For top charter school networks, it takes an ecosystem

Trisha Coad of KIPP addresses the Florida Senate Education Committee.

When top charter school networks consider moving into new community, they don’t just look at funding or charter school laws. They look at the whole “educational ecosystem.”

That was the message a KIPP representative brought to a Florida Senate panel looking at charter school legislation.

Trisha Coad is the director for new site development for the Knowledge is Power Program, which operates 200 charter schools, including three in Jacksonville.

She told the Senate Education Committee the charter network is eyeing expansions in Florida — especially Miami. It’s looking at some predictable factors: Community demand, affordable school facilities, adequate public funding, respect for charters’ autonomy.

KIPP also looks for “strong authorizing, where charter schools are held to high expectations,” Coad said. Continue Reading →

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Fla. House bill would steer facilities funding to charter schools

Florida’s school districts raise more than $2 billion a year in property tax revenue for capital projects. For years, state lawmakers have tried to require them to share some of that money with charter schools. But they keep running into the same problem.

School districts say they can’t afford to share local property tax revenue with charters. They say much of the local money they raise for school facilities is tied up paying off bonds they used to finance past construction.  Credit rating agencies have backed up this argument. They say splitting money equitably among districts and charters could destabilize districts’ finances.

The Florida House has hatched a new proposal intended to navigate these obstacles.

A bill released late Friday, and set to be discussed tomorrow by the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee, would require school districts to split their local property tax revenue with charter schools. But first, the state would deduct the amount of money each district has set aside to pay its construction debts. The remaining money would be shared among district and charter schools, based on the number of students enrolled. If lawmakers set aside charter school capital outlay funding in the state budget, that would offset the amount districts would be required to share with charters.

Continue Reading →

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School choice gave this teacher freedom

Angela Kennedy’s decision to quit being a public school teacher was driven by a steady drip, drip, drip of frustration.

Dr. Angela Kennedy was a 14-year veteran of public schools when she left to start her own private school. She had been a classroom teacher and instructional coach, and had also coordinated curriculum compliance for English language learners. “I wanted parents and students and teachers to have another option,” she said.

In her view, teaching had become too scheduled and scripted, with new teacher evaluations rewarding conformity more than effectiveness. Cohort after cohort of low-income kids continued to stumble and fall, while people far from classrooms continued to impose mandate after mandate. Her passion for teaching began to fade.

Kennedy considered becoming an administrator, so she could attempt reform from within. But ultimately, she took a leap of faith. After 14 years in Orange County Public Schools, she did what educators in Florida increasingly have real power to do: She started her own school.

Deeper Root Academy began three years ago, with three students in Kennedy’s home. Now it’s a thriving PreK-8 with 80 students and nine teachers, including seven who, like Kennedy, once worked in public schools. Most of the students are black, and 80 percent are from in or near Pine Hills, a tough part of Orlando that drew President Trump to another private school this month.

“It was that back and forth, thinking about where I could be the most impactful,” Kennedy said. “Would it be to stay and try to start a change? To try to deal with a mammoth system? Not likely that I’m going to get very far … ”

“But what I could do is give people an option. And that’s where this school came from. I wanted parents and students and teachers to have another option.”

Kennedy had options because parents had options.

Florida offers one of the most robust blends of educational choice in America, which is why Education Secretary Betsy DeVos gives it a nod. Forty-five percent of Florida students in PreK-12 attend something other than their zoned district schools, with a half-million in privately-operated options thanks to some measure of state support.

Charter schools, vouchers, tax credit scholarships and education savings accounts are all opening doors for Florida students. With far less fanfare, they’re doing the same for teachers.

“In my school,” Kennedy said, “I have the liberty to do what’s best for my kids.” Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Testing bills, recess, graduation rates and more

School testing: State senators will consider competing school testing bills this week. SB 926 would push testing back to the final three weeks of the school year, and the test results would have to be returned to teachers within a week. It’s sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami. The second bill, SB 964, also delays tests until the final month of the school year, but eliminates specific tests, allows districts to give pencil-and-paper tests, and gives principals wider discretion on teacher evaluations. It’s sponsored by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee. Tallahassee Democrat. Montford is confident his bill will be given consideration, even though it was left off the Senate Education Committee’s next meeting agenda while SB 926 was included. Gradebook. An amendment added to the Senate’s school testing bill would specify that any school board member could visit any school in his or her district at any day and any time. No school could require advance notice, and a campus escort would not be required. The amendment was proposed by Flores. Gradebook.

School recess: The House has finally scheduled a hearing for a bill that would require recess for elementary school students. But the bill, HB 67, has several significant differences from the Senate bill, which has moved through committees and is headed to the Senate floor. The House bill calls for daily recess time, but allows schools to count recess time toward physical education class requirements, allows P.E. classes to count for recess time, and removes fourth- and fifth-graders from the requirement. Miami Herald.

Graduation rates: A bill drafted late last week in the House would count students who move from traditional high schools to alternative charter or private schools in the graduation rate of the school the student left. The bill surfaced just after the Florida Department of Education announced it would investigate whether traditional high schools were pushing struggling students into alternative charter schools in order to boost their graduation rates. That investigation was sparked by a report in ProPublica in February. redefinED. Continue Reading →

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Fla. House bill would make it harder for schools to hide dropouts

Students who leave traditional public schools for alternative charter schools or private providers would still count against their original school’s graduation rate under legislation prepared for a Florida House committee.

