Florida

Putting Education Reform To The Test

Gina Jordan

  • Email: gjordan@miamiherald.com

Why Florida Is Fighting The U.S. Education Department Over English Learners

Althea Valle teaches a class of ELL's. She says of the new federal requirement, "I think it’s going to put a lot of pressure on the schools to get these kids where we think they should be."

Gina Jordan/StateImpact Florida

Althea Valle teaches a class of ELL's. She says of the new federal requirement, "I think it’s going to put a lot of pressure on the schools to get these kids where we think they should be."

A 10th grader born in Haiti struggles to read in his class at Godby High School in Tallahassee. The student is more comfortable with Haitian Creole than English. Teacher Althea Valle has students of various nationalities trying to master the language.

“It’s a challenge,” Valle says. “There’s a lot of gesturing, and you know sometimes I feel like I’m onstage and sometimes I have to be onstage to make myself understood.”

Valle is the ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) coordinator for Leon County schools. Her developmental language class is offered as an elective for students who want the extra help, like Anas Al-Humiari from Yemen. His native language is Arabic, and he’s been studying English for 5 years.

“First of all, the words are the main things that get me down and the time, me trying to understand the sentence and what is the article or text actually means,” Al-Humiari says, trying to find the right words.

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Why The ACLU Is Challenging Single-Gender Classes In Florida Schools

The ACLU is worried single-gender classes might reinforce stereotypes of the 1950s.

Gardiner & James Families / Wikimedia Commons

The ACLU is worried single-gender classes might reinforce stereotypes of the 1950s.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed federal complaints against school districts in Broward, Hernando, Hillsborough and Volusia counties over the use of all-girls or all-boys classes. The ACLU wants the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to investigate the programs.

StateImpact Florida’s Gina Jordan spoke with Galen Sherwin, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, about the complaints.

Q: Galen, what do the complaints say?

A: Schools shouldn’t be in the business of making crude judgments of children’s educational needs based solely on whether they’re a boy or a girl – that’s the definition of sex discrimination.

They’re using different teaching methods, environments and even curricula.

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How Some South Florida Teenagers Got College Degrees Before High School Diplomas

Reinaldo Camacho finished his two-year degree from Miami Dade College while he was still in high school. He's the first member of his family to pursue post-secondary education.

Mater Academy

Reinaldo Camacho finished his two-year degree from Miami Dade College while he was still in high school. He's the first member of his family to pursue post-secondary education.

Sixty students from the Hialeah area will graduate from high school this month like thousands of others in Florida, but these students have done something especially remarkable.

They’ll receive their high school diplomas almost a month after graduating from Miami Dade College.

The students took advantage of the dual-enrollment programs offered at Mater Academy and Mater Lakes Academy. These are publicly funded charter schools that operate independently of the district.

Both campuses have large immigrant populations.

“They’re located in Hispanic, working-class, low-income neighborhoods in Miami,” says Lynn Norman-Teck with the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools. “So the administrators really started pushing dual enrollment more as a cost saving program for these kids because they could get a lot of college credits out of the way.” 

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Zero Tolerance May Not Extend To Pop-Tarts Under Gun Bill

A new bill would make chewing these into guns a less severe offense in Florida schools.

Robyn Lee (roboppy) / flickr

A new bill would make chewing these into guns a less severe offense in Florida schools.

Pop-Tarts chewed into the shape of a gun would not be grounds for suspension under a bill passed Thursday by the House Education Committee.

The bill is supposed to cut down on the number of students arrested because of zero tolerance policies.

The ‘Toaster Pastry Gun Freedom Act’ is known as the Pop-Tart bill after a 7-year-old in Maryland was suspended from school for biting his snack into the shape of a gun.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala – the man behind Florida’s Stand Your Ground law – sponsors the bill.

“I think it does lay down the proper balance and hopefully will be an example and an opportunity for administrators to feel they are empowered to make those common sense judgments,” Baxley said.

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Three Questions For Florida Senate President Don Gaetz

Senate President Don Gaetz doesn't want in-state tuition for undocumented residents. He does like the idea of university performance funding.

Gina Jordan/StateImpact Florida

Senate President Don Gaetz doesn't want in-state tuition for undocumented residents. He does like the idea of university performance funding.

Florida’s move toward Common Core standards in schools is sure to be discussed during the upcoming legislative session.

Lawmakers will also consider allowing undocumented college students to pay cheaper, in-state tuition. Plus, state universities that improve their graduation rates may be able to boost their funding.

Senate President Don Gaetz sat down with StateImpact Florida to talk about some of the biggest education issues for lawmakers this spring, including what kind of test will replace the FCAT.

Q: Florida is in the process of implementing Common Core standards. The state still hasn’t determined how students will be assessed on what they’ve learned. Plus, you still have critics who say this a national take over of education. You’ve said you would not support legislation to repeal common core. But are there any plans to change it this year?

A: When you look at materials used to teach students, that’s where some of the criticism has come in. So there’s legislation that would make clear that the selection of instructional materials is up to the local school board.

