Archive | Teacher empowerment

Florida schools roundup: Cyberattacks on schools, education bill and more

Schools cyberattacked: A cyberattack launched last fall against the Miami-Dade County School District and three others ultimately failed, but it did show vulnerabilities of districts trying to protect the personal information of current and former students, their parents and school employees. Experts say school wifi networks are traditionally easy to connect to, and the proliferation of cell phones among students gives hackers opportunities to get access to those networks. Miami Herald.

Education law impact: Brevard County teachers worry that the new education law will put jeopardized promised raises, and school officials are concerned with the availability of money for capital projects. Florida Today. Some northwest Florida schools will benefit from the new law, and some could be negatively affected. WTXL. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, architect of the K-12 education bill, gets a hostile reception at an event in Tampa. Florida Politics. Corcoran may be the Legislature’s most interesting man, but he may also be the most contradictory. Miami Herald. In an interview, Corcoran defends the education bill. WFLA. Hillsborough County School Superintendent Jeff Eakins doesn’t expect an immediate increase in the number of charter schools – so-called “schools of hope” – moving into areas with persistently low-performing schools. Charter companies have to find locations, submit applications and build a staff, and the Legislature still hasn’t written the rules to be followed, he noted. Gradebook. State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, tries to explain how H.B. 7069 came about. GradebookPolitico Florida.

Civil rights queries: The U.S. Education Department says it is scaling back on civil rights investigations of public schools and universities. Officials say rules set during the Obama administration greatly increased the number of complaints about such things as disproportionate disciplining of minority students and the mishandling of sexual assaults claims. They expect the new policy will help the department more quickly resolve cases it does take. New York Times. Meanwhile, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights says it will investigate the U.S. Department of Education and other agencies over their practices in enforcing civil rights laws. Education Week. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Budget deal, special session, vetoes and more

Budget deal, special session: Gov. Rick Scott and leaders of the Senate and House reach an agreement on the state budget, and legislators will return to Tallahassee Wednesday through Friday for a special session to vote on the deal. The agreement will boost spending on public education by about $200 million and put $165 million into the economic development agencies Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida. Both were goals of Scott’s. In return, Scott will sign an education bill that sets aside more money for the charter school industry, which was a priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, and more money for higher education, which was a priority for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart. Miami Herald and Tampa Bay TimesredefinED. Sunshine State News. Tallahassee Democrat. Orlando Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. One of the 33 bills signed by Gov. Scott approves payments to two former Palm Beach County students injured at school activities. Palm Beach Post.

Reactions to deal: Advocates of public schools say the budget agreement is half good. They like the additional money for education, but remain opposed to the funding gains for charter schools. Miami HeraldGradebook. School officials and the state’s largest teachers union, the Florida Education Association, say the agreement still doesn’t provide enough money for education. Miami HeraldFlorida Politics. Florida’s Democratic lawmakers condemn Scott’s agreement with the legislative leaders, calling it “backroom politics at its worst.” Florida Politics. Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times. St. Johns County school officials worry that state financial support for charter schools means less money for their traditional public schools. The county has no charter schools. St. Augustine Record. Seven struggling schools in Indian River and St. Lucie counties could be competing with charter schools for students under to so-called “schools of hope” provision in the education bill. The bill offers charter companies incentives to move into areas with persistently low-performing schools. TCPalm.

Budget vetoes: Gov. Scott vetoes more than $400 million in programs from the state budget. Among them: $11.4 billion as the state’s portion for the public-school financing program, which is known as the Florida education finance program; $14 million for a school uniform program; $500,000 for the Florida Orchestra to work with schools and community orchestras; and $100,000 for a statewide study about the cost-of-living disparities in Florida school districts. Miami Herald. Tampa Bay TimesNews Service of Florida. Gradebook.

Boost in black teachers: The Pinellas County School District sets a goal of 18 percent black teachers and administrators within 10 years. The number is now 11 percent, and district officials hope to boost it by a percentage point every year. Superintendent Mike Grego said principals “want people in front of students who are in the same diversity of their student population.” Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Selling the bill, Title I troubles, a top teacher and more

Selling the bill: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, posts a cartoon on YouTube to explain and defend the education bill that was passed last week. Corcoran calls it “#toontruth for anyone who likes the truth in animated video format.” Orlando Sentinel. How the education bills passed in Tallahassee on recess, testing and charter schools could affect St. Johns County schools. St. Augustine Record. Teacher bonuses would be smaller and many more teachers would earn them under the new education bill. Bridge to Tomorrow. The school choice movement is breaking into two camps: one that wants to use choice to improve public schools, and one that wants greatly expand choice by using tax money. Associated Press.

Title I, Medicaid concerns: The Legislature’s decision to distribute federal Title I funding directly to schools and spread it to more schools could have devastating long-term effects on poor students, say district officials. Districts will be forced to cut special programs for low-income students, including after-school and summer school, or shift money from other programs to make up the difference. “A number of our community members and parents are aware of the services we provide in our 63 Title I schools,” said Felita Grant, Title I director for Pinellas County schools. “It would be a shock to them, if this bill goes through, the number of services we would have to cut back on.” Tampa Bay Times. School districts around the country say proposed cuts in the Medicaid program will have a significant impact in schools. Associated Press.

