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

Magnet schools: The Palm Beach County School Board wants to open an arts magnet at the middle and high school level. Palm Beach Post.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools: Health officials confirm that an illness affecting students at a Palm Beach County charter school was Norovirus. Palm Beach Post.

Common Core: The debate over the Common Core academic standards is shifting from Da Vinci Code fiction to facts, writes Beth Kassab of the Orlando Sentinel. In addition to pressing lawmakers to stick with Common Core, Pasco district officials recommend creating a transitional accountability plan as the state moves from one set of standards and tests to another. Tampa Bay Times.

StudentsFirst: The education reform group expands into Florida with a new state press secretary – Lane Wright, Gov. Rick Scott’s former spokesperson. The Buzz.

Teacher pay: The Palm Beach County School District and the local teachers union remain far apart on just how much more money the district should spend on teacher raises. Palm Beach Post. The Miami-Dade School Board approves a one-year deal with the United Teachers of Dade to provide raises of at least $1,300 for most the district’s 21,000-plus teachers. Miami Herald.

School spending: The Palm Beach County School Board reimburses one of its members $13,424.50 in legal fees rung up in defending herself against state ethics complaints last year. Palm Beach Post. More from the Sun Sentinel. Continue Reading →


Next week: A chat about faith-based schools

Peter Hanley (at left) and Robert Aguirre

Peter Hanley (at left) and Robert Aguirre

The U.S. is home to 21,000 faith-based schools. They serve 4.3 million students. They’ve long been an integral part of the American mosaic. Yet today, many of them are under intense financial strain, particularly in urban areas where, for generations, they’ve admirably served low-income students. At a time when American public education could use help from every quarter, the plight of faith-based schools remains sadly overlooked.

To raise awareness and spur action, the American Center for School Choice (which co-hosts this blog) created the national Commission on Faith-based Schools. It’s holding its first school leadership summit Nov. 19. To tell us more about these efforts – and to answer your questions – two center leaders will join us for a chat next week: Peter Hanley, the center’s executive director; and Robert Aguirre, a member of the board of directors and the commission chair.

The chats are live, interactive and in writing. We describe them as a press conference with a typewriter, with the floor open to anyone who wants to ask a question.

To participate, come back to the blog on Tuesday, Nov. 12. We’ll start promptly at 11 a.m., so click in to the live chat program – which you’ll find here on the blog – a few minutes before then. In the meantime, if you have questions for Hanley or Guerra, you can pose them in advance (which, depending on turnout, may make it more likely that they’ll be able to answer it.) You can leave them in the comments section, email them to rmatus@sufs.org, tweet them to @redefinEDonline, and/or post them on our facebook page.


We need more cooperation between school districts and school choice

Southside Fundamental in south St. Pete. Photo by Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times.

A struggle over an empty school building in Milwaukee speaks to the growing conflict between urban districts that are losing enrollment and school choice operators who are eager to take advantage. As a School Board member in St. Petersburg/Pinellas, Florida, I saw the same tensions.

Selling vacant property can generate much-needed capital for school districts and eliminate an unnecessary maintenance expense from the books.  For example, Milwaukee was spending more than $1 million a year trying to maintain the vacant schools. But selling the building to charter entrepreneurs also can mean potentially losing students, and funding, to schools of choice.

St. Marcus Lutheran School, a high-achieving voucher school, and Milwaukee College Prep, a charter school, both sought to purchase the long vacant Malcolm X Academy building. But the Milwaukee Public School district refused the offers, prompting a Wisconsin legal institute to accuse officials of “playing shell games” and “skirting the law.” District officials have kept many buildings off the market claiming they still want to make use of them.

The plan for the Malcolm X property calls for the district to sell the vacant building to a local developer for $2.1 million. The developer will then remodel half the building into a community center and rent the other half back to the Milwaukee Public School District for a fee of $4.2 million. Without question, the proposed deal is controversial.

