Florida schools roundup: Teacher tests, minorities in AP classes and more

Teacher tests: The Florida Department of Education says a historically high percentage of people who want to be teachers are failing the Florida Teacher Certification Exam, which was recently toughened by the state. And now fewer people are taking the test, as many as 10 percent fewer for some subject areas. “We have a real crisis,” said Dr. Gloria Pelaez, St. Thomas University dean of the school of arts. “This is turning people, good intelligent people away,” said Wendy Mungillo of the Manatee County School District. Melissa Smith, for example. She’s taken and failed the test seven times, and has decided to leave the state and get a master’s degree. Department of Education officials defend the tougher exams, saying they’re in line with more rigorous tests students now take. WFTS.

Minorities and AP classes: A Palm Beach County School District analysis shows an “implicit bias” is in part responsible for lower minority participation in Advanced Placement classes. Minority students with comparable scores to white students are excluded from AP classes at a much higher rate than whites. That so-called “opportunity gap” also favors girls over boys, according to the analysis. “Students who have potential, why are they not in the courses?” Deputy Superintendent David Christiansen said. “There’s a significant gap there that we want to start to close.” Palm Beach Post.

Days lost to testing: Orange County teacher Peggy Dominguez tells a Senate committee meeting this week that she loses 37 days of her 180-day school year to preparing her students for the Florida Standards Assessments tests. Dominguez teaches English at Timber Creek High School. She and others testified about the downsides of the testing process. The Senate is considering a bill that would, among other things, push all testing to the final three weeks of the school year and authorize a study to see if the ACT or SAT tests can be used as a replacement for the FSA. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →

0

Bill expanding private school students’ sports options ready for floor vote

Antone

The Florida House Education Committee unanimously passed HB 1109, allowing students at private schools to participate in sports at a public school of their choice based on their school district’s open enrollment policy.

The bill would expand extracurricular options for private school students. It’s now ready for a vote on the House floor.

Existing laws allow students attending private middle or high schools that are not members of the Florida High School Athletics Association, and that have fewer than 125 students, to participate in interscholastic sports at their zoned public schools.

Bill sponsor Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando, added an amendment that specifies a private school student can participate in sports at a school if the capacity for that school has not be reached as determined by the district school board.

Florida already has a “Tim Tebow” law that allows homeschool students — as well as students enrolled in charters or other schools of choice — to sign up for teams at their zoned public school, or other public schools they would otherwise attend. The goal of the law is to give students in educational choice programs access to extracurriculars that might not otherwise be available.

This year’s legislation is the latest in a series of efforts to adapt high school athletics and extracurricular activities to the growth of school choice programs.

 

0

Florida schools roundup: Graduation investigation, charter schools and more

Graduation investigation: The Florida Department of Education launches an investigation to see if school districts are dumping struggling students in their senior years into alternative schools to improve the graduation rates at traditional high schools. Last month, the investigative news website ProPublica reported that alternative schools in the Orange County School District are used as “release valves” that take in students unlikely to graduate. State Board of Education member Gary Chartrand described the report as a “very serious allegation,” and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said, “It’s critical that every decision is made with the best interest of the students in mind.” Associated Press. Orlando Sentinel. WFSUPolitico Florida.

Charter capital funding: The Florida Board of Education adopts rules that would deny construction funds to charter schools that received two consecutive grades below a C from the state, starting in the 2017-2018 school year. Board members say they are simply trying to follow state law, which requires charter schools to show “satisfactory student achievement” to be eligible for capital funding from the state. Members of the Florida Association of Independent Public Schools, who challenged the rules before with state’s administrative law court, don’t like these revisions either. “This seems like deja vu all over again,” said Mark Gotz, the president of School Development Group. “Charter schools are public schools and need to be treated equally and equitably.” redefinED. Gradebook. Politico Florida.

Charter district: The plan to turn over operations of the struggling Jefferson County School District to a charter company is approved by the Florida Board of Education. The Jefferson board and Somerset Academy are expected to finalize a contract in April, with the charter company opening the county’s elementary, middle and high schools at a single location in August. Jefferson will become the first all-charter district in the state. WFSU. Tallahassee DemocratPolitico Florida.

More from state board: Department of Education officials tell the Florida Board of Education that they are proposing several amendments to the state’s rules on English-language learners (ELL) to adjust to new federal standards. One of the changes would lower the proficiency levels required for ELL students, which some critics think could push those students out of the program before they are ready. The board will vote on the proposed changes at its next meeting. Gradebook. The state board also approves a pilot program that would give select principals in seven counties greater autonomy over the operations at their schools. Broward, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Duval, Jefferson, Madison and Seminole counties will participate. redefinED. Continue Reading →

0

State board approves pilot program giving principals more autonomy

The State Board of Education today approved plans to give principals at public schools in Broward, Palm Beach and Pinellas Counties greater control over their budgets and hiring.

Last year, lawmakers created the Principal Autonomy Pilot Program Initiative. It allows school districts to offer select principals a charter-like exchange. They get more flexibility, as well as exemptions from certain state and local rules. In return, they would have to meet academic performance goals.

Before signing off on the plans, Michael Olenick, a member of the state board, wanted to know how giving principals greater operational freedom would affect students.

“As a former principal, I had an opportunity to make decisions without receiving permission from the district office,” said Hershel Lyons, chancellor for the state’s K-12 public schools. “It is an opportunity for the principal to make a decision that impacts that individual student immediately and take into account other things that prepare all students along with that.”

