Florida schools roundup: School growth, funding issues, fighting and more

florida-roundup-logoDistrict growth: Rapid growth is putting a strain on the Volusia County School District. Officials say more than a quarter of the county’s schools are over capacity, and the district expects an additional 1,300 students in August. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The St. Johns County School Board and district officials are making plans to deal with expected growth that is at least partially spurred by the state’s new open enrollment law. St. Augustine Record.

Charter school growth: The latest report on student migration in Hillsborough County shows that charter middle and K-8 schools are growing rapidly and, in some cases, that is eroding diversity in the district schools the children leave behind. Gradebook.

Funding problems: The Hernando County School District has tightened spending to bring its financial reserves to the level required by state law. That’s led to schools hiring fewer substitutes and having more split classes as students of absent teachers are distributed to other teachers’ classes. Tampa Bay Times.

Fighting in schools: Parents, community leaders and school officials meet to talk about solutions to the recent outburst of fights at Leesburg High School. “What is going on in the Leesburg community that is fraying the social fabric of the lives of our students, our community’s most valuable asset?” asked moderator Sheila Smalley. Daily Commercial. Two students are arrested and three are hospitalized after a fight in the lunchroom at Edgewater High School in Orlando. The fight began between two girls. When they wouldn’t stop, a school resource officer used pepper spray to break it up. Orlando Sentinel.

Superintendent’s book: A book written by Alachua County School Superintendent Owen Roberts is raising questions about plagiarism. Two experts say the book, A Framework for Improving School Systems in the 21st Century, uses large portions of text from other sources verbatim. That strays from academic norms, they say. Roberts says it’s not plagiarism because he made references to authors before starting passages and listed their resources in the bibliography. Gainesville Sun. Continue Reading →


School: Such a Trip!

Expanding school choice could lead to innovative options for the children of farmworkers - perhaps mobile classrooms that allow the students to learn as they travel. (Image by An Errant Knight, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Expanding school choice could lead to innovative options for the children of farmworkers – perhaps mobile classrooms that allow the students to learn as they travel. (Image by An Errant Knight, from Wikimedia Commons.)

I’ve written before of an afternoon with Cesar Chavez at UFW headquarters on the edge of the California desert. The year was 1981, and there was strong hope of putting a school choice initiative on the ballot.

Chavez, his nephew and I spoke of empowering farm workers with an educational option. On the one hand, if they wished, they could continue to educate their children in a string of disconnected public schools located in diverse districts along the seasonal harvest path north. On the other, they could choose among public and private schools travelling in buses, either parked in coordination with the parents’ location, and/or actually operating in moving buses variously designed for the purpose of schooling.

Chavez was warm, receptive – and frustrated. His impediment was the annual $200,000 he received from Albert Shanker and the AFT. So he said, and I believed him. I suppose the AFT still protects its monopolies in similar ways. I see no legal impediment except, possibly, the anti-trust laws.

Peripatetic schools in buses? I think so.

Most of the mobile schoolhouses would teach only when parked in a location convenient to the parents’ current worksite. Whether the bus was equipped actually to provide education en route could be one element of choice for the parents. What would, I think, be the central advantages of either style are two: the convenience of location near the parent and continuity of atmosphere and substance – the same room, books, teachers – everything about the school itself – plus the settling confidence of the child in the parents’ proximity.

To this I would add in the reduction in systemic public costs made possible by liberating school districts from the expense and complexities of providing space and whatever other necessities – a teacher, or several – for a new gang each week or 10 days. It could be a relief to all concerned to be able to offer parents a school appropriate to their child’s age, and consistent in its milieu and message.

School reformers could seriously consider – as a potential reform to both policy and politics – the convening of well-publicized conferences to consider the question of the most promising forms of itinerant schools for farm workers’ children. So far as I know, they have yet to model and critique the potential variety of such novelties as tools of wise educational policy. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Florida Prepaid, school spending and more

florida-roundup-logoFlorida Prepaid: The Florida Prepaid College Board removes the minimum contribution level for a Florida 529 Savings Plan. Starting in May, a 529 account can be opened at any amount, and with no application fees. Gradebook.

Spending cuts: The Hillsborough County School District is limiting all discretionary spending in the central administration office and requiring schools to get waivers from area superintendents to make purchases. The freeze is prompted by higher than expected enrollment and school starting earlier next year. The district will also soon begin negotiations with its unions. Tampa Bay Times. The St. Johns County School Board discusses the challenges with state funding for the fast-growing district. St. Augustine Record.

More testing: The Duval County School Board is considering adding more testing for high school and middle school students. The district wants to include the ACT and PSAT national exams to give students more opportunities for scholarships. The district would pay for the tests. Florida Times-Union.