Milwaukee isn’t the only school district that seems to be using its control of real estate to halt the expansion of school choice. According to a recent Education Next report, blocking access to vacant buildings is a common tactic of urban school districts. It also happened here in my own back yard in the Tampa Bay region. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charter schools, choice, digital learning & more

Charter schools: The Broward County School Board approves 19 new charter schools, including two Hebrew-language schools and a sports-themed academy. Sun Sentinel. An Immokalee charter school faces closure for mismanagement, including uncertified teachers. Naples Daily News. A state lawmaker has filed a bill that would ban charters from dismissing students for failing the FCAT. Tallahassee/Herald. Pepin Academy, a highly regarded charter school for students with special needs, wins initial approval to open in Pasco County. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoSchool choice: Lee County district officials recommend a plan that would make school choice options easier for parents and principals. Fort Myers News-Press.

Digital learning: Lee County school board members consider a policy that allows students to use their own electronic devices, like e-readers or smart phones, at school. Fort Myers News-Press.

Advanced Placement: Miami-Dade County schools has earned top honors for successfully expanding access to tough, college-level courses while improving passing scores. Miami Herald.

School arrests: The Broward School Board and several law enforcement agencies agree to reduce the number of school arrests for minor offenses. Sun Sentinel. More from the Miami Herald.

Crowding: Orange County school officials may consider a lawsuit to win approval for a new high school to ease crowding. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →


Why Charlie Crist will continue to back school choice

In his term as governor, Crist not only signed a major expansion of tax credit scholarships in 2010 but was a persistent voice for the students – poor and mostly of color – who take advantage of it. This photo shows him at the bill signing. That's former Democratic state Sen. Al Lawson on the left.

In his term as governor, Crist not only signed a major expansion of tax credit scholarships in 2010 but was a persistent voice for the students – poor and mostly of color – who take advantage of it. This photo shows him at the bill signing. That’s former Democratic state Sen. Al Lawson on the left.

If parental choice is to be an educational litmus test for Charlie Crist, the Republican-turned-Democrat, then he might surprise the politicos who are tracking the 2014 gubernatorial race. There are legitimate reasons to believe Crist, who formally entered the race on Monday, will support at least some forms of private school choice. The way he has embraced scholarships for low-income students is the best clue.

In his term as governor, Crist not only signed a major expansion of tax credit scholarships in 2010 but was a persistent advocate for the nearly 60,000 students – poor and mostly of color – who now take advantage of it. As such, the public record is replete with enthusiastic endorsements. At the 2010 bill signing ceremony, which included Republican and Democratic legislators, Crist called the scholarship “extraordinary” and said the bill “gives families the power to do the most important thing they do – make sure they find a school that fits their child’s needs.” At a rally in 2008 at Potter’s House Christian Academy in Jacksonville, he said the scholarships “are helping us diversify our education system to achieve greater results and provide our children and future workforce with a world-class education.” At an event in Fort Lauderdale in 2009, he told supporters “I am confident we will continue to provide more educational opportunities and options.”

Perhaps most notable, though, was his speech to more than 5,500 students, families, educators and advocates who rallied March 24, 2010 at the State Capitol in support of tax credit scholarships. As a matter of disclosure, Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, organized that rally. It also produced this three-minute video about the event that provides context. The governor was clearly energized by the crowd, and his full remarks can be viewed in this clip.

“I’m so proud of the progress that we have made in education in Florida,” Crist said for openers, “And it’s all because of you and because of great teachers and great principals and choice. The power of choice in education is unstoppable. God bless you for pushing it.”

He continued. “We must make sure that every student gets an excellent education in the Sunshine State, and that’s exactly what you’re here about,” he said. “It is never a one-size-fits-all approach. Florida’s greatest strength is our great diversity, and every student should have an education that suits you. And your parents should have the power of choice no matter what the economics might be.”

