Author Archive | Travis Pillow

State test results show signs of progress in Jefferson County, Fla.

One year into a historic charter school takeover, Jefferson County, Fla. has come a long way. But it’s got a long way to go.

Last year, the state approved an unprecedented turnaround effort in the high-poverty rural school district. The county’s lone primary and secondary schools became Jefferson County K-12, run by the South Florida charter operator Somerset Academy. At the time, leaders cautioned it could take years to improve Florida’s lowest-performing school system.

Recent results on the Florida Standards Assessment and math end-of-course exams show signs of progress — but also underscore the magnitude of the task.

Jefferson County’s overall pass rate on state reading tests jumped by 25 percent from a year earlier. Only one other district, rural Liberty County, made a similar improvement.

Jefferson County improved its passing rate on the Florida Standards Assessment. Statewide passing rates remained largely flat. Source: Florida Department of Education.

Jefferson County’s passing rate jumped by a whopping 60 percent in math for grades 3-8. No other district came close to that rate of improvement, but no district had as far to climb. Last year, Jefferson was Florida’s lowest-performing district in this category. This year, it narrowly surpassed DeSoto County to claim the second-lowest passing rate in the state. Continue Reading →


ICYMI, a progressive case for school choice

The politics of school choice debate have become increasingly polarized, with Donald Trump’s embrace of charters and vouchers fueling dissension among left-of-center politicians. Look no further than Florida’s governor’s race.

Catherine Durkin Robinson offers a strongly worded antidote in the Miami Herald.

I’ve been a card-carrying member of the ACLU for years; a battle-hardened advocate for the disadvantaged and downtrodden ever since I joined Students Against Apartheid in 1988. I helped bring recycling to the University of South Florida, protested nuclear power and marched on Washington to support women’s rights. I volunteered for the Bernie Sanders campaign and serve on the board of Moms Demand Action for gun sense.

Simply put, I’m a progressive.

So it troubles me deeply to hear self-styled progressives attack educational options that other parents choose for their children. Worse, these attacks on the educational choices that lower-income parents and parents of children with special needs make almost always come from progressives of higher means.

We have a recommendation for that: Check your privilege.

Read the whole thing here. Robinson is the executive director of the Florida Parent Network and an occasional contributor to redefinED.


Putting Florida’s newest K-12 scholarship program in perspective

Florida’s newest K-12 scholarship program takes a novel approach. It targets children who attend public schools, and fall short on third- or fourth-grade reading assessments. It offers them $500 to pay for tutoring or curriculum to help raise their reading scores.

John Legg, a former Florida Senate Education Chairman, explains the significance in a new column for The 74:

This scholarship was championed by Michael Bileca, a Miami-Dade Republican, who is chairman of the House Education Committee, and is conceptually reminiscent of the free tutoring programs developed by bipartisan education advocates under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. This scholarship is driven by the educational principle that children must learn to read so they can then read to learn.

Notably, though, Bileca did not try to simply thread more money into district elementary reading budgets. When asked why he instead sought the reading scholarship, which gives parents the decision on how to spend it, he was direct: “The parent is the most influential person in the child’s life.”

His point — giving all parents more influence over the way their child learns — is the core principle of educational choice. This scholarship, perhaps more than any other, helps to underscore the broad dimensions of this belief. Though our national debate on choice still gets mired in the strict dichotomy of public vs. private, that distinction is rapidly losing its relevance.

Legg is also co-founder of a Pasco County charter school and a member of the board of Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog and will help administer the Reading Scholarship program.


A Florida superintendent brings his parental choice playbook to Detroit

Detroit Public Schools face a familiar problem. Enrollment has declined as families shift into the suburbs and charter schools proliferate.

But their new superintendent is a Florida import with a familiar playbook.

After enrollment declines that saw the student population shrink by 71% in almost 15 years, officials from the Detroit Public Schools Community District are embarking on a far-reaching strategy to fill their schools.

They will fan out into the city, canvasing neighborhoods. They will provide more before-and after-school care in some areas. They will train principals to more effectively market their schools. They will look to create new programs, such as a virtual school, to attract students. They will make it easier for students to get to some of the district’s premier specialty schools. And they will make it easier for parents to enroll their children.

