FL charter school teachers top 12,000

Florida now has more charter school teachers than eight states have public school teachers, period.

The number of charter school teachers and other instructional personnel in the Sunshine State rose to 12,362 this school year, according to recently released Florida Department of Education data requested by redefinED. That’s up from 11,446 last year, or 8 percent.

FL charter school teachers chart

As we’ve written before, the growth is no surprise given Florida’s fast-growing charter school sector. And the numbers are still a fraction of the state’s 190,000 public school instructional personnel total. But they’re worth keeping tabs on.

Charter school teachers are for the most part non-unionized. And as the charter sector grows, teachers are increasingly weighing whether moving there is worth the trade-offs. (Last month, we wrote about one charter school teacher’s thoughts on that subject here.)

Six Florida school districts now have more than 1,000 charter school teachers within their borders, with Miami-Dade and Broward topping 2,000. This DOE spreadsheet shows the breakdown by district and by personnel category.

Florida schools roundup: Charters, private schools, STEM & more

Charter schools:  A charter school sought by MacDill Air Force Base in Florida has lost the first round of an appeals process. redefinED. The state charter appeals commission sides with the Hillsborough County School Board in its decision to turn down the application. The Tampa Tribune.

florida-roundup-logoPrivate schools: Tampa’s Jesuit High School debaters eye national championships. The Tampa Tribune. Private schools’ FCAT fears mirror the frustrations Florida parents have with the assessment, writes Scott Maxwell for the Orlando Sentinel. 

STEM: Students and supporters celebrate the launch of Polk County’s first High School High Tech program that allows students to explore STEM career paths. The Ledger.

Michelle Obama: The First Lady unveils a widespread expansion of afterschool exercise and snack programs during her visit to the Miami-Dade school district, part of her “Let’s Move!” healthy kids program. Miami Herald.

Common Core: Brevard middle and high schools may adopt 30 new textbooks as part of English and math standards being rolled out next school year. Florida Today.

Teacher evals: A former Florida Schools superintendent thinks back to a time when teachers were judged solely on how they delivered a lesson while in the presence of a principal. Florida Times-Union.

Support: Teachers, parents, politicians and local business leaders gather to discuss how to improve students’ success rates at one of the lowest performing schools in Escambia County. Pensacola News-Journal.

Principals: Leon County Schools employs a high percentage of black principals compared to the rest of the state and nation. Tallahassee Democrat.

School boards: Orange School Board members say they won’t buy land for high schools in rural settlements. Orlando Sentinel.

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Breaking from the herd on charter schools

Not surprisingly, leaders from some of Florida’s largest school districts lined up last week against a proposed state House bill that would make it easier for charter schools to open. What was unexpected, though, was one superintendent breaking from the herd.

Superintendent Robert Runcie

Superintendent Robert Runcie

Broward County’s Robert Runcie not only supported the measure, he made a plea for everyone to work together.

“We need to move to an era where there is true collaboration going on between school districts and charter schools,’’ Runcie told the Florida House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee. “It’s the only way that we’re ever really going to fulfill the promise of providing every student and providing every school with the type of quality education that they need.’’

Runcie’s comments are noteworthy for all kinds of reasons. The 260,000-student Broward County school district is the second biggest in Florida and the sixth biggest in the nation. Florida, a leading charter state, is experiencing great tension – even animosity – between school districts and charters. And this particular legislative meeting was yet another example, with one lawmaker, Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, describing the charter school bill as the “wrecking ball of traditional public education.’’

For Runcie, the comments are also part of an emerging pattern.

Last summer, the Harvard graduate and former Chicago Public Schools administrator helped lead a statewide task force of district and charter school administrators. Their objective: to help the Florida Department of Education develop language that both sides can agree upon for the state’s new standard charter school contracts.

While that’s still a work in progress, Runcie most recently stepped up to show equal support for charter school teachers in Broward by agreeing not to withhold an administrative fee from their pay raises.

The money is part of a statewide $480 million allotment for teacher pay hailed by Gov. Rick Scott and approved last session. By law, districts can charge charter schools a 5 percent fee for processing funds that come from the Florida Education Finance Program. In Broward, that fee on the dollars earmarked for charter school teacher raises added up to about $11,000, said Robert Haag, president of the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools, which made the request.

Runcie not only complied, Haag said, but approved back pay for charter school teachers from July 1, when the raises went into effect.

“That was incredible,’’ Haag told redefinED, adding that he believes Runcie’s gesture will serve as a catalyst for other district leaders. “Listen, we don’t care if they keep 5 percent from our schools. But withholding 5 percent from our teachers? We can’t do that!’’

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Florida schools roundup: Vouchers, Common Core, teacher evals & more

Vouchers: Jewish leaders speak in support of school choice and the expansion of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. Jewish Journal. Senate President Don Gaetz’s call for more accountability through expanded testing is the right call and a good place to start, writes the Sun Sentinel. Taxpayers fund both public and private schools in Florida, and they deserve accountability from each, writes Russ Kesler for the Orlando Sentinel. A lot of parents complain their children aren’t getting that high-quality education right now, and lawmakers could be about to give them the opportunity to make a choice. Bay News 9.

florida roundup logoCommon Core: How can two Sarasota County schools – one for the gifted and the other for disabled students – fit in with the standards that 45 states have approved? Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Ed reform: The 10th annual College Board Report to the Nation ranks Florida once again among the top five states in the percent of high school graduates who have passed an Advanced Placement test with a score of 3 or higher, writes Patricia Levesque. Gainesville Sun.

