

A friend told her about the Good Shepherd Catholic School in Orlando and even though it was a bit further from her home than Gianna’s school, she visited immediately. She decided this was the school for her daughter. She knew it would be impossible to afford alone, so she began researching financial assistance and found the Step Up For Students school choice scholarship program. (Florida tax credit scholarships are sometimes called private school vouchers. They’re administered by Step Up, which co-hosts this blog.)

This was the turning point Maria was desperately looking for on behalf of her daughter’s education and future. Looking back now, Maria feels that this single event changed the course of her daughter’s educational experience. Continue Reading →


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 →