Florida

Putting Education Reform To The Test

John O'Connor

Reporter

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.

FAU Students Building Robot Boat To Conquer The World

Ivan Bertaska, Anderson Lebadd and Edoardo Sarda run their robotic boat through the motions on the Intracoastal Waterway near Dania Beach.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Ivan Bertaska, Anderson Lebadd and Edoardo Sarda run their robotic boat through the motions on the Intracoastal Waterway near Dania Beach.

On the Intracoastal Waterway near Dania Beach, Ivan Bertaska was getting ready to captain his vessel.

Bertaska wants to check the boat’s capabilities by having it speed up and slow down as it carves a wavy wake across the Intracoastal.

“The wave pattern actually gives me a good range of velocities,” he said, “so at first we go about two knots and then we get to the top corners where we’re making sharp turns we’re going about one knot. So I get a good operational range of the vehicle.

“We get a lot of funny looks from boaters.”

Funny looks because Bertaska and a team of other engineers are building a boat that can drive itself.

The team is from Florida Atlantic University and Villanova University in Philadelphia. It includes FAU student Edoardo Sarda and Villanova student Anderson Lebbad. They’re traveling to Singapore in October for the Maritime RobotX Challenge.

And they’re one of just three teams from the United States chosen for the competition.

Continue Reading

Lee County School Board Will Reconsider Decision To Skip State Tests

The Lee County school board member who cast the decisive vote to opt the district out of state-required tests wants to reconsider the vote next week. The district will meet at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday.


Armstrong does not plan to change his vote. Neither will Scott. Dozier has not yet returned phone calls.

“I think we drew a line in the sand and it was way past time to make a decision,” Armstrong said. “Without making that decision, we couldn’t reorganize how we teach our students. I’m sick of the state jamming their mandates down our throats … and never giving us a dime for it. And I’m going to stick to my position.”

Fischer told the News-Press she will not comment verbally on the issue, but plans to send out a written statement later today.

Read more at: www.news-press.com

Tuition Must Increase, University Of Florida President Says

University of Florida President Bernie Machen says the school must raise tuition — a challenge to Gov. Rick Scott who has opposed and vetoed tuition hikes. Florida public universities have among the lowest tuition in nation.


Machen and administrators at other public universities in Florida have advocated that they need some degree of autonomy in setting tuition rates to meet their budgetary needs, to retain valued professors and recruit new faculty, to stay competitive with universities in other states, and to establish need-based scholarships.

Read more at: www.gainesville.com

Florida’s Teacher Union Says Scholarship Program Is Unconstitutional

Gov. Rick Scott at a reception for Step Up For Students, which oversees most of the state's tax credit scholarship program. The Florida Education Association is challenging the constitutionality of the scholarships.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Gov. Rick Scott at a reception for Step Up For Students, which oversees most of the state's tax credit scholarship program. The Florida Education Association is challenging the constitutionality of the scholarships.

When Florida first approved its private school tax credit scholarship program in 2001, Florida Education Association attorney Ron Meyer said education groups questioned the legality, but no one really objected to helping low-income students get out of low-performing schools.

But then the scholarship program started to grow. Lawmakers approved a law that automatically expanded the program each year. Then earlier this year, lawmakers raised the income cap. Now, a family of four earning $62,000 can receive a partial scholarship.

The program enrolls about 69,000 kids with a top scholarship value of just under $5,300.

“There comes a time when there’s a tipping point that’s reached,” Meyer said. “I think a lot of people turned a blind eye to the constitutional questions which were presented, even as this program was rolled out.”

Continue Reading

Read: School Boards Group Outlines Consequences Of Skipping State Tests

The Florida School Boards Association has outlined the consequences of districts skipping state tests, and most of them have to do with money.

401(k) 2012 / Flickr

The Florida School Boards Association has outlined the consequences of districts skipping state tests, and most of them have to do with money.

Last night, the Lee County school board became the first district to refuse state testing entirely. Other Florida school districts are also considering saying no to state exams.

The Florida School Boards Association is meeting next week and has posted an outline of the consequences for not complying state law.

The first step is an investigation by Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, according to the document posted by FSBA. If Stewart determines the district isn’t complying with state law, the State Board of Education can order the district to comply.

If the district refuses, the State Board of Education can ask the Legislature to take action. The state board can also withhold the transfer of state funds (and a big chunk of operations money goes through the state budget), lottery money or grants.

Continue Reading

Lee County School Board Becomes First To Say No To State Tests

Lee County's school board is opting out of state testing. How many districts will follow?

gonzalewis / Flickr

Lee County's school board is opting out of state testing. How many districts will follow?

Lee County’s school board became the first in the state Wednesday night to decide district students would no longer take statewide exams, according to the Fort Myers News-Press.

What happens next in uncertain.

State law requires school districts to participate in the statewide testing program. Those scores are used to determine grades for public schools, student promotions, high school graduation and teacher evaluation scores. Federal rules also require annual testing.

Lee County superintendent Nancy Morgan said she was concerned about the decision. The district’s attorney said school board members could be removed from office. From the News-Press story:

While the news was met with jubilation, Superintendent Nancy Graham said she was deeply concerned about the board’s decision.

“This will hurt children. There is no way around it,” Graham said while the audience booed. “I am gravely concerned about the decision that was made tonight, and I’ll try to make sense of this. It’s an interesting time to serve as the leader of this district.”

The meeting adjourned without discussion regarding what test – if any – will now be used in place of the state tests. The board members did not address if the decision will include charter schools.

