Archive | Teacher empowerment

Florida schools roundup: March, walkouts, Cruz’s brother, votes and more

March For Our Lives: More than 1 million people are expected to attend March For Our Lives rallies Saturday in Washington, D.C., and at least 800 other sites around the world, according to the students who have organized the rallies in response to the school shootings in Parkland on Feb. 14 that killed 17. They are calling for stricter gun regulations. “It just shows that the youth are tired of being the generation where we’re locked in closets and waiting for police to come in case of a shooter,” says Alex Wind, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Associated Press.

Board member rips walkout: Marion County School Board member Nancy Stacy says Superintendent Heidi Maier’s plan to allow student walkouts on campuses April 20 is “pure liberal fascism at its finest.” Stacy says Maier is being used by the “political idiots of the left.” In a series of emails to the superintendent, Stacy also wrote that: “We all know the students didn’t arrange a thing here or Tallahassee or nationwide. This is another example of why we need (school) vouchers for parents to escape this abusive manipulation of their children’s minds.” Ocala Star-Banner.

Cruz’s brother arrested: The brother of accused Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is arrested after deputies say he trespassed onto the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School campus. Zachary Cruz, 18, had been warned to stay away from the school. He said he went to the school to “reflect on the shooting and to soak it in …” Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Palm Beach Post. Associated Press.

School tax votes today: Voters in Sarasota and Manatee counties go to the polls today to vote on increasing property taxes by 1 mill for schools. A yes vote would increase revenue for schools in Sarasota County by about $55 million a year, and by about $33 million a year in Manatee. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald. Continue Reading →

Loving the Earth, lauding school choice

The students at Mangrove School routinely visit nature parks and beaches. More than half the students beyond preschool use school choice scholarships.

This is the latest in our series on the center-left roots of school choice.

SARASOTA, Fla. — At a nature park bedecked by oaks and palms, a teacher at Mangrove School mimics a wolf call through cupped hands, signaling to scattered students that it’s time to breeze over. “Let’s greet the day,” the teacher says. They all join hands, then take turns facing east, south, west, and north as their teacher offers thanks. To the rising sun. The palms and coonti. The manatees and crabs. Even to the soil.

So class begins at another choice school that defies stereotypes – and conjures possibilities.

On the one hand, Mangrove School is just another one of 2,000 private schools that accept Florida school choice scholarships. On the other, its mission to “honor childhood,” “promote world peace” and “instill reverence for humanity, animal life, and the Earth” is impossible to square with a pernicious myth – on the policy landscape, the equivalent of an invasive species – that school choice is being rammed into place by forces that progressives find nefarious.

“I hear that, and I look around here, and I think it’s very strange,” said Mangrove School director Erin Melia, a former chemist with a master’s degree in education. “I would think it (the perception) would be the opposite. The people most in need of choice are the people left behind.”

Mangrove School started as a play group 18 years ago. Now it has 43 students from Kindergarten to sixth grade, including eight home-schoolers who attend part-time. Nineteen of 35 full-timers use some type of school choice scholarship, most of them the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for lower-income students.*

“We’re just trying to be available to as many families as possible,” Melia said.

That’s a standard view among private schools participating in Florida choice programs, including plenty of “alternative” schools. (Like this one, this one, this one and this one). Those private schools serve more than 100,000 tax credit scholarship students alone. Their average family incomes barely edge the poverty line, and three in four are children of color. Yet the narrative about conservative cabals feels as entrenched as ever.

Blame Trump and the media.

Last March, six weeks after he was inaugurated, the most polarizing man on the planet visited an Orlando Catholic school and held up Florida school choice scholarships as a national model. Just like that, they became a bullseye. In subsequent months, The Washington Post, The New York Times, NPR, Scripps, ProPublica, Education Week and Huffington Post all took aim. Every one of them prominently mentioned the connection to Trump and/or Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Ditto for the Orlando Sentinel, which punctuated the year with a hyperbolic series that attempted to portray the accountability regimen for private schools as broken.

Not a single one of those stories offered a nod to the fuller, richer history behind school choice. Or to its deep roots on the left. Or to the diverse coalition that continues to support it. So, again, a reminder: Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Education bill, gun politics, school safety and more

Education bill: The Senate Education Committee unanimously approves a major rewrite of the House’s omnibus education bill, H.B. 7055. The Senate version would put armed law enforcement officers at every school in the state, make state scholarships available to bullied students with substantiated claims, boost oversight of private school choice programs, require charter schools to return facilities to districts if they close, and create a comprehensive mental health program for schools, among other things. It also removes the provision that would decertify teachers unions if membership falls below half of the members represented. The revised bill now moves on to the Senate Appropriations Committee. redefinED. Associated Press. Gradebook. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida.

