Archive | Teacher empowerment

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 →

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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 →

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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 →

Florida schools roundup: Bonuses, science instruction, choice and more

Teacher bonuses: The Florida House education committee approves a revamped teacher bonuses program that would broaden the qualifying requirements and also make principals eligible. Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr., R-Hialeah Republican who chairs the House’s education budget committee, says the House could approve spending up to $125 million for the Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program. That’s about half of the amount the Senate is proposing. Miami Herald. WFSU. Politico Florida. Orlando Sentinel.

Teaching science: State Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, says his bill that sets criteria for classroom instruction materials is meant to require “quality instructional material” meeting Florida standards, and to provide a way for the public to challenge classroom materials they deem inappropriate. And, he notes, any curriculum changes would have to be approved by the local school board. Critics say the bill opens a door for climate change and evolution critics to influence how those issues are taught, or if they are taught at all. Naples Daily News.

Call for school choice: Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York City is calling for a nationwide school choice bill. Dolan, writing in the Wall Street Journal, urged President Trump to“push Congress to make scholarship tax credits available to working-class families.” Seventeen states have tax credit scholarship programs, including Florida, and Dolan said children in the other states “deserve the same opportunities.” Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the Florida program. Crux. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Opt-out ruling, Legislature, scholarships and more

Opt-out ruling overturned: An appeals court overturns a ruling that some state school districts improperly retained third-graders who had opted out of the Florida Standards Assessment language arts test. The appeals court concluded that lawsuits against the state over the retention policy should have been heard in local courts instead of a circuit court in Tallahassee. In August, the Leon County judge ruled largely in favor of 14 parents from several districts who refused to let their children take the tests, then sued districts that held back those students. “The test can only achieve that laudable purpose (assessing reading skills to determine promotions) if the student meaningfully takes part in the test by attempting to answer all of its questions to the best of the student’s ability,” the appeals judges wrote in their opinion. “Anything less is a disservice to the student — and the public.” Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. News Service of FloridaWUSF. Associated Press.

State of the state: In his State of the State address to open the 2017 legislative session, Gov. Rick Scott urges lawmakers to approve his increase in education funding for K-12 schools and colleges and universities while also cutting taxes. Sunshine State News. Florida Politics. Associated Press. The transcript of the speech. News Service of Florida.

Leaders’ priorities: Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, expands his priorities for the Legislature’s session to include the bill that protects students’ religious expression in schools. “I think it’s very important that students of any faith or no faith” have a right to free speech, Negron said in his speech on the opening day of the 60-day legislative session. Miami Herald. Negron also says charter schools should get a fair share of state funding for construction and maintenance. Politico Florida. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, says his top budget priority for the legislative session is to put an end to the state’s so-called “failure factories,” or underperforming public schools. While Corcoran has not detailed how he’d do that, he’s hinted that adding charter schools is part of the solution. Politico Florida.

Scholarships expansion: A Florida House education subcommittee approves a bill that expands scholarship programs for low-income and disabled students. The amount available for disabled students under the Gardiner and McKay scholarships would jump from $73 million to $200 million, and the number of disabilities covered would be expanded. The bill also increases the per-pupil amount for low-income students who qualify for the tax credit scholarship program. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the Gardiner and tax credit scholarship programs. Orlando Sentinel. redefinED. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Testing cutbacks, religion in schools and more

Testing cutbacks: A new plan to cut back on student testing is gaining bipartisan support. The identical bills (S.B. 964 and H.B. 1249), filed by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, and Rep. Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello, would eliminate several high school end-of-course exams, give districts the option to offer paper-pencil state testing, allow an alternative nationally recognized test to replace certain high school state tests, prohibit statewide language arts and math testing before the last four weeks of school, and remove value-added measures from teacher evaluations, among other things. Gradebook.

Religion in schools: The Senate education committee approves a bill that would give students the freedom to express their religious views at school. The bill specifically protects students who share religious views in school assignments, clothing or in activities. Critics say the U.S. Constitution already protects religious freedom. Miami HeraldOrlando Sentinel. Sun-Sentinel. Politico Florida.

