Author Archive | Livi Stanford

Florida homeschoolers group: New law limits information requests

A statewide homeschooling group is informing school districts that a new law bars them from creating new roadblocks or information requests for would-be homeschoolers.

Florida law requires homeschoolers to register with their local school districts. Parents must send a signed notice of intent to the district superintendent with the students’ names, birthdates and addresses. But House Bill 731, recently signed by Gov. Rick Scott, bars districts from requiring other information.

In the letter to superintendents, the Florida Parent Educators Association cites the new statute, explaining that once a parent contacts the district about beginning a home education program, the district “shall accept the notice and immediately register the home education program upon receipt of notice.”

The law does not require parents to provide proof of residency or a birth certificate. However, the Miami-Dade School Board adopted a policy requiring parents to provide those documents. And parents have complained of similar practices in other counties, including Broward, Hillsborough and St. Lucie. This has prompted some families in those districts to use other methods, like non-traditional private schools, to teach their children at home.

The text of the letter, distributed to supporters by email, is below: Continue Reading →

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Two national philanthropists will be feted for supporting K-12 scholarships

An organization that helped lay the foundation for private school choice plans to honor two well-known education philanthropists who supported it from the beginning.

The Children’s Scholarship Fund plans to fete Eli Broad and Julian Robertson with its Champion for Children award at its annual gala on May 15 in New York City.

Broad founded both SunAmerica Inc. and KB Home. He now the heads the Broad Foundations. He and his wife, Edythe, have donated more than $4 billion to philanthropic causes and pledged to give away 75 percent of their wealth. Among other things, they back an annual prize for the nation’s top charter school organization and efforts to improve public education in Los Angeles. Broad recently announced his retirement.

He was part of the Children’s Scholarship Fund’s inaugural advisory board and helped launch the program in L.A. In its first year, the parents of more than 54,000 children applied for 3,750 CSF scholarships awarded in Los Angeles. Continue Reading →

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This California district has the mastery-based learning approach some Florida schools want

From Left, Kevin Chavous, president of K12 Inc, Ben Marcovitz, founder and CEO of Collegiate Academies and Tom Rooney, superintendent of Lindsay Unified School District speak about how personalized learning has improved student achievement.

A school district in Central California is making the kind of changes some Florida schools hope to make – if the law would allow them.

The Lindsay Unified School District has made changes allowing students to advance at their own pace. They can choose what areas they want to focus on. Once a student masters a standard they can proceed to the next level.

Proposed legislation would have allowed Florida public schools to start replacing conventional A-F grades with a new “mastery-based” system, and given them more flexibility to award course credit based on students’ mastery of the content, rather than the number of instructional hours.

But the bill died in the waning days of the legislative session, slowing the state’s progress with personalized learning.

The Lindsay Unified School District, located in the central valley, is a large agricultural community 62 miles south of Fresno and home to largely migrant workers.

The school district does not award A-F grades but instead scores students on a rubric.

Lindsay grades students on scale of 0-4, 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. Students also progress to the next level when they master a standard instead of having to meet a number of instructional hours.

Once a student graduates, the district converts their rubric score to an A-F system for college admissions. Lawmaker concerns about college admissions dogged the scuttled Florida proposal.

The district includes 4,111 students, 89 percent of whom are on free and reduced lunch. The majority are Hispanic. Approximately 45 percent are not native English speakers.

The district is making strides, according to Tom Rooney, the district’s superintendent.

“Everything we do is about the learner,” Rooney said during this year’s annual American Federation for Children conference.. “Little by little, we are dismantling the structures of public education that has been around for 125 years. We are replacing them with learner centered structures. A culture of learning of empowerment. A culture that is about producing results.”

Rooney said attendance is up. Graduation rates have increased. Parents are required to be engaged in their children’s learning and students are taking ownership. They are also excited about coming to school.

The school has a 93 percent graduation rate, which is up from the low 70s. And 57 percent of students go on to earn a college degree in four years. Discipline issues have also decreased.

“Every day Lindsay learners come to school and are met at their developmental level,” Rooney said. “We challenge them. They are successful, and they leave school wanting to return tomorrow.”

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School choice supporters hope to overcome ‘Trump effect’

WASHINGTON – Some people in the school choice movement worry increasing political polarization and a so-called “Trump effect” could threaten their prospects.

With that backdrop, policymakers and advocates gathered in Washington talked about ways to make their message resonate across the growing divides.

