Florida lawmaker wants to expand single-gender classes

All-boys and all-girls education may get a push from the Florida Legislature.

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.

A bill filed by Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, would establish a statewide pilot project, allowing up to five large Florida school districts to designate an elementary school as a single-gender school in its core classes. The academic outcomes would then be tracked to see if the concept is worth expanding statewide.

“This is to incentivize some of the districts to create another choice option for parents,’’ Diaz said.

House Bill 313 would help districts by giving them more support and flexibility to be innovative, said Diaz, a public school administrator. Districts would apply to receive extra dollars to train teachers, organize schedules and offer specialized instruction. They also could move attendance boundaries for each gender-specific school to draw students from the whole district like a magnet school.

School districts across the country are experimenting with single-gender classrooms. The idea, borrowed from parochial and private schools, is some boys and girls learn better among same-sex peers. There’s plenty of research that supports that thought, and plenty of critics, including the ACLU, who believe the structure does more harm than good.

Florida has 33 schools in 16 districts that offer single-gender courses, and five single-gender schools in three districts. There are also nine single-gender charter schools statewide.

Under the bill, each school would have at least 350 boys and girls sharing the same lunch periods and recess. They also would share some classes, such as foreign languages, that only have one teacher at the school. But for core subjects like English and math, boys and girls would have separate classrooms.

The schools would open in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years. Enrollment would be open to any student in the district where the school is located. Parents in the school zone could opt out of the choice and attend another school, Diaz said.

The bill also calls for the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) to compile a report comparing student academic performance in the gender-specific schools with students in traditional district schools. The findings would go to the Florida Senate president and Speaker of the House by December 31, 2016.

“If the data comes back that it doesn’t work then we will know,’’ Diaz said.

Note: This story was updated to include the most recent number of single-gender courses and schools in 2011-12, provided by the Department of Education.


Report: Proud history, perilous future for faith-based schools

faith-based schools report coverThe new, national Commission on Faith-based Schools holds its first leadership summit in New York City today, aiming to raise awareness about a fact too long overlooked: Faith-based schools in America’s inner cities are in trouble.

To that end, the commission will release its first report to the nation. “Religious Schools in America: A Proud History and Perilous Future” is part myth dispeller, part history lesson, part call to action. It compiles rarely seen data and offers a tight summary of the research regarding outcomes. Its introduction distills what’s at stake:

Faith-based schools are an extension of individual and family religious freedoms in America, tied to an expression of their rights of conscience and rooted deeply in America’s history. These schools—and the rights that they help to protect—are currently under severe financial strains that threaten the existence of many of them. The United States is an aberration among democracies because it does not provide public support for its families to choose a faith-based school when they wish to do so.

U.S. faith-based schools, despite suffering a severe financial disadvantage when compared with public schools and with faith-based schools in other Western democracies, are serving hundreds of thousands of students of color, students from low-income families, students with special needs, and students whose first language is not English.

Finally, faith-based schools are producing above-average academic results with fewer resources, in both traditional academic subjects and also in the development of the virtues of character, respect for differences, and citizenship.

Also today, the commission will unveil a new website stocked with data about religious schools. Compiled by researcher Vicki E. Alger, “Assembling the Evidence” includes a stack of charts, maps with state-by-state breakdowns, and a library with more than 4,000 reports, surveys, and research studies.

Report here. Website here. As always, full disclosure: The commission was founded by the American Center for School Choice, which co-hosts this blog.


Florida roundup: Career academies, dual enrollment, Common Core & more

Career academy: A Pasco County high school plans to offer a course on drone technology as it launches an Aerospace Career Academy with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoDual enrollment: The Florida Association of District School Superintendents prepares to tackle the dual enrollment law that has districts paying when their students sign up for state college courses. Tampa Bay Times.

College prep: A Broward County high school starts a new program to help college-bound students make good academic choices, explore different school options and make connections. Sun Sentinel.

Governor’s race: Democratic candidate Charlie Crist is talking about teacher evaluations and education funding  as he stumps for the seat. StateImpact Florida.

Common Core: The State Board of Education will hear a summary of Common Core comments and complaints from the public. Tallahassee Democrat.

Tax hike: Rapid student growth and lack of space and money have the Lee County School District considering something historically unpopular: a hike in the sales tax. Fort Myers News-Press. Continue Reading →


A charter school for the struggling

Pepin Academies is a charter school that specializes in educating students with learning disabilities. "“we purposely take the low-performing kids,’’ said Carolyn Scott, director of academics. “We purposely take the ones struggling,’’ said Carolyn Scott, director of academics.

Pepin Academies is a charter school in the Tampa Bay area in Florida that specializes in educating students with learning disabilities, such as speech delays or autism. “We purposely take the low-performing kids,’’ said Carolyn Scott, director of academics. “We purposely take the ones struggling.’’

