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This California district has the mastery-based learning approach some Florida schools want

From Left, Kevin Chavous, president of K12 Inc, Ben Marcovitz, founder and CEO of Collegiate Academies and Tom Rooney, superintendent of Lindsay Unified School District speak about how personalized learning has improved student achievement.

A school district in Central California is making the kind of changes some Florida schools hope to make – if the law would allow them.

The Lindsay Unified School District has made changes allowing students to advance at their own pace. They can choose what areas they want to focus on. Once a student masters a standard they can proceed to the next level.

Proposed legislation would have allowed Florida public schools to start replacing conventional A-F grades with a new “mastery-based” system, and given them more flexibility to award course credit based on students’ mastery of the content, rather than the number of instructional hours.

But the bill died in the waning days of the legislative session, slowing the state’s progress with personalized learning.

The Lindsay Unified School District, located in the central valley, is a large agricultural community 62 miles south of Fresno and home to largely migrant workers.

The school district does not award A-F grades but instead scores students on a rubric.

Lindsay grades students on scale of 0-4, with 4 meaning mastery, on each standard. The score of 1 means the student is a novice, 2 means they are developing the standard, and 3 is approaching mastery. Students also progress to the next level when they master a standard instead of having to meet a number of instructional hours.

Once a student graduates, the district converts their rubric score to an A-F system for college admissions. Lawmaker concerns about college admissions dogged the scuttled Florida proposal.

The district includes 4,111 students, 89 percent of whom are on free and reduced lunch. The majority are Hispanic. Approximately 45 percent are not native English speakers.

The district is making strides, according to Tom Rooney, the district’s superintendent.

“Everything we do is about the learner,” Rooney said during this year’s annual American Federation for Children conference.. “Little by little, we are dismantling the structures of public education that has been around for 125 years. We are replacing them with learner centered structures. A culture of learning of empowerment. A culture that is about producing results.”

Rooney said attendance is up. Graduation rates have increased. Parents are required to be engaged in their children’s learning and students are taking ownership. They are also excited about coming to school.

The school has a 93 percent graduation rate, which is up from the low 70s. And 57 percent of students go on to earn a college degree in four years. Discipline issues have also decreased.

“Every day Lindsay learners come to school and are met at their developmental level,” Rooney said. “We challenge them. They are successful, and they leave school wanting to return tomorrow.”


Florida schools roundup: School security, walkout, budgets and more

School security: The Duval County School Board approves a proposal to hire 103 armed safety assistants to guard elementary schools. The plan will cost the district about $4.18 million. WJXTWJAX. The Pasco County School Board approves hiring armed guards to be stationed at the district’s 47 elementary schools. Superintendent Kurt Browning says the program is a hybrid between the state’s guardian program, which allows arming school employees, and hiring sworn school resource officers. The district will have to find the $550,000 to close the gap between the actual cost and money it gets from the state from the guardian program. Tampa Bay Times. Hernando County school officials are considering asking voters for a hike in property taxes or the sales tax to help pay for structural changes to make schools safer. Tampa Bay Times. The Flagler County sheriff tells the school board it must come up with the $88,000 still needed to put a deputy at every school. Flagler Live. Residents argue on both sides about arming school employees during a second town hall meeting in Brevard County. Florida Today. Veteran Florida Department of Law Enforcement special agent Damien Kelly is chosen to lead the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Safe Schools. WKMG. Tampa Bay Times. Nearly two-thirds of the nation’s secondary public schools have sworn officers on site, but most are not present all day, according to a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics. Pew Research Center.

Student walkout: Students across the United States are expected to walk out of more than 300 schools today to show their support for the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The pro-gun rights event is called “Stand for the Second,” and is scheduled to last 16 minutes. The 74USA TodayTallahassee Democrat.

