Putting Education Reform To The Test

John O'Connor


John O'Connor is the Miami-based education reporter for StateImpact Florida. John previously covered politics, the budget and taxes for The (Columbia, S.C) State. He is a graduate of Allegheny College and the University of Maryland.

Parents Criticize Extra Reading Time At Jacksonville-Area Elementary School

Many parents at a Jacksonville-area elementary school don’t like the district’s plan to add an extra hour to the school day for reading instruction, the Florida Times-Union reports. Some parents said their kids don’t need extra help, while others worried the school day would be too long for children.

Some parents said their children don’t need extra reading help. Others said it will make the school day too long for young children. Still other parents worried that homework or traffic challenges would make children too tired to do well in school the next day.

Many parents worried that it would disrupt their work day, after-care or childcare arrangements.

Several said they felt left in the dark, because they were notified about the added school hour only recently and school starts August 18.

“Most of our concerns are going to be what will they be doing for the extra hour,” said Brenda Campbell, a PTA member who takes care of her grandson after school each day. “Will they really be focused and have one-to-one attention?”

Read more at: members.jacksonville.com

How The Algebra Project Helps Math Make Sense

Sara Weinberg talks Miami Northwestern High School students through an Algebra Project assignment.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Sara Weinberg talks Miami Northwestern High School students through an Algebra Project assignment.

“This idea is to learn a language you have to talk it…you have to engage in it.”

That’s how Algebra Project founder Bob Moses described the principle underlying the program. Math is a language. And like any language, teachers need to help students translate the language into terms they understand.

But like the students learning algebra, it’s difficult to understand the process Moses described without watching students in action. So we sat in last week as the Algebra Project wrapped up orientation for its third group of students at Miami Northwestern High School.

“You can break down math into how you understand,” teacher Sara Weinberg told a group of students tentatively chatting about an assignment. “Break it into your language.”

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A Q & A With Activist And Algebra Project Founder Bob Moses

Algebra Project founder Bob Moses.

miller_center / Flickr

Algebra Project founder Bob Moses.

Fifty years ago Bob Moses organized volunteers to register voters in Mississippi during the Freedom Summer.

And for decades, Moses has been fighting for civil rights as an educator.

He’s won a MacArthur Genius Grant to develop a new way to teach algebra in largely low-income and minority schools.

The Algebra Project shows students how to translate mathematics into common language and back — to simplify algebra.

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Florida Schools Expect Immigrant Surge, Asking For Federal Money

Miami-Dade schools don’t know how many Central American immigrant children will enroll when classes start next month. But the district expects the cost will be significant and is asking the federal government to pay the tab for additional services, Watchdog.org reports.

Border kids costs more to educate, about $1,900 per head. Teachers must be bilingual. The students will need health care and psychological services because many arrive sick and traumatized by things they;ve seen and experienced on their journeys north.

Daisy Gonzalez-Diego, communications officer at the Miami-Dade County Public School, said up until now, the school district have relied on their emergency funds to help cover the costs.

“We are asking the federal government to help us with this additional cost,” she said. “We are here to help those children, we have a history of helping them, as we did when the earthquake hit Haiti, and when political problems arose in Cuba.

Read more at: watchdog.org

Applications For New School Choice Program Higher Than Expected

An ad for the new scholarship program.

Step Up For Students

An ad for the new scholarship program.

If you want one of the roughly 1,800 new scholarships for students with disabilities that allows parents to mix and match services for their children, you’d better get an application in soon.

More than 1,200 families applied for a Personal Learning Scholarship Account, or PLSA, in the first week of applications. The scholarships are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis and are intended for students autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and other significant learning challenges.

“We really didn’t expect to see this much demand this quickly,” said Patrick Gibbons, spokesman for Step Up For Students, which administers the state scholarship program.

State leaders weren’t sure how many parents would be aware of the scholarships when lawmakers approved the program this year. But word spread quickly, and more than 700 families said they were interested before enrollment opened July 18th.

Gibbons said the scholarships are more flexible than the state’s other school choice programs.

“You can mix and match public school and private school. You can pay for tutors, speech therapies and even save that money for college.”

The scholarships range in value from about $4,500 to more than $19,000 dollars depending on a student’s grade, school district and disability.

Florida is the second state to approve scholarships of this type, after Arizona. A 2013 report found two-thirds of Arizona parents used their scholarships like a traditional voucher. A third of Arizona parents used the scholarships to supplement private school tuition with tutoring, therapy or additional curricula.

National Teacher’s Unions Make Gov. Rick Scott A Top Target

National teacher’s unions have put Republican Gov. Rick Scott at the top of their wish list of politicians they want to boot from office, Stephanie Simon reports at Politico. Unions spent $69 million in 2010 and are likely to spend even more this cycle.

