Patricia Levesque on Common Core, online learning & tweaking school grades



Editor’s note: It’s no secret that Patricia Levesque, the executive director of both of Jeb Bush’s education foundations, has a reputation as a hard-charging ed reformer. So it’s definitely noteworthy to hear her take on possible changes to Florida’s school grading  formula. ”With Common Core coming online and a lot of other things being tasked of our schools and teachers, do we need to take a look at getting back to basics?” she tells the News Service of Florida. “So many things are added that maybe the calculation needs to be a little simpler, a little clearer.” Levesque also comments on the possibility of Florida lawmakers considering a “parent trigger” bill for a third time last year, and what one of the foundations’ top issues is likely to be next year. Here’s the Q&A as it was distributed in full this week and, as far as we can tell, published nowhere else.

Patricia Levesque runs the state-focused Foundation for Florida’s Future and the national Foundation for Excellence in Education. Both were created by former Gov. Jeb Bush. Levesque and Bush have successfully pushed the Common Core curriculum standards, school choice and data-driven school and teacher assessments. They’ve also strongly supported the controversial parent-petition bill, which died on 20-20 votes in the Senate the last two years.

Levesque served as Bush’s deputy chief of staff while he was governor; before that, she spent six years as a key staffer in the Florida House. She is married to George Levesque, general counsel to the Florida Senate, and they have two children.

The News Service of Florida has five questions for Patricia Levesque:

Q: What do you say to the social conservatives who are fighting Common Core?

LEVESQUE: What I would say to conservatives specifically is that the Common Core State Standards movement is a very conservative movement. It is actually a great example of federalism at work. It’s where state chiefs and state governors got together and said, “Let’s do something in common that will help us all in our individual states.” And so they got together, over years, and developed a common set of high standards in reading and math, and that became the state standards movement.

Actually, conservatives have always been champions of high standards and American exceptionalism. And if you really read the actual standards, you’ll see that it goes back to original texts, requires close reading of the Constitution and the Preamble and the Declaration of Independence — really conservative documents. And the standards movement is something that conservatives have for a very long time been leaders of.

The other thing that I would say to conservatives specifically is that the concerns that they’re raising — the concerns of the federal government telling our teachers exactly what textbooks to use in their classrooms, or concerns about the federal government data-mining our individual students’ private records. Those are very legitimate concerns. They just happen to be misplaced against Common Core, because those things aren’t true about Common Core. But they’re legitimate concerns that all parents should be vigilant to make sure aren’t happening in other aspects of education.

Q: Will Florida be ready for Common Core? Continue Reading →


Minister: Democrats putting special interests above needs of black children

Bishop Jackson

Bishop Jackson

An influential black minister endorsed Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie this week because of the governor’s support for school vouchers. In doing so, Bishop Reginald Jackson also offered a harsh assessment of the Democratic Party.

“It is sad for me to see my party, which embraced the civil rights movement, now in New Jersey blocking low-income and minority children from escaping the slavery of failing schools,” Jackson said, according to several news outlets. Of black Democratic lawmakers in particular, he added, “Every day, they see children who are not getting a quality education and that doesn’t seem to move them.”podcastED logo

In an interview with redefinED, Jackson went further. Many black Democratic lawmakers “have placed the special interests above the interests of their constituents,” he said in the podcast attached below. “The unions … have more influence and more bearing on them than the children who live in their districts.”

Bishop Jackson is a household name in New Jersey and often considered the state’s most powerful black leader. His resume includes a long list of progressive causes. He led efforts to deter racial profiling by state police and predatory lending by banks. He worked to secure more funding for public schools. Asked if supporting school choice was in line with Democratic values, Jackson said, “School choice is in fact an America value.”

His comments come as New Jersey lawmakers continue to beat back efforts to expand school choice while their counterparts in other states – Democrats included – are warming to them.

The key to getting more Democrats to come around, Bishop Jackson said, is educating parents about where Democrats stand. “They have to become aware that the folk whom they’ve elected to represent them right now do not have their children as their No. 1 interest,” he said. “Once we are able to open up their eyes so they can see this, then hopefully they will make better choices in terms of who they put in the Legislature.”

If that means more black voters going Republican, he suggested, so be it.


