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Florida schools roundup: Charters, funding, back to school and more

Charter school support: Support for the charter school movement is declining in America, according to a recent survey by Education Next, a journal published by Harvard’s Kennedy School and Stanford University. Only 39 percent of of those polled favor opening more “charters – schools that are funded by public money, but usually operated independently of school districts.” That’s down from 51 percent last year. Associated Press.

Back to school: More from districts around Florida that have returned to school or will soon. Florida Times-UnionPalm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel. Orlando SentinelSarasota Herald-Tribune. Gainesville Sun. Tallahassee Democrat. Daytona Beach News-Journal. About a quarter of Osceola Magnet School’s students stayed home on the first day of the new school year after the disclosure of a mold problem at the school. School officials are still waiting for the results of air quality tests. TCPalm. WPTV. Ten tips for young teachers from a veteran educator. Palm Beach Post.

School funding protest: The Lake County School Board approves a resolution urging the state to “halt the transfer of education funding from poorer school districts to wealthier school districts.” That district cost differential portion of the school funding formula has shortchanged the district by $57 million since 2004, board members say. “You have 14 counties in the state benefiting from this. The 53 other counties are paying for it,” says board member Bill Mathias. Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart,  recently approved a legislative study of the differential. Daily Commercial.

Help for gifted students: Students at 16 high schools in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco who are struggling in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs will get help from a program developed by two academics to support students who they think are often “taken for granted.” The Advancing Coping and Engagement program will provide students with weekly lessons on developing time management skills and connecting with teachers. Tampa Bay Times.

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Florida schools roundup: H.B. 7069, evaluations, charters, budgets and more

H.B. 7069 lawsuit: The Sarasota County School Board votes against joining other districts in a proposed lawsuit against the state over the new education law, H.B. 7069. Board member Bridget Ziegler proposed a motion to “suspend all consideration or further allocation of resources toward the support of any potential litigation challenging House Bill 7069,” which was adopted. She said the vote gave the district an “opportunity to send a message that we are above the political theater” of wasting “time, money, and intellectual capital” on legal fees. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Sunshine State News. Duval County School Board chairwoman Paula Wright says a proposed audit is unlikely to explain how the district overspent its budget by $21 million last year, and criticizes state Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville, for requesting it. Fischer also condemned the board for considering joining a lawsuit against the new state education law. Wright’s reply: “We are not going to be pushed or bullied … to do things quickly for the benefit of others.” Florida Times-Union. A review of text messages details the last-minute fighting in the Legislature over H.B. 7069. Politico Florida.

Teacher evaluations: Florida school districts haven’t lived up to the “spirit” of the state’s 2011 teacher evaluation law, according to a new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality. In most places, the report says, teachers can still get a larger pay bump for having a master’s degree than for receiving a “highly effective” evaluation. National Council on Teacher Quality.

Charter funding: The Broward County School Board agrees to share some of the property tax money it collects with the five-school charter system owned and operated by the city of Pembroke Pines. The city has been asking for money from the district since 2005. The board said its decision to share applies only to the Pembroke Pines schools and not schools owned and operated by charter companies. A new state law calls for districts to share local property taxes collected with charter schools, but Broward and several other districts say they will be filing a suit challenging the constitutionality of it. Sun Sentinel.

School budgets: The Hillsborough County School Board gives tentative approval to a $2.9 billion budget. Tampa Bay Times. The Bay County School Board tentatively approves a $376 million budget, an increase of $18 million over last year despite a slightly lower proposed millage rate. Panama City News Herald.

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Breaking down the latest research evaluation of the nation’s largest private school choice program

The Florida Department of Education this week released its annual evaluation of Florida’s tax credit scholarship program.

Florida State University researchers crunched the numbers on test results for 41,372 low-income and working-class students who used the nation’s largest private school choice program during the 2015-16 school year.

The report from FSU’s Learning Systems Institute largely mirrors results from past years. Scholarship students are disproportionately disadvantaged, both academically and economically. Once they enroll at private schools, they make about a year’s worth of academic progress in a year’s time — at least compared to their peers nationally.

Here is a breakdown of what the report shows.

Scholarship students are among the most disadvantaged.

Compared to children who qualified for scholarships based on income, but did not participate in the program, children who used scholarships were:

  • More likely to be black, and less likely to be Hispanic or white.
  • Less likely to be English-language learners.
  • More likely to qualify for free-or-reduced price lunch (an indicator of economic disadvantage).

