Florida roundup: Magnet schools, charter schools, superintendents & more

Magnet schools. Hernando students bid farewell to visitors from China. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. Manatee County charter schools reach an agreement with the school district on transportation costs. Bradenton Herald. Breakdown here.

Montessori Schools. Bradenton students head to Switzerland for a model UN competition. Bradenton Herald.

Superintendents. The Hernando superintendent’s evaluation becomes contentious. Tampa Bay Times.

Attendance. Pinellas schools look for ways to get kids to come to class. Tampa Tribune.

Kindergarten. Orlando Sentinel columnist Beth Kassab reflects on her daughter’s first year of school.

Entrepreneurship. Duval students plan a food truck specializing in healthy burritos. Florida Times-Union. Collier students pitch competing business proposals. Naples Daily News.

Contracts. The Hillsborough school district has a $1.5 million relationship with the state fair. Tampa Bay Times.

Employment. Pasco schools expect job vacancies. Gradebook.

Employee conduct. A Marion schools employee is accused of pawning district property. Ocala Star-Banner.

Digital learning, iTunes & customization in education

Those days are pretty much over.

Those days are pretty much over.

To understand the changes that will be brought on by digital learning, think about what’s happened in the music industry.

People used to buy all of their music at record stores. Their choices were confined to what the store had in stock. They had to buy entire albums, even if they only wanted one song.

Then came Napster, which allowed people to tailor their music libraries to their individual tastes. It was later replaced by iTunes, which improved the quality of music downloads and developed a business model that was more acceptable to the industry’s establishment.

The result was a “vastly more customized and individualized experience,” said Derrell Bradford, executive director of the New York Campaign for Achievement Now. He used the analogy Tuesday to introduce a discussion at the American Federation for Children’s annual conference about the ways technology can allow students to tailor their education to better fit their needs.

“You have a transformative idea or policy that’s introduced into the space and it changes everything forever,” he said.

Julia Freeland, a research fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute, said the goal is to allow students to learn on their own terms, at their own “pace, path, time and place.” For that reason, she said, much of the  work on digital learning is being done at traditional public schools, which enroll the vast majority of students.

“What we’re seeing with the growth of online learning is not full-time virtual schools. It’s not kids sitting at home in homeschool environments. It’s instead technology being integrated into the classroom,” she said. Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Charter schools, tax credit scholarships, Pre-K and more

Charter schools. The City of North Miami faces another setback in its bid to open a charter school. Miami Herald. A charter school funding study is disputed. StateImpact.

Pre-K. Pasco schools consider expanding their early learning offerings. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoTax credit scholarships. Orlando Sentinel Columnist Scott Maxwell cribs a zombie metaphor to rail against the program.

Testing. Education Commissioner Pam Stewart PolitiFact and a Palm Beach Post column smack down a lawmaker’s recent statement about the state’s new standardized tests promoting homosexuality.

Merit pay. The Alachua County school board grapples with ways to implement a new pay system in the coming school year. Gainesville Sun.

Facilities. Hernando County officials pitch a one-cent sales tax that would help pay for school construction. Tampa Bay Times. Students at one Hernando elementary school will get to stay in their buildings as the school gets renovated, the Times reports.

Superintendents. A contract extension for Lee’s superintendent is pushed back amid talk of a pay hike. Fort Myers News-Press. The St. Lucie superintendent apologizes to parents for other employees’ misconduct. St. Lucie News Tribune.

Politics. An outspoken Orange County School Board member announces plans to run for a State Senate seat that will be vacated by Sen. Andy Gardiner.  Sentinel School Zone.

Discipline. Pinellas plans changes to its code of conduct. Tampa Tribune.

Summer school. Pasco schools may expand their summer school programs. Tampa Bay Times.

Julie Young: Virtual education on verge of ‘ubiquitous’

Julie Young

Julie Young

Julie Young announced earlier this year that she would be stepping down as the head of Florida Virtual School, after more than 30 years in public education. Her announcement reverberated in education circles around the country, where she was recognized as a pioneer in her field and the “godmother of digital learning.”

I sat down to talk with her about the early days of virtual education, the lessons she learned while it grew, and what the future might hold both for digital learning as a whole and for the institution she led for 17 years. The interview formed the basis of my profile of Young, which was published on redefinED Monday.

So the first thing I’m wondering is, why now?

