It’s New Year’s Eve and we’re taking a look back at our stories from 2012. Here’s a wrap-up of the best, most interesting or notable stories from StateImpact Florida.
More to come in 2013.
State investigating K12 — In September we told you the Florida Department of Education was investigating K12, Inc., the nation’s largest online education company.
Emails between K12 officials and teachers suggested the company had asked teachers to sign off on Seminole County students they had not taught. The emails raised questions about whether K12 was using teachers properly certified according to Florida law.
We also told you how K12 service plans include student-to-teacher rations of 275-to-1 and how school districts have found problems with a network of online charter schools tied to K12 applying around Florida.
13th Grade series — We partnered with the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting to look at why so many students at Florida colleges were taking remedial classes. Part of the reason is Florida K-12 school requirements aren’t strenuous enough to ensure students are ready for college.
Students who take remedial courses are less likely to finish their studies, so we also told you about what colleges are doing to make it easier to complete remedial requirements — and how Common Core State Standards are intended to solve the problem for good.
Teacher evaluations — Florida is leading the national charge to find new ways to analyze teacher performance. In February we explained the complex mathematical formula that attempts to predict how well students should perform on state standardized tests.
If students do better than projected, their teachers rate well. The opposite is also true.
Eventually, these ratings will help determine how much teachers are paid.
Teacher evaluations were a big Florida education story in 2012, and will continue to be as school districts and the state fine-tune the formulas.
Critics argue that the formulas have large margins of error and are not an accurate measure, and are challenging the state law requiring evaluations in court.
Charter school performance — StateImpact Florida was the first to tell you about research from University of Central Florida business professor Stanley Smith, which showed Florida charter schools do not perform as well as traditional schools when controlling for poverty and minority status.
That led the Florida Department of Education to point toward its own research showing charter schools perform better than district schools. Smith fired back that the state study was “poorly done” and “biased.”
Amendment 8 — One of StateImpact Florida’s goals is to be a go-to source for explanatory journalism. One example of that is our coverage of the Amendment 8 debate.
We explained the history of the Blaine amendments and what they were approved in Florida and across the country. We also explained that the amendment wouldn’t directly allow the use of public money to fund private, religious schools.
You can read all our coverage of state ballot amendments here.
Bright Futures/Florida pre-paid college plan — It’s no secret that the cost of higher education is rising. Preventing tuition increases is a top priority of Gov. Rick Scott.
In the last year we’ve told you why Bright Futures scholarships are covering less and less of the cost of college. We’ve also told you why the Florida college pre-paid plan has more than tripled in cost the past six years.
You can read all our coverage of Bright Futures here.
Henry Frost’s fight to attend his neighborhood school — We’ve written a lot about how school choice is limited for students with disabilities, including for Tampa teenager Henry Frost.
Frost wanted to attend the neighborhood middle school several hundred yards from his house. The school district said the school wasn’t right for him and wanted him to attend a specialized program at another school.
Frost refused, and eventually, the school district changed its mind.
It’s just part of our focus on special education, including the use of seclusion and restraint at Florida schools.
Corporal punishment — Many StateImpact Florida readers were surprised to learn that spanking is still allowed in Florida schools.
We told you why parents in some rural districts approve of school administrators smacking their misbehaving children with wood, plastic or fiberglass paddles, and why corporal punishment is considered a tradition.
We also told you about challenges to the practice, including lawsuits for paddling children against parents’ wishes.
Jeb Bush’s influence — In May we told you about former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s national influence and the ideas he’s pushing across the country — even in the face of resistance in the Sunshine State. The story also introduced Florida to Tony Bennett, who was hired as education commissioner after he lost his reelection bid in Indiana.