Keith Martin, the board’s attorney, was not sure that there were any “immediate, clear” consequences to the action. He said it was possible the Governor could remove the school board members from their positions of power.

Continue Reading

Florida Ready To Challenge Federal Testing Rules For Students Learning English

Gov. Rick Scott says he's giving the U.S. Department of Education 30 days to change their mind about testing requirements for students learning English or the state could head to court.

John O'Connor / Flickr

Gov. Rick Scott says he's giving the U.S. Department of Education 30 days to change their mind about testing requirements for students learning English or the state could head to court.

Gov. Rick Scott is ready to take the federal government to court over testing rules for students learning English.

The U.S. Department of Education says Florida must count those students’ results after one year in school. Scott and Florida educators want to give students two years to learn English.

Scott said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart will send a letter asking the U.S. Department of Education to reconsider testing rules for students learning English. If they don’t change their mind in 30 days, Scott said the state could go to court.

“We believe federal officials haven’t properly scrutinized their decision,” Scott said. “If they refuse, we will begin reviewing every legal option that is available to us.”

Continue Reading

Lousiana Governor Files Common Core Lawsuit

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has filed a lawsuit challenging President Barack Obama’s administration over its support of Common Core math and language arts standards. States were given an advantage in a federal education grant program if they adopted the standards, which Jindal says “effectively forces states down a path toward a national curriculum.”


The Obama administration embraced the standards and encouraged states to adopt them as part of the application process for the Race to the Top grant program. Two state testing consortia — the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium — received $330 million from the grant program to develop standardized testing material tied to Common Core.

“Louisiana now finds itself trapped in a federal scheme to nationalize curriculum,” the lawsuit says. “What started as good state intentions has materialized into the federalization of education policy through federal economic incentives and duress.”

Louisiana received more than $17 million from Race to the Top and joined the PARCC consortium. It also received a waiver from certain federal education requirements under a program enacted by the Obama administration in 2011 that Jindal’s lawsuit says was designed to coerce states to use Common Core or risk the loss of billions in federal education funding.

Read more at: abcnews.go.com

Recapping The Results From Tuesday’s Education Races

It was a tale of two coast Tuesday. On the east coast, voters defeated incumbent school board members. While incumbents largely survived along Florida's Gulf Coast.

vox_efx / Flickr

It was a tale of two coast Tuesday. On the east coast, voters defeated incumbent school board members. While incumbents largely survived along Florida's Gulf Coast.

Voters turned out two leaders of the Florida School Boards Association in campaigns contested on school choice and Florida’s new math and language arts standards. But incumbents mostly won reelection across Florida Tuesday night, or advanced to a November runoff.

Two-term Indian River school board member Karen Disney-Brombach was defeated by Shawn Frost and Volusia County school board member Diane Smith was ousted by Melody Johnson. Disney-Brombach is the president of the Florida School Boards Association and Smith was slated to follow her.

The incumbents viewed the races as proxy battles over the school boards association’s plans to challenge a private school tax scholarship program in court. School choice advocacy group the Federation For Children — which shares leadership with the non-profit which oversees the tax credit scholarship program — bought advertising targeting the incumbents in both races.

But on the west coast of Florida, incumbent school board candidates largely won reelection. Sarasota voters rejected two candidates in a race largely shaped by the debate over Florida’s Common Core-based math and language arts standards. From the Sarasota Herald-Tribune:

Continue Reading

Opting Out Of Testing Would Come At A Cost For Florida School Districts

Some Florida school boards are considering opting the entire district out of state testing to send a message.

sboneham / Flickr

Some Florida school boards are considering opting the entire district out of state testing to send a message.

A handful of Florida districts are talking about skipping state-required tests this year, including the new Florida Standards Assessment replacing most of the FCAT.

Last week, Palm Beach County school board members said they wanted to send a message to state leaders by skipping the new exam. Earlier this month, Lee County school board members said they wanted to study the idea.

But the district better be prepared to pay the price of skipping the new exam — quite literally. Skip the exam and the state is likely to withhold money.

“The ramifications could be pretty dramatic for a district that wanted to do this,” says Florida Department of Education spokesman Joe Follick. “This is uncharted waters. No districts have done this.”

Follick added the state could withhold state funds, grants and lottery money. Lawmakers could decide on additional sanctions, he said. Most K-12 public school operations are funded through the state.

School board members say opting out an entire school district is unlikely.

“I believe in assessment,” Palm Beach school board member Karen Brill said last week. “I believe in testing that’s used for measurement, not punishment. I believe that we as a district need to research opting out from the new Florida Standard Assessments.

“Sometimes it takes an act of civil disobedience to move forward.”

Brill and other school leaders, teachers, parents and students have complained Florida has attached too many consequences to the results of state tests.

Results from Florida’s statewide test form the basis for the A-through-F grades issued to most public schools each year. Teachers are rated — and paid — based on the test results of their students. And some students are not allowed to advance a grade or graduate from high school unless they pass state tests.

Florida parents have organized and taught other parents how to opt their children out of testing, denying the use of those test results.

But Follick says many educators find the statewide test results valuable. He noted school districts trumpet positive results on the test.

“Students who are not having the opportunity to show what they have gained in a year of school are going to be at a disadvantage,” Follick says. “It’s going to be difficult for parents to know how well their student has done that year.

“I think when they weigh the pros and the cons I think they will understand this is definitely to the benefit of the students.”

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »

Economy
Education