Archive | School Choice

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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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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Jacksonville private school, scholarship fueled student’s emotional turnaround

Malik Ferrell turned his life around at The Potter’s House Christian Academy in Jacksonville.

Lost.

That’s where Pamela Howard feared her son, Malik Ferrell, would end up after years of struggles at different schools in Jacksonville.

She couldn’t afford to let that happen. Malik needed a caring environment, especially after he and his family were rocked by the murder of his older brother, Derrell Baker.

Pamela had been searching for the right fit for Malik – four different schools in four years.

Finally a friend told her about the Step Up For Students scholarship, which allowed her to send him to The Potter’s House Christian Academy.

(Step Up For Students publishes this blog, and helps administer the tax credit scholarship program in Florida.)

That’s where Malik’s life unraveled – and where he ultimately put it all back together.

“Having the opportunity to go to a private school helped get him on track,” Pamela said. “I cannot even tell you the difference it made in his life.”

At his neighborhood school, Malik made mostly D’s in second grade, then mostly F’s in third grade, which he had to repeat.

Three years and three schools later, at the age of 11, he got a fresh start at The Potter’s House.

Then the unthinkable happened.

Just weeks after Malik enrolled, Derrell, 17, was killed in a drive-by shooting. Police had no suspects. There were no arrests.

Pamela was working full-time at Blue Cross Blue Shield, taking complaints in the executive department. The grief and stress overwhelmed her, and the mother of five went on disability. She now works part-time doing billing at McKesson.

“Seeing my momma cry and my sisters cry, it was … it was just a lot to deal with,” Malik said. “That was my only big brother, so there was nothing for me to look up to.”

Derrell was everything to Malik – best friend, football hero, protector, disciplinarian, role model. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Trump’s budget, recess, charter district and more

Trump’s school choice push: President Donald Trump’s first budget calls for $1.4 billion to be set aside to expand school choice, even as it cuts the overall Department of Education budget by $9 billion, or 13 percent. The federal Charter Schools Program would be boosted by 50 percent, and Trump also calls for an increase of $1 billion in Title 1 spending for high-poverty schools to provide services for low-income students. Notable cuts are in teacher training, after-school and extended-day programs, and programs for students on military bases, Native American reservations and other federal lands that are not on local tax rolls. redefinED. U.S. News & World Report. Huffington Post. Education Week. THE Journal. Miami-Dade County schools would lose about $40 million under the Trump budget, says Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, and he figures Broward County would lose about $25 million. WTVJ.

Mandatory recess: The Senate Appropriations Committee approves a bill that would require 20 minutes of daily recess in the state’s elementary schools. The bill now moves to the full Senate for a vote. The House’s identical bill has yet to get a committee hearing. Gradebook. Florida Politics. Tampa Bay Times.

Charter district: The Jefferson County School Board votes Tuesday on a charter school company’s application to take over the operation of the struggling district schools. Somerset Academy was the only company that made a presentation that had “a record of effectiveness with similar student demographics” to Jefferson County, where most students are low-income minorities, according to the Florida Department of Education. Somerset is a nonprofit network associated with the management company Academica. It runs 50 schools with nearly 17,600 students. redefinED.

District audit: A state audit finds fault with the Brevard County School District on four points: paying $150,000 over three years to the Brevard Schools Foundation for administrative expenses, not performing routine background checks on 27 teachers, awarding state teacher bonuses to eight ineligible teachers, and allowing transportation employees unsupervised access to inventory. Superintendent Desmond Blackburn says state law does not prohibit payments to the foundation, and the other three items are being corrected. Florida Today. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Teacher pay, true costs, safe schools and more

Teacher pay: Prospects for a statewide $200 million raise in pay for teachers have dimmed after proponent Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, says he is no longer pursuing the hike. Instead, Simmons says, he is backing an expansion of the teacher bonuses program, known as the Best and Bright Teacher Scholarship. Both the Senate and House are considering bills that would increase the money for bonuses and widen eligibility. Naples Daily News.