Teachers honored: Diego Fuentes, who teaches music to students with severe disabilities at the Hillcrest School in Ocala, is chosen as one of five finalists for the Department of Education’s 2018 Florida teacher of the year award. Fuentes was awarded $5,000. The winner will be announced July 13. Ocala Star Banner. Palm Beach County’s teacher of the year and school-related employee of the year are surprised with free, two-year leases of BMWs. Palm Beach Post.

Teaching incentives: Experienced teachers are being offered up to $70,000 in incentive pay over three years to work at struggling Carver Middle School in Orlando. More than 100 teachers have already applied, school officials say. Those hired will get an extra $20,000 for the 2017-2018 school year, and $25,000 in each of the next two years. Carver has received two Fs and a D in school grades in the past three years, and nearly 80 percent of its students failed their Florida Standards Assessment exams. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Budget, recess, ‘schools of hope’ and more

Education budget: The Legislature approves a massive education bill that would, among other things, require 20 minutes of recess daily for traditional public elementary schools, provide $140 million in incentive money for charter schools – called “schools of hope” – to move into areas with struggling schools, allot $234 million for bonuses to teachers and principals, and make changes in the standardized testing process. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, calls it “the greatest education K-12 policy we’ve passed in the history of the state.” Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, calls it a “piece of junk,” and others acknowledge parts of the bill will have to be “fixed” in the 2018 legislative session. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Associated PressPolitico Florida. redefinED. Accountability measures for charter schools that were proposed early in the legislative session disappeared from the education bill that was put together last Friday. Miami Herald. More school districts lobby against the education budget, urging Gov. Rick Scott to veto it, but also start preparing for the cuts they say will be required. Gradebook. Florida Times-Union. The state’s largest teachers union joins those calling on Scott to veto the bill. Miami Herald.

State budget: The Legislature approves the $83 billion budget bill, which now goes to Gov. Rick Scott. Included in it were the nearly 300-page education bill that expands charter school options, among other things, but not many of Scott’s priorities. Tampa Bay Times. Sun-Sentinel. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Naples Daily News. Sarasota Herald-TribunePolitico Florida.

Testing practice: Orange County students say online practice tests are boosting their test scores when they take the SAT college admissions exam. College Board officials attribute the average 115-point gain from the PSAT to the SAT to the Khan Academy’s free online practice tests. The College Board partners with Khan to provide the tests. Orlando Sentinel. Associated Press. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Education budget, a legislative to-do list and more

Education budget: Leaders in the Florida Senate and House agree over the weekend to an increase of about 1.2 percent in K-12 per-student funding, from $7,196 to $7,220. They also agreed to provide $200 million to recruit charter school networks – the “schools of hope” plan – and $214 million for the teacher bonuses program. Legislators are expected to decide today what schools will get for construction projects. A tentative agreement would give about $69 million each to traditional public schools and charters for construction and maintenance. Universities would get $116.6 million for construction projects. Naples Daily NewsPolitico FloridaNews Service of Florida. Associated PressMiami HeraldFlorida Politics. Legislators are considering adding money for social services at struggling traditional public schools to the “schools of hope” bill. Politico Florida. The Legislature begins its final week with such high-profile education issues as mandatory daily recess and standardized testing still on the list of things to do. Orlando Sentinel. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Miami arts high school that produced the creators of the Oscar-winning movie Moonlight and the Broadway hit Hamilton gets a reprieve when the Legislature reverses a decision to withhold state grant money. Originally, funding for the New World School of the Arts was slashed from the budget. After news of the cut was made public, $500,000 for the school was put back into the budget. That’s still $150,000 less than the school received this year. Miami Herald. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, tweets that the problem getting mandatory daily recess in the state’s elementary schools rests with Gov. Rick Scott, not the Legislature. He did not elaborate, and a spokeswoman for Scott said she has “no idea what that tweet means. We have continued to say that we will review it if it passes.” Miami Herald.

Drug-testing students: The Monroe County School Board agrees to drug-test athletes and other students involved in extracurricular activities for a year. After the test, results will be reported to the board, which will decide if it wants to continue. Drug-testing of athletes was halted in 2014 after a parent complained that her daughter was pulled from class, taken to a drug-court facility and tested without her knowledge. Keynoter.

K-12 sexual assaults: There were about 17,000 reports of sexual assault in K-12 schools in the United States between 2011 and 2015, according to state education records and federal crime data. And that number is considered low because many students don’t report sexual assaults and some states don’t track them. Associated Press.

