Florida roundup: school grades, charter schools, Common Core & more

Charter schools. The Pembroke Pines Charter Schools system, which recently cut teacher pay, is asking parents to pay $1,000 per student per year to restore the system’s reserves. South Florida Sun Sentinel. Gov. Rick Scott signs the bill boosting accountability for charter schools. Orlando Sentinel.

florida roundup logoCommon Core. FEA President Andy Ford says too much testing could sour the public on it. StateImpact Florida.

School grades. Tony Bennett meets with the school grades task force, which  includes a number of superintendents, but says he won’t make changes just to soften the blow of bad grades. Orlando Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times, StateImpact Florida, Palm Beach Post, News Service of Florida, Tallahassee Democrat.

Dual enrollment. Tony Bennett says districts and state colleges need to better collaborate in the wake of the Legislature’s decision to shift costs to districts. Gradebook.

Parent power. The Pensacola News Journal writes up the new law that gives more power to parents of students with disabilities.

Superintendents. Duval’s Nikolai Vitti: “Folks here know that public education can be better. And they’re willing to put their shoulder to the wheel to make it better.” StateImpact Florida.

Teachers unions. The Broward union wins an arbitration case involving changes to the high school schedule. South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald.

Tardiness. Alachua looks for ways to crack down on chronic tardiness. Gainesville Sun.

School spending. Walton will consider upping the millage rate for capital improvements. Northwest Florida Daily News.


In education debates, the tired arguments of secular fundamentalism



Editor’s note: This piece is in response to Friday’s guest post from Alex J. Luchenitser of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

It seems simplest, though scarcely elegant, to reply to attorney Luchenitser’s statements one by one, though I will leave to the lawyers how a school choice tax credit is a state expenditure while tax deductions and tax exemptions are not.

First, it is not true that I assert that states should be forced to fund religious schools; my point is that, if a state chooses to fund private schools through parental school choice, it should not discriminate against those with a religious character. The recent ruling in Duncan v. New Hampshire does precisely that, allowing scholarships derived from tax credits to go to private schools on condition that those schools not be “of any religious sect or denomination,” citing the language of an 1877 amendment to the N.H. Constitution.

By the way, it also does not prevent those scholarships from going to homeschooling families no matter how religious their efforts may be, suggesting religious education is excluded only if you do it with other people. How sensible is that?

I compare this discrimination, in my previous post, with the racial discrimination laws adopted in the South during the same historical period, and I urge that it is similarly unjust and should be challenged by anyone concerned with fairness. Equal treatment is my only claim.

Second, he challenges my conclusion (based on a careful review of the historical evidence detailed in my 24,000-word “expert report”) that the anti-aid (or “Blaine”) provision added to the New Hampshire Constitution in 1877 was the result of anti-Catholic bias. To respond to this I can only offer to provide a copy of my report to anyone who would like to review the evidence with an open mind.

Third, he claims, “the New Hampshire constitution today neither allows anti-Catholic discrimination nor has such an effect.” It is true that today the effect of that particular provision, as applied in the recent ruling, is even-handedly discriminatory against all organized religious groups in favor of groups, no matter how strong their ideological flavor, that claim a secular basis. Is this progress? Continue Reading →


Private school anchors couple’s vision for uplifting black community

Bible Truth Ministries Academy teacher Tiffany Smith-Sutton guides kindergartners through a performance they will give during their graduation. The school's founders plan to focus more on early education, giving kids a love for learning as early as possible.

Bible Truth Ministries Academy teacher Tiffany Smith-Sutton guides kindergartners through a performance they will give during their graduation. The school’s founders plan to focus more on early education.

Whatever it takes.

That’s the daily mantra for Suzette and Daniel Dean, a Florida husband-and-wife team who founded a small private religious school in the heart of a struggling black community.

Suzette Dean

Suzette Dean

It’s a way of life that started almost from the moment the native Jamaicans met at their Miami church. Friends told Suzette that Daniel would only marry her if she was a teacher, so Suzette traded her nursing career for one in special education.

Soon after she graduated from the University of South Florida, Suzette’s tutoring gig went from two students to eight. The Deans converted a one-bedroom apartment above their garage in east Tampa and in 1999, Bible Truth Ministries Academy was born.

Word of mouth brought more students, so the couple took a second mortgage and Daniel, a pastor and businessman nicknamed “Preach,” took a second job building low-income housing. The extra dollars went toward renovating a former crack house into a bigger school.

Eventually, the Deans convinced a bank to loan them thousands of dollars to buy land for an even bigger school. Suzette, pregnant with their fifth child, got her contractor’s license so she could pull permits for her husband, who would leave his day job and work until midnight building the new school.

“I was a man on a mission,’’ he said. “Failure was not an option.’’

