FL GOP activists slam Common Core

From the News Service of Florida:

ORLANDO - A gathering of Republican Party of Florida activists voted Friday evening to oppose the Common Core education standards in a sign of growing anger among the party’s grass-roots members over the school benchmarks.

The resolution, which was approved by a caucus of state committeemen and committeewomen as part of the run-up to Saturday’s annual party meeting, is not binding on the GOP.

RPOF officials, speaking on background, quickly moved to downplay the significance of the vote against the guidelines, which have support from members of the school-accountability movement led by former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

But the vote also seemed to show that resistance to the standards has not died down since Gov. Rick Scott ordered the state Department of Education to begin backing away from a test based on Common Core and to review the standards. Continue Reading →


Thanks to school choice scholarship, he’s a 21st Century learner

Jordan Garcia

Jordan Garcia

Cristina Valdes noticed her fourth-grade son’s interest in learning start to fade and his behavior slip during the 2011-12 school year at their local elementary school and immediately took it as a red flag.

Instead of concentrating on his teacher’s lessons, Jordan Garcia asked to take unnecessary bathroom breaks, roamed the halls and fooled around seeking attention, his mother said.

“Jordan’s conduct at school had reached a crossroads and I saw him pulling further away from his interest in school and more towards acting up and being the class clown,” said Cristina. “I felt that if I did not intervene now, I may lose him by the time he started middle school.”

What perplexed Cristina the most was that her son’s grades were among the best in his class, but Jordan’s conduct and a general lackluster for his studies blemished that academic success. What she learned was that her son was often the first in class to finish tests and schoolwork and then he was left without anything structured to do. Jordan didn’t notice his slide, however, but admitted he was bored in school.

“I found my work very easy and since the teachers didn’t have anything else for me, I would make paper balls and try to make three-pointers into the garbage cans,” said Jordan, now a sixth-grader. “My classwork was not very challenging and the homework was easy.”

Cristina also pinpointed the issue and tried to address it.

“I would review his assignments and I saw a lot of repetition in his curriculum. He simply wasn’t being challenged academically. I met with his teachers on several occasions which validated what I already knew – my son was a smart kid, but was bored, which lead to a change of attitude and the beginnings of bad behavior,” said Cristina. “

At one point, she had her son tested for the gifted program, but he missed that option by just a few points, she said.

When Cristina was searching for options, a friend told her about the Step Up For Students school choice scholarship program, eventually leading her to Highpoint Academy near their Miami-area home. (Step Up co-hosts this blog.)

“I was thrilled after meeting with Highpoint Academy,” said Cristina. “They represented what I had envisioned for Jordan’s education including interactive teaching methods, small student-teacher ratios and a curriculum that I knew would challenge my son.” Continue Reading →


Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: A namecalling columnist, collaboration in Houston, and a correction on a candidate’s calculation

MrGibbonsReportCardJames Gill – columnist, The Advocate

In December, the state auditor of Louisiana recommended more accountability measures for the private school voucher program, including some non-fiscal measures like ensuring participating schools are “academically acceptable.”

“Academically acceptable” could mean a lot of different things, and it’s worth debating. To longtime Louisiana columnist James Gill, there is apparently only one litmus test and only one conclusion to draw.

To use his direct words: “Schools that deny evolution can only churn out ignoramuses, which seems an odd way to spend the public dollar.”

The comment is as inflammatory as it is absurd, and we shouldn’t mistake this as an informed position on education policy.

James Gill

Let’s just forget for the moment about Louisiana’s “Academic Freedom Act,” which still allows creationism (along with other origin theories/myths) to be taught in public schools. That law was passed in 2008 and amends a 1987 Supreme Court ruling that struck down a Louisiana Law requiring Bible-based creationism to have equal time in public classroom with evolution.

While creationism has long been a part of private (and public) school education in the U.S., we should remember that evolution is a chapter within biology textbooks at the high school level. And while learning creationism may put college-bound students behind their peers in biology class, one bad science course does not make anyone an ignoramus.

