FL state Sen. John Legg on Common Core, PARCC, school choice & more

Sen. John Legg

Sen. John Legg

One of Florida’s top education leaders offered a strong defense of Common Core Wednesday, saying while legitimate concerns exist “we cannot let political rhetoric and emotion impede us from implementing rigorous standards and high expectations for students.”

The comments from state Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, the influential chair of the Senate Education Committee, came during a live chat here on the redefinED blog. It’s no surprise Legg supports Common Core. But his latest comments suggested that some of Florida’s key players on education policy – most of them Republicans – are standing firm on Common Core despite heated resistance from the party’s tea party wing.

Asked about how much pushback he had received, Legg wrote this: “When we isolate the discussion to the actual standards, I don’t feel much pushback. I have found that conservatives are passionate about their beliefs, myself included. Once we have a chance to lay out the facts and separate facts from anecdotes, most of my conservative colleagues embrace rigorous standards, accountability and school choice options for families. I like to paraphrase a quote I remember from Benjamin Franklin that goes something like, ‘Passion governs, and she rarely governs wisely.’ “

Legg also wrote that he does not think Common Core will undermine school choice: “I strongly believe our high, rigorous standards will challenge all students and schools to improve performance. If that does occur, there would be more pressure on our school choice providers to become more innovative in order to compete.”

Legg also answered questions from us and from readers about the PARCC exams tied to Common Core, charter schools and funding for the state’s voluntary pre-kindergarten program. To see the full transcript of questions and answers from the chat, just click into the program below.


Florida schools roundup: Charters, Common Core, dual enrollment & more

Charter schools: The Palm Beach County school district recommends rejecting two charter schools and approving eight others. Palm Beach Post. Pasco County charter Classical Preparatory School hasn’t opened yet despite being approved to debut this fall. Tampa Bay Times. A Broward County charter school that has struggled to find permanent housing this year gets the final ax. Sun Sentinel. Traffic congestion surrounding the Ben Gamla Charter School divides this Broward community and causes more issues for the school. Miami Herald. Lake Wales Charter Schools offers new STEM programs. The Ledger.

florida-roundup-logoIn training: Broward County high school students get a taste of what it’s like to be in the Coral Springs Police Academy. Sun Sentinel.

Common Core: Pasco schools stand by the new education standards. The Tampa Tribune.

Dual enrollment: Pasco-Hernando Community College trustees put the heat on two feeder school districts by adopting a policy on dual enrollment fees that district officials are trying to eliminate. Tampa Bay Times.

National award: A Palm Beach County school psychologist is climbing the ranks to national recognition. Sun Sentinel.

School programs: Pinellas is planning to open “school-within-a-school” programs at seven or eight of its campuses. Tampa Bay Times. The mother of a 12-year-old who took her own life last month partners with a safe social media website to prevent online bullying. The Ledger.

School spending: Lake County schools are getting help with budgeting from billionaire Bill Gates’ foundation, which is behind a $1.2 million initiative examining how the district can improve spending to help students. Orlando Sentinel.

Low performers: Orange County’s 22 D- and F-graded public schools tell the school board how they plan to improve. Orlando Sentinel.

High performers: A Brevard County elementary principal allows students to “slime” him to celebrate the school’s seventh consecutive A grade. Florida Today.

School grades: Collier County’s schools superintendent tells parents not to judge schools by their state-assigned letter grade because the system is flawed. Naples Daily News.

School boards: Manatee County School Board members focus on how to communicate with the public. Bradenton Herald. Hernando County School Board members will share the dais with a student representative from each of the district’s five high schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Continue Reading →


Faith, school choice & moral foundations

engelhardt book coverIf one wishes a profound historical-dialectical account of the fate of religion in our governmental schools – all in 200 pages – make Craig S. Engelhardt’s new book, “Education Reform: Confronting the Secular Ideal,” your primer.

Engelhardt’s guiding principle is constant and plain: If society wants schools that nourish moral responsibility, it needs a shared premise concerning the source and ground of that responsibility; and this source must stand outside of, and sovereign to, the individual. Duty is not a personal preference; if it is real, that is because it has been instantiated by an authority external to the person. In contemporary theory, the source of such an authentic personal responsibility is often identified in ways comfortable to the secular mind. There is Kant; there is Rawls.

But in the end, the categorical imperative and the notion of an original human bargain are vaporous. We go on inventing these foundations, but, in moments of moral crisis, such devices do not provide that essential, challenging, universal insight that tells each of us he ought to put justice ahead of his own project. Only a recognition of God’s authority and beneficence can, in the end, ground our grasp of moral responsibility.

