Archive | Education and Public Policy

State board approves pilot program giving principals more autonomy

The State Board of Education today approved plans to give principals at public schools in Broward, Palm Beach and Pinellas Counties greater control over their budgets and hiring.

Last year, lawmakers created the Principal Autonomy Pilot Program Initiative. It allows school districts to offer select principals a charter-like exchange. They get more flexibility, as well as exemptions from certain state and local rules. In return, they would have to meet academic performance goals.

Before signing off on the plans, Michael Olenick, a member of the state board, wanted to know how giving principals greater operational freedom would affect students.

“As a former principal, I had an opportunity to make decisions without receiving permission from the district office,” said Hershel Lyons, chancellor for the state’s K-12 public schools. “It is an opportunity for the principal to make a decision that impacts that individual student immediately and take into account other things that prepare all students along with that.”

In their applications, the districts each picked three schools that would participate, and set targets to raise student achievement. In general, the schools serve large proportions of low-income students of color, and have histories of academic struggles.  Continue Reading →


President’s budget proposes $1.4 billion to expand school choice

President budget coverPresident Donald Trump is proposing to spend more than $1.4 billion to expand public and private school choice.

The president today released a broad outline of his spending plan. The $59 billion education budget would boost funding for the federal Charter Schools Program, set aside $250 million for an unspecified private school choice initiative, and increase federal funding to support low-income students while pushing districts to use it in a choice-friendly way.

The plan received a mixed reaction among education reformers. They generally praised Trump’s support for school choice. But some criticized proposed cuts to other programs, and others expressed skepticism about the federal role in education.

The charter school program supports startup schools, as well as state initiatives designed to improve charter school quality. Florida received more than $58 million of its most recent installment, the largest share of any state. Trump has proposed increasing the $333 million program by $168 million, or roughly 50 percent.

National Alliance for Public Charter Schools President Nina Rees issued a statement of appreciation for additional charter school funding.

“In the current school year, more than 200,000 new students are attending charter public schools, bringing nationwide enrollment to more than 3 million students,” she said. “Still, there could be at least another 2 million students whose parents would enroll them in charter schools if they could. Increased funding for the CSP is essential to expanding charter school capacity and reducing the wait for these families.”

Other supporters of charter school grants, like the National Association of Charter School authorizers, said they were “deeply concerned” about cuts elsewhere in the president’s plan. Continue Reading →


Trump cites Florida as a model; school choice critics look elsewhere

As President Trump looked with favor on Florida’s 15-year-old tax credit scholarship last week, some of the reviews seemed to suffer a form of interstate transference.

The formulation went something like this: If Arizona, then Florida.

Take Kevin Carey, the able director of education policy at New America, as one example. After Trump on Tuesday introduced a graduate student who attributed her academic turnaround to the Florida scholarship program, Carey responded in the New York Times with an extended discourse not on the Sunshine State but on the Arizona Tax Credit Scholarship. Carey is troubled that Arizona’s Senate president runs one of the largest scholarship-granting organizations, thinks 10 percent is too much to pay the organizations to administer the program, criticizes the state for allowing scholarship students with higher household incomes, and is worried about the lack of testing and financial accountability requirements.

Those are all reasonable concerns, but none of them apply to Florida. 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 →


Florida schools roundup: No names in bills, alternative schools and more

Bill drops name: A bill that would prohibit Florida high school students from leaving campuses for lunch won’t bear the name of a Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High School girl who was killed in a car crash during lunch off campus in 1999. Sen. Rene Hialeah, R-Hialeah, removed the name of Mayra Capote from his bill at the request of Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who said he didn’t want bills named after people because it puts lawmakers in an awkward spot if they want to oppose them. Miami Herald.

Legislative issues: The expansion of school choice programs, cutbacks in testing and the expansion of the Bright Futures scholarship program are among the top issues to watch in this year legislative session, which begins in a week. Orlando Weekly. WFSU.

District denies report: Orange County School District officials deny a ProPublica report last week that the district is using alternative schools to hide struggling, problem students who might otherwise drag down a school’s graduation rate, test scores and grade. Spokespersons for the district and Accelerated Learning Solutions, a for-profit charter school management company that manages five charter alternative schools in the county, say students choose the alternative schools. One of the schools mentioned in the report, Sunshine High School, is up for contract renewal. District staff is recommending the school board approve the renewal at today’s meeting. Orlando Sentinel.

District criticized: Florida TaxWatch, a nonprofit group that monitors financial performances of institutions, is criticizing the Broward County School District for construction delays and overruns in its $800 million bond program to upgrade schools. County voters approved the bond in 2014, but many projects expected to be under construction by 2015 still haven’t begun. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →


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 →