The week in school choice: Ugly history

The history of American public education is messy, and at times, ugly.

“We do not refuse anyone on account of race,” Orange Park Normal and Industrial School principal Amos W. Farnham wrote to William N. Sheats in the spring of 1894.

In a letter to Sheats, Florida’s top education official, Farnham described a faith-based institution in Clay County that was racially integrated 60 years before Brown v. Board of Education. Black and white students went to chapel, ate meals and learned together. Boys at the school, he wrote, “play baseball, ‘shinney,’ marbles and other games together.”

Those words would soon spell trouble for the school, its students and its teachers.

Sheats, who would later be hailed as the “father of Florida’s public school system,” was an unrepentant segregationist and racist who launched an 18-year campaign to destroy the upstart school. His staunch opposition to racial integration fueled a decades-long crackdown on dozens of schools — many of them private institutions run by religious aid societies. It also inspired laws that subjected Florida to national ridicule and dashed hopes of racial progress after Reconstruction.

Meanwhile… Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Budget, bonuses, charters, mediation and more

florida-roundup-logoBoard actions: The Florida Board of Education approves a budget request of $20.9 billion for the state’s K-12 schools. The request, which now goes to Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature, calls for a 3.4 percent increase in overall spending and a 2.5 percent boost in per-pupil spending. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. The board approves a proposal to end the $49 million Best and Brightest teacher bonuses plan. In its place would be a $43 million recruitment and retention program. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. The board also approves rules that tie charter school facilities funding to the types of students they serve. redefinED. Politico Florida. Board members are enthusiastic about the Department of Education’s strategic plan that sets a goal of a 6- or 7-point increase in state test scores by students by 2020. Gradebook. Politico Florida. Turnaround plans for eight struggling Polk County schools are tabled by the board while 40 others are conditionally approved. Members say the Polk plans were submitted too late for proper review, and will be considered at the Oct. 26 meeting. Lakeland Ledger. Politico Florida.

Mediation for Duval: The Duval County School Board is considering hiring a mediator to resolve its differences with Superintendent Nikolai Vitti. Board chairwoman Ashley Smith Suarez has accused Vitti of being untruthful with the board and not being aggressive enough in trying to close the achievement gap between white and minority students. Florida Times-Union. Can mediation work after a year of crumbling relationships? Experts say it could, but everyone involved has to buy in to the process. Florida Times-Union.

School elections: A TV ad attacking his opponent is creating problems for Leon County Superintendent Jackie Pons. The ad focuses on a 2013 paternity lawsuit filed against Pons’ opponent, Rocky Hanna. Several prominent members of Pons’ re-election team have resigned over the ad, which they call an embarrassment. Tallahassee Democrat.

Opt-out promotions: Nine-year-old Broward County twins who opted out of the Florida Standards Assessments testing are promoted to fourth grade. Their mother, Brandy Paternoster, was one of the parents suing the state and several school districts over retention policies for students who choose not to take the tests. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →


Florida overhauls charter school facilities funding rules

Florida will start funding charter school facilities based on the characteristics of the students they serve.

And under new rules approved today by the state Board of Education, charters will have to clear a higher academic bar to qualify.

A new state law requires the state to distribute more capital funding to charter schools where at least 25 percent of students have special needs, or at least 75 percent qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch.

The state rule created in response to that law also disqualifies charter schools from receiving state capital funding if they’ve received consecutive D’s under the state accountability system. The previous rule only disqualified charter schools rated F.

At the state board’s meeting in Tampa, that change received pushback from schools that could lose funding as a result.

Right now, more than 400 of the state’s roughly 650 charter schools qualify for a share of $75 million set aside for facilities funding. The state is still updating its numbers to distribute funding under the new rule.

Adam Miller, the director of the state’s school choice office, told the board that preliminary calculations show 142 charter schools could receive extra funding because more than three-quarters of their students are economically disadvantaged. Of those higher-poverty schools, Miller said current projections show seven could lose funding under the stricter academic requirements. Continue Reading →


Districts, charter schools tangle over ‘replication’

If a charter school is doing well, its operator should be encouraged to open more schools.

That’s the idea behind charter school replication. It might seem simple, but defining “replication” is sometimes less simple than meets the eye. It’s triggered several under-the-radar legal battles between Florida school boards and charter operators.

A new one might be brewing in Polk County, where the school board this week rejected a charter school application after district officials questioned whether a proposed school would truly replicate a high-rated charter school in neighboring Hillsborough County.

Florida law makes it easier for charters labeled academically “high-performing” to replicate their model in a new location. School boards can only reject these schools if they find “clear and convincing evidence” that they don’t meet standards in state law. If a school board rejects a high-performing charter replication, the school can appeal directly to the state Board of Education.