Scholarship participants also had lower average test scores in both English and math when they entered the program.

They make about a year’s worth of progress in a year’s time.
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Florida schools roundup: Audit call, budgets, schools of hope and more

District audit request: State Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville, is calling on the state to audit the Duval County School District to find out how it spent $21 million more than it budgeted to last year. Fischer acknowledges that the call for an audit is motivated, at least in part, by the school board’s consideration of joining a lawsuit against the new state education law, H.B. 7069. “I’m deeply concerned that the school district is taking their eye off the ball by considering frivolous lawsuits against the state rather than getting their financial house in order,” Fischer wrote to Sen. Debbie Mayfield, chairman of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee. Florida Times-Union. Florida Politics. The Lee County School Board will consider this week whether to join the lawsuit against H.B. 7069. Several districts say they will join Broward and St. Lucie school districts in bringing a suit, or are considering it. Fort Myers News-Press.

School budgets: The Marion County School Board votes today on a proposed $534.7 million budget that hikes spending by $12.7 million over last year. About $7.8 million of that comes from state and federal spending, and the rest will be taken from reserves to help offset increased health-insurance premiums for employees. Ocala Star Banner. Brevard school officials say the tight state budget for education has put raises for teachers in jeopardy. Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, says the state budget includes raises for teachers rated highly effective or effective, which are on top of potential payouts from the teachers bonuses program. “So teachers will make more money because of the budget that we passed,” Fine says. “Brevard Public Schools doesn’t need to give them a raise to make that happen.” Meanwhile, Superintendent Desmond Blackburn gets a raise of $10,500. Florida Today.

Schools of hope: Three schools in north Florida could be home to the first “schools of hope” under the new education law, but 37 other schools that have struggled for three or more years also could qualify in the 2018-2019 school year. Under the plan, the state can offer financial incentives to recruit charter school companies into areas that have persistently low-performing schools. redefinED. The Sarasota County School District is taking a closer look at the Suncoast School for Innovative Studies, the only Title I charter school in the county. It received a D grade from the state. “… Why did (Title 1 elementary school) Emma E. Booker get a B and you got a D when you’ve got the same demographics?” asks board member Eric Robinson. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Continue Reading →


‘Varying degrees of success’: Betheny Gross on personalized learning

Betheny Gross

Personalized learning has been lauded as the next major shift in education, with policymakers stating it is the best way to increase student achievement.

However, like with any major shift, there are bumps along the way.

For example, in Lake County, Fla., it was not implemented consistently across the district, prompting school officials to change course.

And education experts state there is not one concrete definition or universal plan for implementing personalized learning.

Betheny Gross, a senior research analyst and research director at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, helped lead a multi-method study of schools implementing personalized learning. We spoke with her about the new learning method. Gross and her team visited more than 40 traditional and charter schools in  17 cities across the country.

Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Q: What, exactly, is personalized learning?

A: It is obviously a fairly broad concept. It is a strategy and approach to provide a personalized experience. It emphasizes crafting education experiences around student interests and talents. It is the idea that you are tailoring the child’s experiences to what they need to learn and for the talents and interests they possess. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Teacher of the year, Bright Futures, charters and more

Teacher of the year: Tammy Jerkins, who teaches pre-calculus at Leesburg High School in Lake County, is named Florida’s teacher of the year by the Florida Department of Education. In the letter supporting her nomination, principal Dennis Neal wrote: “I have never seen her give up on a student, no matter how tough and/or unmotivated the student was she always provides the consistent, tough love that is more like that of a mother than a teacher.” Jerkins, 58, who is a graduate of Leesburg High, wins $25,000, a trip for four to New York City for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, a $1,000 wardrobe, $1,000 for her school, and a year out of the classroom to be an education ambassador for the state. The other finalists were Katelyn Fiori, an elementary school teacher from Indian River County; Diego Fuentes, who teaches children with disabilities in Marion County; Vanessa Ko, a middle school math teacher in Pinellas County; and Michael Miller, a 5th grade teacher in Osceola County. Each wins $17,535 and $1,000 for her or his school. Florida Department of Education. Orlando Sentinel. TCPalm. WKMG. Here are two profiles of Jerkins written earlier this year, when she was named one of three finalists for Lake County teacher of the year. Orlando Sentinel. Daily Commercial.