Payment errors: Teachers tee off at Manatee County School District officials and their union at a meeting to discuss how 174 teachers were mistakenly overpaid. A district error led to experienced teachers new to the district making more money than teachers already working in the district with the same type of degrees and experience. Those 174 teachers’ pay will be adjusted accordingly, and for some it will mean a pay cut of almost $3,000. “On so many levels, I’m trying not to feel betrayed,” said Deb Peterson, a teacher at Tara Elementary. “That’s enough for me to consider looking to find another place to work.” Bradenton Herald.

Girls football: Girls who participate in the Jupiter High School Powder Puff tackle football game reject the school district’s suggestion to instead play flag football or kickball, and say they will look for an alternate site. The district prohibited the game, citing concerns about injuries. Palm Beach Post. Continue Reading →


Florida VPK: A ‘Mozart effect,’ or lasting boost for early childhood education?

In the early 1990s, it was all the rage for expecting parents to play hours of classical music before childbirth.  When articles first appeared in scholarly journals, the melodies of Mozart and Beethoven became popular to reportedly boost the IQ levels of children through exposure in utero.

Today, classical music for parents remains a hot seller, though more recent research has largely debunked the “Mozart effect.”  For example, Scientific American Magazine reported here that a 1999 meta-analysis on 16 studies related to the use of classical music found that the IQ boost provided was only one and a half IQ points and limited to a paper-folding task.

Fast forward to 2002, when Florida led the way for another trend aimed at giving young children an intellectual jumpstart – this one based upon widespread public support and much less-controversial research.

Voters passed a ballot initiative, with 58.6 percent in favor, to establish “an early childhood development and education program which should be voluntary, high-quality, free and delivered according to professionally accepted standards.”  This language to offer free universal preschool was enshrined in the Florida Constitution under Article IX, Section I.  In a nutshell, the voters said this: parental empowerment at the onset of each child’s education is essential to later academic success.

In January 2005, Gov. Jeb Bush signed the law creating the Voluntary Prekindergarten Education (VPK) Program.  The overarching goal: to build a solid foundation for academic success by preparing Florida four-year olds for kindergarten and life in general.  Scholarships were made available on a free, opt-in basis for the Florida parents of a child who turns four by September 1 of that (or subsequent) school years.  The law required 540 instructional hours for the school-year program, which typically translates into a three-hour day, at a school of the parent’s choice.

During the program’s first school year, in 2005-06, VPK scholarships were set at $2,500 per child.  Approximately 107,000 children were enrolled; this represented slightly less than half the eligible population of four-year olds in the state.  During the current school year, the program is expected to serve 153,045 students or nearly 75 percent of the eligible children, according to July 2015 data from the state’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Bathroom access, LGBT policy, testing and more

florida-roundup-logoBathroom access: The Marion County School Board approves a policy to ban transgender students from using the bathroom based on their gender identity. The measure goes into effect today. Ocala Star Banner. Earlier Tuesday, the ACLU of Florida issued a letter warning the board that the policy would harm students and “violate Title IX sex discrimination requirements, violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and jeopardize federal funding for the school district.” Ocala Star BannerWCJB.

LGBT policy: A divided Brevard County School Board is asking school officials to amend the district’s nondiscrimination and equal employment policies to include protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and staff. The revisions would be discussed at a public meeting before being voted on by the board. Florida Today.

Test scores: U.S. high school seniors’ National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores dropped slightly in math and stayed about the same in reading, according to the 2015 Nation’s Report Card from the National Assessment Governing Board. Florida seniors’ results mirrored the national ones, though Florida scored slightly higher than the national average in both subjects. Sunshine State News.

District overspending: The Broward County School District’s police department has overspent its budget by about $2.5 million, prompting an audit and a request to the school board for more money. The department has just $50,000 left in its budget for this fiscal year, and $3.5 million in expenses that have not been paid. The financial problems were discovered in a review of the way the department handles personnel investigations. Sun-Sentinel.

School choice: Dismantling school choice would harm Florida students, schools and taxpayers, warns John Kirtley, venture capitalist and chairman of Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog. He was speaking to the Economic Club of Florida. The Florida Education Association and other groups have sued the state, challenging the constitutionality of the school choice programs. The case goes to a state appeals court in May. Step Up For Students administers tax-credit scholarships for about 80,000 low-income students, and also the Gardiner Scholarships for students with disabilities. Tampa TribuneMiami Herald. Politico Florida. WFSU. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Recognition money, safety, suicide risk and more

florida-roundup-logoRecognition money: School recognition money will be delivered to school districts by the state today, according to Department of Education officials. Schools will get $97.04 per full-time equivalent student. Most of the schools distribute the money as a bonus to teachers and other school employees. Here’s the list of how much each school is getting. Gradebook.