Faith-based schools should give factual explanations of what leading scientists have discovered, as challenging one’s own beliefs is an integral part of education. That said, banning schools that teach creationism might work to the detriment of students who may be well-served by the school’s instruction in other subjects, such as literature, mathematics and languages.

I welcome a more rational, less caustic, debate about requiring evolution in private schools, but let’s get kids proficient in basic reading and math before we elevate the importance of a specific topic within a single course.

Grade: Needs Improvement


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Florida schools roundup: Charters, digital ed, homeschooling & more

Charter schools: A Florida House subcommittee looks at having the state Department of Education review charter applications before they go to the districts for approval. redefinED.  More from The Buzz.  Lawmakers also talk about possible legislation looking at allowing charter schools access to underutilized district buildings. Herald/Times. The draft bill may help ease the way for out-of-state charter groups that want to open high-performing schools in Florida. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoDigital learning: Miami-Dade County school district plans to roll out 100,000 laptops and tablets to students by August 2015. Miami Herald. K12 Inc. focuses on expanding and using technology-based learning programs from pre-kindergarten through college on a global basis. Businessweek.

Homeschooling: Palm Beach County homeschoolers participate in National Geographic Bee. Sun Sentinel.

School construction: Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will launch a statewide awareness campaign next week to create a new revenue source for construction and renovations at schools, colleges and universities. The Buzz.

Petition: Civil rights groups target Florida with a petition drive and grassroots movement to overturn the state’s race-based educational achievement goals. Reuters.

Common Core: Cursive writing could survive in Florida schools after all, thanks to newly implemented education standards. Sun Sentinel. Students in Hillsborough County schools will field test the multi-state Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test this year, despite state leaders rejecting the exam. StateImpact Florida.

Extended day: A new state report finds that a majority of selected schools that added an extra hour of reading instruction in 2012-13 showed improvement. Tampa Bay Times.

Teachers: The Education Foundation – Champions for Learning names its 25 Teachers of Distinction in Collier County. Naples Daily News. State funding helps Polk public schools and USF put on a two-day training program to entice minority and male college students to become local elementary teachers. The Ledger.

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Florida lawmakers look to streamline charter application process

In an ongoing effort to make it easier to open charter schools in Florida, some lawmakers want the state – not school districts – to get the first crack at reviewing charter applications.

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.

Members of the House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee discussed the idea Thursday during a workshop that introduced the proposed legislation. It calls for the Florida Department of Education to ensure applications meet statutory requirements before they go before school boards for a vote.

In Florida, school boards authorize charter schools, which are public schools that use tax dollars but operate independently from districts.

The idea, said Rep. Manny Diaz, the Hialeah Republican who introduced the draft bill, is to prevent a stalemate between charter applicants and districts on the minimum requirements.

“The districts in certain cases have rehashed some of those requirements during the contract process,’’ dragging out negotiations and resulting in additional costs, Diaz told redefinED. “This bill puts that back-and-forth back to where it belongs with the application. We’re trying to give applicants some clarity and guidance. If the application is not statutorily ready, it shouldn’t be submitted.’’

If the state finds the application does comply with the law, a letter goes to the school board, which still is expected to provide a rigorous review. If the board approves the application and grants a standard charter, then both parties can negotiate additional terms “but it will not stop the charter school from going forward and opening,’’ Diaz said.

The subcommittee as a whole offered positive feedback, but a few members expressed concern about how the measure might restrict districts. For instance, Orlando Democrat Randolph Bracy wondered how negotiations could be carried out once the school is up and running and a contract is signed.

The bulk of negotiations would happen during the application process, not at the contract point, Diaz said. Afterward, there would still be room for negotiations, but both parties would have to agree to the additional items.

The draft bill isn’t intended to take away authority from the districts, he said, but “it evens the playing field when it comes to the contract.’’

If the proposal makes it through the House and Senate, and is approved by the governor, it would not affect existing charter school contracts, subcommittee Chairman Michael Bileca said.


Education Week: Florida schools rank high in achievement, low in funding

QC 2014 coverAnother year, another report, another Top 10 academic ranking for Florida’s oft-criticized public schools.

