Florida schools roundup: Charter schools, safety, teacher pay & more

Charter schools: Lee County administrators are putting greater scrutiny on charter applicants and state officials have tightened requirements to open schools. Naples Daily News.

florida-roundup-logoSchool safety: The Broward school district has allowed police officers to live rent-free on some school grounds since the 1980s as a way to provide after-hours safety, but there’s no proof the program is still effective. Sun Sentinel. A dozen educators from Pinellas and Hillsborough counties come to a martial arts studio to learn what they can do to stop a tragedy. The Tampa Tribune.

Teacher pay: It’s time for the Palm Beach County school district and teachers union to sign an agreement for pay raises, writes Rick Christie for the Palm Beach Post.

Testing: Florida’s next generation of standardized tests moves a step closer to adoption when the state gets a look at the players that want to create FCAT’s replacement. Orlando Sentinel.  Are Florida high school students really as unprepared for the job market and college as recent PISA tests results suggest? Local and state civic and business leaders say yes, but educators are starting to address the problem. Tampa Bay Times. Changes to the GED are causing concerns. StateImpact Florida.

Teacher evals: Almost half of Polk County’s classroom teachers receive a “highly effective” rating and the rest of evaluations that have been submitted so far are rated “effective.” The Ledger. Rosy teacher evals contradict student progress. The Tampa Tribune.

After school: Pinellas County seeks college students to staff afterschool programs. Tampa Bay Times.

School spending: A group of community activists urges the Broward school district to reduce the costs of its in-house lawn mowing services by hiring an outside company. Sun Sentinel.

College prep: Too many students are arriving to college unprepared, writes Ed Moore, president and CEO of the Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida, for the Tampa Bay Times.
Continue Reading →


Base commander: Charter school can better help military families

A charter school can better and more quickly respond to the pressing needs of military families at MacDill Air Force Base than a district school. So says the base commander as a clash looms between the Tampa, Fla., institution and one of the nation’s biggest school districts.

Col. Scott DeThomas

Col. Scott DeThomas

Earlier this week, the Hillsborough County district told supporters of a proposed, on-base charter that its initial recommendation is to deny the school’s application.

Col. Scott DeThomas, the base commander, said afterward that he applauded the country’s eighth-biggest school district for its efforts to accommodate MacDill, which is home to U.S. Central Command. But he also said needs remain, including the desire of many families to bring their children to a school on base, and MacDill must move quickly to meet them.

That doesn’t appear feasible right now because a district-run elementary school on base is at capacity. The proposed MacDill Charter Academy would be a K-8 with 875 students, offering additional elementary seats and a middle school option that isn’t available at MacDill.

“I really respect the district’s position,’’ DeThomas said in an interview with redefinED. “But, unfortunately, at this time we need to do more for our military families.’’

Hillsborough officials said the recommended denial could be reversed, but they needed more information on the makeup of the charter school’s governing board. A meeting between the district and charter school backers is set for Monday morning.

Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, who has won a reputation as a progressive-minded leader, said she believes the district can better serve the needs of military families. Thomas politely disagreed.

It’s a different world for modern soldiers, most of whom have known only war during their enlistment, he said. For many, that has meant moving from base to base and routine deployments every few years – something extremely stressful for military families, especially children. “We want to get ahead of that,’’ DeThomas said. Continue Reading →


Florida’s education system must get a lot better, a lot faster

The U.S. Census Bureau projects big demographic challenges ahead for Florida. The below figure summarizes its projections for the simultaneous increases in Florida’s youth and elderly populations out to the year 2030.


So let’s take the blue and the red columns separately. The blue columns show Florida’s youth population aged 5-17 is set to more than double between 2010 and 2030 – from approximately two million to well over four million. The 5-17 age cohort underestimates the scale of the challenge from a budgetary standpoint, by the way, as Florida 4-year-olds are eligible for the Voluntary Pre-K program, and many 18-year-olds are still in school.

So needless to say, Florida will be steadily adding more and more students year by year for as far as the eye can see. The current choice programs will not even begin to save Florida taxpayers the expense of building a huge number of new district schools. The time between Florida first passing a charter school law and now nearly matches the time between now and 2030 (see chart below).

ladnerchart1Even if Florida adopted a universal system of private school choice next year, and put a billion dollars aside for new charter school facilities for high-quality operators, it would merely slow the rate of growth for Florida school districts.

