Florida schools roundup: ‘Hope’ upheld, students protest and more

Schools of Hope. A Tallahassee judge has released a written decision explaining why he upheld Florida’s Schools of Hope law on all counts. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida.

School safety. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High students plan to join their peers nationwide in protests marking the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School mass shooting. Miami Herald. Tampa Bay Times. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Some districts won’t penalize students who participate in walkouts. WFSU. A statewide panel investigating the MSD shooting will convene for its first meeting in Parkland next week. Politico Florida. A Panhandle superintendent explains his district’s deliberations over post-Parkland security measures. Teachers in his district support the idea of arming school staff. Gradebook. Pay raises could be on the chopping block as districts look for ways to fund increased security. Palm Beach Post. Palm Beach County schools speed up long-planned facilities-hardening projects to assuage fearful parents. Sun-Sentinel. Pinellas schools could adopt a “Know the Signs” violence-prevention curriculum developed by Sandy Hook families. Tampa Bay Times. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune fields reader questions on school security.

Survivors honored. Time Magazine counts five Parkland students among its 100 Most Influential People in 2018. In an accompanying essay, Barack Obama calls the young people “heroes.” Miami Herald.

Charter schools. Legacy Charter School in Brevard County faced imminent closure for, among other things, not having certified teachers, not have appropriate curriculum materials and being in a state of financial emergency. Florida Today.

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Colleges wary of dual enrollment change

By Lloyd Dunkelberger

News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — State colleges could face higher costs after a new law revamped the dual-enrollment program for students at private high schools who take courses at public colleges and universities.

Dual enrollment is an increasingly popular program that allows students from grades six through 12 to take post-secondary courses that help them complete high school as well as get a head start on college degrees.

More than 60,000 students are using the program to attend state and community colleges and state universities.

During the 2015-2016 academic year, 56,245 dual-enrollment students attended Florida’s 28 state and community colleges, an increase of 12.5 percent over the 2011-2012 year, according to the state Department of Education.

In 2015-2016, 5,842 dual-enrollment students attended Florida’s 12 universities, according to the state Board of Governors.

The program is popular, in part, because dual-enrollment students pay no tuition and the costs of textbooks are covered. Continue Reading →


Judge breaks down decision upholding Florida ‘Schools of Hope’ law

By Jim Saunders

News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Rejecting arguments of school boards across the state, a Leon County circuit judge this week formally rejected a challenge to a controversial 2017 law that included a series of moves to boost charter schools.

Circuit Judge John Cooper, who had earlier indicated he would turn down the challenge, issued an 18-page ruling Tuesday siding with the Florida Department of Education and the State Board of Education, the defendants in the case.

The lawsuit centered on a measure, commonly known as HB 7069, that was a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, and became one of the most-controversial issues of the 2017 legislative session. Debate about the measure highlighted continuing tensions between local school districts and the state about oversight and expansion of charter schools, which are public schools but are often run by private operators. Continue Reading →


The ethics of private school choice

The latest edition of the New York Times’ “Ethicist” column features a parent facing a perceived dilemma about school vouchers.

The key word is “perceived.”

An unnamed parent writes about a child who attends a private Montessori preschool. The parent is concerned about what will come next.

My son is thriving in his current environment, and the approach of traditional public schools is significantly different from Montessori’s. If money were no object, I would strongly consider keeping him at his current school.

Our state has a school-voucher program, which uses public money to help low-income families pay for private-school tuition. My family would probably qualify. But I believe that taxpayer dollars would be better spent to fortify public-school systems and should not be funneled to private schools. Given my beliefs, may I apply for a school voucher?

The ethicist answers yes, on the grounds that parents’ obligation to their children trump societal concerns. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Tax hikes, security for schools, budgets and more

Sales tax hikes: The Martin County School Board is asking residents to approve two tax hikes. In August, voters will be asked to approve a half-mill property tax increase to boost teacher pay and development and pay for school security and extra mental-health services. The tax would raise about $11.2 million a year for four years. In November, voters will consider a seven-year, half-cent sales tax increase that would generate about $112 million for school construction and upgrades. TCPalm. Okaloosa County School Board member Dewey Destin wants to district to reconsider a ballot initiative to increase the sales tax by a half-cent to raise money for schools. If approved, the tax hike would raise about $17 million a year for the district, which could spend it only for capital projects such as construction and upgrades. Northwest Florida Daily News.

School security forces: Brevard County School Board members brush off a protest against arming school employees, and the advice of the superintendent and county sheriff, and say they will proceed with gathering information on the state’s marshal program. Board members say they’d prefer to have school resource officers, but the district doesn’t have the money and they aren’t interested in tapping reserves or raising taxes. Three town hall meetings are scheduled to discuss the best way to protect schools, and the board will decide next month whether to approve the marshals program. Florida Today. Switching to an internal police department will save the Sarasota County School District up to $1.5 million in the 2018-2019 school year, officials say. There is some question whether the district can put together a department of two administrators, a detective, two sergeants and 24 deputies before the next school year begins Aug. 13. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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Peace, love & accountability

War on Poverty liberals who supported private school vouchers saw school choice as a means to create more accountability for a public education system that they saw as unresponsive to the needs of low-income parents. (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)

This is the latest post in our ongoing series on the center-left roots of school choice.

The Great Society liberals who pushed for private school vouchers in the 1960s and ‘70s were all about social justice. They saw a tool for empowering low-income parents. For promoting equity. For honoring diversity.