Public education spending: The true cost of educating one public school student in Florida for a year is $10,308, according to a report from Florida TaxWatch. The Florida Education Finance Program funding formula expenditure was $7,178 per student for the 2015-2016 school year. But TaxWatch says other tax dollars spent by districts take the total spending per student to more than $10,000. redefinED.

Protecting undocumented: The Miami-Dade County School Board declares its district a safe zone for undocumented immigrant students, and will review what else it can do to protect those students from U.S. immigration officials. The intent, says board member Lubby Navarro, is “to ensure that our schools are safe havens for all students and that this message resonates throughout entire communities, our neighborhoods, our barrios, so that everyone knows that our schools are safe for our children and our families.” Miami Herald.

Teacher program: The Palm Beach County School District and Nova Southeastern University will partner to create a teacher-training program that promises students jobs in the district after graduation. Students will be paid substitute teachers during their senior year at Nova, and will be offered fulltime teaching positions when they graduate as long as they meet certification and other requirements. Nova is hoping to enter into similar partnerships with Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Class sizes, schools of excellence and more

Class sizes: A bill that would allow schools to comply with the 2002 class size amendment by using schoolwide averages instead of specific classroom counts passes the Florida House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. Schools would be expected to try to get math, reading, science and social studies class sizes to levels required by the constitutional amendment. But there would be no penalties if school averages complied with the law, even if some classrooms did not. Orlando Sentinel. WFSU.

Schools of excellence: A bill that would give top-performing public schools more freedom from state and district regulations passes the Florida House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. Public schools with an academic performance among the state’s top 20 percent in their grade range at least two out of three consecutive years would become “Schools of Excellence.” At those schools, principals would have greater freedom to make budget and staffing decisions, teachers would get credit toward continuing-education requirements for their certifications, and the schools would be free from mandates on reading time and have flexibility on class sizes. The bill sponsor, Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, says “it would encourage innovation.” redefinED.

Religious expression: A bill that would ban school districts “from discriminating against students, parents, and school personnel on basis of religious viewpoints or expression” is passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and is now ready for a full Senate vote. The Florida House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee passes a slightly different version of the bill. Florida PoliticsMiami Herald. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. Sunshine State News.

Testing rollback: A bill that would put limits on the state’s standardized testing passes the Florida House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. The bill cuts the window of testing to three weeks nearer to the end of the school year, authorizes a study to see if the SAT and ACT tests could replace the Florida Standards Assessments, and require results to be returned to teachers in a “timely manner.” Sunshine State News. News Service of Florida. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Weapons, security bill, open enrollment and more

Weapons at schools: Two legislators file bills that would stiffen criminal penalties for people who carry guns and other weapons within 1,000 feet of a public school. Anyone breaking the law would be charged with a second-degree felony and could get up to 15 years in prison or fined $10,000, according to the bill filed by Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation. Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, filed the House companion legislation. Sunshine State News.

Security at Jewish schools: The Florida House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee approves a bill that provides $1.5 million to boost security at all Jewish day schools in Florida. The bill would pay for bulletproof glass. Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, says the bill is a response to the increasing number of bomb threats to Jewish schools in the state. Florida has 35 Jewish day schools in nine counties. redefinED. Florida Politics.

Open enrollment: More than 3,000 students in Osceola and Lake counties want to transfer schools under the state’s new open enrollment law, which allows transfers to any public school that has openings. The Osceola school district has received 2,477 applications, and the Lake district about 900. Orange and Volusia counties are taking transfer applications now, and Seminole begins signups April 16. Officials in all four counties say there are limited spaces available in schools. Orlando Sentinel. The Clay County School Board is expected to vote April 6 on a proposed plan to deal with open enrollment. District officials say 11 schools are under the 85 percent enrollment threshold, and 1,557 spots at those schools will be available for transfers. Florida Times-Union.

That’s our satellite: A satellite built by students at the Weiss School in Palm Beach Gardens will be launched into space by NASA sometime in 2018, 2019 or 2020, according to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. The WeissSat-1 will study bacteria that has thawed after being trapped in ice. The Weiss satellite is one of 34 chosen by NASA, and is only the second built by elementary and middle school students. Palm Beach Post. Continue Reading →

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