How’s personalized learning coming in Florida?

Florida’s “bottom-up” approach to personalized learning is moving from planning stages to real changes in the classroom, according to a new report by the reform advocacy group ExcelinEd.

The report follows up on last year’s look at three states that enacted policies to promote personalization. It noted Florida’s approach is somewhat unique, because it’s allowing different school districts, as well as a university lab school, to pick their own approaches to personalized learning and its close cousin, competency-based learning.

Competency-based learning gives students the opportunity to advance to higher levels of learning based on their mastery of the topic rather than the amount of time they spend in class.

A 2016 law created a competency-based learning pilot program for the Pinellas, Palm BeachSeminole County school districts, as well as the University of Florida’s P.K. Yonge Development Research School. It allows them to apply to the Florida Department of Education for waivers from state regulations that might stand in their way.  A fourth district, Lake County, has backed away from the initiative. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: H.B. 7069 lawsuit, amendments, safety and more

H.B. 7069 suit filed: The lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new state education law, H.B. 7069, has been filed in a Leon County circuit court. Thirteen school districts are suing over the law, which requires districts to share local property tax money with charter schools but limits the authority local boards have over those schools. School boards in Alachua, Bay, Broward, Clay, Duval, Hamilton, Lee, Orange, Pinellas, Polk, St. Lucie, Volusia and Wakulla counties voted to join the suit. Palm Beach County also is suing over the law, but in a separate caseOrlando Sentinel. Naples Herald. WBBH. WLRN.

Constitution and education: Dozens of education proposals are among the 700 changes suggested during meetings of the state’s Constitution Revision Commission, which convenes every 20 years to take a look at and potentially amend the constitution. Some of the proposals deal with every angle of an issue. For example, there are proposals to make all school superintendents elected, to make them appointed, or to do away with them altogether. There are amendments about charters, class sizes, funding and mandates, proposed both by commissioners and the public. Proposals must be approved by a majority of the commission by Dec. 14 to get onto the November 2018 ballot. Then, 60 percent of voters must approve the amendments for them to be added to the constitution. Tampa Bay Times.

Jewish school safety: Gov. Rick Scott says he will propose $1 million in the state budget to improve security at Jewish schools. There has been a wave of threats against Jewish schools and community centers in the past year, and the Legislature put $654,000 into a pool earlier this year for those schools for bulletproof glass, fencing and video cameras. “I know many Floridians have been horrified by the threats against our Jewish schools and communities,” says Scott. “We have absolutely zero tolerance for these hateful and anti-Semitic acts.” The proposal has other religious groups wondering why they aren’t being offered funds. Miami HeraldSun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. WQAM. Sunshine State News. Tallahassee Democrat. WPEC.

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Charter school attacks focus on international intrigue while ignoring results

A Florida League of Women Voters attack on a Jacksonville charter school last week would have been more persuasive if it had not so brazenly played a Muslim card and not so blatantly ignored the school’s documented academic success.

The guest column, published Friday in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the Fort Myers News-Press, provided a granular critique of the real estate practices at River City Science Academy in Jacksonville. League president Pamela Goodwin drew extensively on previously reported connections to Turkey.

Some will remember accusations targeting Turkish exile Fethullah Gulen for backing a failed government overthrow in his home country a year ago. Many quickly became concerned that a network of approximately 170 American charter schools operated by his followers, a dozen right here in Florida, could be involved.

Due to HB 7069 and other laws, Florida is unable to protect itself against a Ponzi scheme operating in our school system. Gulen schools are required to rent or buy property from other Gulenist interests and hire associated construction firms. To see how this works, consider the case of River City Science Academy in Jacksonville.

Some mainstream news media, including The New York Times, have covered the Gulen involvement in U.S. education, and it’s gotten traction among charter school critics. But the Turkish government is working to perpetuate this storyline. In 2015, it hired a British law firm to dig up dirt on dissidents in the Turkish American diaspora, some of whom operated charter schools in the U.S.

An odd nexus has formed between the administration of President Tayyip Erdoğan, its agents in the United States and American charter school critics. They’ve produced a hard-hitting documentary film, published articles in left-wing publications, started anonymous investigative blogs and ginned up the occasional local controversy.

It’s hard to say which attacks truly trace to the Turkish government, and which ones stem from more ordinary opposition research by the usual suspects in education politics. There is certainly no reason to think the League would allow itself to be caught up in such international intrigue. After all, Ms. Goodman’s basic contention is pretty straightforward. She says the charter school’s buildings are owned by private investors who might make money, and that real estate developers who worked on the school facility have ties to the people who run the school.

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Florida schools roundup: Waiting for aid, blaming the abused, displaced and more

Still waiting for aid: Thirteen years after Hurricane Ivan hit Florida, the Escambia County School District is still waiting to hear about claims it filed with FEMA. The district’s not alone. A review of claims shows that dozens are still pending from Ivan, Katrina and other storms that have affected the state and its schools since 1999. The majority are from 2004 and 2005, when eight hurricanes hit the state from multiple directions. Associated Press.

Blaming the abused: A review of abuse cases filed against the Palm Beach County School Board in the past few years has a common denominator: In its defense, the school district has always fully or partly blamed the abuse victims. In one case the victim was 6 years old. In another, 7. In three others, the children were 9. The strategy of assigning the person who brought the suit at least part of the blame has been used by Conroy Simberg, a Hollywood law firm that represents the district to try to reduce the damages the district has to pay, not to assign blame to the victims, says Dale Friedman, an attorney with Conroy Simberg. Several board members say the tactic is outrageous and want to ban it. The board will vote this week on a proposed settlement of more than $3.5 million for four abuse victims. Sun-Sentinel.

Displaced students: Florida school districts are asking both the federal and state governments for aid to accommodate the thousands of students displaced by hurricanes and expected to enroll in state K-12 schools. But they are pessimistic. Orange County Public Schools spokesman Scott Howat says the odds of getting additional state money are zero unless the Legislature intervenes. The state says districts must see an enrollment influx of at least 5 percent to qualify, and individual schools must see a 25 percent growth. Nearly 30,000 people have arrived just from Puerto Rico, according to a spokesperson in Gov. Rick Scott’s office. The 74. Education Week. NPR. Associated Press. Orlando Sentinel.

Free meals extended: Lee, Collier and Monroe counties will continue to offer free meals at schools through Nov. 30. The free meals began after Hurricane Irma swept through the state. The three districts have 191 schools and 138,000 students. Fort Myers News-Press.

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Florida schools roundup: Schools of Hope, and Excellence, charters and more

‘Schools of Hope’ rules: No charter school companies have yet applied to the Florida Department of Education to become “Schools of Hope.” Part of the reason is that no rules have been established for the program, which offers financial incentives for charter schools to move into areas where traditional public schools have struggled persistently. Adam Miller, the director of the state’s school choice office, says the first round of rules is expected to be published in time for the Florida Board of Education to consider at its November meeting. redefinED. The state Board of Education will wait until its next meeting Oct. 18 to announce the public schools that will receive $2,000 more per student under the “Schools of Hope” legislation. The Legislature set aside $51.5 million for up to 25 schools, and 50 applied. Gradebook. No charter school conversions are on the agenda for next week’s Florida Board of Education meeting. redefinED.

‘Schools of Excellence’: Six hundred and forty Florida schools in 44 counties are designated by the Florida Department of Education as “Schools of Excellence.” The designation allows the schools to calculate class size by a schoolwide average, set daily start and finish times separate from the district, ignore the state’s minimum reading requirements, earn points toward certification renewal, and gives them greater latitude in hiring and budget decisions for the next three years. Here are the lists for elementary, middle, high and combination schools. Gradebook.

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Rules coming soon for Florida ‘Schools of Hope’ program

This year, the Florida Legislature passed a new law intended to draw proven charter schools into academically struggling areas.

So far, no charter school networks have applied to open “Schools of Hope.” That might be, in part, because the state Department of Education is still developing rules to carry out the program.

Adam Miller, the director of the state’s school choice office, told a House committee the new law has generated “inquiries, but not applications” from charter school operators.

“We’ve received calls from five or six nationally known organizations from around the country … [with] questions about the policy, questions about the landscape in Florida, the regulatory framework, the funding. [And they are] beginning to look at Florida more than they ever did in the past,” he told the House K-12 Innovation Subcommittee on Wednesday.

There have been “some conversations with Florida operators as well,” he added. Continue Reading →

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No charter school conversions on Fla. state board agenda

Last summer, the Florida Board of Education sought changes at three persistently struggling rural North Florida schools.

It seemed likely at least one, Hamilton County’s only high school, would have to become a charter school. Weeks later, the Hamilton school board voted to join other districts challenging a charter-friendly school turnaround law.

Now, though, it looks like a charter conversion may not be in the works. At least not yet.

Hamilton’s revised turnaround plan is on the agenda for the state board’s meeting next week in Jacksonville. The plan calls for bringing in an external operator to help run the school. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Hope Scholarship, enrollment counts and more

‘Hope Scholarship’: Bullied and abused public school students could be eligible next year for a new school choice program being proposed by Florida House Republicans. Under the program, dubbed the “Hope Scholarship,” those students could apply for a transfer to a different public school or for a state scholarship to attend a private school. Nearly 47,000 incidents of bullying, hazing or abuse are reported each year in Florida schools, and most involve violence. The legislation has not yet been written, but House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, says the scholarship could be set up like the tax credit scholarship program, which provides scholarships for more than 100,000 low-income students to attend private schools. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer that program. Miami Herald. Orlando SentinelredefinED. News Service of FloridaGradebook. Politico Florida. Sunshine State News. WUSF.

Enrollment uncertainty: Legislators say the effects of the hurricane season are causing uncertainty in estimating K-12 enrollment for the next school year. Officials were working off an estimate of an additional 26,764 students for the 2018-2019 school year, but that was before several hurricanes swept through the islands and displaced thousands. “If you have more students (than the estimate), you spread it thinner,” says Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, talking about the school funding formula. “If you have less students, you don’t get the money.” So far, 12 districts and 19 charter schools are asking the state to delay the usual timetable for counting school enrollment, which is typically this week. If the requests are approved, the counts would have to be done no later than the week of Dec. 11-15. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Almost 150 Puerto Rican students displaced by Hurricane Maria already have registered to attend schools in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Sarasota, Manatee and Polk counties. About 440 have signed up in Orange and Osceola counties. Hundreds, if not thousands more, are expected. WMNF.

Local education agencies: Two charter school companies in Florida are applying to the state to be designated as local education agencies, which would allow them to directly receive federal funding for teacher training, supporting low-income students or helping children with special needs, and gives also them greater control over how they use the money. Somerset Academy, which recently took over the Jefferson County School District, and the United Cerebral Palsy schools, which serve special needs students in central Florida, want to join two other state charter school networks in getting the designation. redefinED.

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