In perhaps his most prescient comment, Crist spoke to bipartisan support: “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m so proud to tell you that regardless of party Florida stands for you. There is no partisan politics about kids. It’s all about doing what’s right first and foremost. There it is – school choice is nonpartisan. You’re not kidding. It really is. As long as we put the children first, we cannot get it wrong. We’re going to continue to do that, continue to fight for you to make sure that you have the power of choice.” Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Career ed, early learning, Common Core & more

Magnet schools: A Polk County Recording Arts Academy has students creating music for everything from the homecoming dance to commercials. The Ledger.

florida-roundup-logoCareer Ed: Wakulla County high school students work toward an automotive service certification in a new career education program. Tallahassee Democrat.

Common Core: Senate President Don Gaetz on the new education standards: “You can’t dip them in milk and hold them over a candle and see the United Nations flag or Barack Obama’s face. They’re not some federal conspiracy.” Tampa Bay Times.

Early learning: A new report finds Florida children are not receiving an early start in developing their learning skills and will have a hard time catching up. Naples Daily News.

School spending: Palm Beach County school district money woes stall renovations at a historic West Palm Beach school building. Palm Beach Post.

School name: The advisory committee chairman of a Duval County high school named for a Confederate soldier doesn’t mind keeping the school’s name the same. Florida Times-Union.

Class size: A move by Brevard County School District officials to intentionally violate Florida’s class-size requirements meets with a mixed bag of contempt and support. Pensacola News-Journal. Continue Reading →


Florida Senate president: Common Core “not some federal conspiracy”

From the News Service of Florida:

Sen. Don Gaetz

Sen. Don Gaetz

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, defended the Common Core State Standards against attacks by some conservative activists who fear the standards could lead to federal overreach in the state’s education system.

Answering a question from the audience after a speech on education policy Monday, Gaetz dismissed some of the concerns that were raised by conservatives during a series of public hearings on the Common Core standards, which are based on national benchmarks developed by state officials.

“You can’t dip them in milk and hold them over a candle and see the United Nations flag or Barack Obama’s face,” Gaetz said. “They’re not some federal conspiracy.”

The Senate president did leave open the possibility that the standards might be tweaked as a result of the public hearings if they’re not strong enough in some areas. “I think the common core standards are good, solid standards. … So if there are ways that we ought to raise standards in order to reach higher and expect more of our students and more of our educational system, then let’s do that,” Gaetz said.


Common Core ruffles homeschoolers

Homeschool pioneer Brenda Dickinson can’t say whether she’s for or against Common Core State Standards. She wants to see the the curriculum first. But she does see reason for worry. Common core

How the national benchmarks are taught and measured might shape textbooks and even college entrance exams – and, through those means, spill over into the fiercely independent world of homeschooling.

Brenda Dickinson

Brenda Dickinson

“Our kids have always done well on those tests,’’ said Dickinson, who co-founded a statewide advocacy group for homeschoolers in Florida. “But it depends on how closely it’s tied to what’s being taught. If we don’t know what’s covered or how it’s covered,’’ that could hurt students who homeschool.

With more than a million homeschoolers nationwide, such concerns are among the growing pockets of uncertainty surrounding Common Core. Touted by supporters as a push for more rigorous academics, critics, many of them Tea Party conservatives, have turned the standards into a political hot-potato mired in fears of federal control.

Homeschool parents are an incredibly diverse group who choose to educate their children at home for a variety of reasons. For some, it might be for religious or moral beliefs, or for more flexible schedules. For others, it better meets their child’s learning needs or allows them to bypass state assessments.

While some aren’t threatened by Common Core, others bristle at what they see as a possible infringement on their freedom to educate their children the way they see fit.

“We are definitely hearing more concerns from parents about the Common Core,’’ said T.J. Schmidt of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), a Virginia-based nonprofit that defends parents’ rights to educate their children at home. “But it’s not so much the standards themselves. There’s more of a fundamental concern – the national aspect.’’ Continue Reading →