Teaching acceptance: Chris Ulmer, a special education teacher at Mainspring Academy in Jacksonville, is traveling the country filming interviews with children who have conditions such as autism and Down syndrome. He says each interview teaches an appreciation and acceptance for the differences in people. “No matter their level of communication, some are verbal, some are nonverbal, that doesn’t matter,” Ulmer says. “That’s not indicative of intelligence. Everybody is understanding the world in their own way and through these videos … You can see that in each one.” ABC News. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Schools of hope, budget, bonuses, statue and more

Schools of hope: The Florida House approves a $200 million plan to recruit charter schools as options to persistently low-performing public schools. The so-called “schools of hope” proposal creates a fund to attract charter school companies to enter areas where traditional public schools have received D or F grades from the state for three straight years. There are 115 such schools in Florida now. “This is our ‘Hail Mary’ to the kids of Florida to try to give them better opportunity and a better life,” says Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater. Miami HeraldNews Service of Florida. Sunshine State News. Florida Politics. Sun-Sentinel. Here are some specific details in the schools of hope bill. Politico Florida. The House passes an $81.2 billion budget, which is about $4 billion less than the budget approved by the Senate. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. Naples Daily News.

Educator bonuses: The Florida House approves a plan to expand the state’s teacher bonuses program, and include principals in it. The bill widens the pool of eligibility and adds $200 million to the program. The Senate has no money proposed for teacher bonuses, but has indicated a willingness to negotiate an expansion that both chambers can agree on. WFSU.

Capitol statue: The Senate Appropriations Committee approves a measure to place a statue of educator and civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune at the U.S. Capitol, replacing the one of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith. News Service of Florida.

Student screenings: Thousands of students in Duval and Clay counties never got the mental health screenings the state paid a Fernandina Beach company to do. Florida Psychological Associates was paid $1 million through Florida State University to do the screenings. The university is now offering to return $200,000 to the state for money it had held back for “indirect costs.” WJAX. Tallahassee Democrat. Continue Reading →

School choice in flyover country

School choice can’t work in rural areas? Tell that to Judy Welborn (above right) and Michele Winningham, co-founders of a private school in Williston, Fla., that is thriving thanks to school choice scholarships. Students at Williston Central Christian Academy also take online classes through Florida Virtual School and dual enrollment classes at a community college satellite campus.

Levy County is a sprawl of pine and swamp on Florida’s Gulf Coast, 20 miles from Gainesville and 100 from Orlando. It’s bigger than Rhode Island. If it were a state, it and its 40,000 residents would rank No. 40 in population density, tied with Utah.

Visitors are likely to see more logging trucks than Subaru Foresters, and more swallow-tailed kites than stray cats. If they want local flavor, there’s the watermelon festival in Chiefland (pop. 2,245). If they like clams with their linguine, they can thank Cedar Key (pop. 702).

And if they want to find out if there’s a place for school choice way out in the country, they can chat with Ms. Judy and Ms. Michele in Williston (Levy County’s largest city; pop. 2,768).

In 2010, Judith Welborn and Michele Winningham left long careers in public schools to start Williston Central Christian Academy. They were tired of state mandates. They wanted a faith-based atmosphere for learning. Florida’s school choice programs gave them the power to do their own thing – and parents the power to choose it or not.

Williston Central began with 39 students in grades K-6. It now has 85 in K-11. Thirty-one use tax credit scholarships for low-income students. Seventeen use McKay Scholarships for students with disabilities.

“There’s a need for school choice in every community,” said Welborn, who taught in public schools for 39 years, 13 as a principal. “The parents wanted this.”

The little school in the yellow-brick church rebuts a burgeoning narrative – that rural America won’t benefit from, and could even be hurt by, an expansion of private school choice. The two Republican senators who voted against the confirmation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos – Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine – represent rural states. Their opposition propelled skeptical stories like this, this and this; columns like this; and reports like this. One headline warned: “For rural America, school choice could spell doom.”

A common thread is the notion that school choice can’t succeed in flyover country because there aren’t enough options. But there are thousands of private schools in rural America – and they may offer more promise in expanding choice than other options. A new study from the Brookings Institution finds 92 percent of American families live within 10 miles of a private elementary school, including 69 percent of families in rural areas. That’s more potential options for those families, the report found, than they’d get from expanded access to existing district and charter schools.

In Florida, 30 rural counties (by this definition) host 119 private schools, including 80 that enroll students with tax credit scholarships. (The scholarship is administered by nonprofits like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.) There are scores of others in remote corners of Florida counties that are considered urban, but have huge swaths of hinterland. First Baptist Christian School in the tomato town of Ruskin, for example, is closer to the phosphate pits of Fort Lonesome than the skyscrapers of Tampa. But all of it’s in Hillsborough County (pop. 1.2 million).

The no-options argument also ignores what’s increasingly possible in a choice-rich state like Florida: choice programs leading to more options.

Before they went solo, Welborn and Winningham put fliers in churches, spread the word on Facebook and met with parents. They wanted to know if parental demand was really there – and it was.

But “one of their top questions was, ‘Are you going to have a scholarship?’ “ Welborn said. Continue Reading →

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 →