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Moving on

Today is my last day editing this blog. After 23 years as a Floridian, six years chronicling the politics and policy of the public education system that educated me, and four and half years writing in this space, I’m moving on to start a new chapter alongside my fiancee, who teaches high school English in New Orleans.

It’s a transition from one hotbed of education reform to another. And it’s got me thinking.

A couple months after I first joined Step Up For Students, I wrote a recap of the 2014 Florida legislative session. It was a bruising one for school choice advocates. My thesis was that all the sturm and drang over how to measure academic outcomes of students who used scholarships to attend private schools, or how to manage the charter school application process, signaled a new era in the politics and policy of public education in our state. We were done fighting over whether charter schools or voucher programs ought to exist. They existed, and it was clear they weren’t going anywhere. We’d moved on to thornier questions about how to govern them.

Looking back, more than four years later, that may have been wishful thinking. In Florida and around the country, advocates and academics burn staggering amounts of intellectual jet fuel litigating whether charter schools are good or bad for public education and whether private school choice is a win-win solution or an affront to American ideals.

In this space, we’ve tried to push the debate in more productive directions. How can the state stop the bad charter school operators, while encouraging new, better ones to open and expand? How can politicians who support public education draw lessons from charter schools and apply them in districts? How can schools of all types foster innovations that will help them meet the educational needs of all their students? Continue Reading →


RedefinED is looking for a new editor

As readers will learn in more detail on Friday, redefinED editor Travis Pillow, an education journalist extraordinaire, is leaving Florida and this blog to set up shop in another hotbed of educational innovation – New Orleans. (Okay, so there’s also an amazing woman, who happens to be an enormously talented educator and Travis’ new fiancée, who provides an even more powerful draw.)

We’d like to think there is another Travis out there somewhere, perhaps even among our audience. So we steal a piece of the blog this morning to advertise ourselves. The position of editor is open, and we are accepting applications.

RedefinED is a seven-year-old education blog with what we view as a national footprint in the arena of school choice. The editor is in charge of all operations of the blog and related social media, including planning, writing, editing and execution of the daily output. In that role, the editor oversees the work of three staff members, including a writer, social media specialist and a part-time daily roundup editor. We seek someone with seasoned writing, editing, interviewing, research and organizational skills and a broad knowledge of education issues. She or he must have a bachelor’s degree in journalism or related field and at least five years of related experience or equivalent combination of education and experience. The blog is published by Step Up For Students, a nonprofit that helps administer four state-authorized scholarship programs in Florida, and we would prefer the editor be based in our administrative headquarters in St. Petersburg.

Those who are interested can apply online here.


Charter school couldn’t change Zoe’s past, but it changed her future

Zoe Jenkins relaxes with Lady, her beloved Great Pyrenees. A recent graduate of Dayspring Academy in New Port Richey, she will attend Florida State University.

Zoe Jenkins hasn’t seen her mother or father in person in years. But a few months ago, she saw her father on TV.

On a crime show.

The 18-year-old was watching “Live PD,” a popular A&E program that follows police officers from around the country, often during nighttime patrols. This episode was being shot in Moon Lake, a blighted, crime-ridden community in Pasco County, Florida.

The camera zoomed in on a man being questioned by officers. It was her dad, about to do meth in a car, with her brother in the passenger seat.

“I had to do a double take,” Zoe said. “It was just crazy.”

Zoe’s life has been filled with shockers. Her mom struggles with alcohol. Her 16-year-old brother, the one in the car with Dad, is missing. Her childhood was marked with so much chaos and violence she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.  Continue Reading →


Top teacher: Education can be a tool for social justice

Sydney Chaffee, 2017 National Teacher of the Year, spoke about the importance of empowering students to become active and engaged citizens.

AUSTIN, Tex. – Sydney Chaffee has taught her students about apartheid in South Africa.

But students simply do not take notes and answer questions.

They probe deep questions about morality and justice.

“My students draw comparisons between South African kids’ activities and their own power and promise as young people,” said Chaffee, the 2017 National Teacher of the Year. “They debate whether they would be willing to risk their lives to ensure future generations can live in a more just world.”

Chaffee, a humanities teacher at Codman Academy Charter Public School in Boston, was one of the main speakers at the closing session of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools Wednesday. Continue Reading →


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 →