Archive | Education and Public Policy

School choice growth accelerates in Florida; 1.6 million students choose


The changes in Florida’s educational landscape show no signs of slowing.

On the contrary, more than 1.6 million preK-12 students enrolled in school choice programs during the 2015-16 school year. School choice enrollment increased by more than 74,000 – nearly the same amount as the previous two years combined, according to an analysis of Florida Department of Education data.

Although 45 percent of all preK-12 students in Florida choose schools outside their neighborhood zones, the two most widely used forms of choice are offered by public school districts.  

Enrollment in choice and magnet programs increased dramatically, taking the top spot from open enrollment. Charter schools grew by 19,000 students and are vying with magnets to become the most popular public-school option. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Suspensions, district choice, DeVos, testing and more

florida-roundup-logoSchool suspensions: Florida Education Secretary Pam Stewart is talking with school superintendents about ways to cut down on out-of-school suspensions and on the disparity of suspensions by race. Almost 165,000 students received out-of-school suspensions in the 2014-2015 school year, and about 43 percent of them were black. Black students make up about 23 percent of the state’s student population. “That’s one of the areas that I think will make a huge impact and make a difference and actually improve education in Florida,” Stewart said. Politico Florida.

District’s last choice: The Florida Department of Education rejects a turnaround plan for Jefferson County schools for a third time. The district now has until Feb. 16 to choose from three offered options: It can close the schools, hire an external operator or let a charter company run the district. Jefferson County has just two schools and 700 students. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU.

DeVos hearing: In her confirmation hearing to become U.S. education secretary, Betsy DeVos says she will be “a strong advocate for great public schools,” but “if a school is troubled, or unsafe, or not a good fit for a child — perhaps they have a special need that is going unmet — we should support a parent’s right to enroll their child in a high-quality alternative.” Associated Press.

Clay suspends testing: New Clay County School Superintendent Addison Davis suspends all district-level assessment testing, effective immediately. He says he wants to give teachers more time with students in the classroom. “This is nothing that is going to hinder their learning,” Davis told WJAX. “It’s just going to provide more time for our teachers to problem-solve, to have small group instruction and to work with our students one-on-one.” Gradebook. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Turnarounds, bonuses, choice, discipline and more

florida-roundup-logoTurnaround concerns: A battle is developing between state and local education officials over control of schools. The Department of Education has been actively intervening to turn around low-performing schools, sometimes requiring schools replace principals and teacher. That puts the state “on the verge of overstepping their authority,” says Bill Husfelt, Bay County superintendent. “Tallahassee talks about the federal government and the control they have, and then the state turns around and does the same thing to local institutions.” Politico Florida. Principals at three struggling Palm Beach County schools are getting more money and more authority to turn around their schools under a new state program that will measure whether cutting bureaucracy leads to better student performance. Sun-Sentinel.

Teacher bonuses: The governor and members of the Florida Senate and House have all signaled an interest in reworking the bonuses program for the state’s teachers. The current law gives up to $10,000 to teachers who are rated highly effective and scored in the top 20 percent on their SAT or ACT tests. The Florida Board of Education is pushing for a $43 million bonus program that would “support bonuses for new teachers who show great potential for and veteran teachers who have demonstrated the highest student academic growth among their peers.” News Service of Florida.

School choice: Parents in Palm Beach County have reversed a trend of choosing charter schools over the district’s public schools. Three years ago, charter schools added 4,100 students while public school enrollment declined by 700. This year, district schools have added 2,436 students, and charter schools just 330. Palm Beach Post.

Discipline disparity: Black students were suspended at three times the rate of white students during the 2015-2016 school year in Manatee County, according to the school district’s records. Black students make up about 14 percent of the district’s enrollment, but drew 33 percent of the out-of-school suspensions. Bradenton Herald. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Building funds, charters, testing, equal access and more

florida-roundup-logoSchool tax revenue shortfall: Tax revenue for building and repair schools is forecast to be lower than expected, and legislators may consider issuing school construction bonds through the Public Education Capital Outlay fund. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, said issuing bonds would be a last resort, but Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, called bonding appropriate. Naples Daily News.

Charter capital funds: The Florida Department of Education drops a regulation that would have denied charter schools construction and maintenance money from the state if they received consecutive D school grades. The rule was adopted in September, but was changed after it was challenged as discriminatory against charter schools in poor communities. Politico Florida.

Charters to return money: Officials from two Miami-Dade County charter schools that loaned $912,094 to sister schools outside the county say they will return the money. The state Department of Education said the loan violated state rules. District officials say even after the money is returned, they will consider terminating the schools’ contracts. Miami Herald.

Testing problems: American high school students are falling further behind their peers from other countries in math. And the results in reading and science literacy testing are not much better, according to a study of students in 70 countries by the Program for International Student Assessment. Associated Press. Washington Post.

