Archive | Teacher quality

Stop paying teachers like ‘widgets,’ lawmakers say

FORT LAUDERDALE – Too many schools pay all their teachers the same way. And that might be keeping talented people out of the profession, Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, told a charter school gathering Friday.

Florida schools need to find a better way to reward top teachers, he said.

Most districts rely on “step-and-lane” salary schedules that pay teachers based on their level of graduate degree, and increase pay with each year of experience. Florida’s foray into merit pay added teacher evaluations to the mix. That had limited effects.

Diaz, who chairs the House’s education budget committee, said the system doesn’t offer enough to young teachers with outstanding classroom skills or unique qualifications in demanding fields. Too often, he said, teachers are treated like one is as good as the next.

“You’re not making widgets,” he said. “They’re treated in a fashion as if they were labor workers in a technical industry. They’re not. They’re professionals.”

Diaz, a former public school teacher and administrator, said when top-performing young teachers prepare to start a family, they often realize there’s only one sure path to a big salary increase. They angle for administration jobs. Every time that happens, he said, “you’re taking the best person out of the classroom.” Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Scholarship oversight, tests, charter ban and more

Scholarship oversight: Florida’s school scholarship programs serve about 140,000 students and redirect almost $1 billion a year to private schools, but state regulation of those schools is so weak that many employ teachers who aren’t college graduates, falsify safety records but continue to stay in business, and fail to educate students without suffering the consequences public schools face, according to a newspaper’s investigation. The number of students using tax credit, Gardiner or McKay scholarships has more than tripled in the past decade. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner scholarship programs. Orlando Sentinel.

Testing the tests: The Florida Department of Education hires a company to evaluate whether the SAT and ACT tests can replace the state’s 10th-grade language arts Florida Standards Assessments and algebra I end-of-course exams. The Legislature required the review as part of the new education law, H.B. 7069. The assessment is expected to be finished in time for Education Commissioner Pam Stewart to make a recommendation on the substitution by Jan. 1. Meanwhile, Stewart says the department won’t decide on whether to delay the spring assessments testing window until after the hurricane season is over. Gradebook.

Charters schools: For the first time, the 50 or so charter schools in Palm Beach County were banned from this year’s “Showcase of Schools,” an event to show parents some of the most popular programs offered in county schools. School Superintendent Robert Avossa says the charter movement is “about spurring competition. So if that’s the case, why would you invite the competition to your event?” The incident is the latest in the escalating fight between district officials and charter schools. Palm Beach Post. The Florida Commission on Ethics rules that charter schools are not public agencies, but instead are more similar to business entities. Politico Florida.

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Florida schools roundup: Virtual school, dropouts, charter schools and more

Virtual school outreach: More than 20,000 Puerto Rican students displaced by Hurricane Maria will be offered free access to course offered by the Florida Virtual School, whether they’re at home or in Florida. “I am glad that Florida Virtual School has stepped up to help these families as they rebuild their lives,” says Gov. Rick Scott. “The state of Florida will continue to do all we can to help them during this challenging time.” The state is also encouraging all 67 school districts to accept displaced students. Many districts are already see enrollment of students from Puerto Rico and other areas hard-hit by the hurricane. WJHG. WFLA. WESH. WQAMMiami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. WWSB. WPLG. WUSF.

Dropout dollars: For-profit dropout recovery schools in Florida, Ohio and Illinois are aggressively recruiting at-risk students and counting them as enrolled even after they stop attending school in order to keep collecting public money, according to a review of public records and state auditors. Dropout recovery schools are enrolling an increasing number of struggling students who are offloaded by traditional high schools that want to keep test scores and graduation rates up. ProPublica.

Charter conversion: The Florida Department of Education has begun a process that could lead to the transfer of control of the Madison County Central School to a charter company. The state has informed the district it must reassign some teachers and form a community assessment team by Oct. 18. By Nov. 15, the school board would be presented three options: close the school, bring in an approved charter company to take over the school, or hire a charter company that is managed by the district. Superintendent Karen Pickles says the district-managed charter plan is the only acceptable option. Madison County Carrier.