They also saw a means to redefine accountability.

In 1971, the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity – the office created to lead the War on Poverty – put out this brochure explaining the “voucher experiment” that would eventually be sorta kinda conducted in California’s Alum Rock school district. (You can read the full proposal here.) The brochure notes the pathetic academic outcomes for low-income students across America, then pivots to a theory for progress through “greater accountability”:

One reason for this disparity could well be that poor parents have little opportunity to affect the type or quality of education received by their children. The poor have no means by which to make the education system more responsive to their needs and desires. More affluent parents usually can obtain a good education for their children because they can choose schools for their children to attend – either by deciding where to live or by sending the children to private schools. Poverty and residential segregation deny this choice to low-income and minority parents.

The Office of Economic Opportunity therefore has begun to seek a means to introduce greater accountability and parental control into schools in such a way that the poor would have a wider range of choices, that the schools would be encouraged to become more accountable to parents, and that the public schools would remain attractive to the more affluent. This has led to consideration of an experiment in which public education would be given directly to parents in the form of vouchers, or certificates, which the parents could then take to the school of their choice, public or nonpublic, as payment for their children’s education.

Now is a good a time to re-surface this blast from the past. Plenty of smart folks have been trying to help people understand a definition of accountability through school choice (see here, here, here and here). But truth be told, opponents of choice – and I’d put many of my media friends in that category – still haven’t heard that definition, or still don’t appreciate it, or still characterize it exclusively as an extension of free-market “ideology.” Perhaps hearing it from the left will cause some healthy cognitive dissonance. 🙂

A better grasp of accountability is especially important to us in Florida. We’ve been barraged by negative stories ever since President Trump visited an Orlando Catholic school in March 2017 and praised Florida’s scholarship programs. Many of these stories suggested, if not outright claimed, that the Florida programs lack accountability. The name of the Trump-spurred series in the Orlando Sentinel says it all: “Schools Without Rules.” (Our response here.)

But this notion of unaccountable private schools is only true if you believe in a narrow, warped view of accountability that includes regulations alone. If “accountability” means holding a state-supported program to account for results, then parental choice exercises that pressure, too.

The liberal academics behind the OEO voucher proposal clearly believed that. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: School security plans, budget blues and more

School security: The Sarasota County School Board approves a plan to create an internal school security department over the next two years. The plan, which would cost the district $3.1 million, calls for hiring 30 officers and placing them in elementary schools for the 2018-2019 school year, and adding 26 more the following year and putting them in middle and high schools. Superintendent Todd Bowden proposes negotiating with local law enforcement agencies to provide coverage in middle and high schools for 2018-2019, which could cost as much as another $2.5 million. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. YourObserver.com. Both the Duval and Pasco school districts are considering plans to place safety “assistants” in elementary schools as a less-costly alternative to using sworn school resource officers. These assistants would receive less training and be paid less than SROs, and work only when schools are in session. Florida Times-UnionWJCT. WJXT. Gradebook. The Volusia County School Board is asking the county council for $2 million to help put a resource officer in every school. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Putnam County School Board members delay a decision on arming school employees until May 1 to wait for a recommendation from a school advisory committee. WJXT. Students are among about 50 people protesting against Brevard County School Board members who want to consider arming school employees. Florida Today. Broward County school officials are hosting the first of several school safety forums tonight. WLRN.

Budget problems: The Duval County School Board is facing a $62 million deficit in its $1.7 billion budget for next year, districts officials say. Last year the district dipped into its reserves to cover a $23 million deficit. Interim Superintendent Patricia Willis says overspending, higher costs for security, transportation, raises and money to charter schools are contributing to the deficit, and she’s asking department heads to look for 5 percent savings in their budgets. Florida Times-Union. Broward County school officials say they’re facing a budget deficit of nearly $15 million for the next school year, and are considering asking voters for an additional half-mill in property taxes so teachers can get raises. If approved by the school board, the tax measure would go on the November ballot. Officials estimate it would raise $93 million a year over its four-year life. Sun-Sentinel. Lake County School Superintendent Diane Kornegay is proposing to trim $2.1 million from the district’s budget by eliminating non-teaching positions in administration and support services. Daily Commercial.

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How this Gainesville charter school does standards-based grading

An “A” rated charter school in Alachua Fla does not employ a traditional A-F grading system. Indeed, when Boulware Springs Charter School opened in 2014, the school’s principal, Kay Abbitt, implemented a standards-based report card.

Students may bring home report cards that are 11 pages long, as opposed to a traditional one-page grade sheet. Parents can see which specific learning goals their children mastered and which need more work.

Boulware grades students on scale of 1-4, with 4 meaning mastery, on each standard. The score of 1 means the student is a novice, 2 means they are developing the standard, and 3 is approaching mastery.

As a result, students receive more than one grade in each subject area. For example, in kindergarten reading, a report card breaks down how a student mastered standards such as using frequently occurring nouns and verbs and printing upper- and lowercase letters.   Once students leave the K-5 school, it must convert their grades back to an A-F system.

Elementary schools elsewhere in Florida have employed standards-based grading for years. But a bill’s death in the waning days of Florida’s legislative session may hamper efforts to create similar grading systems for middle- and high-school students.

RedefinED spoke with Abbitt about standards-based grading. See a sample report card from the charter school embedded below.

How effective is this grading method? Continue Reading →