Equal access lawsuit: A federal appeals court rules that the Equal Access Act, which requires federally funded U.S. secondary schools to give equal treatment to all extracurricular clubs, applies to middle schools. The ruling overturns an earlier decision that supported the Lake County School Board’s decision to stop Carver Middle School students from starting a gay-straight club. Daily CommercialOrlando Sentinel. News Service of Florida. Continue Reading →

William N. Sheats and pitfalls of democratic control of public education


William N. Sheats was, in many ways, the father of Florida’s public school system. He was also an ardent racist who declared war on a racially integrated private school in North Florida, which he referred to as a “nest of vile fanatics” in an episode that subjected the state to national ridicule.

But perhaps the most fascinating — and troubling — aspect of this complicated figure is this: By the standards of his time, he was a moderate.

Several times during his long run as the leader of Florida’s public education system, he faced threats to his political career because, in the view of his opponents, he wasn’t racist enough.

Sheats was Florida’s first elected education superintendent, serving from 1893 to 1904, and again 1913 until his death in 1922. He worked to modernize Florida’s uniform system of public schools and helped draft the first statewide curriculum. He reformed teacher training and certification, requiring educators to pass exams to prove subject-area mastery. He worked to ensure more public high schools were accredited, and helped pass the state’s compulsory-attendance law in 1919. During his tenure, Florida had one of the best-funded public school systems among southern states and had more accredited high schools per capita than any other state in the region.

But Sheats was also a racist. He once declared access to education would “make the vast number of idle, absolutely worthless negroes industrious and self-supporting.” Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: School assignments, choice, elections and more

florida-roundup-logoSchool assignment query: The Florida Department of Education is investigating whether Duval County school officials followed the law in reassigning students from schools that were closed or revamped because of poor performance. The law requires districts to reassign students from failing schools to schools that have a grade of C or better, and the state says there are allegations that’s not happening. Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says he’s confident the district has followed state guidelines. Florida Times-Union.

School choice: School choice advocates do well in Florida elections while the anti-choice teachers union, the Florida Education Association, has setbacks even after spending nearly $3 million on its preferred candidates. redefinED. Gradebook. Politico Florida. Experts say Donald Trump’s educational policies are likely to include expanded parental choice, growth in voucher programs and more local control of schools, among other things. The Atlantic.

School elections: The Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections hopes to declare a winner today in the District 7 school board race between Lynn Gray and Cathy James. Gray leads by a quarter of a percent, but 1,400 provisional ballots remain to be counted. Any difference under a half percent triggers an automatic recount. Gradebook. The Polk County Supervisor of Elections will decide Friday if a recount is required in the District 4 school board race between Sara Beth Reynolds and Becky Troutman. Reynolds leads by less than a quarter of a percent. Lakeland Ledger. Marianne Arbulu is elected superintendent of schools for Jefferson County. WFSU.

House education leader: State Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, is named to direct education policy in the Florida House in the upcoming legislative session. Incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, made the appointment. Gradebook. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Early degrees, tweeting, job security, charters and more

florida-roundup-logoEarly degrees: About eight Florida Atlantic University High School students finish high school with a bachelor’s degree each year. The Boca Raton school is believed to be the only one in the United States where students can earn a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree at the same time. Associated Press.

Tweet trouble: The Miami-Dade Schools Police Department wants to be more active on Twitter. So a half-dozen people in the department were given the account password and encouraged to tweet. Now the department is having to explain why it’s published tweets from Donald Trump criticizing President Obama’s Cuba policies, promoting National Drink Beer Day and wondering if marijuana oil is the female Viagra. Miami Herald.

Teacher job security: Thirty-eight school districts in Florida are finding ways to provide job security for teachers that disappeared when Gov. Rick Scott signed a law eliminating tenure in 2011. Pinellas County plans to join that group this week when teachers vote on a proposal to ensure contract renewal for teachers rated effective or highly effective. Tampa Bay Times.

Anti-charter: The NAACP board approves a resolution calling for a calling for a “moratorium on the proliferation of privately managed charter schools.” The civil rights organization has long been an opponent of charter schools, arguing that they represent a privatization of public education. redefinED.

Graduation rates: U.S. high school graduation rates hit a record 83.2 percent in the 2014-2015 school year, according to the White House. Associated Press. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Teacher prep ratings, appeal, freeze effects and more

florida-roundup-logoTeacher prep rules: The U.S. Education Department issues guidelines for states to rate colleges’ teacher preparation programs on an annual basis. The ratings would track teachers after graduation and show how they perform, which is intended to help aspiring teachers decide on which college to attend and to improve the colleges’ programs. The states will rate the programs as effective, at-risk, or low-performing. Washington Post. Education Week.

Scholarships appeal: The groups challenging Florida’s public education adequacy continue to focus on school choice, and are targeting the state’s McKay scholarship program for children with special needs in their appeal. The program helps 30,000 Florida children with special needs pay private school tuition. The groups call the program unconstitutional. redefinED.

Hiring freeze: A hiring freeze that is requiring reshuffling of some educators back into empty classrooms will affect success coaches hired by the Hillsborough County School District to work closely with at-risk students, according to a district memo sent to employees. Gradebook.

Contract negotiations: The proposed contract between Pinellas teachers and the school district includes a guarantee of renewal for teachers on annual contracts who are judged to be effective or highly effective. Gradebook. Continue Reading →