Middle schools study: The Senate education committee also approves a bill directing the state Department of Education to study high-achieving middle schools in several states, then make recommendations on improving Florida’s middle schools. The bill was introduced by Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland. Orlando Sentinel.

Session preview: Educational issues will command attention during the legislative session, which begins today. Politico Florida. WFSU.

Teacher housing plan: The Lee County School District proposes a public-private partnership to build affordable apartments and homes for teachers at three district-owned properties. The district would own the properties, which would be managed by a third party. Construction of the first project could begin in six months. Fort Myers News-Press. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Legislative issues, Trump’s visit and more

Legislative session: Vouchers, recess and capital funding for charter schools are among the hot education topics in this year’s legislative session, which begins Tuesday. Sunshine State News. School testing will again be a prominent issue during the session. Several bills have been filed to cut back on the number of tests, and to give options to the Florida Standards Assessments. News Service of Florida. Teacher bonuses are among the key education issues that will be debated by the Legislature. Tallahassee Democrat. The way the state calculates school funding may get another look from lawmakers this year. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Lake County school leaders say they oppose school vouchers, worry about recruiting and retaining teachers and don’t like the state’s current standardized testing process. Superintendent Diane Kornegay, school board member Kristi Burns and teachers union president Stuart Klatte made the remarks at an education forum last week. Daily Commercial. The Polk County School District is asking legislators to close the gap in per-student funding among districts. Polk ranked 64th out of 67 in per-student funding from the state this school year. Winter Haven News Chief. Senate and House leaders come to an agreement on the rules for the budget-making process for the legislative session. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida.

Trump’s visit: President Donald Trump praises students and educators at St. Andrew Catholic School during a visit Friday. Trump used the stop to promote school choice, and urged members of Congress to pass a bill to fund school choice for disadvantaged young people, including minority children. Orlando SentinelCatholic News Agency. Associated Press. WCSI. WFTV. Fox News. New York Times. News 13. redefinED. A profile of Denisha Merriweather, the University of South Florida graduate student who was held up by the president as an example of how school choice can help struggling students succeed. Washington Post.

Commission choices: Gov. Rick Scott appoints 14 people to the state Constitution Revision Commission. Several of the appointees have ties to education: Pam Stewart, Florida education commissioner; Marva Johnson, state Board of Education chairwoman; Nicole Washington, a trustee at Florida A&M University; Belinda Keiser, vice chancellor of Keiser University; Darlene Jordan, a member of the state university system’s Board of Governors; and Jose “Pepe” Armas, a trustee for Florida International University. Politico Florida. Gradebook. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of Florida. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Recess, charters, alternative schools and more

Recess bill advances: A bill requiring mandatory daily recess of at least 20 minutes for all Florida K-5 students passes the state Senate Education Committee. Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said the bill showed “the power of advocacy, of parents” who pushed legislators to act when local school boards would not. The bill now goes to the Senate PreK-12 Appropriations Committee for consideration. Miami HeraldAssociated PressFlorida Politics.

Charter facilities funding: The Senate Education Committee approves a bill that would send a proportional share of a district’s property tax revenue to charter schools based on enrollment, with more money attached for those schools that have large low-income or special needs populations. But a second bill that would have increase districts’ local tax authority is delayed. Supporters say the measures need to move forward together to allow districts to catch up on construction that’s been backlogged since the recession. redefinED. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida.

Hidden dropouts: Alternative schools increasingly are being used by public schools as places to hide struggling, problem students who might otherwise drag down a school’s graduation rate, test scores and grade, according to an investigation by ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism website. The Orange County School District is one of 83 U.S. school districts that bumped its graduate rate by at least a percentage point between 2010 and 2014 by sending an increasing number of students into alternative schools. ProPublica.

Florida 4th in AP: Florida ranks fourth in the nation in the percentage of students taking and passing at least one Advanced Placement course, according to the College Board, the organization that runs the AP program. In Florida’s class of 2016, 29.5 percent passed at least one AP exam. That’s over the national average of 21.9 percent and 11 percentage points better than 10 years ago. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →