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Students lift voices to celebrate School Choice Week

This fall, after wowing millions of TV viewers, falling just short of the final round on NBC’s The Voice and gaining national exposure that she hopes will launch a lifelong music career, Shalyah Fearing tried something new. She started learning in a traditional classroom at a local public high school.

Now 16 and a junior, she takes three classes at River Ridge High School in New Port Richey, Fla. while managing the rest of her course load online.

Her family has experienced just about every flavor of school choice — public, private, virtual, home education. So it was fitting that they lent their voices to one of the first events of National School Choice Week, which runs Sunday through Jan. 28, and includes more than 20,000 events across the country.

National School Choice Week group

Students join Shalyah Fearing on stage during a celebration of educational options in Pasco County, Fla.

The events steer clear of politics and encompass multiple educational options.

Among others, Saturday’s celebration in Shady Hills featured local Catholic schools, the Pasco County school district’s career academies and the statewide virtual school that allowed Shalyah to take classes while she chased her musical dreams in California.

For most of Shalyah’s life, she and her six school-age brothers and sisters were homeschooled. As her mother puts it, they enrolled at Fearing Academy.

When she traveled to Los Angeles to compete on reality television, she took classes through Florida Virtual School. She tackled assignments as her schedule allowed, and kept up with teachers and classmates online and by phone.

“All I had to do was carry my laptop everywhere I went,” she said. “My teachers were always available.” Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Bonuses, testing, bullying, fitness, loans and more

florida-roundup-logoTeacher bonuses: Almost 7,200 Florida teachers will receive bonuses of about $6,800 under the state’s Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program, the Department of Education announces. That’s 1,800 more than the number who got the bonuses last year, and represents 4 percent of the state’s teachers. First-year teachers can qualify if their SAT or ACT scores were in the top 20 percent, and experienced teachers need a highly effective evaluation too. The formula for qualifying has been criticized, and may be revised in the legislative session that starts in March. Orlando Sentinel. Bradenton Herald.

Testing targeted: Methods, times spent on assessment tests and the number of tests are all on the agenda as the Senate Education Appropriations Committee meets for the first time in 2017. House leaders say they’re open to an “honest conversation” about streamlining testing, but they’re focused more on school choice. Tampa Bay Times.

Bullying decline? An analysis of reports of bullying in Florida schools indicates just 0.1 percent of students were bullied in 2015, compared to 22 percent nationally. Just 3,000 incidents were reported, down from 6,200 in 2010. Experts and even some local school officials say the numbers are greatly underreported. In south Florida, for instance, almost 600 schools reported no incidences of bullying, Sun-Sentinel.

Fitness test bill: State Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto, files a bill that would end a personal fitness test as a substitute for the required Health Opportunities through Physical Education (HOPE) class. Instead, students could fulfill the requirement by being on a varsity or junior varsity team for two full seasons. Gradebook. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Recess, early education, district rankings and more

florida-roundup-logoDaily recess: Elementary school students in the Orange County School District will be given 20 minutes of recess daily. The school board approved the measure, although it also allows teachers some discretion in how recess is scheduled. Orlando Sentinel.

Early education: Most of Florida’s children eligible for the Head Start program aren’t enrolled because there isn’t enough money to add classrooms, according to a study by the National Institute for Early Education Research. Fixing the problem would cost about $20 billion a year. Orlando Sentinel. Washington Post. The 74.

District rankings: The St. Johns County School District is named tops in the state in an annual survey by Niche.com. The Seminole County School District is second, Okaloosa third, Sarasota fourth and Brevard fifth. Ratings are based on data from the U.S. Department of Education, including test scores, college readiness, graduation rates, SAT/ACT scores and teacher quality. WPLG.

Failing schools: New Miami-Dade County School Board member Steve Gallon is proposing the district focus on improving schools that have received grades of D or F from the state. Florida Bulldog.

SpringBoard survives: The Hillsborough County School District will keep using English and math textbooks from SpringBoard. Teachers and students have complained about effectiveness of the materials, which the district buys from the College Board. Replacing the textbooks would have cost almost $12 million, a price the financially strapped district was unwilling to incur. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Promotions, protests, prayers, pay and more

florida-roundup-logoFew promotions: Almost two months ago, a circuit judge ruled that the state wrongly retained third-graders who opted out of the Florida Standards Assessments testing. Today, just two of the 14 students named in that lawsuit have been promoted to fourth grade. Broward County twins were promoted earlier this month. But a Seminole County student is still in third grade, and the rest are in private schools or are being homeschooled. The ruling is being appealed by the state and several of the districts. Orlando Sentinel.

Education protest: A small group of people protest what they call the unequal distribution of funds in the Miami-Dade School District. The group, ICARE, accuses the district of not properly funding inner-city schools and their programs. The protest was held outside a hotel where Superintendent Alberto Carvalho was attending a national conference on urban education. Miami Herald.

Dress code warning: A call on Facebook to protest the Pasco County School District’s dress code leads to a warning for a Ridgewood High School senior. Hunter Banaciski says he was told by school officials that his protest could incite a riot, which might result in his suspension or even his arrest. Banaciski says the protest, which simply calls for students to wear clothing that doesn’t conform to the school dress code, will go on. Tampa Bay Times.

