Florida schools roundup: Retirement delay, charters, graduation and more

florida-roundup-logoFinish-the-year pay: The Orange County School District reaches an agreement with 111 retiring teachers to work through the end of the school year. The teachers will be paid their current rate for the days beyond their retirement date, which is six days before the end of the school year. Orlando Sentinel.

Charter school query: The St. Johns County School District is investigating “allegations of irregularities” in First Coast Technical College’s administrative and reporting practices. FCTC is a charter school. An employee is alleging that FCTC, a charter school, encourages students to do poorly on the Tests Of Adult Basic Education so they could be eligible for a scholarship. St. Augustine Record.

Graduation rate dips: The Lake County School District says it has to improve its graduation rate, which has fallen about three percentage points in two years and is now below the state average of 75.8 percent. School officials say data entry mistakes and a loss of interest by students are contributing factors. Daily Commercial.

District goals: The Indian River County School District received an A grade from the state, but it still needs improvement in student discipline, elementary reading proficiency and fifth-grade English, Superintendent Mark Rendell says in his state of the district speech. TCPalm. Continue Reading →


High-impact Catholic school set to get to work in Tampa

Cristo Rey Catholic School

The new Cristo Rey Catholic School will be located at Tampa’s Mary Help of Christians Center.

Why would a law firm want to hire a team of fourteen-year-old high school freshmen to work in its office?

Ordinarily, perhaps it wouldn’t. But, like 38 other employers in the region, the Gilbert Garcia Group in Tampa, Fla. has signed up for some new employees to support a unique approach to Catholic education that has made a difference for low-income and working-class students in other cities.

Michelle Garcia Gilbert, the firm’s president and CEO, says she wants employees to engage in “hands-on giving,” which is why she’s signed up to sponsor the soon-to-be-open Cristo Rey Tampa High School.

The new school, set to open this fall, will be the first Florida location for a national network of Catholic schools known for pushing low-income young people toward college, with a signature work-study program that helps cover their tuition and prepare them for the professional world.

Gilbert said she recognizes the potential impact the new school will make on the Tampa Bay community, and that she’s confident students with limited means but no shortage of “ability and interest” will be able to make a contribution at the office.

The college-preparatory Catholic school will be located in an East Tampa ZIP code where one in four residents has not completed high school. This presents a challenge for the network that boasts a 100 percent college acceptance rate for its graduates.

It’s a challenge the school welcomes with open arms, due to its Salesian identity. The Salesian order was founded in 1859 by Don Bosco, a Catholic priest-turned-saint whose mission was to be a friend to at-risk youths. The Salesian identity embraces “preventative” educational methods, which take a holistic approach to discipline by developing the whole person: body, heart, mind, and spirit. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Test scores, building costs, nonfiction out and more

florida-roundup-logoTest scores stall: Tests scores have stagnated nationally and in Florida, and some experts now think there won’t be any significant improvement without radical changes in the focus of education. Orlando Sentinel.

Flawed estimates? Some Broward County School Board members think the district is using a flawed method to calculate the cost of construction projects for its $800 million bond program, and the result is cost overruns. The board is considering a review of the more than 240 projects in the bond program to see if the process was fair to the neediest schools. The bond was approved by voters in November 2014, but no work has begun. Sun-Sentinel.

Nonfiction cutback: Some Broward County high school libraries are ridding their shelves of nonfiction books. School officials say the books aren’t needed because the information is available online, and the money saved can be used for other needs. Sun-Sentinel.

Teacher shortages: More than 100 Orange County teachers have to retire six days before the end of the school year, which is causing coverage problem for schools. The departures are the result of changes made to the state retirement program five years ago. Several other state school districts have the same problem, but have arranged to extend contracts for the retiring teachers. Orlando Sentinel. Orange County is not the only district facing a teacher shortage caused, in part, by the changes in the state retirement program. School districts around the state are struggling to fill teacher jobs. Bay News 9.

Help for refugees: More than 10,000 unaccompanied minors were placed in homes in Florida from 2014 to 2016, third most among U.S. states. The influx of students who have fled violence and need support during the immigration process is challenging for school districts. Lakeland Ledger. Refugee children are discouraged from enrolling in schools in at least 35 districts in 14 states, including Florida. Associated Press. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: School growth, funding issues, fighting and more

florida-roundup-logoDistrict growth: Rapid growth is putting a strain on the Volusia County School District. Officials say more than a quarter of the county’s schools are over capacity, and the district expects an additional 1,300 students in August. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The St. Johns County School Board and district officials are making plans to deal with expected growth that is at least partially spurred by the state’s new open enrollment law. St. Augustine Record.