Daniel Dean

Daniel Dean

Today, the modest Bible Truth school sits behind the church the Deans built and where Daniel shares the word of God. Next door is a new 3,600-square-foot multipurpose building that houses the school’s lunchroom, library, and science and music labs.

It’s all part of a vision to serve the community that includes a center called H.O.P.E. There, residents can hunt for jobs, work on resumes, get their G.E.D. or learn to cook and sew.

But the school, with 86 students in VPK to high school, “is the machine of everything,’’ Daniel said. It’s where children, many of whom have been told they can’t learn, realize they can.

“Good education, holistic education, is part of a community’s development,’’ he said. “Not a cookie-cutter education. There must be an obligation on the teacher’s side and the child’s side.’’ Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Parent power, special needs students, atheists & more

Parent power. Gov. Rick Scott signs into law a bill that gives parents of disabled students more say over their kid’s education. Orlando Sentinel, Associated Press.

florida roundup logoVirtual schools. Scott also signs the digital learning bill into law. Florida Current.

Charter schools. The Lakeland-based Achievement Academy, a charter for students with disabilities, plans to double enrollment to meet demand. Lakeland Ledger.

Career academies. A new firefighters academy is opening at Wellington High School next fall. Palm Beach Post.

Schools and religion. Atheist materials censored by the Orange County School District contained criticisms of the Bible. Orlando Sentinel.

School grades. The state again considers revision to the system in the face of concerns that the results will be too harsh. Tampa Bay Times. Add Treasure Coast districts to those warning parents about a drop in grades. TCPalm.com. A new task force should retract the most “onerous” changes to the grading system. Miami Herald. Or “trash” the system altogether. Palm Beach Post.

School technology. New technology in the Miami-Dade district is boosting education for students with disabilities. Miami Herald.

School spending. The state approves Manatee’s financial recovery plan. Bradenton Herald. Bay plans to remove 22 old portables this summer. Panama City News Herald.

School districts. Pinellas needs to be more transparent with public records. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: vouchers in Ohio, tax credit scholarships in Delaware, charter school performance & more

National. A new study from CREDO shows charter schools improving nationally, compared to traditional public schools, but with results varying widely from state to state. National coverage in the New York TimesWashington PostHechinger ReportCharters & ChoiceAssociated PressHuffington PostState-level coverage in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Salt Lake City Tribune, Tampa Bay Times, Detroit News, Newark Star Ledger, The Morning Call, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, New Orleans Times Picayune.

MondayRoundUp_yellaNational. Charter school waiting list nears 1 million nationally, according to a new survey from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (The Charter Blog). More from the Los Angeles Daily News.

Ohio. Lawmakers move to expand vouchers statewide for low-income students, beginning this fall with 2,000 kindergartners and expanding one grade level each year. (Friedman Foundation)

Wisconsin: Lawmakers expand vouchers statewide but with an enrollment cap of 500 the first year (Education Week). State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers criticizes the proposal (Journal Sentinel). Democrats predict a backlash (Wisconsin State Journal). Private schools in Madison consider whether to participate (Wisconsin State Journal).  Same with schools in the Wausau area (Wausau Daily Herald). A key lawmaker leaves the door open for another stab at a voucher for special-needs students (Wisconsin Reporter).

Indiana. Voucher supporters are giving a thumbs up to the expansion that begins Monday (Evansville Courier & Press). The Louisville Courier Journal raises questions about whether private schools have the capacity to absorb additional students.

New Jersey: Gov. Chris Christie plans to sign off on the state budget, saying he’ll bring back the fight for school vouchers next year (Newark Star-Ledger). Newark Mayor Cory Booker reiterates his support for school choice in his bid for U.S. Senate (Associated Press). Teachers and parents criticize the decision by Education Commissioner Chris Cerf to put the kibosh on a virtual charter set to open this fall (Newark Star-Ledger). Continue Reading →


Guest post: States shouldn’t be forced to fund religious schools

Editor’s note: Alex J. Luchenitser is associate legal director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and lead counsel for the plaintiffs challenging New Hampshire’s tuition tax-credit program.



In a June 24 blog entry, Charles Glenn attacks a recent New Hampshire state-court decision declaring the state’s tuition tax-credit program to be unconstitutional to the extent that it funds religious schools. Dr. Glenn argues that this ruling amounts to “religious discrimination” that should be struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. His arguments, however, reflect a misreading of history, and they have already – and rightly – been rejected by the Supreme Court.

The New Hampshire Constitution strictly prohibits the diversion of tax funds to religious education. Well aware of this, the New Hampshire legislature passed the tax-credit program in an effort to circumvent the constitutional prohibition. The state court saw through this scheme, correctly concluding that there is no practical difference between using direct appropriations to fund private-school scholarships and using tax credits to do so.

Dr. Glenn contends the 1877 constitutional provision on which the state court relied was motivated by anti-Catholic animus. But the historical record belies this claim. The same constitutional convention that approved the constitutional provision in question also approved the removal from the state constitution of two clauses that had discriminated in favor of Protestants and against Catholics.

