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 →


Florida charter school effort starting to roll

After a quiet start, a Race-To-The-Top-fueled effort to draw proven charter schools to Florida’s neediest communities is picking up steam.

The $30 million Florida Charter School Growth Fund, begun in 2011, has now doled out grants to seven schools for a total of $2.15 million. It also remains in the hunt for luring a nationally known network to the Sunshine State, recently awarding $100,000 to Rocketship Education to help it search for a new school in South Florida.

Darryl Cobb

Darryl Cobb

Finding the right operators ready and able to set up shop in targeted areas takes time, said Darryl Cobb, a partner with the Colorado-based Charter School Growth Fund who leads the group’s Florida effort.

“It’s not as easy as waving a magic wand,’’ he said.

State education officials announced the Florida Charter School Growth Fund in late 2011. Florida kicked in $20 million from its Race To The Top award and the Charter School Growth Fund pledged another $10 million in private donations. (Its fund supporters include major education foundations like the Walton Family and Bill & Melinda Gates foundations.) The mission: Give grants to the best charter networks in the nation ready to open or expand schools in Florida’s poorest communities.

But organizers soon discovered many of those networks weren’t quite ready to expand to Florida, in part because of concerns about funding and authorizers. Strategy shifted to home-grown operators.

Youth Co-Op Preparatory Charter School, an A-rated K-8 school in Hialeah, was the first recipient. In November 2011, it got a $73,000 grant that went toward adding a high school. (Youth Co-Op received another grant for $250,000 in 2012).  Since then, the fund has awarded grants to six more charter schools, including five from Florida.

More schools are on the way. The 5-year goal is to open 30 new high-performing charter schools that serve about 15,000 students a year in communities with persistently low achieving schools.

“Our hope is these operators will begin to transform the opportunities for students and families in these high-needs communities,’’ Cobb said. “We have to provide opportunities for them to succeed.’’

The process, though, hasn’t been without some tension, with some established charter networks in Florida complaining they have been left out.

“We’ve got amazing schools, but many of the operators don’t want to expand” to specific neighborhoods in need, said Adam Miller, director of Florida’s school choice office. “They’re perfectly content doing the amazing work their doing’’ and staying put.

The fund is open to any qualified operators willing to start or expand a school in those areas, Cobb said.

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Florida schools roundup: Ed reform, Common Core, budget surplus & more

School reform: Rick Hess looks at Florida’s Senate Bill 736 and overhauling teacher evaluations and concludes that after all of the effort and political capital expended to enact the program, it didn’t make much difference.

florida-roundup-logoCommon Core: State Rep. Karen Castor Dentel weighs in on the controversy, calling for Florida to hit the pause button on testing while transitioning to the new benchmarks. The Buzz. South Florida’s business community is split on the issue of new standards. Sun Sentinel. Hernando County Superintendent Lori Romano reaffirms her district’s support for a quality education in the wake of Gov. Rick Scott’s decision to withdraw from PARCC. Tampa Bay Times.

College/Career prep: The Palm Beach County School District partners with Palm Beach State College to create a website that helps students with planning. Sun Sentinel.

School choice: Miami-Dade and Broward school boards win $7.5 million in the first year of a three-year program to expand school choice options in science, technology and engineering. Miami Herald.

Conduct: The Pasco County School District determines a principal tripped when he ran into a student during a school fight. The Tampa Tribune. Tampa Bay Times columnist Sue Carlton gives squabbling Hillsborough school officials an assignment:  Please, quit your bickering; deal with personalities you do not like; and find a way to make it work.

Punishment: Students at some Pasco County schools who have shown up in too-short shorts or sleeveless shirts have found themselves forced to wear neon “Out of Dress Code” T-shirts. Tampa Bay Times.

Reaching out: A Pasco County elementary school reaches out to needy students and their families with a program that helps provide food and clothing. Tampa Bay Times.

Late bell: House Bill 67 requires all public high schools to start no earlier than 8 a.m. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Budget surplus: An estimated $840 million budget surplus has Gov. Rick Scott talking about handing out tax breaks, but Rep. Karen Castor Dentel says any surplus should go to fund education. Florida Current.



Next week: A live chat about Florida ed reform with Sen. John Legg

Sen. John Legg

Sen. John Legg

If Florida’s education system was a big airport runway, John Legg would be one of its top air traffic controllers.

Legg is the influential state senator who chairs the Senate Education Committee. Last year, in noting how many sweeping changes to Florida’s education system were happening all at once, he likened the policy changes to jumbo jets.

“We’ve got to make sure all these big planes land in the right order and in the right way,” he said. If not, “all the planes can kind of crash in on themselves.”