Florida roundup: Teacher of the Year, school grades fears, Rick Scott & more

Charter schools. An all-boys charter is set to open next month in Bradenton. Bradenton Herald.

florida roundup logoTeacher of the year. It’s Dorina Sackman, an ESOL teacher at Westridge Middle School in Orange County. Orlando SentinelAssociated Press. The Florida Times Union has coverage on finalist Apryl Shackelford from Duval; the Fort Myers News Press on finalist Patricia Gair from Lee; the Sarasota Herald Tribune on finalist Katrin Rudge from Sarasota County.

Rick Scott. Several Florida teachers did not know they would be turning up in a Republican Party of Florida ad praising Gov. Scott. Tampa Tribune.

Ed reform. Lloyd Brown at Sunshine State News: “When public education was hijacked by liberals it began a downward spiral.”

School grades. Tony Bennett might wait until next week to offer his take on possible revisions. Gradebook. Add the Tampa Tribune to the list of papers reporting on districts bracing for bad news.

School spending. Schools need more training and more central control to get a better handle on cash-handling problems, say members of a district auditing committee in Palm Beach County. Palm Beach Post.

School discipline. Alachua school board members and others meet to discuss alternatives to out-of-school suspensions, which top more than 100 a year at some schools. Gainesville Sun. Three Pinellas teens are arrested for beating up a 13-year-old on a bus, reportedly breaking his arm. Tampa Tribune.

Cheating. A former teacher at a district-run charter in Miami-Dade makes the claim, leading to an investigation by district police. Miami Herald.

ESOL. The future is grim for ESOL students because of Florida’s school accountability policies. Daniel Shoer Roth.

Bullying/cyberbullying. A Pasco student in a highly publicized case who beat up another on a school bus, while yet another filmed it, gets 270 days probation. Tampa Bay Times.

Superintendents. Joseph Joyner gets top ratings from the St. Johns County School Board. Florida Times Union.


Private schools enrollment in Florida ticks up for second year

After seven years of decline, Florida private school enrollment ticked up modestly for a second year in a row last year.

Enrollment grew from 316,745 in 2011-12 to 320,423 in 2012-13, an increase of 1.2 percent, according to a report released last month by the Florida Department of Education.

Source: Florida Department of Education

Source: Florida Department of Education

The latest numbers are still a far cry from a decade ago, when the state wasn’t crawling out of the Great Recession and private school enrollment topped 380,000. But private school supporters see more than a short-term spike.

Private schools, too, have had to step up their game because of increased competition, said Howard Burke, executive director of the Florida Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. They’ve responded to the explosion in charter and magnet schools by beefing up technology, improving communication with parents and seeking multiple accreditations, he said.

He pointed to growth in pre-K and kindergarten enrollment in private schools as evidence that parents have responded in turn. Private schools made up 14.6 percent of all pre-K enrollment in 2012-13, up from 12.9 percent five years ago. In raw numbers, private school pre-K enrollment is up more than 5,000 over that span.

“The foundation is being rebuilt,” Burke said.

It’s clear from the latest enrollment numbers that publicly funded, private school choice options, particularly tax credit scholarships, are giving the private school sector a boost. They also suggest that many parents still prefer private schools despite massive growth in tuition-free charter schools. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: early learning, online learning, STEM camps & more

Online learning. Broward College creates Broward College Online. South Florida Sun Sentinel. Flagler considers distributing thousands of laptops to high school students next year. Daytona Beach News Journal. Patricia Levesque, executive director of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, tells the News Service of Florida (subscription required) that it didn’t get traction on its top priority last spring but will continue to push for it: moving the state ”to a one-to-one student-to-technology-or-digital-device ratio by 2016.”

florida roundup logoDual enrollment. Add the Pensacola News Journal to the list of papers writing on the cost shift to districts for dual enrollment.

Teacher conduct. Parents file a second lawsuit against a Coconut Creek preschool after allegations that students were molested by a music teacher. South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Teacher pay. The Collier County School Board will decide whether teachers get a raise in the wake of a special magistrate’s recommendation in favor of it. Naples Daily News.

Early learning. Ninety community leaders gather in Pensacola to stress its importance. Pensacola News Journal.

School discipline. Expulsions down a lot in Hillsborough. Tampa Bay Times.

STEM. Hundreds of students participate in STEM-focused summer camps organized by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Stetson University and Daytona State College. Daytona Beach News Journal.


Florida DOE: Don’t deter students from Florida Virtual School

After months of reports that some Florida public schools are limiting or denying students access to Florida Virtual School, the state’s chancellor of public schools is putting districts on notice.