Charter school growth: The latest report on student migration in Hillsborough County shows that charter middle and K-8 schools are growing rapidly and, in some cases, that is eroding diversity in the district schools the children leave behind. Gradebook.

Funding problems: The Hernando County School District has tightened spending to bring its financial reserves to the level required by state law. That’s led to schools hiring fewer substitutes and having more split classes as students of absent teachers are distributed to other teachers’ classes. Tampa Bay Times.

Fighting in schools: Parents, community leaders and school officials meet to talk about solutions to the recent outburst of fights at Leesburg High School. “What is going on in the Leesburg community that is fraying the social fabric of the lives of our students, our community’s most valuable asset?” asked moderator Sheila Smalley. Daily Commercial. Two students are arrested and three are hospitalized after a fight in the lunchroom at Edgewater High School in Orlando. The fight began between two girls. When they wouldn’t stop, a school resource officer used pepper spray to break it up. Orlando Sentinel.

Superintendent’s book: A book written by Alachua County School Superintendent Owen Roberts is raising questions about plagiarism. Two experts say the book, A Framework for Improving School Systems in the 21st Century, uses large portions of text from other sources verbatim. That strays from academic norms, they say. Roberts says it’s not plagiarism because he made references to authors before starting passages and listed their resources in the bibliography. Gainesville Sun. Continue Reading →


School: Such a Trip!

Expanding school choice could lead to innovative options for the children of farmworkers - perhaps mobile classrooms that allow the students to learn as they travel. (Image by An Errant Knight, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Expanding school choice could lead to innovative options for the children of farmworkers – perhaps mobile classrooms that allow the students to learn as they travel. (Image by An Errant Knight, from Wikimedia Commons.)

I’ve written before of an afternoon with Cesar Chavez at UFW headquarters on the edge of the California desert. The year was 1981, and there was strong hope of putting a school choice initiative on the ballot.

Chavez, his nephew and I spoke of empowering farm workers with an educational option. On the one hand, if they wished, they could continue to educate their children in a string of disconnected public schools located in diverse districts along the seasonal harvest path north. On the other, they could choose among public and private schools travelling in buses, either parked in coordination with the parents’ location, and/or actually operating in moving buses variously designed for the purpose of schooling.

Chavez was warm, receptive – and frustrated. His impediment was the annual $200,000 he received from Albert Shanker and the AFT. So he said, and I believed him. I suppose the AFT still protects its monopolies in similar ways. I see no legal impediment except, possibly, the anti-trust laws.

Peripatetic schools in buses? I think so.

Most of the mobile schoolhouses would teach only when parked in a location convenient to the parents’ current worksite. Whether the bus was equipped actually to provide education en route could be one element of choice for the parents. What would, I think, be the central advantages of either style are two: the convenience of location near the parent and continuity of atmosphere and substance – the same room, books, teachers – everything about the school itself – plus the settling confidence of the child in the parents’ proximity.

To this I would add in the reduction in systemic public costs made possible by liberating school districts from the expense and complexities of providing space and whatever other necessities – a teacher, or several – for a new gang each week or 10 days. It could be a relief to all concerned to be able to offer parents a school appropriate to their child’s age, and consistent in its milieu and message.

School reformers could seriously consider – as a potential reform to both policy and politics – the convening of well-publicized conferences to consider the question of the most promising forms of itinerant schools for farm workers’ children. So far as I know, they have yet to model and critique the potential variety of such novelties as tools of wise educational policy. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Florida Prepaid, school spending and more

florida-roundup-logoFlorida Prepaid: The Florida Prepaid College Board removes the minimum contribution level for a Florida 529 Savings Plan. Starting in May, a 529 account can be opened at any amount, and with no application fees. Gradebook.

Spending cuts: The Hillsborough County School District is limiting all discretionary spending in the central administration office and requiring schools to get waivers from area superintendents to make purchases. The freeze is prompted by higher than expected enrollment and school starting earlier next year. The district will also soon begin negotiations with its unions. Tampa Bay Times. The St. Johns County School Board discusses the challenges with state funding for the fast-growing district. St. Augustine Record.

More testing: The Duval County School Board is considering adding more testing for high school and middle school students. The district wants to include the ACT and PSAT national exams to give students more opportunities for scholarships. The district would pay for the tests. Florida Times-Union.