Prayer lawsuit: The Florida High School Athletic Association is asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a Tampa Christian school that alleges the organization violated its football players’ religious freedom. Last December, the FHSAA denied a request from Cambridge Christian School to use a loudspeaker to broadcast a prayer before its state championship game against University Christian School of Jacksonville. In its filing, the FHSAA argued that the schools and players were free to pray – just not over the loudspeaker. News Service of Florida. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Hiring freeze, contract agreements, ratings and more

florida-roundup-logoHiring freeze: The Hillsborough County School District is freezing teacher hiring as part of its austerity measures. The current 140 vacancies will be filled by educators who have been working outside of a classroom. The district is trying to save $130 million this year, in a budget of $2.8 billion. The Gibson Consulting Group is being paid $818,000 to help the district find ways to cut spending. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA.

Contract agreements: The Palm Beach County teachers union and district officials agree on a contract that calls for an average raise of 3 percent for teachers. The starting teacher salary is bumped to $41,000, and the top of the pay scale goes up by about $1,700 to $78,645. Palm Beach Post. Manatee County school officials announce tentative contract agreements with the teachers’ and service employees’ unions. The agreements call for raises and no increases in health insurance costs for employees. Bradenton Herald.

Improvement ratings: The Florida Department of Education releases its school improvement ratings for alternative and special education centers. Gradebook.

Audit committee: If voters approve a sales tax increase for Manatee County schools, the district will give an audit committee an important role in tracking how the projected $30 million a year is spent. The audit committee will be made up of mostly retired certified public accountants who are volunteers. The school board says it will also consider sharing some of the proceeds with charter schools. Bradenton Herald. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Appeal, mediation, homeschooling, ad and more

florida-roundup-logoScholarship appeal: The Florida Education Association, the NAACP and other groups officially file an appeal with the Florida Supreme Court over the constitutionality of the state’s tax credit scholarship program. The groups say the program diverts money from the state’s public schools system. A circuit court and appeals court have disagreed, and ruled that the groups have no legal standing to sue because they have not proven harm. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the program. Florida Politics. Politico Florida. The groups fighting the tax credit scholarship program are relying heavily on a 2006 Florida Supreme Court ruling that vouchers are unconstitutional. News Service of Florida.

Mediation in Duval: The Duval County School Board decides to hire a mediator to help resolve its differences with Superintendent Nikolai Vitti. But board members aren’t able to agree on how high to set academic goals. Some members think Vitti’s targets for progress and for lowering the achievement gap between white and minority students are too modest. Florida Times-Union.

Blacks and homeschooling: More than 84,000 students are homeschooled in Florida, and African-Americans are the fastest-growing demographic group, according to the U.S. Department of Education. WFSU.

Ad withdrawn: Leon County School Superintendent Jackie Pons has withdrawn a controversial TV ad about his opponent. Pons said he would apologize to Rocky Hanna, the target of the ad that focused on a 2013 paternity lawsuit, and to anyone else offended by it. Tallahassee Democrat. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Scholarship growth, homework, gifted and more

florida-roundup-logoScholarship growth: More than 92,000 Florida students are now receiving scholarships for private schools through the state’s tax credit scholarship program. That’s an increase of about 17 percent over last year’s 78,664 students. Another 5,844 will benefit from Gardiner Scholarships for students with special needs. That’s an increase of about 18 percent over last year. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer both programs. redefinED. Gradebook.

Homework guidelines: School is back in session, which means homework is back too. But how much is too much? Rule-of-thumb guidelines approved by the National PTA and National Education Association call for a maximum of 10 minutes of homework a day, multiplied by a child’s grade level. Fort Myers News-Press.

A path to gifted: A black father in Palm Beach County recounts what he had to do to get his twin sons into the overwhelmingly white gifted programs in their schools. Eric Davis says, “My biggest thing is, there are a lot of bright, young African-American students out there. They don’t get the same opportunities. Their parents don’t know the same secrets, the land mines to get into the programs – but they shouldn’t have to.” Palm Beach Post.

Contract negotiations: The Pasco County teachers union asks the school district for a 4 percent raise on the opening day of negotiations. The district is countering with an offer of a 2.65 percent increase, on average. The difference in the proposals amounts to $918,000. Gradebook. Continue Reading →

Home schoolers could help chart a path to customized education

“Blended learning.” “Customized education.” “Student-centered.” It’s hard to write about what’s possible in the future of education without getting stuck in a morass of jargon and buzzwords.

William Mattox of the James Madison Institute has produced a new policy brief that paints a clearer picture of what those mind-fogging terms aim to describe.

Imagine middle and high schools that look more like college, where students set flexible course schedules. Picture community institutions offering individual courses, and parents working with school administrators to create unique educational paths for each child.

Mattox, the director of the Tallahassee think tank’s J. Stanley Marshall Center for Educational Options, writes that these things are already happening at institutions like Circle Christian School, which was founded by a group of Central Florida homeschool parents. It now serves roughly 700 students in multiple locations, and boasts alumni with stories like this: Continue Reading →