Florida schools roundup: ESSA, Irma, charters, teacher absences and more

ESSA plan: Florida’s plan to implement the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) did not include requests for waivers on some rules, but it does detail how the state will work around the rules the state originally wanted waivers from. Florida would continue to report the progress of students by a variety of demographic breakdowns, but would not use those students’ performance in compiling school grades. The U.S. Department of Education still has to approve the plan. If it’s rejected, the state would have to adjust it or potentially lose federal funding. Gradebook. The 74.

Charters, district reach deal: A recently reached settlement calls for the Indian River County School District to pay $2.5 million to five charter schools. The agreement ends a lawsuit the charters brought that alleged the district unlawfully withheld money the charters should have received during the past four years. Each charter will receive an amount based on enrollment. TCPalm.

Storm aftermath: Some school districts announce decisions about making up days lost to Hurricane Irma, while others are still considering their options. Lakeland Ledger. Gradebook. Fort Myers News-Press. Naples Daily News. Ocala Star-Banner. A review after Hurricane Irma raises questions about the safety of shelters – many of them public schools. Tampa Bay Times. Flagler County school officials expect to file a claim for reimbursement of about $500,000 from FEMA. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Teacher absenteeism: Traditional public school teachers are much more likely to be chronically absent from work than charter school teachers, according to a study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. About 28 percent of the traditional public school teachers took more than 10 sick or personal leave days a year, according to the study, compared to about 10 percent of charter school teachers. In Florida, the rate is 41.5 percent of traditional public schools teachers, compared with 9.3 percent of charter school teachers. “I think the biggest takeaway is that teacher chronic absenteeism seems to be driven by state policy and local collective bargaining agreements,” says study author David Griffith. Education Week. Fox News. redefinED.

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What to make of lower absentee rates for Florida charter school teachers?

Teachers in Florida’s district-run public schools are nearly four times as likely to be “chronically absent” from the classroom as their charter school colleagues.

Florida is among the states with the largest teacher absenteeism gaps between charter and traditional public schools. Chart taken from Fordham report.

And that’s not all, according to a new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Florida is home to several charter school networks with unionized teachers and collective bargaining contracts. The municipal charter system in Pembroke Pines is one example. Teachers in those schools are twice as likely to be chronically absent than their colleagues in the majority of charters that aren’t unionized.

Union vs non union charter graph

Charters with unionized teachers tend to have a higher absenteeism rate that those who do not. Chart taken from Fordham report.

In other words, teachers in unionized schools have a greater tendency to miss work more than 10 days out of a school year. And that can affect students. Studies have found teacher absences hurt student learning, and that schools with higher concentrations of disadvantaged students tend to have higher teacher absenteeism rates.

Folks at Fordham acknowledge teacher attendance is the sort of “input” measure that doesn’t typically interest the think tank. It prefers to focus on schools’ “output,” i.e. student results. Continue Reading →


Public, private schools’ partnership lifts up Orlando neighborhood

Every week, students and parents at Calvary City Christian Academy, a K-12 school in one of Orlando’s most hardscrabble communities, convert groceries into care packages for scores of their neighbors.

That those neighbors happen to be homeless students at Sadler Elementary, another school three blocks away, is only the first clue that the relationship between these high-poverty schools – one public, one private – is special.

For four years, the schools have worked hand-in-hand to serve their students, parents and neighborhoods, regardless of which school the students attend.

The result: Both schools and their heavily Hispanic populations now benefit from a wide array of social services – everything from English-language classes to housing assistance – provided by the church affiliated with Calvary. Both see each other as assets that can best uplift a community by cooperating. And both are quietly offering a glimpse of what’s possible if artificial walls between public and private schools can be knocked down.