Nikolai Vitti is expanding on strategies he honed as leader of Duval County Public Schools. Continue Reading →


How Florida charter school authorizing fits in the national picture

Florida is among the states where school districts (LEAs) are largely the only charter school authorizers allowed. Source: NACSA

Wyoming, Alaska, Virginia, Maryland, Iowa, Kansas and, for the most part, California.

What does Florida have in common with those states? Its charter school authorizing landscape, according to a new policy brief from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.

Of the 44 states that allow charter schools, the brief shows, nearly all of them allow some kind of entity other than a school district — a statewide board, colleges or universities, the state education agency — to authorize charter schools.

Florida joins the handful of states where districts are the only authorizers allowed. A state constitutional amendment could soon change that, if voters approve it in November. The state technically allows universities to authorize charter schools. But those are only in rare cases where higher education institutions want to set up new lab schools for teaching and research.

Similarly, in California, districts are generally the only authorizers allowed, but the state Board of Education can hear appeals from charter school applicants that local school boards reject. The state may authorize those schools, but districts still handle day-to-day monitoring and oversight. Continue Reading →


A third Florida institution joins the AltSchool roster

The Silicon Valley startup AltSchool spent the just-completed school year test-driving its personalized learning software in a handful of elite private schools — including two in Florida.

When the company first announced its plans to expand beyond a handful of pricey private schools it operated itself, it pledged to gradually extend its reach into a more diverse cross-section of institutions, including public school districts. This week, it announced plans to do just that, starting with a handful of additional schools and districts around the country.

AltSchool also announced its existing partner schools, including Temple Beth Sholom Day School in Miami Beach and the Greene School in West Palm Beach, have signed on for another year. Another Florida institution, Jacksonville Beach’s Discovery School, is joining its roster. Continue Reading →


Judge puts Palm Beach HB 7069 funding lawsuit on hold

A South Florida school district’s bid to recoup facilities funding it shared with charter schools under a 2017 law has to wait for courts to sort out a broader case, a Leon County judge has ruled.

The Palm Beach County School Board was first out of the gate to challenge HB 7069 when it passed last year. Its lawsuit is narrow, targeting only the portion of the law requiring it to share local property tax revenue with charter schools it authorizes.

More than a dozen other districts subsequently backed a broader lawsuit taking aim at multiple parts of the law, including the Schools of Hope program. Earlier this year, a different Leon County judge upheld the law on all counts. Last month, the school districts appealed.

Late last week, Judge James Shelfer ruled the Palm Beach case should be put on hold while the appeal in the other lawsuit gets resolved.

While these lawsuits unfolded, the Legislature passed a new law, HB 7055, that relieves school districts of their obligation to share property tax revenue with charter schools — at least for now. But the Palm Beach district still hopes to “claw back” $9.3 million it shared during the just-finished school year. And it argued that even under the current law, it could still have to share local facilities revenue sometime in the future.

What’s more, the district noted the broader lawsuit over HB 7069 could get resolved without answering the one question in its lawsuit, which deals solely with facilities funding.


Groups seek to prolong Fla. education lawsuit, revive school choice claims

The groups behind a wide-ranging lawsuit that argues Florida has violated its constitutional mandate to provide a high-quality education want to hit the reset button on the case.

In court papers filed Monday with the state Supreme Court, attorneys with Southern Legal Counsel argue a trial court erred when it dismissed their lawsuit on all counts. They also argued an appeals court erred when it ruled that declaring wide swaths of education funding and policy unconstitutional would encroach on the powers of other branches of government.

As a result, they argue, the high court should send the case back to the trial court for a new round of deliberations under different legal standards.

The plaintiffs in the adequacy lawsuit argue a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1998 created legal standards that allowed citizens to sue the state if they felt it was under-funding or otherwise mismanaging its public education system. Several former members of the Constitution Revision Commission that crafted that amendment have asked to weigh in with the court in support of that argument. The state has pushed back. Continue Reading →