Charter application: The Marion County School Board will vote Tuesday on a charter school application from Charter Schools USA. The for-profit charter company wants to build the Southeast Marion Charter School, which would start at K-6 with 615 students but add a grade in each of the first two years to top out at K-8 and 745 students. The company plans to build the school with state funds. If it fails, the property would be owned by Charter Schools USA. Ocala Star-Banner.

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Florida schools roundup: A wave from Puerto Rico, recognition cash and more

Preparing for a wave: Five legislators are urging Florida education officials to relax their rules so schools can accommodate the expected influx of students who are fleeing the damage to Puerto Rico from Hurricane Irma. In a letter to Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, lawmakers are asking that the state make additional funding available to schools that enroll those displaced students, to exempt those schools from meeting the provisions of the constitutionally required class sizes, to delay the annual student head count that is traditionally taken in October, and to waive immunization and birth certificate requirements for early education enrollment. “It is extremely important for Florida to be prepared for a large number of evacuees from Puerto Rico,” said state Rep. Bob Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs. “So many Puerto Rican families have literally lost everything, and we must stand ready to do everything possible to help their children transition as seamlessly as possible to a new school and learning environment.” Miami Herald. WLRNOrlando Sentinel. Politico Florida. Daily Commercial. WFSU. The devastation in Puerto Rico has a personal connection for the Ocala Preparatory School in Marion County. redefinED.

Recognition funds: The Florida Department of Education is handing out $129 million in school recognition funds this week. Schools can use the money for employee bonuses, hire temporary staff or buy equipment and supplies. If schools can’t come to an agreement on how to use the money, it gets divided among current teachers. Gradebook.

Homeless students: A new study says 72,000 Florida students were considered homeless in the 2015-2016 school year. Chief causes are the recession and more training for teachers to identify homeless students, according to the study by the University of Florida and Miami Homes for All. WMFE.

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Florida schools roundup: Testing, charters, pay, makeup days and more

School testing: Florida students’ scores on the SAT and ACT tests continue to lag behind the national average. Eighty-three percent of the state’s high school seniors took the SAT last spring. The average score was 1,017 out of a possible 1,600, while the national average was 1,070. About 73 percent of the state’s seniors took the ACT. The average score of 19.8 out of a possible 36 trailed the 21.0 average nationwide. Orlando Sentinel. A five-year slide in testing scores by Marion County students is reversed in 2017, and Superintendent Heidi Maier attributes the improvement to new policies, new principals and new ways to deliver teaching materials to students. Ocala Star-Banner.

The charter fight: The political fight over the state’s new education law, H.B. 7069, is moving soon into the courtroom as well. One school district has already filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of one portion of the law, and a broader suit by at least 14 districts should be filed in the next few weeks. Supporters of the bill, which includes several provisions favorable to charter schools, plan to launch a public relations campaign that closely examines districts’ spending and start looking for school board candidates who will support the bill. Miami Herald. The Martin County School Board is expected to decide Tuesday whether to join 14 other school districts in suing the state over H.B. 7069. TCPalm. School choice continues to spread in Florida and nationally, but schools in south Florida districts are holding their own by improving their grades and offering a variety of program choices. Enrollment in charter schools is down so far this school year in Palm Beach and Broward counties, while enrollment in traditional public schools is up.  Sun-Sentinel.

Pay proliferation: The number of Palm Beach County School District employees being paid more $140,000 a year or more has nearly tripled in the past two years, according to an analysis of district salaries. The number of staffers making $120,000 a year or more has doubled, and the number of those earning $100,000 or more is up 45 percent. In that same time period, the number of teachers earning $50,000 or more has increased by 5 percent. Superintendent Robert Avossa has contributed to the surge by creating at least 16 new, high-level administrative jobs paying $120,000 or more. Palm Beach Post.

