Putting Education Reform To The Test

Gina Jordan

  • Email: gjordan@miamiherald.com

Florida Teachers Report For Common Core Summer Camp

Teachers at the summer's first Common Core Institute are being trained in Biology, Algebra, Social Studies, and more.

Gina Jordan/StateImpact Florida

Teachers at the summer's first Common Core Institute are being trained in Biology, Algebra, Social Studies, and more.

“I say common, you say core! Common!”




Teachers working in small groups were corralled to attention by their K-2 math leader.

It’s the first day the Florida Department of Education’s 2013 Common Core State Standards Summer Institutes.

This two-day session – the first of seven offered around the state – began Tuesday at Gulf Breeze High School near Pensacola.

About 1,500 teachers and administrators filled dozens of classrooms to hear best practices for teaching with the new standards.

K-12 Deputy Chancellor Mary Jane Tappen was constantly on the move, ducking in and out of dozens of training sessions.

“Next year, we are doing blended course descriptions which means in all English language arts and math classrooms, they’ll be teaching the Common Core,” Tappen said.

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Governor Signs “Partial Fix” For Teacher Evaluations But Union Still Suing

From now on, Florida teachers will be evaluated on the performance of students they actually teach.

IITA Image Library/flickr

From now on, Florida teachers will be evaluated on the performance of students they actually teach.

Florida teachers will no longer be evaluated – and have their pay based on – the performance of students they don’t teach.

Gov. Rick Scott has signed a bill passed by the Florida Legislature that should allay some of their concerns.

The law, SB 1664, says teachers must be judged only on the performance of students they’ve taught, but it’s less clear what will happen for teachers of subjects that don’t include standardized tests.

The Florida Education Association (FEA) is suing over the evaluation system but calls the new law “a partial fix.”

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Congressman Wants States To Be Able To Cut Ties With The Federal Department of Education

New Jersey Congressman Scott Garrett is behind a proposal to keep education funding at the state levels and enable states to withdraw from Common Core.


New Jersey Congressman Scott Garrett is behind a proposal to keep education funding at the state levels and enable states to withdraw from Common Core.

A New Jersey Congressman has proposed a bill that would allow states to bypass the strings which come with federal money.

During a Common Core briefing at the Cato Institute this week, Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) said he would introduce the LEARN Act – Local Education Authority Returns Now. The proposal would keep education funding at the state level instead of moving it through the federal government.

“It’s time to return our education policy back to local communities,” Garrett said. “It’s time to start putting actually the students first and not anyone else.”

The bill would also make it easier for states to rescind their support of Common Core State Standards.

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Summer Camps Teach STEM Skills To Kids In Foster Homes

We hope the students in Jacksonville build better robots than these at their camp this week.

Dan Coulter / Flickr

We hope the students in Jacksonville build better robots than these at their camp this week.

Hundreds of kids in foster care are working on science, technology, engineering and math — otherwise known as STEM – projects this summer.

The projects are part of the Florida Department of Children and Families Camps for Champions.

“Many foster children don’t have the same opportunities to travel and learn new activities like their peers do,” said football star Derrick Brooks, who helped launch the camps in St. Petersburg this week. “These camps give them those opportunities.”

At the kick-off camp, 30 kids learned STEM skills in St. Pete. Campers in Jacksonville are teaming up to build robots this week.

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Call It Operation Core: Florida Planning “Full Frontal Assault” On New Standards

Gina Jordan/StateImpact Florida

Education Commissioner Tony Bennett is pledging a "full frontal assault" to prepare students, teachers and schools for new standards by fall 2014.

Three words reporters didn’t expect to hear during a conference call with state education leaders last week: Full frontal assault.

The words were uttered several times in the midst of a 45 minute call about results from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

In this case, the speakers were talking about Common Core State Standards – a new way of teaching that dives deeply into fewer subjects. The goal is to get more students college and career ready.

The Florida Department of Education is smarting from “unacceptable” FCAT results — they were flat — and they’re looking ahead to what Common Core will mean for student learning.

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Commissioner Bennett Sees Mixed Bag In Student Test Results


Florida students showed greater improvement on end-of-course exams than FCAT 2.0 in results released today.

Education Commissioner Tony Bennett is responding like a disappointed dad to news that Florida students did a little bit better on their standardized tests this year, but not as well as he would have liked.

The Florida Department of Education released results in FCAT 2.0 and End-of-Course (EOC) assessments today.

They show across-the-board improvement on EOC assessments, particularly in Biology 1 and Geometry.