“We’re modeling what is right by working together,” said Calvary principal Denise Vega. “That sends a message to our parents. We’re not divided. We’re not two. We’re one. One with one purpose – to work together to make sure our children in our lower-income communities are getting everything possible. That only happens when you unite.” Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: ESSA plan, H.B. 7069, gender neutrality and more

ESSA plan submitted: Florida submits its plan on how it will implement the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The deadline to file the plan was Monday, but the state received an extension from the U.S. Department of Education because of Hurricane Irma. The plan would continue the state’s accountability program, which calls for annual standardized testing and school and district grades, and increase the reporting period for English language learners from two years to four years. The state originally planned to ask for several waivers, but backed off in the final plan. Orlando Sentinel. Gradebook. Politico Florida.

H.B. 7069 lawsuit: Two more Florida school districts will join 12 districts in suing over the state’s new education law, H.B. 7069, while another district narrowly decides against it. Joining the suit are the Alachua and Wakulla school boards. Manatee board members vote 3-2 against signing on to the suit, which has yet to be filed. Gradebook.

Gender-neutral request: A 5th grade teacher at Canopy Oaks Elementary School in Leon County riles some parents with a request that her students use gender-neutral pronouns in class. In a note to parents, Chloe Bressack wrote: “My pronouns are ‘they, them, their’ instead of ‘he, his, she, hers.’ I know it takes some practice for it to feel natural, but students catch on pretty quickly.” She also ask that students address her as Mx. Bressack. Principal Paul Lambert says he supports Bressack’s request, and Superintendent Rocky Hanna says, “I can assure you that teachers in our district will not be allowed to use their influence in the classroom to advance any personal belief or political agenda. At this time, I do not believe that is the case in this instance.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Makeup days, storm recovery: Some school districts announce decisions about making up days lost to Hurricane Irma, while others are still considering their options. The Florida Department of Education says it will waive two days, but other days will have to be made up. Schools may apply before Oct. 16 for an exemption. Bradenton Herald. Sun-Sentinel. WFLA. WTSPGradebookGainesville SunNaples Daily News. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Daily Commercial. Citrus County Chronicle. Eighty books and several board games were stolen from a Dunedin Highland Middle School classroom when the school was used an an evacuation shelter. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. The Pasco County School District approves spending up to $10,000 to hire a consultant to supervise the filing of a claim to FEMA for storm damage reimbursement. The district has 30 days to initiate a claim and 60 days to file it. Gradebook. The Immokalee Community School, a charter school primarily for migrant families, plays a key role in the community’s recovery. redefinED.

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School helps its community band together after Hurricane Irma

Residents in Immokalee stand in line waiting for food and water. Immokalee Community School officials helped feed families after the storm. Photo credit: RCMA

Juana Brown describes scenes that unfolded the storm-ravaged farming community of Immokalee, Fla.

A woman pleaded for help as she stood in a long line with her eight-day old baby after Hurricane Irma devastated the small town, 50 miles inland from Naples.

“I don’t have work,” the woman said. “I am ready to go back to work.”

Originally from Guatemala, she had been working in the fields when she went into labor days before Irma struck. The storm destroyed the trailer where she lived with her seven-year-old daughter, who is visually impaired. She waited for hours in the blazing sun with more than 700 other displaced residents. Many had lost their homes and sought federal emergency aid.

Brown is the director of charter schools for the Redlands Christian Migrant Association. It runs the Immokalee Community School, a charter school devoted to migrant families, where many storm victims turned for help.

A teacher began collecting diapers. School officials collected water to distribute to residents. Other staff members signed up as community volunteers. The school has helped feed more than 800 people in one day in the storm’s aftermath. With the help of other community organizations and staff from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s office, it’s helping residents apply for FEMA assistance.

In short, the Immokalee Community School has joined other organizations to help this farming community of just more than 24,000 recover from the storm.

“This is part of RCMA’s mission,” Brown said. “We talk about opening doors of opportunity for the community.  We have very intentionally located ourselves in communities. The organization was founded by Mennonites. What they saw as they came into the community is it was not about us doing for them. It was about making sure the community is part of the work we do. We are part of the community where we are located. Each of these communities are our communities.”

RCMA mostly serves children in rural poverty, and the majority are children of Hispanic immigrants. It has three charter schools and 71 learning centers in 21 Florida counties.

