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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 →

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Low-income students drive Florida’s success on AP tests

Florida continues to be a national leader on college-caliber Advanced Placement exams, fueled by the success of growing numbers of low-income students.

The Sunshine State ranks No. 4 in the nation in the percentage of graduating seniors who have passed at least one AP exam, according to 2016 data released in a new report from the College Board, the nonprofit that administers the AP program.

At 29.5 percent, Florida outpaces the national average of 21.9 percent and trails only Massachusetts, Maryland and Connecticut, states with far fewer low-income students and far better academic reputations.

AP exams are standardized tests that correspond with dozens of college-caliber high school courses. They are widely viewed as a good gauge of a student’s college readiness and, in some credible quarters, as a good indicator of a state’s educational quality.

The latest results aren’t a fluke. The percentage of graduating seniors passing AP exams in Florida shot up 11 percentage points between 2006 and 2016, putting the state No. 3 in progress over that span. In raw numbers, 47,242 graduating seniors from the class of 2016 had passed at least one, nearly double the number from a decade ago.

Florida’s outcomes are even more impressive given its demographics. Florida has the highest rate of students eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch among states in the AP Top 10, and in most cases, a far higher rate. No state has a bigger differential between the relative poverty of its student body and its overall performance on AP exams. (See chart at the bottom of the post.)

Additional AP numbers from the Florida Department of Education show low-income students are leading the charge. The percentage of low-income graduating seniors who passed an AP exam climbed more than 500 percent between 2006 and 2016, and that group made up more than 60 percent of the total growth in AP-passing graduates, according to DOE figures.

The number of low-income Florida students who passed at least one AP exam grew by more than 500 percent between 2006 and 2016. Source: Florida Department of Education data.

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Florida schools roundup: Recess, charters, alternative schools and more

Recess bill advances: A bill requiring mandatory daily recess of at least 20 minutes for all Florida K-5 students passes the state Senate Education Committee. Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said the bill showed “the power of advocacy, of parents” who pushed legislators to act when local school boards would not. The bill now goes to the Senate PreK-12 Appropriations Committee for consideration. Miami HeraldAssociated PressFlorida Politics.

Charter facilities funding: The Senate Education Committee approves a bill that would send a proportional share of a district’s property tax revenue to charter schools based on enrollment, with more money attached for those schools that have large low-income or special needs populations. But a second bill that would have increase districts’ local tax authority is delayed. Supporters say the measures need to move forward together to allow districts to catch up on construction that’s been backlogged since the recession. redefinED. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida.

Hidden dropouts: Alternative schools increasingly are being used by public schools as places to hide struggling, problem students who might otherwise drag down a school’s graduation rate, test scores and grade, according to an investigation by ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism website. The Orange County School District is one of 83 U.S. school districts that bumped its graduate rate by at least a percentage point between 2010 and 2014 by sending an increasing number of students into alternative schools. ProPublica.

Florida 4th in AP: Florida ranks fourth in the nation in the percentage of students taking and passing at least one Advanced Placement course, according to the College Board, the organization that runs the AP program. In Florida’s class of 2016, 29.5 percent passed at least one AP exam. That’s over the national average of 21.9 percent and 11 percentage points better than 10 years ago. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Testing reform, funding, incentives and more

Testing reforms: Under the proposed “Fewer, Better Tests” bills filed Wednesday in the Legislature, all K-12 assessment testing would take place in the final three weeks of the school year, starting in the 2017-2018. S.B. 926 and H.B. 773 would also require results be returned to teachers within a week of testing, and that an understandable report be sent to parents. It also directs the education commissioner to study the feasibility of replacing the Florida Standards Assessments with the SAT or ACT. If the changes are approved, the state would also have to renegotiate its contract with testing vendor American Institutes for Research. Bill sponsors Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami; Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah; and Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, say the goal of the bills is to reduce stress and anxiety among students, parents and teachers. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of Florida.

