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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 →

Bill would give Florida home schoolers more access to college, career courses

Eisnaugle

Home education students would have more access to college classes and career education programs under a bill approved this morning by a Florida House panel.

HB 1391 would allow homeschoolers to take career education courses offered by school districts. Public schools would be able to receive state per-pupil funding for courses they take.

The bill, along with a counterpart in the state Senate, would also require school districts to accept parents’ home education registrations if they meet the requirements in state law.

Several parents told the committee that some districts have begun asking for information — like birth certificates and proof of residence — that go beyond what the law requires.

“They’re taking the mindset, as we’ve tried to resolve this issue locally, that the law doesn’t say they can’t ask for additional documentation,” said David Bosworth, a Broward County parent who’s taught six children at home. As a result, he said, families can get stuck in administrative limbo trying to create home education programs for their children, even if they meet the requirements spelled out in state law.

The House bill also included provisions that would create textbook allowances for home school students who take dual enrollment courses at colleges or universities. Bill sponsor Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, took those portions out of the bill today because they required money from the state budget.

But he said hoped the removal would be temporary. He said he wants to put home school students on equal footing with their counterparts in public schools, who don’t have to pay for dual enrollment textbooks. Continue Reading →

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.

Continue Reading →

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 →

The next Nevada? These are the states to watch for education savings accounts

Nevada’s universal education savings accounts were the most far-reaching educational choice program ever created, but they suffered a setback earlier this year when the state Supreme Court ruled the funding mechanism unconstitutional.

November elections swept pro-school choice Republicans from power. Potential legislative fixes a likely bargaining chip between Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Brian Sandoval, meaning it’s an open question whether the program will ever get funded.

While Nevada’s fate remains uncertian, educational choice advocates are looking to other states to follow up with legislation that might match its scope and ambition.

There’s no question education savings accounts will be on the agenda in state capitals all over the country next year. They’ve been passed by legislatures in six states and signed into law in five. A total 18 states drafted, studied or introduced ESA bills in 2016, and this fall’s elections may have tipped the political balance for educational choice in statehouses around the country.

Observers and education reform experts gathered in Washington last week for the Foundation for Excellence in Education conference had some ideas for states worth keeping an eye on.

Iowa 

The top choice of Robert Enlow, the president of EdChoice, Iowa already has a tax credit scholarship program.

Iowa lawmakers actually drafted a universal ESA bill a whole month before their Nevada counterparts back in 2015. But despite 24 co-sponsors, the proposal never gained traction. Another ESA bill to create a smaller pilot ESA program for 190 students could only make it out of a subcommittee in the Republican-controlled House.

The November elections may have changed the political calculus. Republicans gained control of the state Senate, and now observers across the political spectrum seem to believe some form of ESA legislation is in the works. Continue Reading →

Another left-leaning case for the new definition of public education

Milton Friedman and his free-market ideas may have been anathema to the political left, but he was right about one thing: School choice.

Daniel Grego, the director of Milwaukee’s TransCenter for Youth and an acolyte of the likes of Ivan Illich and Wendell Berry, made that case in the journal Encounter. His argument, outlined in a 2011 article we stumbled upon recently, is worth highlighting, in part, because it reinforces a theme we’ve explored on this blog for quite some time: The left-of-center appeal of educational choice.

“It is time for people on the left to overcome ‘the nonthought of received ideas’ and admit that giving poor families resources is a progressive public policy,” Grego wrote.

The writer helped lead an ill-fated effort, backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to bring more “small schools” to his city. An article in Milwaukee Magazine said he was intent on ending “the longtime war” between public-school supporters and advocates of the city’s pioneering school voucher program.

And while he wound up sharing Friedman’s conclusions about the benefits of educational choice, he followed a different intellectual path to arrive at that position.  Continue Reading →

Florida’s ‘bottom-up’ move to personalized learning

Florida is making a concerted push toward personalized learning — tailoring lessons more closely to individual students and allowing them to advance through school based on what they know, rather than the amount of time they spent in class.

Other states are, too, but there’s something noteworthy about Florida’s approach: It’s largely being led by school districts.

A state law passed earlier this year gives four districts and one university-based lab school the ability to participate in a pilot program to experiment with personalized learning.

A new report from the Foundation for Excellence in Education looks at personalized learning in three states, and notes Florida is taking a “bottom-up” approach. The law is intended to make way for changes districts are already carrying out, or at least hoping to pursue.

Lake and Pinellas Counties began their experiments a couple years ago, as part of a grant program funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The superintendent of Palm Beach County schools, Robert Avossa, was hired away from Fulton County, Ga., which is also participating in the Next Generation Systems Initiative Grant. The Seminole County school district and P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School are also allowed to participate in the pilot program.

Continue Reading →

Home schoolers could help chart a path to customized education

“Blended learning.” “Customized education.” “Student-centered.” It’s hard to write about what’s possible in the future of education without getting stuck in a morass of jargon and buzzwords.

William Mattox of the James Madison Institute has produced a new policy brief that paints a clearer picture of what those mind-fogging terms aim to describe.

Imagine middle and high schools that look more like college, where students set flexible course schedules. Picture community institutions offering individual courses, and parents working with school administrators to create unique educational paths for each child.

Mattox, the director of the Tallahassee think tank’s J. Stanley Marshall Center for Educational Options, writes that these things are already happening at institutions like Circle Christian School, which was founded by a group of Central Florida homeschool parents. It now serves roughly 700 students in multiple locations, and boasts alumni with stories like this: Continue Reading →