Budget concerns: All major construction projects of the Martin County School District – including the plans to build a new administration center – are temporarily put on hold by the school board. The district is facing a tight budget, and decided to delay spending $25 million for several projects. The district is asking voters this fall to boost sales and property taxes to help pay for school construction, school security and teacher pay. TCPalm. Bay County commissioners approve placing a half-cent sales tax hike for schools on the Aug. 28 primary ballot. If approved, the tax will be used for construction and maintenance. Panama City News Herald. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charter school ‘deserts,’ H.B. 7069 appeal and more

Charter school scarcity: A new report concludes that Florida has one of the highest number of charter school “deserts,” which are defined as three or more contiguous census tracts with poverty rates above 20 percent and no charter elementary schools. The charter-friendly Thomas B. Fordham Institute identified about 20 such areas in and around Miami, Orlando and Tampa/St. Petersburg. “Despite the thousands of charter schools opened [nationally] over the past twenty-five years,” the report concludes, “many more are needed if low-income students in every part of America are to have the options they need.” Gradebook. redefinED.

H.B. 7069 lawsuit: Duval County School Board members vote against joining an appeal of the latest decision against 13 school boards that are challenging the constitutionality of the state’s 2017 education law, H.B. 7069, saying they can’t afford to continue. Lee and Bay county school boards have already committed to an appeal. School boards in Alachua, Broward, Clay, Hamilton, Orange, Pinellas, Polk, St. Lucie, Volusia and Wakulla counties have yet to decide. Florida Times-Union.

School shooting defense: The Broward County School Board is trying to limit its liability by having a court label the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre as a single incident with many victims. The board’s liability for each incident is $300,000. Seventeen were killed and 17 wounded on Feb. 14, and a lawyer for one of the wounded victims wants the court to declare each victim a separate incident. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: School security, lawsuit appeal, felons and more

School security: The Hendry and Suwannee county school boards adopt the state’s guardian program and will have school employees carrying concealed weapons in all their schools next August. The school boards will decide who becomes a guardian, and the county sheriff’s departments will provide the training. WBBH. Suwannee Democrat. The Pasco County School Board will be asked to approve a $2.8 million program to put armed safety officers instead of sworn school resource officers into county schools. Gradebook. Some Florida legislators predict the school safety act will be revised in the next legislative session. Florida Today. A majority of people responding to a Lake County School District survey say they do not want to arm school employees. Daily CommercialOrlando Sentinel. A group of Duval County students share their safety concerns with legislators. WJCT. St. Johns County Superintendent Tim Forson talks about the financial challenges the district faces in adhering to the state mandate of having an armed person in every school. St. Augustine RecordFlorida senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio introduce a bill to expand the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center as a way to protect students. Sun-Sentinel. Sunshine State News

Education lawsuit appeal: School boards in Lee and Bay counties vote to appeal a judge’s April 4 ruling that the 2017 state education law, H.B. 7069, is constitutional. The other 11 school boards in the suit – Alachua, Broward, Clay, Duval, Hamilton, Orange, Pinellas, Polk, St. Lucie, Volusia and Wakulla – have yet to decide whether they’ll join the appeal. The plaintiffs say the law is unconstitutional because it takes power away from local school boards. Fort Myers News-PressPanama City News HeraldWJHG. The ongoing legal fight reflects the tension between local school boards, which are given the authority to oversee all public schools in their counties, and the Legislature and Florida Department of Education, which have the power to regulate that authority. redefinED.

Private schools investigated: The Florida Department of Education will investigate three private schools that hired felons as teachers. Kingsway Christian Academy and Winners Primary School near Orlando and Southland Christian School near Kissimmee have been asked for records of the employees, including proof of their background checks. State law prohibits private schools that take scholarship money from hiring employees with certain convictions, but the state relies on the schools to conduct background checks. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: New ESSA plan, report cards going digital and more

Revised ESSA plan: The Florida Department of Education submits its revised plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. The state is asking the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver to limit state testing to either math or science every year for middle school students, instead of both, and wants to offer state tests in a language other than English only when 5 percent or more of middle school students speaks that language. In Florida, the plan says, that would be only Spanish. The state also wants to change the way it deals with migrant and homeless children, how it handles out-of-field teachers, and details how it will use demographic subgroups to determine what schools need additional attention. Gradebook. Politico Florida.