This message is repeated at every turn to support the author’s practical and political conviction – that the child cannot mature morally in a pedagogical framework that deliberately evades its own justification. Engelhardt shows in a convincing way that the religious premise was originally at the heart of the public school movement. Americans embraced the government school for a century precisely on the condition that it gave expression to a religious foundation of the good life. When modernism and the Supreme Court gave religion the quietus in public schools, the system serially invented substitutes including “character education,” “progressivism” and “values clarification” – each of which in its way assumed but never identified a grounding source. The result: a drifting and intellectual do-it-yourself moral atmosphere – an invitation to the student to invent his own good. And all too many have accepted.

Engelhardt gives fair treatment to all players in the public school morality game. From the start he provides a generous hearing to the century-and-a-half of well-intending and intelligent minds who paradoxically frustrated their own mission of a religious democracy, first by shortchanging the unpromising Catholic immigrant, then – step by step – pulling the rug from under that transcendental dimension of education which alone could serve their wholesome purpose of training democrats. In this book, every historical player gets to give an accounting of the good he or she intended and the arguments thought to support it; of course, the rebuttals by Engelhardt are potent and even fun to read.

My first and less basic criticism of the book is its slapdash attention to the legal paraphernalia that will be necessary to school choice, if it is to serve the families who now enjoy it the least. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Common Core, Andre Agassi, parent walkout & more

Common Core: The Buzz spots this: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush offers a challenge to state leaders who don’t like Common Core, saying they should embrace the challenge of raising their standards even higher. Human Events. State Rep. Karen Castor Dentel, D-Maitland, says Florida’s public schools should just opt out of standardized testing for a year. Florida Current. The Common Core State Standards are what our children need, and our children deserve no less, writes Greg Cunningham for The Gainesville Sun.

School choice: “I am a big supporter of the fact that based on everything we can observe about America, that choice and opportunity and competition always bring forward the best results,” writes state Rep. Bill Hager for the Sun Sentinel.

Rick Scott: The Florida governor fails the test when it comes to education, writes The Ledger. Scott’s decision to pull out of PARCC is bad financially, confuses the issue and delays the progress, writes the Fort Myers News-Press.

florida roundup logoCivics 101: Palm Beach County students get a hands-on lesson in city government during Florida City Government Week. Palm Beach Post.

Andre Agassi: The tennis legend turned major charter school proponent is expected to attend a ribbon cutting for the largest charter school in Palm Beach County, which he helped build. Palm Beach Post.

School prayer: Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford says public high school football coaches should be allowed to pray with their teams, even if it means changing state law. Tampa Bay Times.

Name change: Some Orange County students at Colonial High want to keep their school’s name, while civic activists and others hope to change it to better reflect the diverse community. Orlando Sentinel.

Low performers: Duval County has 32 low-performing schools this year, tying one other district for the most priority schools in Florida. The stakes are high, and the time is short. Florida Times-Union.

Walkout: Parents at a Polk County School stage a walkout to protest ‘unacceptable’ conditions. ABC Action News. More from The Ledger.

Charter schools: A Broward County charter school faces closure after losing its home. Sun Sentinel. Representatives from key charter chains and school districts gather in Fort Lauderdale to form a task force and search for common goals. Miami Herald.

School switch: Broward School Board member Abby Freedman moves her son from the public school system to private school because she’s fed up with state-mandated testing. Sun Sentinel.


Catholic schools grapple with Common Core concerns

A year ago, Catholic schools in Florida were headed toward adopting a version of Common Core State Standards that would let them keep their autonomy and cultural identity. Many liked what they saw as increased rigor. And many hoped to gain access to state assessments that could make it easier when Catholic school students transition to public schools.

common core catholicsToday, though, they watch and wait with the rest of the country to see where Common Core is headed.

The bipartisan effort to create a single set of benchmarks for college and career readiness is now going head to head with political posturing and fear of federal overreach. Many Catholic schools are still planning to move forward with new language arts standards, but they’re doing so with growing caution. Meanwhile, a few that previously embraced the standards are backing off.

“Many of our schools are starting to refrain from using the words ‘Common Core,’ ’’ said James Herzog, associate director of education for the Florida Catholic Conference, which represents 237 schools. Instead, they’re using the new standards as a platform to build upon, calling them ‘rigorous standards’ or ‘Diocesan standards.’

For Dan Guernsey of the Rhodora J. Donahue Academy of Ave Maria, a K-12 school in Naples, Fla., just changing the name isn’t enough.

“As a private school in Florida, we already have very high standards, so why change?’’ said the headmaster, who also serves on the board of the National Association of Private Catholic and Independent Schools, and as a consultant for more than 150 Catholic schools nationwide. “The only reason is because of political or testing pressure. And that’s the problem. We shouldn’t be adopting statewide standards based on politics or standardized tests.’’

