Single-gender charter schools on rise in Florida

Twenty-three second-grade boys sit cross-legged on the lunchroom floor in diagonal rows known at this Bradenton, Fla., charter school as the “rays’’ formation.

Principal Neil Phillips talks with students at the new all-boys charter school, Visible Men Academy.

Principal Neil Phillips talks with students at the new all-boys charter school, Visible Men Academy.

That’s because the boys are considered little “SUNS,’’ radiating Selflessness, Honesty, Integrity, Niceness and Excellence – or SHINE. It’s the Let Your Light Shine motto at the new Visible Men Academy, where organizers deem character development as important as academic success.

Founder and principal Neil Phillips got the idea for an all-boys charter school from a nonprofit network he started five years ago to connect black boys with black male role models. Program coordinators kept telling the Harvard grad and former professional basketball player, “If only we had more time’’ with the boys.

“That planted the seed,’’ Phillips said.

Visible Men Academy opened in August, leasing space from a community church to teach 73 students in grades K-2. It’s the second single-gendered charter school in Manatee County and the ninth such school in Florida, where the concept is on the rise. In 2009-10, state records show one single-gender charter school. Three years later, there were eight.

Such schools are still rare – fewer than 1 percent of all charters nationally, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. And Florida Department of Education officials say they don’t know why there’s an increase. It just seems to be a natural direction for a school choice model that sells itself on offering parents and students an ever-widening array of options. photo

Charter schools are public schools that function independently from school districts. Some focus on science and math, others on the environment or the arts. The single-gender structure is just another option, and one that’s common in private and parochial schools. Even traditional district schools are trying it, with proponents pointing to improved academic achievement and fewer discipline problems.

The idea is to build upon research that shows some boys and girls learn differently. In some single-gender classrooms, girls sit in clusters so they can talk face-to-face – and frequently – while boys have schedules that allow more breaks for physical activity.

Last year, Just For Girls Academy opened in the same Florida city with a focus on helping girls succeed in reading, math, science and technology – and boosting their confidence. The K-4 school with 102 students is an offshoot of a local girls club.

“Research shows that girls thrive in an environment like this,” said Principal Jennifer Rosenboom. “And our parents wanted a place where their daughters could be safe and flourish.’’

Phillips has a similar outlook at Visible Men Academy. Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: charter schools in NY, vouchers in Indiana, ESAs in Arizona and more

MondayRoundUp_redAlabama: Unused education tax credits will be used to pay down the state’s debts (The Piedmont Journal).

Arizona: The Arizona Court of Appeals rules education savings accounts (ESAs) are constitutional (Arizona Daily Star, Education Week, New York Times, Sonoran News).

California: A husband and wife operating a charter school misappropriated more than $200,000 in school funds. The husband is sentenced to 4 years in prison while his wife receives 45 days (LA Times). San Diego’s school district is selling off excess property but the market rate is too high for area charter schools (Voice of San Diego).

Colorado: Denver area public schools collect millions in additional fees from parents (Denver Post).

D.C.: Charter school operators are being accused of setting up for-profit corporations to serve charter schools with high prices (Washington Post).

Florida: Enrollment in Miami-Dade is up thanks to charter schools (Miami Herald). School districts want more control over charter schools, including more power to deny charter applications and restricting where school’s open or whether they serve a specialized need (Sun Sentinel). Some Florida Catholic schools will be using modified Common Core standards while others wait and see what becomes of the initiative (RedefinED). Charter school advocates and supporters disagree on whether or not to have a standardized contract between schools and districts (RedefinED).

Hawaii: Charter school enrollment grows by 2.1 percent, more than double the state’s public school enrollment growth (Big Island Now).

Illinois: Chicago wants more charter schools in overcrowded school zones (Chicago Tribune).

Indiana: Demand for vouchers have doubled as more than 20,000 families have applied for school vouchers, though nearly 600,000 are now eligible for the expanded program (One News Now, Associated Press). Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Common core, charter schools, safety nets & more

Charter schools: It’s time to put stricter reins on the nontraditional schools, say leaders from districts and charters. Sun Sentinel. Parents of this Palm  Beach County charter school’s poorest readers are required to come to Saturday school — with their high school students in tow. Palm Beach Post.

Common Core: Florida Department of Education officials tell teachers across the state to stay on course with using the new standards. Tallahassee Democrat. “The fringes of the political world are, once again, running amok,” writes Frank Cerabino for the Palm Beach Post. Common Core may be the most controversial education issue you know nothing about, so checkout these sample questions and answers. Orlando Sentinel. florida-roundup-logoFlorida is listening to folks wearing tinfoil hats – “These people need therapy couches, not seats at the curriculum table,” writes Scott Maxwell for the Orlando Sentinel. This new way of learning has become a politically charged, hot topic in Florida. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about the new standards. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Safety net: More than 1 in every 6 Brevard elementary and middle schools would have had lower grades, if not for the state’s grade-protection measure. Florida Today.

Career Ed: Manatee County students take part in National Manufacturing Day, where they learn about robotics and engineering. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

After-school care: Plans to reintroduce a district-run after-school program to Collier County schools has been in the works behind closed doors for more than a year. Naples Daily News.

Security plans: A St. Petersburg private school adds seven armed guards to help keep students and staff safe. Tampa Bay Times.

Mentoring: A Jacksonville tutoring program gives students academic help and hope. Florida Times-Union.

Teachers: A longtime Sarasota educator and community volunteer receives the NAACP’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.  Continue Reading →


A tussle over charter school contracts

After years of wrangling with charter school operators over questionable fees, one of Florida’s biggest school districts recently developed new contracts that spell out what is – and isn’t – allowed. But now that a new state law requires uniform contracts across the state, can the district enforce those rules in future contracts?

That’s one of many questions facing the Florida Department of Education as it works with school boards and charter operators to develop a model charter school contract for 2014.

The idea is to level the playing field for smaller charter school operators trying to negotiate with the districts, said state Rep. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale, who sponsored legislation last session calling for the contracts.

Rep. George Moraitis

Rep. George Moraitis

“We’re just trying to make it easier for those who don’t have the resources to hire lawyers or don’t understand their rights,’’ he said. “And, hopefully, make [the process] more efficient for everyone.’’

The goal isn’t to limit district authority, Moraitis said. In Florida, local school boards serve as charter school authorizers, approving applications and contracts, and overseeing operations. And Moraitis believes it should stay that way.

“We want the school board to be responsible for charters,’’ he said. “But we don’t want them to be unnecessarily regulating them.’’

Critics, though, suggest unnecessary regulation can be in the eye of the beholder.

“We’re not in support of having a standard contract because it’s going to be so generic,’’ said Jenna Hodgens, president of the Florida Association of Charter School Authorizers. “You know how different school districts are. We want to be positive and we understand [the charters’] side, but this really takes negotiation out of the process.’’ Continue Reading →


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


Continue Reading →


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. 

Continue Reading →


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.