Digital report cards: Report cards for Lake County School District students will no longer be mailed to homes, school officials say. Instead, parents and students will have to look up grades online through the already-in-place Skyward Family Access portal. The switch is expected to save the district $35,000 a year. Parents can still get a paper copy by going to their child’s school and asking for one to be printed. Orlando Sentinel. Daily Commercial.

School security: A 16-member commission reviewing the Parkland school shooting meets for the first time today in Coconut Creek. The panel will look into law enforcement’s response and confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz’s background, and make recommendations to prevent future attacks. News Service of Florida. Miami Herald. Manatee County is unlikely to contribute to pay for armed security at the county’s schools, county officials are telling the school board. The county has split the costs in the past. School board member Charlie Kennedy says he hopes the county’s decision is negotiable. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Clay County School Board members want to put a resource officer in every school, which will cost $5 million, and are asking the county for more financial help. Clay Sheriff Darryl Daniels is frustrated by the delays in making a decision, and warns that time is running out to hire and train officers for schools. WJAX. Polk County School Board members are expected to vote today on a plan to hire at least 85 armed safety officers for county schools. WFLA. The first of three town hall meetings about using the school marshal program in Brevard County schools is tonight. The school board says putting a resource officer in every school is too expensive, and wants to consider arming school personnel even though Superintendent Desmond Blackburn and Sheriff Wayne Ivey are recommending against it. Florida Today. At least 31 students have been killed and 53 wounded in school shootings this year in the United States. The 74.

Continue Reading →


Peace, love & accountability

War on Poverty liberals who supported private school vouchers saw school choice as a means to create more accountability for a public education system that they saw as unresponsive to the needs of low-income parents. (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)

This is the latest post in our ongoing series on the center-left roots of school choice.

The Great Society liberals who pushed for private school vouchers in the 1960s and ‘70s were all about social justice. They saw a tool for empowering low-income parents. For promoting equity. For honoring diversity.

They also saw a means to redefine accountability.

In 1971, the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity – the office created to lead the War on Poverty – put out this brochure explaining the “voucher experiment” that would eventually be sorta kinda conducted in California’s Alum Rock school district. (You can read the full proposal here.) The brochure notes the pathetic academic outcomes for low-income students across America, then pivots to a theory for progress through “greater accountability”:

One reason for this disparity could well be that poor parents have little opportunity to affect the type or quality of education received by their children. The poor have no means by which to make the education system more responsive to their needs and desires. More affluent parents usually can obtain a good education for their children because they can choose schools for their children to attend – either by deciding where to live or by sending the children to private schools. Poverty and residential segregation deny this choice to low-income and minority parents.

The Office of Economic Opportunity therefore has begun to seek a means to introduce greater accountability and parental control into schools in such a way that the poor would have a wider range of choices, that the schools would be encouraged to become more accountable to parents, and that the public schools would remain attractive to the more affluent. This has led to consideration of an experiment in which public education would be given directly to parents in the form of vouchers, or certificates, which the parents could then take to the school of their choice, public or nonpublic, as payment for their children’s education.

Now is a good a time to re-surface this blast from the past. Plenty of smart folks have been trying to help people understand a definition of accountability through school choice (see here, here, here and here). But truth be told, opponents of choice – and I’d put many of my media friends in that category – still haven’t heard that definition, or still don’t appreciate it, or still characterize it exclusively as an extension of free-market “ideology.” Perhaps hearing it from the left will cause some healthy cognitive dissonance. 🙂

A better grasp of accountability is especially important to us in Florida. We’ve been barraged by negative stories ever since President Trump visited an Orlando Catholic school in March 2017 and praised Florida’s scholarship programs. Many of these stories suggested, if not outright claimed, that the Florida programs lack accountability. The name of the Trump-spurred series in the Orlando Sentinel says it all: “Schools Without Rules.” (Our response here.)

But this notion of unaccountable private schools is only true if you believe in a narrow, warped view of accountability that includes regulations alone. If “accountability” means holding a state-supported program to account for results, then parental choice exercises that pressure, too.