Parkland and politics: The Florida House overwhelmingly rejects a proposal to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines as about 100 students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School look on. The vote was 71-36 against H.B. 219, Students say the shootings have changed them, and vow to continue fighting for school safety. Miami Herald. Sun-SentinelPalm Beach Post. Politico Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. After meetings with superintendents and law enforcement officials, Gov. Rick Scott says he will have a plan of action in response to the shootings in Parkland to take to legislators by Friday. “We have two weeks left in session at that point, and my goal is to get something accomplished,” says Scott. Politico Florida. WKMG. News Service of FloridaFlorida Politics. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A Senate hearing on a bill that would allow designated people to carry concealed weapons at schools is postponed Tuesday. Miami Herald. President Donald Trump calls on the Justice Department to ban all devices like bump stocks, an attachment that can turn a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic one. Associated Press. New York Times. The Broward County Charter Review Commission says it will consider giving voters the chance to decide what guns should be permitted in the county. Sun-Sentinel. Pinellas County School Board member Linda Lerner wants the board to officially support a ban on assault weapons. Gradebook. Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna is criticized by the chairman of the county’s Republican Party for giving excused absences to students who wanted to join a rally at the Capitol. Tallahassee Democrat.

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The Union of the State

I approve the concept of the labor union. In the private sector long ago, I spent my off-school time manning a wrecking crew, loading and driving trucks (age 15!), cleaning toilets, serving in food lines and carrying trays to patients. Most boys below draft age had full-time summer and part-time school-year jobs; there weren’t enough males yet returning from war to take their place until late 1946 and even after. Was I ever a union member? I’m not sure now, but I experienced and accepted the idea as an ordinary and useful economic aspect of our society. The worker needs a competitive economic status, thus he organizes to offset the power of the employers. The union allows him to share in the success of the latter’s enterprise which in turn depends upon the employee’s skill and diligence.

The union is thus a perfectly plausible part of the free enterprise system, taking its bargained share of the surplus generated by the business. If the workers take too much, there well soon be no jobs; all depends on the continued existence of the employer. In my home town (Duluth) the post-war strikes in the then prosperous steel mills became so cumbersome for the owners that many simply ceased business or moved down the Great Lakes to more viable locations. Does that suggest unions are bad? Not at all; they are merely fallible like the rest of us, and in my town they accidentally killed the goose for thousands of their members. Perhaps the experience taught their leaders prudence; maybe not. In any case what they had demonstrated was an elementary lesson in free enterprise. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: School transportation, textbooks and more

Bill for school buses: A bill that would make more Florida students eligible for transportation to school gets the approval of the Senate Education Committee. The proposal would allow students who live 1.5 miles from school – instead of the current standard of 2 miles – to be eligible for busing, redefine hazardous walking routes as four-lane roads instead of six-lane ones, and provide busing to all students instead of just those in K-6. The changes could cost the state $58 million and local districts $100 million, according to a staff analysis. Gradebook. News Service of Florida.

Textbook adoption bill: The Senate Education Committee approves a bill creating a process for the public to comment on textbooks and instructional materials and recommend them for adoption. Right now the education commissioner approves materials from a list put together by state instructional materials reviewers. Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, says this bill is “simply an opportunity for the citizens to have a voice.” The House version of the bill would require the Florida Board of Education to allow public comment on materials at any meeting where they’re up for adoption. Politico Florida.

District investigation: A grand jury has been convened to hear “evidence of all aspects of the (Okaloosa County) school district that have become public issues,” according to state attorney Bill Eddins. An elementary teacher has been charged with child abuse of a special-needs student, and three other district employees have been charged with failure to report child abuse. But Eddins says the grand jury will hear testimony that goes beyond the child abuse investigation and the district’s record on disciplining employees. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Teacher honored: Jason Lancy, an 8th-grade math teacher at Windy Hill Middle School in Clermont, is chosen as the Lake County School District’s teacher of the year. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Budget discussions, motto mandate and more

Budget and Bright Futures: Florida House leaders introduce what they call an austere state budget of about $85 billion, which is about $2.5 billion less than Gov. Rick Scott has proposed. One of the areas the House would cut back on is higher education spending, in part by not expanding the coverage to 75 percent of tuition and fees for “medallion scholars” in the Bright Futures program, which the Senate has approved. Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, says the cuts are intended to force colleges and universities to use their stockpiles of unspent funds. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. The proposed House budget also includes a spending boost of $100 per K-12 student, a provision that would eliminate a requirement that the 300 lowest-performing schools use the extra funding they get from the state to add an hour per day of reading instruction, and would allow any district in the state to participate in the principal autonomy program. Gradebook. Politico FloridaredefinED. The House budget includes a specific cut of $381,000 for Broward College that is directly related to the college’s decision to pay the outgoing president his $381,000 salary for a year after he leaves, calling it a paid sabbatical. WLRN.