I started thinking about it about a year and half ago. I started hinting to the team about a year and a half ago … I just had something inside of me going, ‘Ok, we’ve done this. It’s in a really good place, and together this team has had the opportunity to have a huge impact on the field of education, and really the world of learning, and now what?’ I was asking myself the same questions and just feeling like there was something I wanted to do, and didn’t know what it was.

I’m really the type of person that when I’m in the middle of something, I’m all in. And so even thinking about it, for me, felt like blasphemy. I didn’t feel like I could explore other opportunities. I didn’t feel like it was the right thing to be thinking that while I was still totally engaged as CEO.

Looking out across the education landscape in Florida, there’s a lot of things that were maybe tried out 15 or 20 years ago that are now reaching maturity. What do you see in the virtual realm that are these signs of maturity – where FLVS can kind of grow on its own?

When we started, virtual education was this thing over here that was, I think, in many respects, to be feared by many. Intriguing to the business community, very intriguing to parents, but feared by the education community. When I look at it now, and I think about where we are, and I see that the school districts have their franchises and they’ve embraced virtual learning for their students – whether they’re using us to provide that or whether they’re using their own programs – to me really indicates that very soon, it’s going to be ubiquitous. Very soon, we’re not going to be asking kids, ‘Are you taking a course online?’ It’s just going to be, ‘I’m taking English,’ and people aren’t going to be paying attention to whether it’s English online or English in the classroom. And we’re there at the post-secondary level.

In addition, I think that the onset and the acceptance of the full-time virtual programs and the proliferation of those have really given students and families that additional opportunity, beyond Florida Virtual School, or within Florida Virtual School, to get a diploma.

I think you reach a point where there’s no turning back, and I think that we’re there. I think it’s going to look different every year. … Our student base – the students we serve – (is) potentially shrinking, and the district’s service (is) potentially growing, which really indicates that it’s permeating the status quo, so that we don’t have to do it all by ourselves. But we should look for the total population of virtual education in the state of Florida to be growing. And I think what Florida Virtual School’s value and niche going forward is and should continue to be is that we will continue to look for new ways to deliver virtual education, where we can work with students to determine, what’s the next thing? What’s the next learning opportunity that we haven’t thought of yet? We’ll be able to then move those ideas out into the masses as well. Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Common Core, vouchers, desegregation and more

Common Core. The English and math standards could affect instruction in other subjects. StateImpact.

Brown v. Board. The Miami Herald takes a deep dive into the “re-segregation” of public schools. More from the St. Lucie News Tribune.

florida-roundup-logoVouchers. Following a Department of Education investigation, two schools may be barred from participating in the McKay and Tax Credit Scholarship programs after an administrative law judge found they falsely claimed two students were enrolled under the McKay program. Miami Herald. News Service of Florida.

Charter schools. Manatee school district officials discuss different ways of handling transportation for charter school students. Bradenton Herald.

Teachers. Hillsborough County teachers say they’re running short on planning time. Tampa Tribune. A Hillsborough teacher gets a national award. Tribune.

Students. New research shows gay students are more likely to suffer depression and other forms of emotional turmoil. Orlando Sentinel.

Contracts. School board members defend the Leon County school district’s handling of construction contracts. Tallahassee Democrat.

Continue Reading →

Report: Achievement gaps smaller among Florida charter school students

Achievement gaps are smaller for Florida’s charter school students than for their peers in traditional public schools, according to the state Department of Education’s latest state-mandated report comparing their student achievement.

Like previous years’ reports, the latest results show charter schools outperforming their district-run counterparts on a range of measures, scoring higher and making larger gains in most of the department’s comparisons. Of the 177 comparisons in the report, more than 150 gave charter schools an edge.

But the report shows school districts gaining ground in some areas. For example, unlike in previous years, traditional public schools matched the learning gains charter schools achieved in math for the student population as a whole.

The department compared the sectors across demographic groups, including white, black, Hispanic, and low-income students, as well as students with disabilities and English language learners, broken down among elementary, middle and high school students.

Charter schools fared especially well in the achievement-gap comparisons. Black and Hispanic students trailed their white peers by smaller margins at charter schools in 17 out of 18 comparisons. The difference was especially notable for Hispanic students taking high school algebra, and for Hispanics in reading at all grade levels.

Achivement gap graph

Florida’s charter school students post smaller achievement gaps than their counterparts in traditional public schools, according to the latest state comparison. Chart by Department of Education, “2013 Student Achievement in Florida’s Charter Schools.