“If someone knocks on your door and says, ‘I’m Mark, I’m from the state Democratic Party,’ you take the literature and shut the door,” said Karen White, political director for the National Education Association. “If you say, ‘Hi, I’m Karen, I’m a third-grade teacher at Hillsmere Elementary and I’m here to tell you what’s at stake for public education,’ that gets a very different reaction from the voter.”

Or at least, so union leaders hope.

While other interest groups focus on the frenzied fight for control of the Senate, teachers unions are pouring their resources into state politics. They’re pushing to flip legislative chambers in several states to Democratic control and put allies in key offices such as attorney general and secretary of state in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico.

Above all, they’re out to oust incumbent Republican governors, especially Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Florida’s Rick Scott and Michigan’s Rick Snyder.

Read more at: www.politico.com

Florida Schools Rearrange Schedules To Add Extra Hour Of Reading

307 Florida schools must add an extra hour of reading instruction this year.

rhonddal / lickr

307 Florida schools must add an extra hour of reading instruction this year.

Florida schools are making plans for how to add a state-required extra hour of reading instruction, according to two stories out today.

In 2012, lawmakers required that the 100 schools with the lowest scores on the FCAT reading test add an extra hour of reading instruction to try and boost those scores. When the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability reviewed the results, the agency found most students at those schools improved their test scores.

So lawmakers expanded the requirement to the 300 lowest-scoring school this year (it’s actually 307 because some schools had tied scores).

In Pasco County, the Tampa Bay Times reports the school district said they are adding extra instruction time without changing the length of the school day at three schools. That’s because the district wants to avoid the $975,000 cost of rearranging bus schedules.

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Immigration Surge Could Mean Less Money For Education

The tens of thousands of immigrant children crossing the U.S. border — many from Central America — could mean less federal money for education, Clare McCann at the New America Foundation warns. Federal spending rules could mean every dollar increase for immigration services is a dollar cut from education. Miami-Dade schools expect a surge in Central American children when classes start next month.

That’s where the trouble starts for education spending. In 2011, Congress passed the Budget Control Act (BCA), implementing a series of spending caps to limit federal appropriations funding over the next decade. Under the BCA regime, funding is zero-sum, because absent congressional action (like lifting or removing the caps), the limits hold for all appropriations. So once the HHS funding for unaccompanied children is wrapped into the regular appropriations–rather than counted as emergency funding, which isn’t subject to the spending caps–every dollar directed to that cause will be counted against the overall appropriations limit. And since the Departments of Labor, HHS, and Education are all funded in one package by Congress, the trade-offs in funding will likely come from within those agencies. If the problem continues to grow, funding for the immigration crisis could eat into the federal budget for education programs.

Read more at: www.edcentral.org

When It Comes To Math, Researchers Say No Substitute For Practice

The old-fashioned way may be the best way when it comes to teaching math. A new study finds struggling students learned more with much-maligned “drill and kill” techniques to teach basic math concepts. Some parents and critics have complained that Common Core standards encourage schools to put less emphasis on drill-based math instruction.

The researchers found that the higher the number of struggling students, who scored in the bottom 15 percent in kindergarten, in a first-grade teacher’s classroom, the more likely the teachers were to use manipulatives (hands-on materials), calculators, music and movement (See Table 3 on page 12 in the study). The fewer the struggling students, the more likely that teachers stuck with traditional methods, such as showing the whole class how to solve something one way from the chalkboard and then having students practice the method using worksheets.

Yet, at the end of first grade, the researchers found that struggling students who were given traditional instruction posted significantly higher math score gains than the struggling students who had been taught by the progressive methods. Gains are measured by how much students math scores rose between kindergarten and the end of first grade. (See Table 5 on page 15 in the study.)

“Routine practice is the strongest educational practice that teachers can use in their classroom to promote achievement gains,” Morgan said.

Read more at: educationbythenumbers.org

Gov. Scott Rolls Out Plan To Prepare Workers For High-Tech Jobs

Gov. Rick Scott proposed a $30 million job training program and paid summer internships for teachers. The goal is to encourage more students to student science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Gov. Rick Scott proposed a $30 million job training program and paid summer internships for teachers. The goal is to encourage more students to student science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Gov. Rick Scott spent Monday touring high-tech South Florida companies looking to hire.

He wants to make sure firms like Boca Raton’s Modernizing Medicine, which designs electronic medical record systems, have workers ready.

“If you think about – I’ve got kids and even have, hard to believe, I have grandkids – the jobs of the future are going to be science, technology, engineering and math-related,” said Scott, a Republican. “So we need to do workforce training in those areas.”

Business leaders are worried the U.S. isn’t producing enough scientists, engineers and other highly-skilled workers.

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