Teacher evals: Palm Beach teachers score well on the controversial evaluations. Sun Sentinel. The data shows that Broward is among more than three dozen school districts that had lower-than-expected student gains over a one-year period last year, but Miami-Dade and Palm Beach have higher-than-expected student gains. Sun Sentinel. Teachers unions and school districts criticize the release of teacher performance evaluations. Times/Herald. Reactions to the release of Florida’s Value-Added Model (VAM) scores for teachers compiled by the Florida Times-Union. School districts reassure teachers. Tampa Bay Times. More from Palm Beach Post, Fort Myers News-Press, Miami Herald, TC Palm and The Tampa Tribune.

Grades: Pinellas school board members consider making honors classes worth less than those in IB and AP. Tampa Bay Times. The student progression plan also could include longer grading periods, and fewer report cards. The Tampa Tribune.

Conduct: A high-ranking Miami-Dade schools administrator is reassigned after police accuse him of tampering with an investigation into a domestic shooting. Miami Herald.

Virtual school gives teen entrepreneur freedom to thrive

Willow Tufano and her mom, Shannon Moore, say having a choice in Willow's education gave her the freedom and confidence to excel. PHOTO provided by family.

Willow Tufano and her mom, Shannon Moore, say having a choice in Willow’s education gave her the freedom and confidence to excel. PHOTO provided by family.

When Willow Tufano left a public school for the gifted three years ago and enrolled in Florida Virtual School, she discovered a doorway to opportunity.

No longer confined to a typical school day, the eighth-grader spent mornings and afternoons combing Craigslist and garage sales for electronics and other items, then sold them for a profit. At night, she studied English and algebra, keeping up her grades and socking away enough cash to buy a house with her mom, a real estate broker.

At 14, Willow became a landlord. Then she saved enough for another house. Two years later, the Palm Island, Fla., teen has sold both houses and is finishing her sophomore year online with Florida Virtual School, earning mostly A’s and B’s, while fielding offers from Hollywood for a reality TV show.

None of those feats likely would have happened, say Willow and her mother, if she couldn’t pick the best learning option for her.

“I’m doing my school work at 2 in the morning instead of 9 a.m.,’’ Willow said. “I really like that flexibility.’’

The story of Willow’s ingenuity has circulated far and wide, from NPR to the Huffington Post to the Ellen DeGeneres Show. What remains largely untold is how education’s fast-changing landscape and, more specifically, the expansion of online learning, helped propel her success.

When Willow needs an afternoon free to show a house or sell something – or meet with an entertainment attorney, like she did recently – she can take it.

“She came home at 6 p.m. and did school work until 1 in the morning,’’ recalled Willow’s mom, Shannon Moore. “That’s what works for us.’’ Continue Reading →

redefinED roundup: NC injunction against vouchers, virtual school ban in IL, voucher talk in AK, KS and ID


Alaska: The state’s Blaine Amendment prohibits voucher programs which is why the state legislature seeks to pass a constitutional amendment (Anchorage Daily News). Vouchers discussed in the state assembly (The Frontiersman). Support for the amendment decreases (Alaska Dispatch).  Even though the proposed amendment does not create a voucher program, Dermot Cole, the editor of the Alaska Dispatch, says supporters must estimate the costs of a voucher program. The charter school movement grows statewide (Coolidge Examiner). Rural parents voice concerns about school choice (The Seward Phoenix Log). Should voters decide the amendment (Alaska Dispatch)? Two Democrats argue that magnet and charter schools are enough choice for parents (Anchorage Daily News). The mayor of Anchorage argues that many western democracies fund public and private schools (Anchorage Daily News).

Arizona: The non-profit running the phone calls to parents informing them of their right to school choice says the phone numbers were bought from a private agency, not the state Department of Education (Arizona Republic).

Connecticut: Gov. Dannel Malloy wants charter schools to access the school safety grant fund (West Hartford News).

D.C.: The charter school board postpones its vote to close a low-performing charter school (Washington Post).

Delaware: Two charter schools could serve as models for Rep. Eric Cantor (Daily Caller).

Florida: In a column at The Ledger, former state Sen. Paul Dockery argues for more school spending, less testing and that tax credit scholarship students take the FCAT. A new bill on the tax credit scholarship program looks to increase the scholarship amount and cap while allowing higher-income families access to partial scholarships (redefinEDNews Service of Florida, Associated Press). Two school choice advocates argue that forcing private schools to administer the FCAT may weaken the appeal of private schools (Orlando Sentinel). The Florida League of Women Voters opposes expanding the tax credit scholarship program, arguing that private schools are too different from public schools (Orlando Advocate). Financial errors between district and charter schools will cost the Broward County School District $1.7 million in fines (Miami Herald, NBC 4). Julie Young led the Florida Virtual School for 16 years before retiring (Education Next). Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Vouchers, fundamental schools, testing & more

Vouchers: Standardized testing would threaten private-school appeal, writes the Orlando Sentinel.  The president of the League of Women Voters of Florida says expanding private scholarships is a further abdication of the state’s responsibility to provide a high quality education to Florida’s children. Orlando Advocate.

florida-roundup-logoFundamental schools: Is St. Petersburg’s fundamental school within a school working? Tampa Bay Times.

