Author Archive | Livi Stanford

HB 7069 lifts Florida’s last remaining virtual education restrictions

Gov. Rick Scott signed a major education bill last week that, in addition to equalizing funding for Florida charter schools, also removes the state’s last remaining restrictions on virtual education eligibility for elementary school students.

HB 7069 also eliminates geographic boundaries for virtual education and creates statewide open enrollment for virtual charter schools.

Florida Virtual School functions like a statewide school district, enrolling students in online classes full and part-time.

Under existing laws, students in second through fifth grades can’t enroll in virtual courses part-time. Children in middle and high school can only take certain part-time courses if they were enrolled in public schools the previous years. Continue Reading →


Charter school advocates rally around immigrant students

Daisy Romero Chavarria was taking finals at the University of Pennsylvania and found it increasingly hard to concentrate. She worried her parents would face deportation in Texas.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency were arresting undocumented immigrants in the state.

Then, in May, Texas legislators passed a law allowing police officers to question the immigration status of anyone during routine stops. The law will go into effect in September.

“We learn to live with fear and uncertainty,” Chavarria said at a national gathering of charter school advocates in the nation’s capital. “I went to a mentor’s office to vent. I couldn’t talk to my parents about it. I did not want them to think I was worried.”

Chavarria said living in fear becomes a way of life.

“We don’t talk about it because we learn to live with it,” she said.

Chavarria is protected under DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — a program that provides a two-year work permit and temporary protection from deportation to young adults who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children. She said she worries the program will be rescinded.

The concerns of students like Chavarria animated discussions at the National Charter Schools Conference this week in Washington.

Some prominent figures in the charter school movement have advocated for undocumented students, arguing the children they serve should be protected. That advocacy has transcended the usual political divides over the future of public education. Continue Reading →


Florida lab school pioneers personalized learning

Vade Kafie, a student at P.K. Yonge, takes Julie Henderson’s order at Pizza by the Creek, a six-week project based on personalized learning

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Italian music played in the background as kindergarten and first-grade students welcomed parents and guests to Pizza by the Creek — a student-managed restaurant at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School.

Several donned waiter outfits, preparing to serve pizza to parents and guests. Others carried boxes with materials to clean tables. One student served as a hostess, holding napkins neatly folded with plastic silverware. A few other students managed the cash register, giving actual change back to customers as they left.

Instead of assigning students specific tasks in the restaurant, their teachers hosted a job fair. Students applied for their positions with the restaurant, part of a six-week project-based learning unit that incorporates principles of personalized learning.

The definition of personalized learning is hotly contested and constantly changing. It generally refers to the idea that education should be tailored to every student’s needs, interests and strengths.

Students can participate in fun activities such as Pizza by the Creek, while at the same time, teachers can ensure those activities help them reach specific learning goals, like the Florida State Standards.

One aspect of personalization is competency-based learning, which allows students to advance to a higher level of learning regardless of the time they spend on a subject once they show mastery. Educators at P.K. Yonge said Pizza by the Creek is just one example of how they’re honing techniques that can help raise student achievement and better prepare students for the real world.

The school’s mission requires educators to experiment with cutting-edge techniques, while also making sure they serve their students well.

“We see a much bigger picture of what is personalized learning and how you can design an environment to support that,” said Lynda Hayes, director of P.K. Yonge. “We are working in a high-stakes environment, demanding a lot of change and at the same time trying to mitigate any risk, and it is quite a juggling act.”

The K-12 school is high achieving, having received an ‘A’ in 2016.

The Florida Department of Education reported 68 percent of students at least passed or received a higher mark on the English Language Arts and math exams. The same nearly held true for the school’s science scores, with 65 percent of students achieving such results.

Although P.K. Yonge is not a charter school, it admits students by a lottery. As a lab school, it’s required to enroll a student population that roughly reflects the statewide student population.