“Guaranteeing, as best as we can, equal educational opportunity for every child in America — that is too big to fall victim to partisan politics or ideological warfare,” said former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman said in a keynote address that echoed a consistent theme of the American Federation for Children’s annual policy summit. “The goal of our education system is not to protect the status quo. The goal of our education system is to give every one of our children an equal education opportunity.”

Political strategists at the conference warned of troubling signs ahead of this November’s elections. While overall support for school choice remains strong, they saw some difficult trends.

“Our coalition is holding together,” said Deborah Beck, who runs a Democratic polling firm. “It is under strain.”

She found school choice opinions may be souring among urbanites and people of color, both Democratic-leaning constituencies. She added many Latino and Asian voters – groups usually inclined to support educational options – are anxious about many issues in the country. Continue Reading →

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A magnet school principal makes the performing arts count

Martin Reid, right, was the 2016 Magnet Schools of America’s principal of the year

Sitting in the back of the classroom, Hermes Velasquez was a quiet student.

He had stage fright and was embarrassed to stand up in front of other students at an award-winning magnet school for the performing arts south of Miami.

But slowly, with the help of his teacher, Adalberto Acevedo, and the school’s family-like culture, Velasquez overcame his stage fright. To get over his fear, he familiarized himself with the stage by helping to put props out. Then he started acting in supporting roles.

Indeed, he competed in the 2018 Florida State Thespians Festival — a theater competition with 6,000 students across the state — earning excellent marks for his sketch of a comic play, the Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged.

Arthur & Polly Mays Conservatory of the Arts, a visual arts magnet program, focuses on reaching students like Velasquez and helping them grow academically and in the world of the arts. Martin Reid, the school’s principal, has transformed it from a low-performing small magnet program with a sour reputation and student disciplinary problems to a school with large parental involvement and a high graduation rate surpassing the state average.  School officials say they expect in the least the school’s grade will rise from a C to a B this year.

Its improvement tracks a broader trend in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, which has eliminated F-rated schools and expanded district-run school choice programs.

Reid said the school’s mission is to prepare students for college and for work in the arts industry or a hybrid of both.

“They are goal-driven and they are motivated in their careers,” he said of the students. “We are able to give a lot of attention and support to the kids. We are able to drill down to their strengths and weaknesses to motivate them.” Continue Reading →

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How a rural charter school teacher reaches students in need

De’Garryan Andrews, a high-performing teacher at Crossroad Academy in Gadsden County, uses different methods to reach students.

De’Garryan Andrews began acting at the young age of 4. Growing up in Gadsden County, a rural county west of the state capital, that acting career broadened his horizons.

It helped him land roles on TV and in movies. It propelled him to Florida State University, and then on to Los Angeles to continue his theater studies.

Now he’s returned home, and acting helps inform his practice in one of his school district’s highest-performing, most-expectation-defying English classrooms.

Andrews does not simply stand in front of the class and teach.

He shows students films to teach concepts like cause and effect. He includes pop-culture references to teach them about allusions. He brings life lessons into the classroom, and he is hands-on. If his students are reading a book, he reads it along with them. He encourages seventh- and eighth-graders out of their shells.

He’s able to connect, in part, because he knows what it is like to grow up in Gadsden County, where more than a quarter of the population lives in poverty.

And like the other teachers at Crossroad Academy, an award-winning charter school that defies stereotypes, Andrews knows his students can excel.

“It fuels my drive,” he said. “I know the talent that Gadsden County has, and that is what I am trying to pull out of these children, so that good things can come out of Gadsden County.”

Drawn to teach Continue Reading →

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Magnet schools continue to flourish in Florida

The number of magnet schools continues to grow in Florida. The Sunshine State leads the nation with 536.

The U.S. Department of Education released new statistics showing Florida with 32 more magnet schools than the state of California. Michigan comes in third with 386 magnet schools. As a percentage of public schools, Florida also comes out on top, trailed by Michigan. The statistics in the report show the different types of public schools in the United States.

Magnet schools are more ethnically and racially diverse than traditional public schools and they enroll a larger percentage of low-income students. The school’s curriculum centers on specific educational themes such as the performing arts and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

“I think what is important to recognize with magnet schools, especially when you consider Florida, is they are a form of public school choice that are being used to meet the demand of the communities they serve,” said John Laughner, legislative communication manager for the Magnet Schools of America. “They continue to be a form of school choice that is designed to promote school integration.” Continue Reading →

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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 →