Pam Stewart

Pam Stewart

“School districts may not limit student access to courses offered through the FLVS,” Pam Stewart wrote in a recent memo to superintendents. “Since the Florida Legislature passed legislation in 2013 that impacts the funding of school districts and FLVS will receive, it is important that you remember the statutory requirements.”

As redefinED has noted, the new funding formula has left fewer state dollars for both districts and Florida Virtual School and resulted in an unintended consequence: a dramatic drop in enrollment for Florida Virtual School, the nation’s largest provider of online classes. Some districts immediately started steering students away from Florida Virtual School, while at least a few charter schools told students they would have to pay for Florida Virtual School courses.

That’s not acceptable, Stewart wrote. The memo also said districts cannot require students to enroll in district courses in the same subjects as FLVS courses; restrict students to only FLVS courses for electives; or limit the number of FLVS courses students can take.

It’s not clear what the consequences will be if districts engage in such practices. State Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, who led the charge for the funding change, did not respond to several requests for comment in recent weeks.


Florida roundup: charter schools, school grades, a Civil War general & more

Charter schools. Parents at the now-defunct Ben Gamla charter school tell Pinellas Superintendent Mike Grego that they’re unhappy with its closing. Gradebook. Gainesville’s oldest charter school goes to a year-round schedule. Gainesville Sun. A new charter in Hillsborough will serve high school students with disabilities. Tampa Tribune.

florida roundup logoTax credit scholarships. SchoolZone writes up the state report that shows rapid growth in the tax credit scholarship program (which is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog).

Virtual schools. WGCU: ” ‘What the state has done is actually made a cut to education and disguised is as an operating protocol for virtual students.’ ”

Standards. In 2011, Florida’s proficiency bars in reading and math, relative to NAEP, don’t stand out as particularly high, according to a new analysis. Education Next.

Mentors. Can boost FCAT scores, and groups like 100 Black Men of Orlando are heeding the call. Onyx.

School spending. Once again, the Palm Beach County School District’s audit committee wants to know why so many schools have “money handling problems.” Palm Beach Post. A new Orange County principal was demoted from his former job in Palm Beach County because he used a school credit card for $6,400 in questionable charges, including a $200 dinner with his wife at a Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Orlando Sentinel. Flagler cuts its budget by another $1.1 million because “staff budgeted too high for this year.” Daytona Beach News Journal. Continue Reading →


School choice doesn’t carry R or D label

Rep. Coderre

Rep. Coderre

Anyone who denies the growing bipartisanship around all things school choice should pause to consider what happened in Rhode Island this year.

There, in one of the bluest of blue states, a member of the Democratic leadership team sponsored a statewide voucher bill, turning to the Friedman Foundation for help crafting the bill language. Rep. Elaine Coderre’s bill didn’t pass in the session that ended last week. But it’s expected to get serious consideration next year and Coderre is confident Democrats will be on board.

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“Absolutely believe it or I wouldn’t be doing it,” Coderre, the Speaker Temporare, told redefinED in the podcast attached below.

There is an accelerating pace to the embrace of school choice. Every year, more states adopt new programs, even more states consider them, and ever more Democrats are in the mix. In Louisiana last year, 19 Democrats voted in favor of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s voucher program. In North Carolina this year, Democrats are co-sponsoring a voucher bill that appears headed for passage. And in New Jersey last week, Newark Mayor Cory Booker offered another unflinching defense of school choice despite being in the middle of a Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.

Coderre, the longest-serving member of the Rhode Island House, represents the working-class city of Pawtucket. She is not a half-hearted Democrat. She voted for a bill that authorized same-sex marriage; sponsored legislation to put wheelchair accessible taxis on the road; said yes to upping the minimum wage. On the voucher bill, she said she didn’t see a partisan issue; she saw something that empowered parents and offered more opportunities for kids. “I didn’t think that had an R or a D label,” she said.

Coderre said supporting vouchers wasn’t much of a leap for other reasons. Rhode Island already has charter schools, and it has a modest tax credit scholarship program. Coderre backed both. In that context, vouchers are just another option.

Coderre also noted that she attended both public and private schools, as did her children. All parents have the right to determine what options will help their kids be successful, she said, and all of us benefit when that happens. When a Catholic parents group asked her to put vouchers on the agenda, Coderre said she jumped at the chance: “It wasn’t a hard sell, believe me.”