Payment errors: Teachers tee off at Manatee County School District officials and their union at a meeting to discuss how 174 teachers were mistakenly overpaid. A district error led to experienced teachers new to the district making more money than teachers already working in the district with the same type of degrees and experience. Those 174 teachers’ pay will be adjusted accordingly, and for some it will mean a pay cut of almost $3,000. “On so many levels, I’m trying not to feel betrayed,” said Deb Peterson, a teacher at Tara Elementary. “That’s enough for me to consider looking to find another place to work.” Bradenton Herald.

Girls football: Girls who participate in the Jupiter High School Powder Puff tackle football game reject the school district’s suggestion to instead play flag football or kickball, and say they will look for an alternate site. The district prohibited the game, citing concerns about injuries. Palm Beach Post. Continue Reading →


Florida VPK: A ‘Mozart effect,’ or lasting boost for early childhood education?

In the early 1990s, it was all the rage for expecting parents to play hours of classical music before childbirth.  When articles first appeared in scholarly journals, the melodies of Mozart and Beethoven became popular to reportedly boost the IQ levels of children through exposure in utero.

Today, classical music for parents remains a hot seller, though more recent research has largely debunked the “Mozart effect.”  For example, Scientific American Magazine reported here that a 1999 meta-analysis on 16 studies related to the use of classical music found that the IQ boost provided was only one and a half IQ points and limited to a paper-folding task.

Fast forward to 2002, when Florida led the way for another trend aimed at giving young children an intellectual jumpstart – this one based upon widespread public support and much less-controversial research.

Voters passed a ballot initiative, with 58.6 percent in favor, to establish “an early childhood development and education program which should be voluntary, high-quality, free and delivered according to professionally accepted standards.”  This language to offer free universal preschool was enshrined in the Florida Constitution under Article IX, Section I.  In a nutshell, the voters said this: parental empowerment at the onset of each child’s education is essential to later academic success.

In January 2005, Gov. Jeb Bush signed the law creating the Voluntary Prekindergarten Education (VPK) Program.  The overarching goal: to build a solid foundation for academic success by preparing Florida four-year olds for kindergarten and life in general.  Scholarships were made available on a free, opt-in basis for the Florida parents of a child who turns four by September 1 of that (or subsequent) school years.  The law required 540 instructional hours for the school-year program, which typically translates into a three-hour day, at a school of the parent’s choice.

During the program’s first school year, in 2005-06, VPK scholarships were set at $2,500 per child.  Approximately 107,000 children were enrolled; this represented slightly less than half the eligible population of four-year olds in the state.  During the current school year, the program is expected to serve 153,045 students or nearly 75 percent of the eligible children, according to July 2015 data from the state’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Bathroom access, LGBT policy, testing and more

florida-roundup-logoBathroom access: The Marion County School Board approves a policy to ban transgender students from using the bathroom based on their gender identity. The measure goes into effect today. Ocala Star Banner. Earlier Tuesday, the ACLU of Florida issued a letter warning the board that the policy would harm students and “violate Title IX sex discrimination requirements, violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and jeopardize federal funding for the school district.” Ocala Star BannerWCJB.

LGBT policy: A divided Brevard County School Board is asking school officials to amend the district’s nondiscrimination and equal employment policies to include protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and staff. The revisions would be discussed at a public meeting before being voted on by the board. Florida Today.

Test scores: U.S. high school seniors’ National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores dropped slightly in math and stayed about the same in reading, according to the 2015 Nation’s Report Card from the National Assessment Governing Board. Florida seniors’ results mirrored the national ones, though Florida scored slightly higher than the national average in both subjects. Sunshine State News.

District overspending: The Broward County School District’s police department has overspent its budget by about $2.5 million, prompting an audit and a request to the school board for more money. The department has just $50,000 left in its budget for this fiscal year, and $3.5 million in expenses that have not been paid. The financial problems were discovered in a review of the way the department handles personnel investigations. Sun-Sentinel.

School choice: Dismantling school choice would harm Florida students, schools and taxpayers, warns John Kirtley, venture capitalist and chairman of Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog. He was speaking to the Economic Club of Florida. The Florida Education Association and other groups have sued the state, challenging the constitutionality of the school choice programs. The case goes to a state appeals court in May. Step Up For Students administers tax-credit scholarships for about 80,000 low-income students, and also the Gardiner Scholarships for students with disabilities. Tampa TribuneMiami Herald. Politico Florida. WFSU. Continue Reading →