Other studies that controlled for a range of demographic factors (see examples herehere and here) have found traditional public schools may outperform charter schools in measures based on student test scores, while other studies looking at a broader set of outcomes have found advantages for charter school students. This report, based on 3.2 million test results, may add new fodder to the debate.


Farewell to godmother of digital learning

Some of the seeds of Florida’s virtual education system were sown more than two decades ago, at a Fort Myers elementary school, where Julie Young was running an IBM Writing to Read lab.

Julie  Young

Julie Young

Students in the lab at San Carlos Park Elementary would move from one station to the next, using computers to explore concepts in different ways, tailored to different modes of learning. It was, Young said, “a blended classroom on steroids,” but years before blended learning became the hot topic it is now.

When, a few years later, the Orange County school district tapped Young to help lead the institution that became Florida Virtual School, that background had already given her an idea of what was possible.

“I had the opportunity to see the technology advancing for several years before I started to do this,” she said in an interview. “You could see a bit into the future, and know that it was coming.”

And by now, it clearly has arrived.  Young said that is one reason she feels comfortable stepping down in June after 17 years at the helm of an institution that helped pave the way for online education around the country.

What started as a $200,000 grant project has grown into an award-winning juggernaut that annually serves more than 200,000 students. Students in the state are now required to take at least one of their courses online before they graduate. Last year, the full-time virtual education program bid farewell to its first graduating class, of about 275 seniors.

In other words, Florida Virtual School, like virtual education more broadly, has blossomed into maturity.

Many hands led to the creation of FLVS – from educators like Linda Hayes, a Central Florida computer science teacher who helped come up with the original concept, to state education leaders like Frank Brogan and John Winn, who helped design the policies that sustained it.

But it was Young who guided the institution that became a new model for education – one that maximizes technology to customize learning for individual students, that focuses on competency rather than “seat time,” that links funding directly to student success, and that makes more than 1,000 teachers available to students 12 hours a day.

Jeb Bush, who was governor during the school’s early growth, recently called Young the “godmother of digital learning.” Another early supporter, former Florida House Speaker and now U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Orlando, recognized her 30 years in public education with a statement for the congressional record.

“It was really a far-sighted option that they put in place. I think Julie had a lot do with making that (possible),” said Tom Vander Ark, an author and venture capitalist who serves with Young on the board of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning. “It’s just, from top to bottom, inventing a new form of education,” he added. “It’s still, 17 years later, the best example in the country.” Continue Reading →

redefinED roundup: school choice 60 years after Brown v. Board and more news


Arizona: Amy Silverman, a journalist at the Phoenix New Times, says charter schools lead to segregation for special needs students (note: the state has two private school scholarship programs for special needs students).

California: All candidates seeking to fill a vacant school board seat in Los Angeles agree on the value of public charter schools (LA School Report).

Florida: Sherman Dorn, a professor at Arizona State, ponders why there has been no constitutional challenges to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program or the state’s other voucher programs. The American Civil Liberties Union is filing a complaint to stop single gender schools (redefinED). State Impact looks at some of the research on single gender schools. U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Orlando, explains why he supports charter schools (Sunshine State News). The Duval County School District may lose up 3 percent of its total enrollment to charter schools over the next decade (Florida Times-Union).

The Legislature sends the tax-credit scholarship expansion bill to Gov. Rick Scot (Heartlander). The teachers union asks the governor to veto it  (Orlando Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times). A record-setting 100,000 students have started applications for tax-credit scholarships (redefinED). Chris Guerrieri, a public school teacher and education choice opponent living in Jacksonville, makes many negative claims about parental choice and Step Up for Students (which co-hosts this blog) (Gainesville SunPensacola News-Journal).

Georgia: The Atlantic Public School District is negotiating a compact with local charter schools to encourage collaboration (WABE Public Radio). The number of charter schools that must hold admission lotteries grows as waiting lists increase (The Telegraph).

Louisiana: A bill to allow students in low-performing public schools to transfer to higher-performing schools advances (Associated Press). Traditional public and charter schools in New Orleans look to expand the use of technology in the classroom (Hechinger Report). U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, supports charter schools and believes every child should have the right to attend one if they wish (CNN). Two bills that would negatively impact charter schools fail to pass out of committee (The Advertiser). Kenyatta Collins, a high school student attending a charter school in New Orleans, says her school focuses too much on discipline and not enough on academics (Time). Continue Reading →