Regardless of what may have happened a century and a quarter ago, the New Hampshire constitution today neither allows anti-Catholic discrimination nor has such an effect. The state constitution was amended in 1968 to make clear that discrimination among religious groups is prohibited. And only 15 percent of scholarship applicants under New Hampshire’s tax-credit program wanted to use their scholarships at Catholic schools.

Dr. Glenn attempts to bootstrap his unsuccessful allegation of anti-Catholicism to support a significantly different argument – that allowing public funding of secular but not religious education “discriminates” against religion. This argument has been soundly and repeatedly rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court, however. In a 2004 decision, Locke v. Davey, a quite conservative Supreme Court ruled by a 7–2 vote that a state can constitutionally prohibit the use of university scholarships for theological study, while allowing them to be used for secular education. The high court issued four similar rulings between 1972 and 1974.

What Dr. Glenn seeks is nothing other than a complete reversal of one of our most fundamental constitutional traditions. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: charter schools, magnet schools, science standards & more

Charter schools. A new charter opening in Broward this fall will offer blended learning. THE Journal. The Imagine in Pasco offers an expanded expansion request. Gradebook.

florida roundup logoMagnet schools. The Palm Beach district is speeding up its annual lottery process. Palm Beach Post.

Single-gender schools. The Palm Beach district finds a new home for an all-boys academy. Palm Beach Post.

School choice. Orange will allow students at overcrowded schools to transfer to less-crowded schools. Orlando Sentinel. Okaloosa is ending a horticulture program at one of its high school in part because of lack of interest. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Dual enrollment. The Bradenton Herald writes up the potential effect on Manatee of the Legislature’s cost shift to districts.

NAEP. Scores for older students remain at the same level they were 40 years ago, but achievement is trending up for younger, minority students. Associated Press.

Science. The vast majority of commenters during a review period want Florida to adopt Next Generation Science Standards. Orlando Sentinel.

Jeb Bush. His Foundation for Florida’s Future issues its annual legislative report card.

Rick Scott. In a discussion with teachers of the year from around the state, he stresses increased funding for education. Palm Beach Post. More from the Tallahassee Democrat.

School spending. The Pinellas school board turns down the idea of contracting its police force out to the sheriff’s office, even though it might save money. Gradebook. More from the Tampa Tribune.

Superintendents. Brevard’s Brian Binggeli gets a positive eval and an offer of a three-year contact. Florida Today.


Why I started my own school

Last day of school this year at Sunset Sudbury School in Davie, FL.

Last day of school this year at Sunset Sudbury School in Davie, FL.

Editor’s note: Dionne Ekendiz founded the Sunset Sudbury School in South Florida. In her own words, here’s why she did it.

I always wanted to become a teacher and make a difference in the lives of children. I truly believed in public education and wanted to be part of making it better. But like many “smart” students, I was dissuaded from that career path, especially by my math and science teachers. They encouraged me to do something “more” with my life, so I went off to MIT and pursued a degree in engineering. After 12 years as an engineer, computer programmer, and project manager in the corporate world, I finally had the confidence and courage to make a change. Others thought I was crazy to leave a great career, but I was driven to pursue my own passion.

teachers and choice logoI entered a master’s of education program and sought to get the most of my experience there. When I heard about a professor who was conducting research in the “best” public schools in the area, I volunteered to be his graduate assistant. This took me into the schools twice a week. I loved working with the students, but there were things I didn’t like about the environment. One of the most disturbing was how teachers and aides would yell at students to “stay in line” and “don’t talk” in the hallways. Those were the times that schools felt most like prisons to me. But still, I believed a good teacher could learn to control his/her students in a more humane way, so I didn’t let it bother me so much.

A year into my education program, I gave birth to my first child. Watching her grow and learn on her own, especially during her first years, made me see the true genius inside her. Indeed, it is a genius that exists in all children. She was so driven to master new skills like walking, talking, and feeding herself. I was always there with love, support, and encouragement, but my instincts told me to stay out of her way as much as possible and let her own curiosity guide her. Because of my own experiences with schooling and well-meaning teachers, I was determined to let my daughter make her own choices. I knew that with curiosity and confidence intact, she could do and be anything she wanted to.

It slowly dawned on me that everything I was learning about teaching was contrary to the philosophy I was using in raising my own daughter. The goal of teachers, in the traditional setting, is to somehow stuff a pre-determined curriculum into students’ heads. Some teachers do it more gently than others and make it more fun, but the result is the same. Teachers must stifle their students’ own interests and desires to meet the school’s agenda. Simply put, regardless of how nice a teacher is, s/he must coerce students into getting them to do what s/he wants them to do. What I was once willing to do to other people’s children, I wasn’t willing to do to my child. That was a huge wake-up call for me. Continue Reading →