Motto at schools: The motto “In God We Trust” would have to be prominently displayed on every school building in Florida under a bill that receives unanimous approval from the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. The measure was filed by Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville, and Rep. Mel Ponder, R-Destin. The phrase became part of the seal on the state flag in 1868, and was adopted as the state motto by legislators in 2006. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. WCTV. Gradebook.

Personalized learning: A bill that would make the personalized learning pilot program available to all state school districts is approved by the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. If approved by the Legislature, the bill would broaden the use of the mastery-based learning method, which allows students to advance to higher levels in subjects when they can demonstrate mastery of a topic. The bill would also give districts the freedom to decide how to award course credits. redefinED.

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Florida schools roundup: Bright Futures, Schools of Hope rules, statue and more

Bright Futures: The Florida Senate unanimously approves a higher education bill that includes the permanent expansion of the Bright Futures scholarships program. S.B. 4, which was sponsored by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, would provide full funding of tuition and fees for the 41,000 students who qualify for the Academic Scholar award. Those students must have a grade point average of 3.5 or higher and a score of at least 1,290 on the SAT or 29 on the ACT. Another 50,000-plus students who qualify for the Medallion Scholar award would receive 75 percent of tuition and fees. The bill also expands the Benacquisto Scholarship awards, which are full scholarships for out-of-state National Merit Scholar award winners. Sunshine State News. Associated Press. News Service of FloridaTampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. WFSU.

Schools of Hope: The Florida Board of Education is expected to start working next week on the rules that will determine how charter school networks can qualify to be “hope operators” under the state’s new “Schools of Hope” law. The draft rules would designate charter school organizations as a hope operator in any three ways: They have received a federal grant for the expansion of high-quality charters; received financial backing from the Charter School Growth Fund; or been chosen by a local school board to turn around a struggling district public school. Hope operators can apply to open charter schools within 5 miles of persistently struggling public schools. If the rules are approved, the process could be opened to charter school companies in February. redefinED.

Bethune statue: A Senate committee approves a bill that would place a statue of famed educator Mary McLeod Bethune in the U.S. Capitol. Her statue would replace the one of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith. The bill now moves to the full Senate for a vote. Associated Press. Florida Politics.

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Florida schools roundup: School oversight, merit pay, testing and more

Private school oversight: A bill is filed for the legislative session beginning today that would tighten some standards for private schools receiving state scholarships. Under the bill, filed by state Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, private schools would be required to hire only teachers with at least a bachelor’s degree. The proposal would also tighten financial accountability, ban school owners with recent bankruptcies from receiving scholarship money, increase school inspections by the state and make it more difficult for schools to submit falsified fire or health inspection reports. Simmons says his bill is an attempt to strike a balance between too much regulation and not enough. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit scholarship and Gardiner scholarship programs. Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher merit pay: Two Republican legislators want to delete the requirement in state law that student test scores be used to evaluate teachers. The bills, filed by Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, and Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, would give schools boards the option of using student test scores in evaluations. “We don’t think student test scores should be tied to our evaluations,” says Plasencia. “It’s frustrated many teachers, and it’s driven some really good teachers out of the profession, a lot of them early.” Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher test-taking: The rising numbers of teachers failing the state’s newly revised Florida Teacher Certification Exam prompts state Rep. Robert Asencio, D-Miami, to file a bill that would require the Florida Department of Education to appoint a task force to study whether the test is appropriately measuring teacher competency and other issues. “Whenever we have such a high failure rate we have to figure out what’s going on,” says Asencio. WPTV.

Legislative session: Gov. Rick Scott delivers his final state of the state speech today at the opening of the legislative session. It’s expected to contrast his first one in 2011, when he called for sharp cuts in education spending. News Service of Florida. Associated PressTampa Bay Times. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WCTV. Politico Florida. The Senate is expected to pass a higher education bill Thursday that would permanently expand Bright Futures scholarships, and will consider a bill that would require high school students to complete a financial literacy course in order to graduate. News Service of Florida.

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