Lakeland’s McKeel Charter Fraud and Abuse…Again

An employee at the McKeel Academy has been arrested for stealing $100,000 from the charter school.  The former Assistant Director for Academy faces seven felony charges relating to her creation of fake companies to hide purchases, travel expenses and other illegal activities.

McKeel Academy’s three charter schools have had other serious management problems.  When will the legislature address the charter management oversight issue?  These McKeel charter schools have seen problems before.  But, then, its board members are in the legislature.




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New Bill: Why are 8th grade reading scores lower than 4th grade scores


This one makes me smile.  Maybe even laugh.  Senator Stargel wants to study eighth grade reading.  She asks why NAEP scores for fourth graders are so much higher in Florida than for eighth graders.   Over and over educators have said that if you retain the lowest scoring third graders, they will not be in fourth grade.  When they finally do arrive, they will have learned more and be older than fourth graders in other states.  Thus, the fourth grade reading scores in Florida will be higher.  Only a handful of states retain third graders.  It is a classic smoke and mirrors tactic to inflate scores.  Yet, I am not sure legislators even think about this.

Wait, there is more.  According to the Florida Department of Education reports on the tax credit scholarships, students who struggle the most are more likely to go to private, mostly religious schools.   This year there are over 92,000 FTC students.  Most students end up leaving the private schools.  Only about 18,000 students remain in the FTC program after eighth grade.  Could it be that they have not made good progress in these small private schools that do not have certified teachers and are not held to the school grades or other accountability measures that public schools must meet?

Stargel is asking the Department of Education to study states with high performing middle schools to find out what they do.  You can read SB 360 here.  High performing states, in fact most states, do not offer tax credit scholarships to private schools.  At the latest count, I found fourteen.  Even states that do offer them do not have nearly the same percentage of participants as Florida.

Which states have high achieving eighth grade NAEP scores:   Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut.   The demographics in those states are very different from the Florida population.  They do not have tax credit vouchers.  They place a high value on quality education and less value on state accountability programs to promote student learning.

Frankly, I am encouraged that Senator Stargel is asking questions.



Testing Changes Aired in Senate

Yesterday’s the Senate K12 budget committee aired proposals to reduce testing.  Politico reports the following:

Eliminating required end of course exams in English, U.S. history, civics, algebra and geometry.

Allowing the use of paper and pencil as well as computer based examinations.

Substituting nationally normed tests for state assessments.

Exempting high performing students from state assessments.

Moving test administration to the last three weeks of the school year.



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Louisiana Court Rules State Charters Unconstitutional

In Florida, charters are generally authorized by local school boards.  In some states, charters are authorized by local districts, universities, state boards or even cities.  This is part of the continuing struggle over control of public schools.  Florida’s legislature has tried to create state charter review boards, but the resistance is strong.



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Jeb Bush Supports Betsy DeVos

Many of you may know that the nominee for U.S. Secretary Betsy DeVos serves as a board member on Jeb Bush’s pro choice Foundation for Excellence in Education.  Bush has written a letter in support of her nomination.

Bush argues that opposition to school choice is based on two false narratives.  The League has no formal position on this appointment.  So, you decide.  Let your Senators know what you think.




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Turn around schools: Principal Autonomy Pilot Program

Making positive change is by definition, good.  Rep. Manny Diaz believes principals need more autonomy in order to improve schools.  In a pilot program he sponsored, three high performing principals in seven districts would be allowed to choose a nationally recognized turn around program for schools that have received a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ twice in the past two years.  These schools are near but not at the level of Florida’s programs for failing schools.

The turn around model of transforming schools with student low achievement assumes that the school leadership has been unable to create an appropriate school learning environment.   Principals would bring in a three member leadership team and have increased fiscal and management authority.  Staff development, student services and the use of data to inform instruction are typical components.  In some models, rewards for individual teachers based on student learning gains are provided.

Teaching and learning strategies including additional time in school are typical turn around strategies.  Some programs adopt a ‘no nonsense’ student discipline model in which every aspect of children’s behavior is monitored, rewarded and/or punished.

Turn around models.  The approach to school improvement may vary.  The rules governing this latest principal autonomy project for nearly failing schools will be adopted at the State Board of Education meeting in Stuart on January 17th.  Districts must choose one of four national turnaround models that has at least a five year history.

National models typically include the following or a hybrid version of them:

Restarts:  Schools are closed and reopened as charters with new staff and management.  All former students are eligible to attend.

School Closure:  Schools cease to operate and students are transferred to other schools.

Turnaround schools:  Replace leadership and about one half of the teachers.  Extend teacher and student time in class.

Transformation:  New principal and leadership, professional development, financial incentives, additional instructional time

We have a turnaround school here.  I have been looking at the data and have a lot of questions.  If I can find answers, I will share them in a blog post.

School Turnaround: Caught Between the Crosshairs

In a news report on President Obama’s legacy, one commentator stated that is focus on eliminating failing schools would survive.  These are the ‘turn around’ schools where most students do not meet state proficiency levels.  Some say that the goal to have all students be proficient is like assuming all students must be ‘above average’.  Proficiency standards, however, are set at levels most but not all students are expected to reach.  The expectations are an ever increasing target.  As achievement goes up, standards go up.

It is a trap, however, to excuse low performance because students have not been expected or even required to do better.  Is there an escape hatch?

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