In Polk, the school board decided the proposed charter school, governed by the Florida Charter Educational Foundation, didn’t replicate Hillsborough County’s Winthrop Charter School, which is governed by the Bay Area Charter Foundation. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Education budget boost, teacher shortage and more

florida-roundup-logoEducation budget: The Florida Board of Education is requesting that the state increase per-pupil spending from $7,183 this year to $7,359 next year, with the overall budget increasing about 3.4 percent to $20.9 billion. The proposal would kill the current teachers bonuses program and create a new $43 million plan, and boost funding for Bright Futures scholarships by $29 million. If approved at today’s meeting, the request goes to Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature. News Service of Florida.

Teachers needed: More than a month after school has started, several central Florida school districts are still trying to fill almost 100 open teaching positions. Orange County has 62 openings, Lake 22 and Seminole 11. Orlando Sentinel.

Cash gift for teachers: The mayor of Parkland wants to give $25,000 of the city’s money to give to teachers as a gift. With matching grants, the gift money could grow to $45,000. Sun-Sentinel.

School grades: Some Florida schools improve their grades from the state after appealing the grades they were originally given. Gradebook. Virtual schools in Florida are among those to receive final letter grades from the state. redefinED. Continue Reading →


Florida virtual schools get letter grades after initial ‘incomplete’ ratings

Dozens of Florida schools — many of them online schools — initially rated “incomplete” by the state Department of Education now have official A-F grades.

As noted by the Orlando Sentinel, school grades recently became final after the deadline for appeals passed.

Of the 114 schools that received incomplete ratings when the state released preliminary grades in July, 76 now have letter grades. The grades are based on student performance on the Florida Standards Assessment, along with other factors such as learning gains.

A significant number of the newly graded schools are virtual education operations that were rated incomplete because fewer than 95 percent of their students took all their state assessments.

Among statewide providers, Florida Virtual School received a B for its full-time high school program and a C for its full-time K-8. K12 Inc. received a B.

Both K12 and FLVS came fairly close to meeting the 95 percent threshold, with roughly 90 percent of their students tested.

A third provider, Edgenuity, still has an incomplete. Updated state records show just 62 percent of its students took all their required tests.

Continue Reading →


Children lose when teachers unions only say ‘no’

The first time Florida saw a massive statewide teachers’ strike was in the spring of 1968. As editor of the student paper at Miami Norland Senior High, I skipped school to cover the protests. My principal wound up suspending me for two weeks, but it was worth it.

I saw teachers walk out of class, spurred by the advocacy of their union. The educators I talked to weren’t demanding higher salaries. They wanted better teaching materials and more resources for their classrooms. I came to see unions as champions for quality education.

Throughout the ’70s, ’80s, and even into the ’90s, when I was proud to serve as communications director of the Florida Education Association, Florida’s two teachers unions were deeply involved in almost every significant education reform enacted in the state.

They backed local control and school-based accountability. Their leaders understood that to be relevant in Tallahassee, they needed to offer something other than the word “no.”

But as Republicans gained power in the state Legislature, and GOP governors became the norm rather than an anomaly, the unions stopped trying to gain a seat at the table. Instead, they kept trying to flip the table over.

Rather than embrace the new definition of public education, which gained momentum in 1996 after Gov. Lawton Chiles signed the law authorizing Florida’s first charter schools, the teachers unions resisted it with everything they had. Rather than collaborate in meaningful reform, they fought many of the policies Gov. Jeb Bush put in place to help Florida vault toward the top of the national pack for educational quality.

Now, the new definition of public education has become mainstream. All over the country, it’s picking up support from Democrats as well as Republicans.

Florida is now a national leader in offering programs that allow all families to choose the school that best meet their needs. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Grades in, Vitti’s job, racial goals and more

florida-roundup-logoSchool grades: The 114 Florida schools that received preliminary grades of incomplete in May now have their final marks from the state. Incompletes are given when fewer than 95 percent of a school’s students take the Florida Standards Assessments tests. Orlando Sentinel. Both schools in Franklin County receive C grades from the state. Apalachicola Times.

Superintendent jobs: After being lobbied by community leaders who expressed support for Duval County School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, school board chairwoman Ashley Smith Suarez now says firing Vitti is no longer on the agenda for Friday’s board meeting. Smith Suarez had asked Vitti to resign, and said if he didn’t he would risk termination. She has accused him of being untruthful with the board and not being aggressive enough in closing the achievement gap between white and minority students. Florida Times-Union. Florida Politics. WTLV. A Sumter County School Board member says he has no confidence in an investigation that cleared Superintendent Rick Shirley of coercing employees to work on his re-election campaign. David Williams said the investigation, which was launched by school board chair Kenneth Jones without consultation with the board, was unfair and biased. Villages News.

Race-based targets: The Florida Board of Education is considering an end to race-based student achievement goals. Instead, the board would impose improvement targets for all students while still setting goals for closing the achievement gap. Gradebook. The board also is expected to consider new rules for charter school capital spending at its meeting Friday. The new rules approved by the Legislature loosen charter schools’ eligibility for the funds, but also impose new restrictions. Gradebook.

Recess policy: A Duval County School District policy review committee recommends that the school board approve daily recess for all elementary students. The resolution is not binding and does not suggest a start date, but supporters of daily recess call it a step in the right direction. Florida Times-Union. Continue Reading →