Putting Education Reform To The Test

Opting Out Of State Tests Isn’t An Option, Education Commissioner Tells Lawmakers

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says state law doesn't allow parents to opt their children out of required testing.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says state law doesn't allow parents to opt their children out of required testing.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says students can not skip state-required tests, and teachers and schools can be punished for refusing to administer required exams.

Stewart’s letter is a response to questions from Senators as they prepare for the upcoming legislative session. Senators wanted to know if students could opt out of state-required exams and how doing so might affect their progress in school.

Stewart says state law allows students to skip required tests for one reason: They have been granted an exemption for medical reasons or disabilities. It’s up to districts to decide when and if students can skip locally-required exams, Stewart wrote.

“State law requires students to participate in the state assessment system,” Stewart wrote, “therefore, there is no opt out clause or process for students to opt out or for parents to opt their children out.”

Any changes to opt out rules would required the legislature to pass a law.

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Everybody Loves STEM

Retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro regrets not studying a scientific field.

Marcelo_montecino / Flickr

Retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro regrets not studying a scientific field.

Retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro broke a long silence yesterday, and we couldn’t resist pointing out this education-related gem.

He mostly touched on the push to open U.S.-Cuba relations.

But in a statement to the University Students Federation, Castro put in a plug for STEM education — science, technology, engineering and math.

From the Miami Herald’s story:

If he had to do it all over again, he said he would have chosen a scientific field.

STEM is a favorite topic of American politicians who argue science fields are a fast track to high-paying jobs and low unemployment. Republican Gov. Rick Scott has pushed Florida universities to graduate more students with STEM degrees.

It seems STEM is also popular with communist revolutionaries.

Study: Florida Schools Should End Corporal Punishment

A paddle used to spank students at a Florida school.

Sarah Gonzalez / StateImpact Florida

A paddle used to spank students at a Florida school.

Two University of Florida researchers say Florida should join other states which have outlawed corporal punishment to discipline students.

Florida is one of 20 states which allows schools to spank or paddle misbehaving students. Twenty-six of the state’s 67 districts allow corporal punishment. Some districts require a parent’s approval, others do not.

UF education professors Joseph Gagnon and Brianna Kennedy-Lewis culled discipline data, interviewed school leaders who use corporal punishment and surveyed administrators at high-poverty schools about what they do to discipline students.

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How Jeb Bush Became An Education Advocate

The New Yorker takes a look at the roots of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s education advocacy. The story also tracks Bush’s business ties to education companies, especially online education firms.

became apparent to Bush that he had emphasized a conservative agenda at the expense of an organizing mission in his campaign. He had focussed mainly on crime and welfare reform, and, if he were to run again, he would need “to be sure his platform was palatable to a larger community,” as T. Willard Fair, the head of the Miami affiliate of the Urban League, put it. In 1995, Bush found that platform. Early that year, he called Fair and said that he wanted to contribute some money left over from his campaign to the Urban League. Fair thought that Bush would present a check, pose for a picture, and leave. But the two men spent ninety minutes discussing the failure of the Dade County schools to educate black students, who were twenty-four per cent more likely than white students to drop out.

Read more at: www.newyorker.com

New Book Looks At The History And Future Of Testing In U.S. Schools

Anya Kamenetz is an education reporter for NPR and author of a new book on testing in U.S. schools.

Anya Kamenetz

Anya Kamenetz is an education reporter for NPR and author of a new book on testing in U.S. schools.

Lots of people think there’s too much testing going on in schools right now. It’s one of the most contentious issues in education.

Lawmakers want to scale back the amount of time Florida students spend taking tests.

But at the same time, Florida is rolling out a new test tied to new math and language arts standards — known as Common Core.

NPR education reporter Anya Kamenetz researched the history and use of standardized exams for her book, “The Test.”

Kamenetz sat down with WLRN’s StateImpact Florida education reporter John O’Connor to talk about what students are losing — because of all the tests.

Q: What was your view on testing before you started work on the book and did it change at all during the course of reporting and writing it?

A: As I began to be an education reporter, first I was a higher education reporter. And I was very enthralled with, sort of, innovations in higher ed. And when I turned my attention to K-12, partly because I had a child of my own, I realized that there was very much less scope for, sort of, innovation in K-12.