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Florida schools roundup: Makeup days, H.B. 7069, meals, tuition and more

Makeup days: School districts in Hillsborough and Brevard counties won’t make up any of the days they lost to Hurricane Irma, school officials announce. Lake County school officials will convert six early-release days into full days and will have classes on a previously scheduled day off. In Indian River County, the school board will vote tonight on adding three makeup days. Florida Today. Space Coast Daily. Gradebook. WUSFTCPalm. Daily Commercial. WTSP. Students in Lee and Collier counties return to school after two weeks off because of Irma. Fort Myers News-Press. Naples Daily News.

H.B. 7069: A prominent Republican state senator says he believes “there is a very credible argument that H.B. 7069 is unconstitutional,” and that the school districts that plan to sue the state to challenge the bill have taken “a very credible position.” State Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, made the comments at a meeting organized by the League of Women Voters of Volusia County. Simmons added that the bill is “antithetical to public education” because it “condemned” Florida’s “very successful” public education system. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Meals, tuition bills: A bill is filed for the next legislative session that would require free or reduced-price meals to be offered to all students at schools participating in the national school lunch program or the breakfast program. State Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, says the goal of her bill is to make sure more eligible students are receiving the meals by requiring schools to help parents fill out the applications. WFSU. A bill is filed in the Florida House that would pay tuition to state colleges for students in households with an income of less than $125,000. The “Sunshine Scholarship Program” is proposed by State Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park. News Service of Florida.

District budgets: Lake County School Board members approve a $584.4 million budget, an increase of about $6 million over last year’s. Daily Commercial. The Volusia County School Board will vote today on an $847 million budget that draw downs on the district’s reserves by $1.65 million. The proposed budget is about $5 million below last year’s, and calls for fewer teachers since enrollment is down 95 from last year and is 514 below projections. Daytona Beach News-Journal. School property taxes have fallen to a historic low in Flagler County. Flagler Live.

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What to make of lower absentee rates for Florida charter school teachers?

Teachers in Florida’s district-run public schools are nearly four times as likely to be “chronically absent” from the classroom as their charter school colleagues.

Florida is among the states with the largest teacher absenteeism gaps between charter and traditional public schools. Chart taken from Fordham report.

And that’s not all, according to a new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Florida is home to several charter school networks with unionized teachers and collective bargaining contracts. The municipal charter system in Pembroke Pines is one example. Teachers in those schools are twice as likely to be chronically absent than their colleagues in the majority of charters that aren’t unionized.

Union vs non union charter graph

Charters with unionized teachers tend to have a higher absenteeism rate that those who do not. Chart taken from Fordham report.

In other words, teachers in unionized schools have a greater tendency to miss work more than 10 days out of a school year. And that can affect students. Studies have found teacher absences hurt student learning, and that schools with higher concentrations of disadvantaged students tend to have higher teacher absenteeism rates.

Folks at Fordham acknowledge teacher attendance is the sort of “input” measure that doesn’t typically interest the think tank. It prefers to focus on schools’ “output,” i.e. student results. Continue Reading →

Union challenges ‘Best and Brightest’ teacher bonuses

By Jim Saunders

News Service of Florida

The Florida Education Association teachers union has filed a potential class-action lawsuit alleging that the state’s controversial “Best and Brightest” bonus program discriminates against older teachers and minorities.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court in Tallahassee, names as defendants the Florida Department of Education and school boards throughout the state.

Lawmakers approved the Best and Brightest program in 2015 to provide bonuses to teachers. But the program has been controversial, in part, because it uses teacher performances on SAT and ACT college-entrance exams — in some cases, exams that teachers took decades ago — to help determine eligibility for the bonuses.

The lawsuit, which also includes seven individual teachers as plaintiffs, alleges that the Best and Brightest program violates state and federal civil-rights laws because of the use of the SAT and ACT scores. Continue Reading →