Bright Futures: In a letter this week to universities and colleges, the Florida Department of Education confirms that top award winners of Bright Futures scholarships will have full tuition and fees covered this year and next summer, and also receive $300 stipends for the fall and spring semesters. The state budget provided money for the upgrade, but it hadn’t been confirmed by the DOE until Wednesday. More than 40,000 students will benefit from the boost from about $3,000 last year to about $6,000 this year. Orlando Sentinel. Tallahassee Democrat.

Charters win a battle: An administrative law judge rules that the Palm Beach County School Board exceeded its authority by imposing several restrictions on charter schools. The judge says the district engaged in an “an invalid exercise” of their legal authority by requiring charter schools to prove they are innovative, can’t open near traditional schools and that charter school board members must be county residents. Palm Beach Post.

Board member sanctioned: A member of the Miami-Dade County School Board loses his Florida teaching license over an arrest in New Jersey in 2010. Steve Gallon, who was elected to the school board in November, was accused of using a false address to send his godsons to school in Plainfield, N.J., where he was superintendent. The charges were later dropped, but the New Jersey Department of Education revoked Gallon’s school administrator certificate in 2012. Thursday, the Florida Education Practices Commission revoked Gallon’s license and permanently barred him from reapplying for certification. The decision has no impact on his position on the school board. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Homework ban, Newpoint indictment and more

District homework ban: Marion County School Superintendent Heidi Maier is banning daily homework for the district’s 20,000 elementary school students. Instead, school officials are asking parents to read with their children for 20 minutes every night. Maier says the decision is based on research by Richard Allington, a University of Tennessee professor who found that reading to a child has more positive effects on children than homework. Ocala Star Banner.

Charter company charged: Newpoint Education Partners, a charter school management company, is indicted by a grand jury in Escambia County for alleged fraudulent billing of charter schools for computers, furniture and curriculum services, and concealing it by laundering the money through multiple bank accounts. Earlier this year the founder of Newpoint, Marcus May, and an associate were charged with fraud and racketeering in connection with the operation of 15 charter schools in Escambia, Bay, Broward, Duval, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. WJXT, Associated PressWFLA. Pensacola News Journal.

Safety for exchange students: Miami-Dade County School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is calling on the federal government to tighten screening of potential hosts for foreign exchange students. A host parent, the husband of a district administrator, was arrested recently in Cutler Bay on charges of molesting an exchange student. He then killed himself. Miami HeraldWSVN.

Foreign languages: About 21 percent of Florida K-12 students studied a foreign language during the 2014-2015 school year, according to a report from the American Councils for International Education. The national average is 19.66 percent. More than 80 percent of the Florida students take Spanish, and about 10 percent take French. Education Week. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Second district joins H.B. 7069 suit, algebra 2 and more

H.B. 7069 suit: The St. Lucie County School Board unanimously agrees to join Broward County in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of H.B. 7069. The board authorizes spending up to $10,000 to fight the new law in court. The broadly drawn bill provides additional money for charter schools, expands a bonus program for teachers and principals and requires 20 minutes of daily recess for elementary students, among other things. Board member Kathryn Hensley says the bad in the bill outweighs the good. “I am not willing to do that trade-off,” Hensley said. Other school districts also are considering joining the court challenge, which has not yet been filed. TCPalm.

Algebra 2 test ends: The algebra 2 end-of-course testing is no longer being given, the Florida Department of Education has announced. “There is no statutory requirement for students to obtain a passing score, so it is up to districts as to how to address course grades moving forward,” Department of Education spokeswoman Audrey Walden wrote on Facebook. Gradebook.

Dispute over funding: If the Duval County School District withdraws funding for several community-school initiatives at high-poverty schools, the Quality Education for All Fund (QEA) says, it will sever ties with the district. “If you are not willing to invest in those programs that have proven successful, we must consider that this bond has been broken and we will have no choice but to step back our part of this arrangement until a new understanding can be established,” according to a letter QEA has sent the district. School officials say they have to tighten the budget. Florida Times-Union.

Raise for superintendent: The Brevard County School Board approves a 5 percent raise and a contract extension to 2020 for Superintendent Desmond Blackburn. Blackburn will be paid $220,500 a year, which makes him the 10th-highest paid superintendent in the state. Florida Today. Continue Reading →