According to the school, 50 percent of its students are below Florida’s median income; 52 percent are children of color and 12 percent include students with disabilities. Students commute from more than 30 surrounding small and rural North Florida cities and towns. Continue Reading →


Moms on a mission found school in Ocala

Students at Ocala Preparatory Academy read Farenheit 451 while outside.

Even with a Gardiner Scholarship in hand, Karen Vega grew increasingly worried as she was unable to find a school for her three young boys who have high functioning autism in Ocala, Fla., a small city in North Central Florida.

Although she looked, no school provided a good fit. One even refused to enroll students with the state scholarship for students with special needs. (Step Up For Students, the publisher of this blog, helps administer that scholarship.)

“We were trying to find a school that did not exist,” said Vega.

But when she couldn’t find the right school, Vega teamed up with another mom, AnnMarie Sossong, to create one.

Vega serves as the executive director of the Outreach Autism Services Network, a nonprofit providing support services to parents and students with autism. She had long dreamed of starting a school. Sossong, a 27-year education veteran and mom of an autistic child herself, shared the same dream.

The two moms’ vision for a school aligned, and in August 2016, they founded Ocala Preparatory Academy.

“Serving studentsContinue Reading →


Everyone’s talking about personalized learning

Sajan George, the founder of Matchbook Learning, gives the closing address at the American Federation for Children’s annual policy summit.

Educators and policymakers at the American Federation of Children‘s annual summit in Indianapolis this week were all speaking in unison about a shift in the classroom that they believe will improve student achievement: personalizing learning to meet the needs of individual students, allowing them to learn at their own pace.

A week earlier, at a separate event, the New Schools Venture Fund Summit sounded a similar theme.

Personalized learning has been a talking point in education policy circles for years. Some skeptics argue that what some people call “personalization,” is really just a new-fangled buzzword for plain good teaching that takes students’ individual needs and abilities into account.

Still, the buzz coming out of education conferences shows how personalized learning has become a focal point for philanthropists and practitioners. During a time of growing ideological division, it is one of the few concepts that still unites disparate wings of the education reform movement.

At the ACF summit, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said customizing learning and considering the “uniqueness” of each student is a critical step in the future of education.

“Students learn in different ways,” he said.

Bush said only one-third of the country’s children are college or career ready — a statistic he said illustrates the urgency of improving education for every child. 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 →

Fla. budget deal would fund security at Jewish day schools

House and Senate leaders released their $83 billion budget Friday.

The spending plan, which lawmakers are expected to debate during the final day of an extended legislative session, would allocate $654,491 to fund security at Jewish day schools in Florida after a rash of anti-Semitic threats throughout the country.

There have been bomb threats at 167 Jewish community centers in 38 states since the beginning of the year.

Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay filed HB 3653, which initially would have set aside $1.5 million to enhance security at Jewish day schools. Over the weeks of session, that amount was lowered.

The Florida House of Representatives lowered the funding for security to $254,491.

By contrast, the Senate budget allocated $500,000 for Jewish day schools, at the behest of Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation.

Addressing the Florida House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee in March, Fine said Jewish students are afraid to come to school, with some even dropping out because of the security threats.

There are 55 Jewish day schools in the state of Florida, which serve nearly 10,000 students, according to Fine.

Several parents previously expressed concern to the Hebrew Academy of Tampa Bay about enrolling their children in the school,  worrying they would be targeted because they are Jewish.


Bill expanding Fla. private school sports options sent to Governor

Sen. Audrey Gibson

The Florida Senate unanimously passed SB 1302/ HB 1109 Thursday, 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, which would expand extracurricular options for private school students, now goes to Gov. Rick Scott.

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.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, the bill’s sponsor, said the bill would particularly help students with special needs have more opportunities to play sports because they would be able to try out at a school that may have a slot open.

“It has come to my attention that sometimes at certain schools that are within a district or within the neighborhood that a child can attend and they have a really strong team, it has become a little difficult for making the team during tryouts,” Gibson said on the Senate floor.

Gibson asked that the Senate substitute Rep. Bruce Antone’s bill, HB 1109, for her bill, as the two are nearly identical.

Antone previously 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.