Florida schools roundup: Common core, STEM, teacher raises & more

Common Core: The Florida Department of Education schedules three public hearings to discuss the new standards. The Buzz. More from the Orlando Sentinel. The department’s daily Common Core tweets are put on hold. StateImpact Florida.

florida-roundup-logoMoney 101: Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart estimates a new financial literacy course for public school students could cost as little as $138,944 over five years. The Buzz.

Teacher pay: Most Seminole County public school teachers will get pay hikes of $1,450 to $2,350 this year. Orlando Sentinel.

Charter schools: Ben Gamla, a Broward County charter school, reduces the size of its planned high school from 1,050 students to 600 to appease opponents. Miami Herald.

Volunteer call: Lee County’s superintendent encourages volunteers to help out at schools. Fort Myers News-Press.

New workforce: Millennials and post-millennials are facing a brave new world of work — where the competition spans beyond national borders, and many of the jobs have yet to exist, writes Rhema Thompson for the Pensacola News-Journal.

STEM: Schools throughout Pinellas County step up their emphasis on science this school year with new labs that cater to science, technology, engineering and math lessons. The Tampa Tribune.

Homework help: Thanks to technology and YouTube, this Pasco County math teacher is available to her students 24-7. Tampa Bay Times.

School boards: The Tampa Bay Times takes a closer look at Hillsborough County Superintendent MaryEllen Elia’s new contract.

Climate surveys: Pasco County prepares for another round of employee surveys. Tampa Bay Times.


Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: de Blasio’s war on school choice, ESAs and more

MrGibbonsReportCardBill de Blasio 

New York City’s bizarre Democratic primary for mayor left Bill de Blasio as the party’s official candidate. His hardline stance against charter schools has school operators wondering if he’s declared war on school choice.

De Blasio wants to stop charter schools from sharing locations with public schools and believes charter schools should pay rent for using city/district property. De Blasio also wants to maintain the cap limiting the number of charter schools in the city, stating, “We don’t need new charters.”

De Blasio justifies his views because he believes charter schools are better funded than traditional public schools. He bases this assumptions off a bogus report by the city’s Independent Budget Office which clearly tosses out many expenditure items associated with public education (like special education, pensions and apparently even capital expenditures) while adding or overstating additional costs to charter schools. Based on true educational expenditures, U.S. Census Bureau data shows NYC spent $23,996 per pupil in 2011 (p. 19 includes capital expenditures and debt payment). The NYC Department of Education says charter schools receive $160 to $3,100 less than traditional public schools, but even this estimate excludes billions in public school expenses found by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Charter schools already have a hard time finding suitable school locations (thanks to building code requirements for schools, which, in turn, makes finding good property prohibitively expensive in some cases). To make it even more difficult, charter schools don’t get capital funds to pay for school buildings, so rent has to come out of normal operating expenses.

There is no good reason to end location sharing with charter schools while there is a property shortage and high demand. Charging rent would be fair if de Blasio also gave charters access to capital funds, but he seems more interested in talking tough than being fair.

Grade: In Need of Improvement


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Florida schools roundup: Teacher pay, school prayer, co-teaching & more

Teacher pay: A firestorm among teachers forces the Broward school district to back off a proposal that would have cut 3,400 veteran educators out of their state-promised pay hikes. Sun Sentinel. Thousands of Sarasota County school district employees receive raises for the first time in five years. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

florida-roundup-logoSchool spending: Palm Beach County school district’s inspector general recommends the board hire two auditors to help investigate complaints of waste and mismanagement. Palm Beach Post.

Shutdown: Seventeen Head Start sites that serve more than 900 children in Hernando, Sumter and Volusia counties will close their doors if funding cut off by the federal government shutdown isn’t restored. Tampa Bay Times.

School prayer: Pasco County schools Superintendent Kurt Browning faces criticism for a memo reminding school coaches not to lead prayer with their players. Tampa Bay Times. Browning has appropriately re-established the church-and-state line, and House Speaker Will Weatherford has no business trying to move it. Tampa Bay Times.

Charter schools: Miami-Dade charter schools now serve 52,000 students, equal to 15 percent of the county’s public student body. Miami-Herald. Pivot Charter School in Lee County turns operations into a success thanks to a blended learning model. Fort Myers News-Press.

Private schools: Episcopal Day School in Escambia County embraces STEAM, a new program focused on STEM and the arts. Pensacola News-Journal.

Federal intrusion? The federal government is already in our classrooms, by providing billions in education funding and grants. Tampa Bay Times. 

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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.

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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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