The red columns in the first figure show Florida taxpayers will be incredibly hard pressed to afford building a huge number of new school buildings. Older citizens usually have passed both their peak earning years and thus their peak taxpaying years. Elderly citizens also create demands of public dollars in the form of health care spending.

The next time Florida readers visit a mall or other public place, try to imagine 2030 by doubling the number of youngsters and more than doubling the number of elderly people you come across. If you don’t feel a growing sense of growing alarm, well bless your heart; you are just one of those completely fearless sorts. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charters, private schools, teacher pay & more

Charter schools: A troubled Lee County charter school withdraws its application for a local campus, a month after Collier County board members ordered the closure of the company’s Immokalee campus due to widespread mismanagement. Naples Daily News. The fate of a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base will be decided next week. The Tampa Tribune. MacDill’s proposal gets a preliminary No from the district due to concerns with the local governing board. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoPrivate schools: Students from Seacrest Country Day Academy in Naples channel Secretariats owner during history lessons. Naples Daily News.

Career academy: A Pasco County district high school will launch a gaming technology career academy in the fall. Tampa Bay Times.

Cambridge: Cambridge college prep programs and exams are being introduced in several Orange County public schools. Orlando Sentinel.

Honors classes: Incoming freshmen in Pinellas County could find that their honor courses are worth a little less toward their grade-point averages than college-level courses offered at the high schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher pay: Palm Beach County school and union officials continue working to hash out a salary plan before winter break. Palm Beach Post. Pinellas County Schools and its teachers union reach an agreement to pay teachers up to $29 an hour to work with students before and after school next year. Tampa Bay Times.

Athletic transfers: Suggesting the Lee school district is doing a disservice to student athletes if it fails to adopt stricter policies on athletic transfers implies that students shouldn’t pursue their dreams, that competition is a bad thing and that students should settle for what the system deals them — without question, writes Michael Smith for the Fort Myers News-Press. Continue Reading →


FL district may deny charter school sought by MacDill Air Force Base

MacDillOne of the nation’s best-known military bases may be at odds with one of the nation’s biggest school districts over a proposed charter school.

Officials with the 200,000-student Hillsborough County School District in Tampa, Fla., have recommended an initial denial for a charter school sought by the community at MacDill Air Force Base, the headquarters for U.S. Central Command.

In a Dec. 4 letter released by the district Thursday afternoon, Hillsborough’s charter schools director told an official with the Florida Charter Educational Foundation, the not-for-profit partnering with Charter Schools USA and the base to run the proposed school, that the district is recommending an initial denial “based on the application as written.”

The issue centers around the district’s “inability to determine the identity of the governing board.”  The director noted, however, that a final recommendation is pending an upcoming meeting with the charter school’s organizers, and that it is possible the recommendation for denial could be withdrawn.

The initial recommendation comes after Superintendent MaryEllen Elia publicly raised concerns about the application and said the district could meet the needs of military families.

The applicants plan to meet with the district at 8 a.m. Monday. Their proposal for the K-8 MacDill Charter Academy is among seven going before the Hillsborough school board on Tuesday. In Florida, school boards authorize charter schools in their districts. The other six charter applications have received recommendations for approval.

The proposed 872-student academy would offer a middle school option currently not available on the base, as well as hundreds of more seats for a growing population of families with young children moving into new on-site housing. Part of the district’s concern is it already has an elementary school on the base, A-rated Tinker Elementary.


Mr. Gibbons Report Card: charter schools, charter schools and charter schools


Sen. Jeff Clemens – D-Lake Worth, Fla.

Sen. Clemens filed SB 452 last week, a bill that would prohibit authorization of new charter schools unless the charter provides an instructional service unique to the district. Clemens’ reasoning? He thinks it’s a “poor use of our tax resources” to duplicate efforts.

I can sympathize with worries about wasting tax dollars, but who determines how different the charter and district schools must be from one another? All this bill does is create another layer of bureaucracy on education, which is what charter schools were created to escape in the first place.

Public school principals and teachers often have little say in the operation of their schools. Bureaucrats determine the appropriate number of books, globes, maps, computers, teachers and, in some districts, even the temperature of the classroom. Charter schools were created so teachers and principals could be freed from that to innovate new ideas – big or small – to educate students.