Jane Strawbridge drives 100 miles a day during the week so her granddaughter, Jaime, can attend a Central Florida charter school that serves children with learning disabilities.

It’s a huge commitment, but worth the extra effort when Strawbridge considers how Jaime struggled in a traditional district school with few resources for special needs students.

557“She was teased and bullied because she wasn’t able to process information as quickly as her classmates,’’ Strawbridge said. “She hated school every day.’’

After five disappointing years, the family finally discovered Pepin Academies, a Tampa Bay area nonprofit charter school that specializes in students with specific learning issues such as language impairment and autism. In August, Jaime started fifth grade at Pepin’s satellite campus in Riverview, just east of Tampa. There, she’s among 121 students in grades 3-7.

“She’s so happy,’’ Strawbridge said. “She looks forward to getting up in the morning.’’

Charter schools often are criticized for cherry-picking students, even turning away the most disadvantaged ones. But at Pepin Academies, “we purposely take the low-performing kids,’’ said Carolyn Scott, director of academics. “We purposely take the ones struggling.’’

Academics Director Carolyn Scott, center, shares a laugh with teachers aide, Monica Garcia, left, and fourth-grade teacher Dennis McCartney.

Academics Director Carolyn Scott, center, shares a laugh with teachers aide, Monica Garcia, left, and fourth-grade teacher Dennis McCartney.

study of enrollment rates among special education students shows a gap nationally between charters and traditional public schools. And while that may be reason for concern, there also might be other factors at play beyond charters denying access.

A new report that looked at the disparity in New York schools found that in many cases, parents of students with disabilities simply aren’t choosing charter schools. Some may be satisfied with their current schools, or may feel charter schools aren’t equipped to serve their child’s special needs.

As the charter movement continues to grow, a new nonprofit hopes to ensure kids with disabilities have the same access to charter schools as their peers. Among its goals, the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools plans to identify barriers for special needs students and create coalitions to help protect students’ rights while upholding the mission of charter schools – to provide choice.

Charters offer an ideal environment for children with special needs, said Scott, a former district ESE teacher and youth specialist for the juvenile justice system. Because the schools have more freedom, they can focus on those needs in ways traditional public schools just can’t. Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: D.C. vouchers, Bill de Blasio, black voters and more


Arkansas: Gubernatorial candidates discuss education and school choice (Arkansas News Bureau, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette).

D.C.: Harmony Public Schools runs 40 charter schools in Texas and hopes to expand into the district (Washington Post). Critics contend gentrification, not education reform, is driving D.C’s NAEP score gains but researcher Mathew Ladner says gentrification is only playing  a small role (Foundation for Excellence in Education). The U.S. Government Accountability Office highlights weaknesses in administration and oversight of the Opportunity Scholarship Program (GAO, Washington Post, Education Week, Huffington PostThe Answer Sheet).

Delaware: The Appoquinimink School District hopes to enroll 465 students from outside the district (Middletown Transcript).

Florida: Private schools enrolling special needs students through the McKay scholarship program may lose up to $800 per pupil in funding if the student also enrolls in a class with the Florida Virtual School (redefinED).

Georgia: Hundreds of parents in Macon hope to enroll their child in a new charter school set to open in August, 2014 (NBC/WMGT 41).

Louisiana: The Obama administration is trying to stop the expansion of vouchers based on faulty logic and data not supported by research (National Review, Wall Street Journal). Many charter schools have been eligible to return to the Orleans Parish School District but none have elected to do so yet (The Lens). Another report shows vouchers did not increase racial segregation in Louisiana (this was the basis for the DOJ suit to stop vouchers in the state) (Times Picayune, Cato Institute). Republicans in Louisiana are reaching out to black voters with education and school choice (Times Picayune). The chairman of the Republican National Committee says Louisiana’s voucher program provides an escape route for students in bad schools (Times Picayune). Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Special needs, tech center, dual enrollment & more

Special needs: The special needs student population in Palm Beach County School District is booming this year — both at district-run and charter schools. Palm Beach Post. Special needs students lead the homecoming court at a Miami-Dade high school. Miami Herald.

florida-roundup-logoTechnical center: Pasco County’s superintendent no longer supports the building of a technical center on the Pasco-Hernando Community College’s east campus. Tampa Bay Times.

Charter schools: A Polk County charter school starts an IT academy for middle-schoolers. The Ledger.

First year: One year after being hired to confront the district’s most stubborn stains, Duval County’s Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has become the city’s education leader by being visible and vocal. Florida Times-Union.

Common Core: As Florida looks to quell the controversy over its new education standards, state education officials try to figure out how those standards apply to nearly 2 million students. Tallahassee Democrat. OrlandoCommon Core comments run from “great” to “commie brainwashing.”  Orlando Sentinel.