Per-student funding: Florida’s spending per student ranks well below the U.S. average among states, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics. In the 2013-2014 school year, Florida spent $8,714 per student. The U.S. average was $10,936. Miami-Dade County spent the most per student among districts, $9,106. Gradebook.

Teaching incentives: Senators on the Florida PreK-12 education budget committee react coolly to Gov. Rick Scott’s $58 million proposal for incentives to recruit and retain teachers. Specifically, senators criticized Scott’s proposal for $10 million in hiring bonuses for new teachers who score in the top 10 percent in their subject-area exam. “It concerns me that we continue to look for the best performers in college — and not the best teachers,” said Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze. Miami Herald.

Gun-free zones: Bills filed in the Legislature this week are aimed at ending gun-free zones in Florida – including at K-12 schools. Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, and Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, R-Villages, filed S.B. 908 and H.B. 803 to eliminate all restrictions on where people with concealed-carry permits can take their guns. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Charter district plan, testing, recess and more

Charter district: The Jefferson County School District could become the state’s first all-charter schools district, if the Florida Board of Education agrees Thursday with the district’s school board vote to make the change. Jefferson has just two schools – elementary and middle/high school – with about 700 students. It’s struggled academically and financially in recent years, and the state board recently ordered it to either close the schools or turn them over to private operators. “(The school board) didn’t feel any other options would be approved by the state board, and I wasn’t willing to take the risk of going to the state board and walking away with it turned down. That just wasn’t what I thought was in our best interest,” says Jefferson Superintendent Marianne Arbulu. redefinEDWFSU.

School testing: State Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, files a bill requiring the state education commissioner to review the ACT and SAT national college entrance tests to see if they cover the content taught in Florida high school language arts and math classes. If the answer is yes, it could lead to the scrapping of the Florida Standards Assessments testing in favor of the national tests. Orlando Sentinel. Manatee County School Board members will vote Tuesday on a proposal to put a moratorium on all testing in county schools that is not required by the state. If it’s approved, Manatee would join Clay and Marion counties in eliminating or severely reducing the amount of district-administered tests. Bradenton Herald.

Recess fight: A mom’s group named Recess for All Florida Students is ratcheting up its lobbying for legislation that requires daily recess for all Florida elementary students. The proposals (S.B. 78 and H.B. 67) have wide support, but a key House member isn’t sure a statewide mandate is the proper way to get it done. Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, the education policy chairman, says he’s reluctant to puts limits on teachers’ flexibility in the classroom. Miami Herald. The moms behind the drive have had success with a couple of districts, but continue to push for the statewide rule. “Of course, we started this because of our kids, but is it fair for those moms who have worked alongside us all these years, and their kids still don’t have recess?” asks Angela Browning of Orlando, whose district has adopted a daily recess policy. Miami Herald.
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Computer coding and course access

Ethan Greenbarg

Ethan Greenberg testifies in favor of a computer science bill.

Florida lawmakers are once again pushing a proposal to expand computer science instruction and allow students to count high school credits in coding as foreign language classes.

A compromise bill that easily passed the Senate last year is back. It easily cleared its first legislative committee Monday. An identical version has been filed in the House.

The debate that still lingers around the proposal highlights the difficulty of giving students access to high-quality computer science courses.

Business and technology groups support SB 104 by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. They’re joined by students like Ethan Greenberg, a sixth-grader from Pembroke Pines. He told the Senate Education Committee he became interested in computer science as he struggled with dysgraphia, which made it difficult for him to recognize letters and numbers. He overcame that obstacle by typing on a computer, and has since started learning to code.

His mother, Ryan Greenberg, joined him testifying in favor of the bill.