It would be a shame if Clemens’ bill eroded that freedom.

Grade: Needs Improvement


Shelley Redinger and Spokane Public Schools

While the state teacher union is busy suing to stop charter schools from ever enrolling a single student in Washington state, the Spokane Public School District – led by superintendent Shelley Redinger – has been busy courting charter school operators to provide more options to students.

Once again, it is great to see public school officials seeing themselves as stewards of a child’s education rather than defenders of a single method of education. Also, kudos to the editorial board of the Spokesman-Review for recognizing the district leaders for their efforts!

Grade: Satisfactory


P.L. Thomas – Education professor at Furman University

Charter schools in South Carolina don’t have access to the same capital funds as public schools so, like charter schools in many places, they make do with smaller facilities. As a result, they are less likely to have gyms, libraries, computer labs and federally approved kitchens (which means they can’t get free- and reduced-price lunch subsidies). Because of this, South Carolina charter schools want more money from the state. But Furman University Professor P.L. Thomas says they shouldn’t get it.

Why? Thomas points to research that finds charter schools in South Carolina don’t produce significantly higher achievement results than public schools. It’s true: With a lower per-pupil funding, less adequate facilities and fewer certified teachers, charter schools only manage to get the same results as the better-funded, better-equipped public schools.

Grade: Needs Improvement


An argument for school vouchers amidst fight over Obamacare

Linda Greenhouse

Linda Greenhouse

Arguments supporting parental school choice can crop up in unexpected places. Even in a left-leaning take on a particularly controversial piece of Obamacare.

In her Nov. 28 column, Linda Greenhouse, the esteemed former New York Times reporter who covered the U.S. Supreme Court for 30 years, discussed two current Supreme Court cases focused on whether corporations can be required to provide health benefits that are inconsistent with their religious beliefs. The cases are part of a flood of litigation challenging whether the government can force employers, including churches, to provide employee benefits such as birth control.

Greenhouse concludes her column by suggesting that forcing employers to provide a prescribed set of health benefits does not violate their religious beliefs since the employees are choosing how to use these benefits, not the employer. She cites parents using publicly funded school vouchers to pay private school tuition to bolster her argument:

“By paying employees as the law requires, neither a corporation nor its owner is endorsing the employees’ choice of what to spend their money on – no more than a local government endorses a parent’s choice to use a taxpayer-funded voucher for religious-school tuition. The Supreme Court for  decades has embraced the notion that an intervening private choice of this sort, even when a government program is clearly designed to channel public money to religious institutions, avoids what would otherwise be a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.”

Greenhouse isn’t just any legal observer. She won a Pulitzer Prize covering the Supreme Court. She now teaches at Yale Law School. As a longtime Greenhouse reader, I feel comfortable describing her as a left-of-center progressive Democrat. For someone of her stature and political persuasion to acknowledge the constitutionality of parents using school vouchers to attend faith-based K-12 schools – an argument more often advanced by the political right – is another small but significant milestone in the redefinition of public education. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charters, private schools, special needs & more

Charter schools: Pinellas County’s University Prep organizes a local board and moves forward in the search for a new principal. Tampa Bay Times. A proposal for a charter school on MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa still awaits a recommendation from Hillsborough district staff. Tampa Bay Times.  

florida-roundup-logoPrivate schools: Florida Air Academy in Brevard County has done away with text books and moved to iPad-only classes. Florida Today.

Virtual school: The exponential growth Florida Virtual School and online learning have experienced will continue as we transform education worldwide, writes Julie Young for the Tallahassee Democrat.

Special needs: Special needs students in Hillsborough County are treated to music lessons. Tampa Bay Times.

Hydroponics 101: A Cape Coral high school’s aquaculture and hydroponics class draws students from around Florida and even outside the state. Fort Myers News-Press.

Lawsuit: The Hillsborough County School Board will vote next week on a decision to pay more than $500,000 to the family of a special-needs child who drowned behind her Riverview middle school. Tampa Bay Times. More from The Tampa Tribune.

Quality teachers: The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida launches a fundraising campaign to raise $50 million to pay for more high-quality public school teachers in high-demand areas like math and science. Florida Trend.  Continue Reading →