Florida schools roundup: Reading tests, achievement plan, budgets and more

Reading test results: About 90 percent of the state’s high school seniors who had to retake the Florida Standards Assessments language arts test have failed, according to the Florida Department of Education. Last year the number was 84 percent. Students must pass the test to be eligible to receive a diploma. The nearly 16,000 who failed this year can keep retaking the test until they post a passing score. Gradebook.

Achievement plan approved: The Pinellas County School Board approves a plan to eliminate or greatly narrow the achievement gap between white and black students within 10 years. The plan, worked out between the school district and the Concerned Organization of the Quality Education of Black Students, will also settle a long-running lawsuit over the education of black students by the district. The agreement addresses graduation, student achievement, advanced coursework, student discipline, identification for special education and gifted programs and minority hiring. District officials also have committed to providing quarterly progress reports and responding in a more timely manner with reliable information. Tampa Bay Times.

Education bill: More reaction from various groups, education officials and politicians on the Legislature’s education bill, which has yet to be sent to Gov. Rick Scott for consideration. Once it lands on Scott’s desk, he’ll have 15 days to act. Gradebook. Florida Politics. Politico Florida. Miami Herald.

Trump’s education budget: President Trump’s proposed budget would boost programs of school choice, especially charter schools, and cut spending for special education, teacher development, after-school programs and career and technical education. Associated PressEducation Week. NPR. Continue Reading →


Jeb Bush receives ‘overdue’ school choice award

INDIANAPOLIS – With an award described as “overdue,” a national school choice advocacy group recognized Jeb Bush for his contributions to the movement.

The former Florida governor received the John T. Walton Champions for School Choice award from the American Federation for Children today at its annual gathering.

A past recipient of the award — John Kirtley, the chairman of Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog — said Bush summoned him to Miami shortly after he started a Tampa-based offshoot of the Children’s Scholarship Fund in 1999. The governor recognized that the thousands of parents on the waiting list for scholarships could become foot soldiers in Tallahassee.

That conversation led to the creation of Florida tax credit scholarship program, now the largest private school choice program in the nation, in 2001. Continue Reading →


DeVos pushes ‘most ambitious’ school choice expansion ‘in our nation’s history’

INDIANAPOLIS – Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told a friendly crowd that President Trump will release a spending plan today to support “the most ambitious expansion of education choice in our nation’s history.”

But a lot of questions remain about how the federal government might achieve that expansion.

Speaking Monday at the American Federation for Children’s annual policy summit, DeVos offered few details about what a national plan would look like. But she outlined a series of principles.

School choice options would have to be accountable to parents, not officials in Washington. The new administration would avoid “creating a new federal bureaucracy or … bribing states with their own taxpayers’ money” — a subtle jab at Obama-era initiatives like Race to the Top.

States would decide whether to participate in the new federal push. DeVos said declining to create new options for their residents would be a “terrible mistake,” but one for which state-level politicians would have to defend.

“The future is bleak for millions of students if we only continue to tinker around the edges of education reform,” she said. “The time has expired for ‘reform.’ We need a transformation — a transformation that will open up America’s closed and antiquated education system.” Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: School choice, education bill, test scores and more

School choice: In a speech Monday night, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says President Trump will offer the “most ambitious expansion of education choice in our nation’s history.” DeVos did not offer details, other than saying states would not be forced to participate. “Our cause is both right and just,” DeVos said. “You and I know the fight will not be easy. The opponents of modernizing our education system will pull out all the stops. They will not go quietly into the night.” Washington Post. Education Week.

Education bill: Broward County teachers join other school officials and education leaders in urging Gov. Rick Scott to veto the education bill, saying the bill will hurt the district’s ability to recruit and retain quality teachers. Sun Sentinel. News Service of Florida.

Reading test scores: Third-graders in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties show improvement on the Florida Standards Assessments reading tests. In Santa Rosa, 74 percent scored at Level 3 or high, an increase from 70 percent last year. In Escambia, 59 percent were at Level 3 or higher, up from 50 percent last year. Pensacola News Journal. Fifty-three percent of Polk County’s third-graders scored at Level 3 or higher in the state reading test, up from 51 percent last year. Lakeland Ledger. Martin, Indian River and St. Lucie counties all had more third-graders reading at grade level or above than they did a year ago. TCPalm. Marion County third-graders improve their reading scores by 5 percentage points over last year. Ocala Star Banner.

Muslim school security: Studies show that Muslim students are increasingly being bullied in public schools. A 2016 Council on American-Islamic Relations report identifies “209 incidents of anti-Muslim bias, including harassment, intimidation, and violence targeting students,” and a 2015 report concluded that “55 percent of Muslim students aged (11 to 18) reported being subject to some form of bullying because of their faith.” For many parents, the solution is sending their children to Islamic schools. redefinED. Continue Reading →


Muslim schools share concerns about security

CAIR, in a report titled “Empowerment of Fear,” highlights increasing number of cases of bullying against Muslim students. The report is the source for this photo.

Two parents were trying to relocate to Orlando, inquiring about educational opportunities for their children at Ibn Seena Academy, an Islamic school serving students in Pre-K through eighth grade.

Rehannah Hemmali, the principal, said they told her their children did not feel accepted in public schools in Port Charlotte, a Southwest Florida city 159 miles away.

Hemmali said the students felt isolated. Other students ridiculed their dress and their food.

“They are concerned with raising their children in an environment that they do not always feel welcome,” said Hemmali in a phone interview. “They want to make a change for their child.”