In a press release, DOE said FCAT 2.0 Reading scores increased in grades 6, 8, 9 and 10. For FCAT 2.0 Mathematics, grade 4 showed improvement. In FCAT 2.0 Science, grade 5 showed improvement and grade 8 remained the same.

But the scores didn’t move enough to appease Bennett.

“The FCAT results are flat, and I find that personally unacceptable,” Bennett said. “I think we have to refocus our efforts on reading and making sure our students have the foundational skills necessary in mathematics.”

Bennett said the FCAT scores weren’t disastrous; they simply looked unimpressive compared to EOC assessment results that were very good.

The scores help determine overall school grades, which impact teacher salaries. Bennett expects a decline in school grades this year because of tougher standards.   Continue Reading

Report: Florida Universities Improve Grad Rates While Keeping Costs Down


Florida gets high marks in a national report for keeping university costs down while improving graduation rates.

A new report finds Florida’s public university system is a good model in affordability for the rest of the country.

Florida Rising: An Assessment of Public Universities in the Sunshine State analyzed cost, administrative and academic spending, curriculum, and graduation rates at Florida’s 11 universities.

(Florida Polytechnic University – the 12th in the system – doesn’t begin classes until August 2014.)

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) and The James Madison Institute are the groups behind the assessment.

“Overall, Florida public universities are on a prudent and successful course during these difficult economic times,” researchers wrote. “Significant challenges and difficult decisions over priorities remain. It is clear, however, that Florida has high potential to be a model for other states.”

While state funding for the system fell from $2.6 billion to $1.7 billion between 2007 and 2012, the report finds a six-year graduation rate of 66 percent – putting Florida in the top ten nationally.

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Governor’s Office Answers Questions About Teacher Raises

Paul Gooddy/freedigitalphotos.net

Districts will negotiate with collective bargaining units to determine salary increases for teachers and other school employees.

A lot of teachers must be wondering exactly how the state plans to dole out $480 million in newly approved educator raises.

The governor’s office has created a list of frequently asked questions about the salary increases.

The answers make it clear that the districts must negotiate the pay hikes with the local teachers union – something House Speaker Will Weatherford pointed out before the Legislature approved the funding.

Gov. Rick Scott requested $2,500 across-the-board raises for teachers starting July 1st.

What he got was a compromise. The Florida Legislature found the money for raises, but it won’t be spent exactly as the governor intended.

Teachers will get a pay hike, but so will administrators and other school personnel. Charter and virtual school employees are included.

In some cases, districts may decide that teachers who earn “highly effective” ratings on their evaluations will get more than those rated as “effective.”

Districts must submit their plans for the money to the Florida Department of Education.

Here is a portion of the FAQ list released by the Governor’s Office:   Continue Reading

Orange County Schools Want To Set An Example During Switch To Common Core And Digital Instruction


Orange County Superintendent Barbara Jenkins and Chairman Bill Sublette focused their State of the Schools speech on changes in curriculum and technology.

Orange County schools superintendent Barbara Jenkins says the district should be a leader as they switch to new education standards and add more required digital instruction.

“Orange County Public Schools intends to be at the forefront of that change,” Jenkins said during her “State of the Schools” address last week with school board Chairman Bill Sublette.

The two spoke about “schools of the future” and what it will take to make Orange County, one of the nation’s largest school districts, the “top producer of successful students in the nation.”

So, it’s out with the old and in with the new.

“After 16 years of Sunshine State Standards and FCAT,” Jenkins said, “we are transitioning to Common Core State Standards.”

The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test  is being phased out. In its place, students will take exams being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers, or PARCC, starting in 2015.

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Orange County Opting For More K-8 Schools


Orange County is planning to add up to five K-8 schools. Research shows students at those schools tend to perform better and have fewer discipline problems.

The popularity of K-8 schools is growing in one of Florida’s largest districts.

Orange County Public Schools will add up to five kindergarten through 8th grade schools to the three already in place.

These are traditional public schools, not charters or magnets. Kids will be zoned for them just like any other.

“A growing body of research shows the K-8 model is correlated to higher student achievement, higher attendance, and lower student discipline levels,” Superintendent Barbara Jenkins said during the State of the Schools address.

The average middle school in Orange County has 1,000 students. The new K-8 schools will have similar student populations.

“Our research has shown that the optimal size of a K-8 is 900 to 1,200 students,” Jenkins said. “Anything larger, and we need to build a traditional middle school. Anything smaller, and we cannot justify the operating costs.”

The key to their popularity is that K-8 schools are smaller and the kids only have to make one transition — into high school.

But private schools and charters are often the only option for parents who prefer a K-8 school.

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