“When kids have a choice, they come to the classroom excited to learn and more than likely, will get a good grade in the class they choose,” she said. “This will be an important step forward in our state’s need to integrate technology into our education curriculum.” Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Education budget, charters, civics, DeVos and more

florida-roundup-logoEducation budget: Gov. Rick Scott’s $83.5 billion budget includes an expansion of the Bright Futures scholarship program to cover summer classes and a program that recruits, retains and rewards teachers. Scott’s $58 million plan would replace the existing teacher bonuses program. The $24 billion education budget would boost PreK-12 per-student spending to $7,421, up about $216 from this year. Sunshine State NewsMiami Herald. Orlando SentinelFlorida Times-Union. Gradebook. Associated PressPolitico FloridaBradenton Herald. Florida Trend. Tallahassee Democrat. News Service of Florida.

Charter schools: Florida needs to create more charter schools for low-income students, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, says during a media briefing. He said having only two – the collection of KIPP schools in Jacksonville and a public charter boarding school, SEED Miami – is unacceptable for the state. He has pledged to support funding changes that would encourage more nationally recognized charters to set up in low-income areas. redefinED. A report from a school choice advocacy group alleges that eight Florida school districts are shortchanging poor children in charter schools by spending less of federal Title I funding on them than they do in public schools. The districts are Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough, Orange, Palm Beach, Duval, Polk and Osceola. Representatives from several of the districts deny the charge and say the data was manipulated in a way to support a pro-charter view. Politico Florida.

Civics lessons: House Education Committee chairman Michael Bileca, R-Miami, says the House is looking closely at changing the way Florida students learn about American government, history and the democratic system. The state already requires civics classes in middle and high schools, but Bileca says he wants to “inculcate a sense of civic understanding, appreciation for our institutions and what a republic stands for and have a fully informed and fully educated citizenry that’s able to participate in the democratic process.” Miami Herald.

DeVos approved: A Senate committee approves the nomination of Betsy DeVos to become U.S. education secretary on a 12-11, straight party vote. The nomination now goes to the full Senate. Orlando Sentinel. School choice in the United States under the leadership of Betsy DeVos could resemble what Florida has done by using tax credit scholarships to help students pay to go to private schools. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer that program. NPR. In 2014, Betsy DeVos donated $1,000 to a school choice supporter in a Volusia County School Board campaign. Melody Johnson, who raised just $5,000 more than the DeVos donation, won and is now the board chairwoman. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Choice growth, open enrollment, new bills and more

florida-roundup-logoSchool choice growth: More than 1.6 million Florida preK-12 children enrolled in school choice programs during the 2015-2016 school year, according to the Florida Department of Education. That’s an increase of more than 74,000 over the previous year, and it accounts for 45 percent of all Florida students. Choice and magnet programs now have 287,568 students, open enrollment has 280,134 and charter schools 270,301. redefinED.

Open enrollment: School districts in central Florida are beginning to implement the open enrollment law passed by the Legislature last year. Under the law, students may attend any public school in the state that has vacancies for them. More than 1,000 parents in Osceola County have already applied for a transfer. Lake County parents can apply Feb. 1, and Orange, Seminole and Volusia will soon follow. Orlando Sentinel. Hundreds of Lee County students apply to change schools in the first day under open enrollment. A lottery and available space will decide assignments. Fort Myers News-Press. The Volusia County School Board will review changes the district must make to bring it into compliance with the state’s open enrollment law. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Citizenship education: In addition to giving students more school choice, Florida House education leaders want them to learn how to become good citizens. “The purpose of education goes to the meaning of man. You want to raise up a great citizen,” said House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, speaking on the Florida Channel. Corcoran also said students get “a well-rounded, think-outside-the-box education,” which would help them become good citizens, parents and employees, no matter what job they pursue. Orlando Sentinel.

Education bills: A House bill that would prohibit religious discrimination in schools now has a Senate companion bill. Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, filed S.B. 436. The House bill was filed by Rep. Kim Daniels, D-Jacksonville. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida. A bill is filed by Rep. Michael Grant, R-Port Charlotte, that would bar school districts from offering annual contract renewal guarantees to teachers who are rated as “highly effective” or “effective.” Gradebook. A higher education bill that would broaden Bright Futures scholarships passes in the Florida Senate Education Committee. Florida Politics. Associated PressNews Service of Florida. WFSU. Continue Reading →