Educators say Islamic schools provide a safe place for students who face bullying and hate crimes. They also push back against criticism that students “live in a bubble” at the schools. On the contrary, they argue, the schools emphasize strong academics and prepare students to succeed in society with an understanding of all faiths and cultures.

Principals, parents and educational experts believe Muslim schools help children feel safer and freer from bullying. They expressed concerns about those schools becoming the targets of violence and hate crimes because of the rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate crimes.

The FBI’s most recent hate crime report showed 22.2 percent were anti-Islamic, up from 12.8 percent in 2012. Further, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported the number of anti-Muslim groups is growing, from 34 in 2015 to 101 in 2016.

In a new report, The Council on American-Islamic Relations stated in 2016, there were “209 incidents of anti-Muslim bias, including harassment, intimidation, and violence targeting students.” According to a CAIR 2015 report, “55 percent of Muslim students aged (11 to 18) reported being subject to some form of bullying because of their faith.”

“Parents are always on edge,” said Jameer Abass, principal of the Muslim Academy of Greater Orlando, which serves 261 students from Pre-K to eighth grade. “We spend a lot of money on surveillance cameras. I hired an armed security guard to monitor all of our gates.” Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Reading test scores, achievement plan and more

Third-grade reading results: Eighty-one percent of the state’s third-graders posted passing scores on the Florida Standards Assessments reading exam this year, according to the Florida Department of Education. Fifty-eight percent of students scored at Level 3 or high, meaning they met grade-level expectations, which is an increase from 54 percent last year. The 19 percent who scored at Level 1 – about 43,300 students – face retention if they can’t pass an alternate test or demonstrate proficiency through a portfolio of classroom work. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Florida Times-UnionSarasota Herald-Tribune. Space Coast Daily. Brevard Times. Bradenton Herald. Associated PressNews Service of Florida.

New achievement plan: An agreement is reached on a 10-year plan to eliminate or greatly narrow the achievement gap between white and black students in Pinellas County. The Concerned Organization for the Quality Education of Black Students had been suing the Pinellas County School District, alleging that it was shortchanging black students throughout the educational process. The agreement, reached Friday, addresses the lingering issues on graduation, student achievement, advanced coursework, student discipline, identification for special education and gifted programs and minority hiring. District officials have committed to providing quarterly progress reports and responding in a more timely manner with reliable information. Both sides are calling the agreement a “turning point” for the district. Tampa Bay Times.

From high school to med school: Four graduates of Florida Atlantic University High School have been admitted directly into the FAU College of Medicine. The four students will begin training as doctors in 2018 and be eligible for residency at age 22 or 23. It’s believed to be the only program of its kind in the United States. FAU High is a school where students can earn high school and college credits at the same time. Sun Sentinel. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Education bill, Bright Futures, testing, recess and more

Education bill: The Florida Association of School Boards has already urged Gov. Rick Scott to veto the Legislature’s education bill, H.B. 7069. Now the group says it wants Scott to also veto the proposed Florida Education Fund Program, which sets per-student spending. The board says 90 percent of the the $240 million increase in the program will go for school enrollment growth and increased retirement plan contributions, and what is left is not enough to “adequately serve our students.” Gradebook. News Service of Florida. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, praises Rep. Roy Hardemon, D-Miami, for being the only Democrat in the Legislature to vote for the education bill. Miami Herald.

Bright Futures: The boost in money for Bright Futures scholarship winners in the education bill would expand the program significantly, but it also renews concerns about fairness in who qualifies. In 2015, about 51,200 students were eligible. Less than 4 percent were black, and 20 percent were Hispanic. “When you pour most of your money into your top-tier scholarship, you are giving that money to upper-middle-class white kids,” says Bob Schaeffer of FairTest, a nonprofit advocacy organization. Tampa Bay Times.

Certification tests defended: Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says the state’s teacher certification exams are useful and appropriate, despite failure rates of 30 percent on some portions and the escalating costs to the test-takers. “We have a lot of research that shows the exams are not flawed,” said Stewart. “I think it’s a reflection of we’ve raised standards for students and, consequently, we need to raise standards for teachers and make sure that they are experts in the content area that they’re teaching.” WFTS.

Daily recess: All public K-5 elementary school students in Marion County will get 20 minutes of recess every day, starting in the fall. Superintendent Heidi Maier made recess an issue in her campaign for the job last fall, and in following through, she wrote: “It is the right thing to do. We have the research which shows recess is needed for kids to retain information.” Ocala Star Banner. Continue Reading →


How Florida blocks ‘double-dipping’ on school choice scholarship donations

A headline in The New York Times carries a damning allegation: In some states, contributing to a school choice nonprofit can earn donors a “profit.”

The allegation is based on a new report by the national association of school district superintendents. It argues in some states, donors can contribute to a nonprofit organization that funds private school scholarships. For every dollar they donate, their state tax bill is reduced by a dollar. Then, those donors can turn around and claim a federal tax deduction for their charitable contribution. As a result, they wind up better off financially than if they hadn’t donated at all.

That money-making scenario is illegal in Florida, home of one of the oldest — and, by far, the largest — tax credit scholarship programs in the nation. (Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog and pays my salary, is the largest scholarship granting organization in Florida.)

The Times and the superintendents association both note “double dipping” isn’t possible in every state. But neither bothers to mention that Sunshine State statutes specifically prohibit it.  Continue Reading →