The liberal academics behind the OEO voucher proposal clearly believed that. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: School security plans, budget blues and more

School security: The Sarasota County School Board approves a plan to create an internal school security department over the next two years. The plan, which would cost the district $3.1 million, calls for hiring 30 officers and placing them in elementary schools for the 2018-2019 school year, and adding 26 more the following year and putting them in middle and high schools. Superintendent Todd Bowden proposes negotiating with local law enforcement agencies to provide coverage in middle and high schools for 2018-2019, which could cost as much as another $2.5 million. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Both the Duval and Pasco school districts are considering plans to place safety “assistants” in elementary schools as a less-costly alternative to using sworn school resource officers. These assistants would receive less training and be paid less than SROs, and work only when schools are in session. Florida Times-UnionWJCT. WJXT. Gradebook. The Volusia County School Board is asking the county council for $2 million to help put a resource officer in every school. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Putnam County School Board members delay a decision on arming school employees until May 1 to wait for a recommendation from a school advisory committee. WJXT. Students are among about 50 people protesting against Brevard County School Board members who want to consider arming school employees. Florida Today. Broward County school officials are hosting the first of several school safety forums tonight. WLRN.

Budget problems: The Duval County School Board is facing a $62 million deficit in its $1.7 billion budget for next year, districts officials say. Last year the district dipped into its reserves to cover a $23 million deficit. Interim Superintendent Patricia Willis says overspending, higher costs for security, transportation, raises and money to charter schools are contributing to the deficit, and she’s asking department heads to look for 5 percent savings in their budgets. Florida Times-Union. Broward County school officials say they’re facing a budget deficit of nearly $15 million for the next school year, and are considering asking voters for an additional half-mill in property taxes so teachers can get raises. If approved by the school board, the tax measure would go on the November ballot. Officials estimate it would raise $93 million a year over its four-year life. Sun-Sentinel. Lake County School Superintendent Diane Kornegay is proposing to trim $2.1 million from the district’s budget by eliminating non-teaching positions in administration and support services. Daily Commercial.

Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Security measures, nation’s report card and more

School security: The Broward County School Board accepts Superintendent Robert Runcie’s recommendation and votes unanimously against participating in the state’s guardian program to arm specified school employees. The district will ask the state if it can redirect money from the guardian program to hire resource officers. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. The state will send Duval County $4 million for school safety, but interim superintendent Patricia Willis says the district needs $14 million to place a resource officer in every school. Florida Times-Union. Palm Beach County School Superintendent Donald Fennoy is planning to restructure the district’s police force, which includes choosing a new chief and adding 75 officers to the 150 it has now. Palm Beach Post. Brevard Sheriff Wayne Ivey, who had strongly pushed the school board to participate in the guardian program, is now recommending against it, and Superintendent Desmond Blackburn says he agrees. Ivey says he’s worried the debate about arming school employees is overshadowing the more important need for resource officers in every school. Florida Today. Polk County school officials are considering hiring armed security guards for their schools. “Basically, what we’re doing is creating our own police force,” says Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd. Lakeland Ledger. To meet state mandates on school security, many Florida districts are shifting money from other projects, including instructional, dipping into reserves or contemplating borrowing. Reuters.

More on report card: While most of the nation had so-so results on the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and mathematics assessments, also known as the nation’s report card, Florida students outperformed their peers in grades 4 and 8 reading and grade 4 math, and was the only state to show improvements in three of the four categories. Three large Florida districts — Miami-Dade, Duval and Hillsborough — also ranked among the leaders of the 27 that participated in a trial urban district assessment. Here’s the full NAEP report and highlights. Florida Times-Union. WJCT. WJXTredefinED. Miami HeraldThe 74Florida Governor’s Office. What’s Florida doing that other states could emulate? Education Week. U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos praises Florida as a “bright spot” in NAEP testing, but pointing to the stagnant scores and a widening achievement gap, says “we can and we must do better for America’s students.” Education Week. Politico Florida. Continue Reading →