At least 38 percent of Immokalee residents are migrants. Many are undocumented. That complicates their efforts to get help after the storm.

The woman Brown described did not have a social security number, which is required for FEMA assistance. The woman’s daughter is a U.S. citizen. But rounding up the necessary paperwork proved difficult in a community with limited gas and electricity. Even under ideal conditions, many residents rely on bicycles for transportation.

But people at the school did not want to leave the woman without aid.

After much searching, and with help from Rubio’s office, they found the paperwork to get the woman’s daughter signed up for Medicaid.

Widespread devastation Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Makeup days, H.B. 7069 lawsuit, charters and more

Makeup days: Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says school districts that lost classroom time to Hurricane Irma won’t have to make up two of those days. Many districts were closed for five or more days. Especially hard-hit districts may apply for an exception by Oct. 16 to have more makeup days waived. Associated Press. Orlando SentinelGradebook. Education Week. Fort Myers News-Press. WBBHPensacola News Journal. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Gainesville Sun. WESH.

Storm aftermath: Monroe County schools will start opening next week on a staggered schedule as the county tries to recover from being hit by Hurricane Irma. Six Upper Keys schools will reopen Monday. Marathon and Key West schools will resume classes Sept. 27, and two Lower Keys schools will reopen Oct. 2. Keynoter. WPLG. Miami Herald. Power continues to be a problem at some schools. Fort Myers News-Press. Palm Beach Post. Florida Today. The Florida High School Athletic Association is launching a website to allow people to help school sports programs that were affected by the storm. Fort Myers News-Press.

H.B. 7069 lawsuit: The Pinellas County School Board votes unanimously to join other districts in suing the state over the new education law, H.B. 7069. Board members say the law erodes their authority over charter school applications, but they say they will withdraw from the suit if the Legislature amends the law to their liking. Pinellas is the 12th district to join the lawsuit, which has not yet been filed. The others are Broward, Miami-Dade, Duval, Palm Beach, Orange, Polk, Volusia, Lee, Bay, Hamilton and St. Lucie. Tampa Bay Times.

Charter appeals upheld: The Florida Supreme Court chooses not to take up a case challenging the state’s ability to overturn local school boards’ denials of charter school applications. That leaves intact an appeals court decision that the state Board of Education did have the authority to overrule the Palm Beach County School Board after the local board denied an application for a charter school on the grounds that it wasn’t innovative enough. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel. News Service of FloridaredefinED. Gradebook. Politico Florida.

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School board hits legal snag as it challenges Fla. charter school appeals

The Florida Supreme Court today declined to hear a local school board’s attempt to overturn the state’s charter school appeals system.

The move comes school districts across the state prepare to challenge a wide-ranging charter school law.

The case may bolster the idea that lawmakers and the state Board of Education can check local boards’ authority to oversee public schools — including charters.

The wide-ranging legal battle surrounds the Florida Charter Education Foundation’s attempt to open a school in Palm Beach County.

The high court’s decision means the school will have to make its case anew to the state’s Charter School Appeal Commission.

But it also staves off the local school board’s attempt to have the high court declare Florida’s charter school appeals system unconstitutional.

That constitutional dispute drew a host of statewide and national groups into the case.

In a statement, Rod Jurado, chair of the Florida Charter Educational Foundation, said the school board was stymied in yet another “attempt to limit parental choice in education.” Continue Reading →


Florida Virtual School steps into breach after Irma

Some communities – especially in Southwest Florida and the Keys – could take time to recover from the damage of Hurricane Irma. Photo from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Most Florida public schools have reopened after recovering from Hurricane Irma. But some — especially in the Keys and the southwestern part of the state — won’t be back until next week at the earliest. And some individual families could face disruption and hardship long after local schools are up and running.

The statewide public virtual school has stepped into the breach. Gov. Rick Scott reminded people of the option in a statement yesterday.

“As families across the state continue to recover from Hurricane Irma, we must make sure our students have access to every resource they need to remain successful in school,” he said. Continue Reading →