School safety: Lake County school officials say recent fights at Leesburg High School are isolated events, and that the school performs well and has disciplined students. Students and community leaders don’t agree, and a community meeting is set Thursday to discuss the issue. Daily Commercial. Thousands of Okaloosa County school students stayed home Monday after last week’s email threat to “kidnap or murder a child” at a Niceville area school. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Suicidal students: A Duval County survey indicates 27 percent of middle school students and 19.7 percent of high school students have seriously considered suicide. The 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey was issued to students at every Duval County middle and high school. “It’s horrifying for me to see that data,” says Superintendent Nikolai Vitti. “If you’re talking about suicide, thinking about suicide at that age, think about the depth of sadness and depression that those children are dealing with.” Florida Times-Union.

Testing concerns: A group of parents and teachers are angry at the Polk County School District’s response to their concerns about standardized testing. “They’re refusing to acknowledge that there are any problems,” says Wendy Bradshaw, one of the founders of Citizens for Better Educational Leadership. “It speaks to a lack of professional respect for teachers who are bringing up their problems.” Lakeland Ledger.

Board seat: Gov. Rick Scott is accepting applications to replace Mike Murgio on the Palm Beach County School Board. Murgio resigned last week after being indicted on federal bribery charges. Palm Beach Post. Continue Reading →


School choice, blended learning and an Episcopal school’s revitalization

FORT PIERCE, Fla. – Two years ago, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Academy was struggling. It lost one head of school, then another. Enrollment fell to nearly 100 students. Its leaders were weighing a split with its affiliated church.

St. Andrews Art class

At St. Andrews Episcopal Academy, the surrounding town (including an art gallery down the street) serves as an extended classroom.

Things began to change in the spring of 2014, when the school’s board turned to Trina Angelone — a former St. Lucie County Public Schools administrator whose resume also included stints at virtual education startups.

With the help of some outside consultants, the school crafted a revival plan. The next school year, it started accepting tax credit scholarships, giving low-income students a new way to afford tuition. It began rolling out a blended learning program. It added the high school grades, housing students in a converted law office next door. (The first floor now doubles as a cyber cafe). It expanded its course offerings with the help of the Virtual School of Excllence, a separate venture Angelone also leads.

Most strikingly, though, it redefined its curriculum, turning the surrounding town of Fort Pierce, Fla. and the Indian River Lagoon — a tidal estuary just outside the gates of its waterfront campus — into an extended classroom.

Students interested in culinary arts can learn about baking with the Cake Lady. Varsity Sports, a screen-printing shop, offers vo-tech internships. Gerald O’Sullivan, a local artist who also teaches college classes, invites students into his gallery to learn to paint.

Above all, at a school that overlooks one of the most diverse marine ecosystems in North America, Angelone said: “What you have going for you is water.” Students can learn to Scuba dive, sail on the Indian River Lagoon, or help university researchers catalog invasive species on nearby spoil islands.

Now, in the second school year since the overhaul, enrollment at St. Andrew’s has tripled. Scholarships account for about a third of total enrollment. (Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarship program.)

Along the way, the school abandoned plans to raise tuition as a way to boost revenue, or to build a giant new campus in the fast-growing western reaches of St. Lucie County, Michelle Lineal, who chairs its board of trustees, said in an interview.

“We really wanted to have a school that was all-inclusive, and raising tuition and asking parents to donate a tremendous amount of money” didn’t fit that vision, she said.

The reviews from students speak for themselves. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Education on trial, student vaccinations and more

florida-roundup-logoEducation on trial: The groups suing the state for allegedly not providing a high-quality education for all public school students will get two more days to submit their final written arguments to the judge. Attorneys asked for the extra time to review all the testimony and documents. The final arguments are now due to the judge by Wednesday. Orlando Sentinel.

Board member resigns: Palm Beach County School Board member Mike Murgio resigns a day after his federal indictment on a bribery charge. Murgio, 65, is accused of bribing the chairman of a New Jersey credit union to hide money made illegally by a bitcoin-transferring business. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel. Murgio’s arrest shocks the education community. Sun-Sentinel.

Student vaccinations: The Florida Department of Health reports that student vaccinations are at their lowest level in a decade. About 93 percent of kindergarten students and 90.6 percent of seventh graders had all of their required immunizations this year. Florida law requires students to be vaccinated. Tampa Bay Times.

Construction spending: Broward County School District employees failed to get bids for nine district construction projects for more than a year after the school board approved them. Six of the projects still haven’t been put out for bids. Sun-Sentinel. Central Florida school districts are tightening their rules for spending on construction projects. Orlando Sentinel.

Discipline changes: Changes in the Duval County School District’s discipline policies have pushed on-campus arrests down 39 percent this school year. School officials say the flexibility of making decisions by using the code of conduct is keeping students out of the juvenile justice system. Florida Times-Union. Continue Reading →