Then there’s the issue of assessment. Speaker Weatherford and I last year wrote to the Department of Education and said get Florida out of Common Core PARCC.

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Why Florida Wants To Expand Single-Gender Classes

These boys are part of the All Male E.A.G.L.E. Academy at Bond Elementary School in Tallahassee. The acronym stands for  Extraordinary Ambitious Gentlemen Leading in Excellence.

Gina Jordan/StateImpact Florida

These boys are part of the All Male E.A.G.L.E. Academy at Bond Elementary School in Tallahassee. The acronym stands for Extraordinary Ambitious Gentlemen Leading in Excellence.

A handful of public schools in Florida have either all-girls or all-boys classrooms. More could be coming.

Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, is behind a bill that would have one school in each school district offer only single sex classes. The proposed legislation would create a pilot project in designated districts for two years.

“With the idea that children all learn differently, this is a way that we can provide those parents – that don’t have the resources to send their students to a private school or a parochial school that has a gender specific setting – a local public school where they have access to it,” Diaz said.

A handful of public schools around the state already have single sex classrooms.

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Union Worried Testing Could Cause Public To Turn On Common Standards

Thousands of NEA delegates are meeting in Atlanta, led by national union president Dennis Van Roekel.

NEA Public Relations/flickr

Thousands of NEA delegates are meeting in Atlanta, led by national union president Dennis Van Roekel.

About 10,000 educators from around the country are in Atlanta this week for the National Education Association’s annual meeting.

The group will debate issues from school safety to immigration reform as the NEA develops its legislative priorities for the coming year.

Florida Education Association President Andy Ford says Common Core State Standards and assessments will be heavily discussed.

“They’re great standards. They’re higher level standards. They’re common sense,” Ford said. “They allow teachers and students to dive deep into the subject matter as opposed to covering a variety of issues very, very thinly.”

But he’d like more time for students and teachers to make the transition.

“Teachers are going to have to have time to retool absolutely everything they’ve been doing because these standards are so much better,” Ford said, “but they’re higher level and they require different ways of teaching.”

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Groups Dismiss Report Critical Of ALEC’s Influence Over Education Policy

Progress Florida says ALEC has too much influence inside state houses.

Boston Public Library / Flickr

Progress Florida says ALEC has too much influence inside state houses. ALEC defended its work.

Two groups named  yesterday in a report which criticizes ALEC – the American Legislative Exchange Council – for its “damaging influence” on public education policy have responded.

Progress Florida and eight other left-leaning organizations from around the country issued the report, ALEC v. Kids: ALEC’s Assault On Public Education.

ALEC crafts model legislation mostly promoting right-leaning policies — or free-market and limited government in ALEC’s words — for use by state lawmakers.

The organization has a series of task forces comprised of legislators that “develop model policies to use across the country.” Subjects range from Civil Justice to Communications and Technology.

The report claims ALEC’s task forces are under the influence of corporate interests.

“The policies of ALEC’s Education Task Force prioritize profit over results, secrecy over accountability, and cuts over kids,” the report states.

Lindsay Russell, director of ALEC’s Task Force on Education, sent StateImpact Florida this statement:   Continue Reading

Progressive Groups Target ALEC For “Damaging Influence” On Education

Left-leaning groups blame ALEC for bad education policy around the country.

sheelamohan/freedigitalphotos.net

Left-leaning groups blame ALEC for bad education policy around the country.

An organization which crafts model legislation for states is catching blame for education policies it has supported around the country.

The American Legislative Exchange Council – better known as ALEC – describes itself as a non-profit, non-partisan organization that focuses on policy relating to “free markets, limited government and constitutional division of powers between the federal and state governments.”

Former Gov. Jeb Bush describes ALEC as “a group of reform-minded center-right legislators that convene. They have a policy focus.”

ALEC is in the cross hairs of nine left-of-center groups that put together a report detailing its “damaging influence” on public education policy.

Their feelings are clear in the report’s title – ALEC v. Kids: ALEC’s Assault On Public Education.

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Common Standards, New Lessons May “Weed Out” Some Teachers

The transition to Common Core may be a challenge that some teachers choose not to take.

paul gooddy/freedigitalphotos.net

The transition to Common Core may be a challenge that some teachers choose not to take.

Before she retires, Shara Holt is getting teachers around the state ready to use Common Core standards. Holt is a literacy coach in St. Johns County who’s spent 41 years as an educator.

Florida is one of 45 states transitioning to Common Core State Standards right now.

It’s a new way of teaching that focuses heavily on fewer subjects, sets benchmarks for students at each grade level, and forces students to explain their answers.

“Gone are the days when a teacher can go to the filing cabinet and pull out a lesson plan from five years ago, blow the dust off and use the same lesson plan,” said Holt. “Now we have to look at the needs of the students…instead of just teaching what’s there and (saying) ‘If they get it, fine – if they don’t get it, too bad.’”

It’s a change that Holt thinks could lead to an exodus from the classroom.

“I’ve seen teachers already who have left the system,” Holt said, “not only because of the change coming with Common Core but also with the teacher evaluation system.”

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