The draft legislation emerged Friday, days after state education officials said they were investigating whether districts inflated their graduation rates by shifting students into alternative education programs.

Earlier this year, ProPublica reported a Central Florida school district encouraged students to enroll in alternative charter schools, which target academically struggling students and may have helped the district take potential dropouts off its books.

Last year, the Tallahassee Democrat reported a North Florida school district contracted with private online education companies. It counseled struggling high school students to enroll into those programs, where they counted as private school transfers rather than dropouts.

Under Florida’s school accountability system, when students leave traditional public schools for district-run alternative schools, their performance is typically factored into the letter grade of the school they left. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Teacher tests, minorities in AP classes and more

Teacher tests: The Florida Department of Education says a historically high percentage of people who want to be teachers are failing the Florida Teacher Certification Exam, which was recently toughened by the state. And now fewer people are taking the test, as many as 10 percent fewer for some subject areas. “We have a real crisis,” said Dr. Gloria Pelaez, St. Thomas University dean of the school of arts. “This is turning people, good intelligent people away,” said Wendy Mungillo of the Manatee County School District. Melissa Smith, for example. She’s taken and failed the test seven times, and has decided to leave the state and get a master’s degree. Department of Education officials defend the tougher exams, saying they’re in line with more rigorous tests students now take. WFTS.

Minorities and AP classes: A Palm Beach County School District analysis shows an “implicit bias” is in part responsible for lower minority participation in Advanced Placement classes. Minority students with comparable scores to white students are excluded from AP classes at a much higher rate than whites. That so-called “opportunity gap” also favors girls over boys, according to the analysis. “Students who have potential, why are they not in the courses?” Deputy Superintendent David Christiansen said. “There’s a significant gap there that we want to start to close.” Palm Beach Post.

Days lost to testing: Orange County teacher Peggy Dominguez tells a Senate committee meeting this week that she loses 37 days of her 180-day school year to preparing her students for the Florida Standards Assessments tests. Dominguez teaches English at Timber Creek High School. She and others testified about the downsides of the testing process. The Senate is considering a bill that would, among other things, push all testing to the final three weeks of the school year and authorize a study to see if the ACT or SAT tests can be used as a replacement for the FSA. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →

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Bill expanding private school students’ sports options ready for floor vote

Antone

The Florida House Education Committee unanimously passed HB 1109, allowing students at private schools to participate in sports at a public school of their choice based on their school district’s open enrollment policy.

The bill would expand extracurricular options for private school students. It’s now ready for a vote on the House floor.

Existing laws allow students attending private middle or high schools that are not members of the Florida High School Athletics Association, and that have fewer than 125 students, to participate in interscholastic sports at their zoned public schools.

Bill sponsor Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando, added an amendment that specifies a private school student can participate in sports at a school if the capacity for that school has not be reached as determined by the district school board.

Florida already has a “Tim Tebow” law that allows homeschool students — as well as students enrolled in charters or other schools of choice — to sign up for teams at their zoned public school, or other public schools they would otherwise attend. The goal of the law is to give students in educational choice programs access to extracurriculars that might not otherwise be available.

This year’s legislation is the latest in a series of efforts to adapt high school athletics and extracurricular activities to the growth of school choice programs.

 

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Florida schools roundup: Graduation investigation, charter schools and more

Graduation investigation: The Florida Department of Education launches an investigation to see if school districts are dumping struggling students in their senior years into alternative schools to improve the graduation rates at traditional high schools. Last month, the investigative news website ProPublica reported that alternative schools in the Orange County School District are used as “release valves” that take in students unlikely to graduate. State Board of Education member Gary Chartrand described the report as a “very serious allegation,” and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said, “It’s critical that every decision is made with the best interest of the students in mind.” Associated Press. Orlando Sentinel. WFSUPolitico Florida.

Charter capital funding: The Florida Board of Education adopts rules that would deny construction funds to charter schools that received two consecutive grades below a C from the state, starting in the 2017-2018 school year. Board members say they are simply trying to follow state law, which requires charter schools to show “satisfactory student achievement” to be eligible for capital funding from the state. Members of the Florida Association of Independent Public Schools, who challenged the rules before with state’s administrative law court, don’t like these revisions either. “This seems like deja vu all over again,” said Mark Gotz, the president of School Development Group. “Charter schools are public schools and need to be treated equally and equitably.” redefinED. Gradebook. Politico Florida.

Charter district: The plan to turn over operations of the struggling Jefferson County School District to a charter company is approved by the Florida Board of Education. The Jefferson board and Somerset Academy are expected to finalize a contract in April, with the charter company opening the county’s elementary, middle and high schools at a single location in August. Jefferson will become the first all-charter district in the state. WFSU. Tallahassee DemocratPolitico Florida.

More from state board: Department of Education officials tell the Florida Board of Education that they are proposing several amendments to the state’s rules on English-language learners (ELL) to adjust to new federal standards. One of the changes would lower the proficiency levels required for ELL students, which some critics think could push those students out of the program before they are ready. The board will vote on the proposed changes at its next meeting. Gradebook. The state board also approves a pilot program that would give select principals in seven counties greater autonomy over the operations at their schools. Broward, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Duval, Jefferson, Madison and Seminole counties will participate. redefinED. Continue Reading →

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