Are the planes landing safely? Legg, R-Lutz, will join us next week for a live chat to talk about it. And if you have a question for him, by all means join us and/or send it over.

Plane analogies aside, there’s no doubt these are especially challenging times for Florida education reform. Common Core is under fire. Key pieces of the accountability system need a tune-up. And ever-growing parental demand for charter schools, tax credit scholarships and other school choice options continues to create friction with districts, lawmakers, teacher unions and you name it.

Few know the shifting landscape better than Legg. Continue Reading →


The only chart you need to see about DOJ’s anti-voucher suit in Louisiana

The U.S. Department of Justice says it filed suit against the voucher program in Louisiana because it was concerned about potential resegregation in some school districts. But a look at the racial makeup of schools in one of those districts shows the absurdity of the department’s case.

The DOJ complaint highlights a few districts to show that in some cases, vouchers were causing more segregation. For example, the DOJ writes:

“In 2011-2012 Celilia (sic) Primary School in St. Martin Parish School District enrolled a student body that was 30.1 percent black, 16.4 percentage points lower than the black composition of St Martin Parish School District as a whole. In 2012-2013 Celilia (sic) lost six black students as a result of the voucher program, thereby increasing the difference between the school’s black student percentage from the district’s and reinforcing the school’s racial identity as a white school in a predominantly black school district.”

Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute has done a good job showing the movement of black and white students in these districts, due to vouchers, changes the racial makeup about 1 percentage point. That is hardly a major change. Indeed, as Jason points out, six black students leaving with vouchers out of more than 200 black students probably won’t be noticed. However, this movement is in the opposite direction desired by the DOJ. The racial makeup is moving away from the district average.

Clearly a 1 percentage point change is where the department draws its line in the sand. So with that, I present to you the only graph you need to see regarding the DOJ suit. It shows the percentage of black students attending each of the St. Martin Parish elementary schools:StMartin

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Florida schools roundup: Common Core, SAT scores, teacher raises & more

Common Core: Gov. Rick Scott should have stood up and said that Florida won’t back away from Common Core because it’s the right thing for students, writes Beth Kassab for the Orlando Sentinel. The push is on from opponents aiming to halt Florida’s implementation of the new standards. Ledger Media Group. Jeb Bush has dismissed those who protest Common Core’s increasing federalization of local control over schools as conspiracy-mongers, writes Michelle Malkin. Despite Scott’s efforts to assuage concerns, opposition to the new education standards isn’t dying down. Miami Herald.

florida-roundup-logoEd chief: StateImpact Florida talks to former Florida education commissioners about the pressures of serving as the state’s top schools chief.

SATs: Florida’s students continue to perform below the national average on the SAT college entrance exam, mirroring results from the ACT test. Orlando Sentinel.

Race To The Top: Manatee County schools is hoping to win a $28.7 million grant through Race to The Top to expand the Manatee Technical Institute and add more STEM to elementary schools. Bradenton Herald.

Late enrollments: In Orange County, public-school enrollment has jumped by more than 18,000 since the first day of school, putting new students instantly behind in academics. Orlando Sentinel.

Charter schools: Three of six charter school applicants are still vying for approval to open schools in the 2014-15 school year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Pay raises: Escambia County school leaders and union officials agree to a possible 4.92 percent raise for teachers, and a 4.2 percent raise for support personnel. Pensacola News-Journal. Continue Reading →


An attempt at common ground between districts, charter schools

Can charter schools and districts really work together?

Squabbles about funding and facilities might make one wonder. But the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools believes charters and districts can get along – and must.florida consortium

That’s why the Fort Lauderdale-based consortium, which represents more than 400 charter schools across the state, has organized the first statewide task force of charter school and district leaders. The group meets Monday.

The idea is to get the two sides talking less about competing against one another and more about their common ground for kids. The consortium also hopes to identify school districts where charter school operators enjoy “productive, cooperative relationships,’’ and figure out how they got there.

Robert Haag

Robert Haag

“We wanted to create an opportunity for districts and charter schools to begin having an honest and respectful dialog, and a place where we could exchange constructive ideas and provide direction as to how to improve relationships between an authorizer and a charter school,’’ the consortium’s president, Robert Haag, said in a prepared statement.

“Districts and charter schools are often perceived as enemies but nothing could be further from the truth,’’ said Haag, who also serves as superintendent of Charter Schools of Excellence in Broward County. “We are allies in the pursuit of educational excellence.’’

In Florida, school districts serve as charter school authorizers – another source of tension between the two sectors. Last school year, 578 charter schools served more than 203,000 students in Florida, up from 516 during the prior year.

State Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, and the Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie are co-chairing the new group. For more information, call (954) 463-9595.