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Condoleezza Rice Will Lead Bush’s Education Foundation

Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice will lead the education advocacy group founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush, the Associated Press reports. Bush has stepped down from his — and other — non-profit group after taking the first steps toward a presidential candidacy.

Bush launched the group after serving two terms as Florida governor. It served as the primary vehicle through which he maintained a public profile and pushed to export the education policies he pioneered in Florida to other states.

“I cannot overstate Dr. Rice’s international and national accomplishments and the vast intellect and bold vision she brings to our ambitious work in reform,” Bush said in a letter to foundation staff obtained by The Associated Press.

Bush formally left the foundation late last year, resigning as part of his preparations for a possible run for president in 2016. He also left the boards of several for-profit companies, including Tenet Healthcare Corp. and timber company Rayonier Inc.

Read more at: abcnews.go.com

Miami High School Principal Retires After Photos Show School Conditions

A Miami high school principal has retired after anonymous online photos purported to show the school of serving moldy juice and not controlling pests.

With help from the district, the school is evaluating how it trains janitors and what kind of cleaning equipment is used. The school has also implemented a new approach that will require custodians to regularly tackle cleaning projects like graffiti removal, spot painting and dusting common areas like lockers.

On Wednesday, the school passed a re-inspection by the Florida Department of Health. Sunset had failed an inspection on Jan. 13 after investigators found mold in the ceiling and in a storage room. They also found bathrooms without soap and ordered the floors to be scrubbed.

Read more at: www.miamiherald.com

Education And The State Of The Union

No Child Left Behind. Early-childhood education. Student privacy. Here’s what to listen out for in tonight’s State of the Union address.

This seems to be a trend for the president, who has focused the education remarks in his last three addresses to Congress on either higher education (popular with young voters and their middle-aged parents) and early ed. (popular with just about everybody), while steering clear of K-12 (a politically stickier issue these days). In fact, he hasn’t called for Congress to renew NCLB in the State of the Union since 2011.

If Obama bucks that trend and does talk about K-12, he may hit on a recent student-privacy pitch or some of the proposals that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan outlined in a recent speech. Those points include increasing money for Title I grants to help educate disadvantaged kids, directing more resources to teacher training, and yes, keeping annual assessments in place in any reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, aka the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

But higher education and early ed. seem like a sure thing, because both play a big role in the tax plan that’s slated to be a centerpiece of the address. The broader plan, unveiled over the weekend, would call for raising the top capital gains tax (which generally impacts investors), hiking the amount of inherited money that’s subject to taxes, and imposing new fees on financial institutions.

Read more at: blogs.edweek.org

Future Of Tampa-Area School Superintendent Up For Debate Today

The Hillsborough County school board will meet today and the top item on the agenda is the future of superintendent MaryEllen Elia. Should the board vote to remove Elia, the decision would have national significance.

But in the end, whether Elia stays or goes is in the hands of the seven board members, including two new members.

If at least four of the board members votes to terminate Elia’s contract without cause, the district will pay her an estimated $1.1 million in salary, benefits and unused time off for the 2 1/2 years left on her contract.

If Elia were to resign with six months’ notice or retire, she would still get a payout from the district but would likely receive less than the $1 million estimated for the cost to terminate her contract without cause, school board attorney Jim Porter said.

Read more at: tbo.com

Essay: How To Teach Brown V. Board To A Class Of All Black Students

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.

zrfraileyphotography / Flickr

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Editor’s note: As schools around the country celebrate the Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday holiday, we’re reposting this essay from former South Florida teacher Jeremy Glazer about race in education.

Here’s a question: How do you teach a class of all black students in an all black school that Brown v. Board of Education ended segregation decades ago?

That isn’t a hypothetical question, but one I remember clearly asking myself. I was teaching American History for the first time in one of our nation’s many embarrassingly homogeneous schools. I could not, with a straight face, teach my students that segregation had ended.  They’d think that either they or I didn’t know what the word segregation meant.   

But, as a beginning teacher, I was afraid of telling too much truth.  Brown’s legacy is not a hopeful story about law, or government, or progress, and it seemed like a particularly cruel lesson in power, racism, and injustice.  I wanted to be both honest and gentle to my students and probably failed at both.

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