The debate over Common Core has been focused mostly on implications, real and perceived, for public schools. But Catholic schools are wrestling with similar concerns and pressures. About 100 Catholic dioceses have indicated they are adopting the standards, with Florida and 45 other states already committed. Many schools across the country, public and private, are using them already.

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redefinED roundup: War on school choice in NY, charter school performance in WI and OH and more

MondayRoundUp_redAlabama: More than 50 students take advantage of the new accountability law which allows students to access scholarships to attend private schools (WSFA).

Arizona: The BASIS Tucson North charter school is one of the best schools in the U.S. and the world (Education Next).

Colorado: Candidates for an open seat on the Denver school board debate last week, with one arguing that school choice harms public schools and the other saying public schools need to have the same freedoms as schools of choice (Ed News Colorado). More than 300 people protested against Douglas County school board policies including teacher evaluations and vouchers (Denver Post).

Florida: Gov. Rick Scott presents Shine Awards for excellent teaching to several private school teachers and principals, including individuals representing schools accepting Step Up For Students tax credit scholarships (Gov. Scott press release). (Step Up co-hosts this blog.)

Georgia: The Georgia Supreme Court rules charter schools do not have to help pay off district schools accumulated pension debt (Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

Idaho: Terry Ryan, head of the Idaho Charter School Network, wants to make Idaho the leader of rural charter school education (Idaho Press).

Indiana: A new law prohibits school districts from turning away transfer students for any reason other than capacity. As a result of not being allowed to “cherry-pick” students, some school districts are halting their open enrollment policy (Associated Press). Indiana’s voucher program received 20,000 applications from prospective students (Indiana Public Media). State Sen. Vaneta Becker blames school choice as one of the causes for rural county budget problems (Tri State Media). Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Financial literacy, STEM, texting & more

Money 101: The state Department of Education is currently drafting recommendations to create a course that will teach public high school students about financial literacy. The Buzz.

florida-roundup-logoMagnet schools: Four lower-income elementary schools in Broward are about to open new magnet programs next year, thanks to a federal three-year, $11.9 million grant. Sun Sentinel.

Charter schools: A West Palm Beach charter school, Leadership Academy West, is being monitored by the district for “having great difficulty holding onto staff and students.” Palm Beach Post. Charter Schools USA founder and CEO Jon Hage operates 58 schools in seven states, making public education his business. Sun Sentinel.

Private schools: A private Brevard County Catholic school incorporates STEM projects into weekly lessons. Florida Today.

Common Core: Gov. Rick Scott blew a big kiss to the tea party by calling for a review of the Common Core education standards and railing against federal “intrusion” into Florida education policy, writes Adam Smith in The Buzz.

Teacher evals: PolitiFact Florida takes a look at former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s comments that teachers are at risk of having their pay impacted by the performance of children who are not even in their classrooms or subject areas.

Success: “We often hear that public schools in America are failing, but to paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated,” writes Sarasota County schools Superintendent Lori White. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.  Schools today are doing a better job educating the nation’s youth than they did decades ago, writes Robyn Blumner for the Tampa Bay Times.

STEM: An intense new curriculum in science, technology, engineering and math is being implemented at selected Polk County schools thanks to a $11 million state grant. The Ledger. The Hillsborough County school district plans to roll out a new video simulation program that teaches high school students about the complex science behind global climate change. The Tampa Tribune.

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John Patrick Julien, warrior for parental school choice, RIP

Rep. Julien

Rep. Julien

Some days you hear someone say, “make the most of every day, you never know when it will be your last” – and you think, what a cliché. Then some days you learn something that makes that sentence all too real.

I only heard last week that former state Rep. John Patrick Julien was ill. He passed away Friday from liver cancer. Apparently he only learned of his diagnosis a few weeks ago.

JPJ, as we called him, was a warrior for parental school choice. He came to the legislature as the bipartisan wave was building for choice. We had gone from no Democrats in the House supporting the Step Up program to half of them. We had gone from no members of the Black Caucus in support to a majority.

But JPJ still took heat for his position. Those who opposed school choice would threaten to take him out. He didn’t flinch. As he told me several times, “Why wouldn’t I support it? It’s the right thing to do.” He undervalued the simple, strong integrity of that statement.

JPJ was always willing, at a moment’s notice,  to help spread the choice gospel. In just one example, when a large delegation of legislators came to Miami from Tennessee two years ago to learn about school choice, it was JPJ we turned to. We happily let a segment scheduled for 20 minutes go into triple overtime as members of the Tennessee Black Caucus peppered him with questions. “Is it OK to do this?” they asked. JPJ had the right answers, and the right attitude.

Listen to the podcast JPJ did with Ron Matus and you’ll see what I mean. Continue Reading →