District schools: Escambia County’s Warrington Middle School continues to fail its students – and improving the school will take a community-wide effort that must begin this week, writes the Pensacola News-Journal. Hillsborough County’s Brandon High celebrates 100 years. The Tampa Tribune. A Duval County high school hosts a conversation about volunteerism, bridging disparities and the community roll of a historic African-American school. StateImpact Florida.

Teachers: Hundreds of thousands of Florida teacher evaluation scores that measure effectiveness on student learning are released after the Florida Times-Union wins lengthy legal battle. The Department of Education sends teachers a message about the release of records. Florida Times-Union. This Duval County teacher’s class is all about goals. Florida Times-Union.

Ed leg: If the Legislature adjourns after its upcoming session without passing a single education-related bill, there will still be big changes coming to Florida classrooms this fall. Tallahassee Democrat. Pop-Tarts law is gun lobbying we don’t need at school, writes Sue Carlton for the Tampa Bay Times.

State testing: Florida’s students are getting ready to write the final chapter in a 17-year saga known as the FCAT. Sun Sentinel. FCAT season begins this week with a low-stakes writing assessment that over the years has seemed to have little purpose. TC Palm. Sen. John Legg aims to address over-testing in Florida public schools. Tampa Bay Times. This coming week marks the beginning of the end for the four most hated letters in Florida education: FCAT. Palm Beach Post.

Common Core: Why less is more for a rural Florida school preparing students for the new education standards. StateImpact Florida.

School boards: Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffin decides to seek a third term after all, citing issues within the school district’s transportation and special education departments that she believes have not been resolved. The Tampa Tribune. The Black Educators Caucus of Palm Beach County still backs the district superintendent, but wants progress report. Palm Beach Post.  For Polk County’s assistant superintendent, it’s all about the kids. The Ledger.

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School choice scholarship ensures he doesn’t get lost in a crowd



Editor’s note: As we point out often, this blog is co-hosted by Step Up For Students, which administers Florida’s tax credit scholarship program for low-income students. Step Up periodically profiles students who benefit from the program, and though we strive not to be a vehicle for self-promotion, we think it’s important for policy makers and the public to hear more from families who benefit from school choice. Here is the story of one of them.

Even in the womb, doctors noticed Semaj Iwan Mack was considerably smaller than other babies. By the time he was 3, physicians decided it was time to start growth hormones, but before they began decided to perform an MRI – just in case.

That’s when they discovered a cyst growing on the toddler’s pituitary gland, said his mother Bridget Geiger Pye. The pea-sized gland sits at the base of the brain and naturally produces, among other things, the growth hormone.

“It was causing him not to grow well,” she said.

Three weeks after the cyst’s discovery in 2011, surgeons performed a procedure not to remove the cyst, but to puncture it and create a drainage system to alleviate pressure on Semaj’s brain. But, Bridget said, something went terribly wrong.

“The doctor accidentally nicked a vessel in his brain,” she said.

The result was similar to a stroke, causing paralysis on Semaj’s left side.

“He was on life support for two days,” Bridget said. “He woke up and had tubes and everything draining from him. We lived in the hospital and he couldn’t move. He couldn’t talk. He couldn’t do anything.”

He had to learn to walk and talk all over again. Still, Semaj was home by that Christmas and was able to run again for the first time that January.

“They said that he was healing so fast because he was a child,” Bridget recalled. “Of course, I believe in the power of prayer.”

More than two years later, Semaj, now a kindergartener, is doing beautifully. He still doesn’t have full mobility and needs to use his two hands to perform a simple task such as holding a school folder, and he still requires speech and occupational therapy, but he has come a long way since those days immediately following surgery. And while he once didn’t even register on the growth charts for his age group, he is within the 10th percentile in height. He’s still the shortest boy in his class, but he’s on par with some of the girls, Bridget said.

When it came time for Semaj to start kindergarten, Bridget, who also has two grown children, wanted to make sure he would get the extra attention he needed. She toured the neighborhood school.

“I felt like my son would get pushed aside and forgotten,” said the single mom. “Maybe even pushed into a special (needs) class.”

And she didn’t think she could send him to a private school. While Semaj was still recovering in the hospital, Bridget lost her job in the U.S. Navy when her position was deemed non-critical after the Navy restructured due to overstaffing. After her dismissal, she took on a job paying $25,000 less a year.

She thought private school was impossible at this point, and then her son’s babysitter told her about the Step Up school choice program. “The Step Up program has eased my mind so much that I can’t put into words how thankful I am,” Bridget said. “My son is loved at that school and he’s getting the extra attention and time he needs.” Continue Reading →