In their applications, the districts each picked three schools that would participate, and set targets to raise student achievement. In general, the schools serve large proportions of low-income students of color, and have histories of academic struggles.  Continue Reading →

0

Florida state board sets higher bar for charter school facilities funding

The Florida Board of Education this morning approved a higher academic bar for charter schools that receive state facilities funding.

The rule would deny capital funding to charters that earn multiple D’s through the state’s A-F accountability system.

The state Department of Education revised the proposal after groups like the Florida Association of Independent Public Schools challenged it before the state’s administrative law court.

After the revisions, charter schools would still have to meet the higher academic standard to get access to the Charter School Capital Outlay, but it won’t take effect until the 2017-18 school year.

Members of the advocacy group indicated they still opposed the new rule.

“This seems like Deja Vu All over again,” said Mark Gotz, the president of School Development Group, which helped finance Miami Community Charter School in Florida City. “Charter schools are public schools and need to be treated equally and equitably.”

That argument piqued the interest of state board members who signed off on the previous version of the rule. Continue Reading →

0

Florida schools roundup: Charter district, tests, home-schooling and more

Charter district: The Jefferson County School Board agrees to turn over operations of the district’s struggling schools to the charter school company Somerset Academy. The proposed deal will be taken to the Florida Board of Education today for approval. If the deal is approved, Jefferson would become the first charter district in the state. In its application, Somerset said it will operate an elementary, middle and high school on a single campus led by a single principal, bring in a rigorous curriculum, including Advanced Placement classes, pay teachers 7 percent more than they can get in surrounding counties, pay competitive benefits, and work to bring students attending the alternative school back into the traditional schools. redefinEDWFSU.

Testing debate: The debate over the state’s standardized testing intensifies at a Senate Education Committee meeting Tuesday. Supporters of former Gov. Jeb Bush are backing a moderate revision of the current system, while others want more significant changes, including fewer tests. Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, who is leading the committee in the medical absence of Chairwoman Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, said no decision has been made on what direction the bills will take, and that Hukill will make that call. News Service of Florida.

Help for home-schoolers: Students who are home-schooled would have greater access to college classes and career education courses offered by school districts in a bill approved by the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. Districts also would be required to accept home-education registrations as long as parents and their children meet the state’s requirements. redefinED.

Religious expression bill: The Florida Senate moves the so-called “religious expression” bill to a third and final reading. If approved, the bill would be sent to the House, which has a slightly different version. The bill would give students more freedom to express religious thoughts in public schools. Gradebook. News Service of Florida. Continue Reading →

0

Somerset chosen to run charter school turnaround in rural North Florida

Jefferson County charter school vote

Jefferson County school board members unanimously approve charter applications by Somerset Academy.

MONTICELLO, Fla. – After a 5-0 Tuesday night vote, the Jefferson County School Board brought Florida’s smallest school district into uncharted territory.

It’s now poised to start negotiations with Somerset Academy, which could soon lead a conversion into Florida’s first all-charter school system.

The board approved a trio of charter school applications. If contract negotiations go smoothly, Somerset will operate an elementary, middle and high school, housed on a single campus and led by a single principal.

The state is home to dozens of charters converted from traditional public schools, but converted charters have never encompassed an entire school system. Somerset and the school district will have to hash out new arrangements for expulsions, transportation and employment terms for teachers.

Douglas Rodriguez, a consultant advising Somerset, said the charter organization plans to interview current Jefferson teachers and decide by next month which ones will stay. The charter group also plans an ambitious recruiting effort across North Florida and nationwide. A promised new pay schedule could boost a current teacher’s salary by nearly $10,000. Rodriguez said the plan would help draw recruits to a rural community that lies just east of the state capital and two state universities.

“We are going to make the Jefferson County teachers the highest-paid teachers in the state of Florida,” he said. Continue Reading →

1

How a Florida principal helps open access to more AP courses

Julie Lueallen, principal at East Ridge High School

Growing up in a single-parent, low-income household in the late 1970s, Julie Lueallen had fewer opportunities to excel in education.

Now, she’s the principal of East Ridge High School, one of the highest-performing schools in south Lake County, Fla.

Growing up, she said, she was an average student who had potential. Her teachers did not steer her into honor courses, which at the time were the only classes available for students to receive more rigorous coursework that would prepare them for college.

“It was all in your grades,” she said. “Nobody even talked about opening that world to me. They counseled kids, but not the kind of kid like me.”

Lueallen, a product of nearby Tavares High School, said she had some excellent teachers. But she might never have gotten onto a college-preparatory track without an advocate who knew the school system well and argued on her behalf: her mother.

“If my mom was not pushing I wouldn’t have gotten into honors courses,” she said. “Having a parent that is savvy in a high school curriculum. That is important.”

Now, as a principal, she advocates for all students to take advantage of the opportunities she and her mother had to fight for. Her school has emerged as a leader in Florida’s effort to push more into Advanced Placement courses and toward college credits.

According to a new report from the College Board, the nonprofit that administers the AP program, Florida ranks fourth in the nation in the percentage of graduating seniors who have passed at least one AP exam, which can lead to credit for an entry-level college course. Over the past decade, low-income children of color have driven most of the state’s improvements.

Beginning in the 1990s, Florida leaders decided to open AP courses to more low-income, black and Hispanic students. The College Board, which administers AP exams, has adopted an equity and access policy, which states: Continue Reading →

0