The Sunshine State ranks No. 7 in K-12 achievement this year, up from No. 12 last year, says Education Week in its latest annual “Quality Counts” report.

Released Thursday morning, the report for the first time since 2008 did not include overall grades or ranks for each state. (Florida ranked No. 11, No. 5, No. 8, No. 11 and No. 6 over those years.) It did, though, continue to offer grades and ranks for six separate categories, including the one that matters the most.

In K-12 achievement, Florida earned a C, up from a C- last year. Massachusetts and Maryland earned the highest grade, a B; New Jersey, a B-; and the others ahead of Florida, a C+. The nation as a whole earned a C-.

Florida has a far greater percentage of low-income students than the states ahead of it or immediately behind it (roughly 10 to 30 percentage points more). It also stands out because of how aggressively it has pursued school choice and top-down accountability.

Gov. Rick Scott credited teachers: “Today’s news that Florida jumped to 7th nationwide in K-12 achievement is the result of great work by our teachers,” he said in a written statement. Florida families depend on an education system that provides every student with a quality education, and that’s why in our last budget we fought to provide our teachers with a pay raise and secured more than $1 billion in additional investments for K-12 education.”

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Florida schools roundup: Achievement, charters, Common Core & more

Florida progress. Florida’s public education system ranks No. 7 in K-12 achievement this year, up from No. 12 last year, according to Education Week’s annual Quality Counts report. redefinED.

School choice. Four Florida districts – Duval, Miami-Dade, Pinellas and Brevard – rank in the Top 25 among big districts nationwide when it comes to meaningful school choice, according to the latest annual index from the Brown Center at Brookings. redefinED. Add another school to the growing ranks of Cambridge schools in Florida: Tarpon Springs Middle. Gradebook.

Charter schools. Virtual charters are on the rise in Florida, with three new ones approved last month. redefinED.

Common Core. Senators ask Education Commissioner Pam Stewart tough questions about the new Common Core standards and the tests that are supposed to go with them. The Buzz. Education Week. Post on Politics. News Service of Florida.

Superintendents. Miami-Dade’s Alberto Carvalho is a finalist for National Superintendent of the Year. Miami Herald. Gradebook.

Principals. Removal of the Pahokee High principal causes a stir. Extra Credit.

PE. Lawmakers propose a PE credit waiver for high school athletes. Gradebook.

School names. Westside High is the new name for Jacksonville’s former N. B. Forrest High School, named after the Civil War general and early KKK leader. StateImpact Florida. Associated Press. Orlando Sentinel.

Employee conduct. The Palm Beach County School Board fires or suspends five employees. South Florida Sun Sentinel.


FL lawmakers ask tough questions about Common Core tied tests

From the News Service of Florida:

Commissioner Stewart

Commissioner Stewart

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart faced tough questions from senators Wednesday as she outlined how the state would move forward on tweaks to its current schools standards and select a new test for students.

Speaking to the Senate Education Committee, Stewart tried to tamp down concerns that a quick timeline for having a new test in place for next school year could cause problems.

“We’ve put every precaution in place to ensure that we will have an assessment that is appropriate for Florida’s students in the ’14-’15 school year,” Stewart said.

Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order in September requiring the state to end its role in helping handle the financial affairs of the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. The state is currently reviewing five applications by testing companies hoping to develop a new test for Florida.

Stewart is scheduled to select the winner in March.

Despite talk that the state might ultimately end up using PARCC, Stewart said the multi-state consortium did not participate in the state’s “invitation to negotiate” for the new test.

“PARCC did not apply,” she said in response to a question from Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, about whether the test might still be used. “I would suggest to you … it will depend on the five applications. It cannot be considered as part of the ITN.”

Pressed by Montford again about whether Florida could ultimately end up using PARCC, Stewart cited legal restrictions on what she could and couldn’t say.

“You have probably stepped into the arena of questions I could not answer,” she responded.

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, was more blunt while talking to reporters after the meeting, which Gaetz attended. Continue Reading →