Dual enrollment: Pasco County’s superintendent vows to continue fighting the new fees districts must pay to state colleges. Tampa Bay Times.

Anti-bullying: Equality Florida recognizes the Broward County Public school district for its anti-bullying policies. StateImpact Florida.

Teacher pay: Santa Rosa County teachers will get raises of about 3.7 percent while support personnel receive an $800 flat-rate bump. Pensacola News-Journal.

Free meals: At least two Escambia County schools are being investigated for reportedly receiving federal reimbursement for thousands of free and reduced cost meals that were never served to students. Pensacola News-Journal.

Searching: After two tries and more than a year of searching, the Palm Beach County School District may have finally found an outside agency interested in investigating complaints against top district officials. Palm Beach Post.

Tuberculosis: Two active cases of tuberculosis are confirmed in Seminole and Orange county schools. Orlando Sentinel. Duval County schools report two cases. Florida Times-Union.

New name: Duval schools officials plan to survey several Forrest High stakeholder groups about renaming the school. Florida Times-Union.

Tony Bennett: Florida’s former education commissioner faces an ethics complaint in his home state of Indiana. StateImpact Florida.

Conduct: A state Department of  Education investigation into a former Lee County superintendent is over. Naples Daily News. More from the Fort Myers News-Press.

State prize: A Port St. Lucie third-grader wins the state’s top prize for his 38-pound cabbage.  TC Palm.

Grammar lessons: A fifth-grade teacher in Gainesville uses music to teach nouns and verbs. Associated Press.

Math help: Hillsborough County students bone up on Algebra skills with a new interactive program called Algebra Nation. The Tampa Tribune.


McKay Scholarship docked when students enroll in Florida Virtual School

Florida is reducing state-funded scholarships for private school students with disabilities if they take online courses through Florida Virtual School.

McKayThe state Department of Education last week began notifying the 1,200 private schools accepting the McKay Scholarship that quarterly payments for students will be docked starting in February – in some cases, by as much as $800.

Since then, some school operators, such as Donna Savary of Savary Academy in tiny Crawfordville, have pulled McKay students from the FLVS programs to avoid the unexpected costs. They also have warned parents they’ll have to pick up the tab for courses their children already completed.

“We’re not happy,’’ said Savary, whose academy has 16 students of which six receive McKay Scholarships. “The kids are not happy. The parents are really upset.’’

In a letter dated Nov. 8, the department cited the recently-amended education funding formula as cause for the reduction. DOE officials reviewed the new law that went into effect in July and determined last month that it did apply to recipients of the McKay Scholarship because the funding comes from the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP).

School districts and Florida Virtual School also are funded by the FEFP, and have been hit with similar cuts when public school students enroll in the online provider’s program.

“If they (DOE) had told me about this in the beginning of the school year, my kids wouldn’t have been in Florida Virtual School at all,’’ said Savary, who told one of her families this week it will owe $800 in February for two courses completed since August. “This is a rural area. Parents here don’t have $800 lying around.’’

The DOE decision means parents of McKay Scholarship students are the only ones in Florida directly assessed for FLVS courses, said Robyn Rennick of The Coalition of McKay Scholarship Schools. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Magnet programs, charters, Common Core & more

Magnet programs: Pinellas County school administrators want to add four new middle school programs next school year, including ones in engineering and the arts. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools: A Monroe County charter school’s disciplinary practice of making students walk in circles or back and forth for an extended period of time raises concerns. Keynoter.

Common Core: “As a strong supporter of education in the Sunshine State, I believe that these standards are a powerful tool to make sure our young people are ready for the world and workplace that await them,” writes Marshall Criser III for the Miami Herald. House Speaker Will Weatherford says Florida likely won’t repeal the new standards, but modify them. Tampa Bay Times. Julio Fuentes of HCREO writes about what’s missing from Common Core coverage: the increasing number of Florida students ill-equipped for college and forced into remedial coursework because their high-school curriculum did not adequately prepare them. Orlando Sentinel.

FCAT replacement: Florida advertises for companies that would like to provide the state’s next generation of standardized tests. Sun Sentinel.

Teacher pay: Of the seven largest school districts in Florida, only Palm Beach and Orange counties have not reached at least a tentative agreement on pay raises. Palm Beach Post. The Hernando County School District and teachers union remain at odds on how to distribute $3.8 million in state dollars earmarked for raises. Tampa Bay Times.  Brevard teachers vote Monday on whether to approve this year’s contract and a 4.5 percent raise. Florida Today.

Mentoring: A mentoring and job-shadowing program for high school students with disabilities and other special needs is being offered at some Collier County schools. Naples Daily News. Continue Reading →