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.
Yesterday, a Senate committee appeared to suspend for one year Florida’s requirement that the lowest-performing 3rd graders be held back while the state validates results from its new test.
But Senate Education committee chairman John Legg says it’s not that simple.
What the committee actually did, Legg says, is put the responsibility on school districts whether students stay in 3rd grade or move to 4th grade. So some students with the lowest scores on the state language arts exam could still be retained this year.
“They asked us to trust them,” Legg says of the request from school district leaders.
Florida law requires 3rd grade students earning the lowest score on the state reading test spend another year in 3rd grade to improve their reading. Students can get an exemption from the requirement by submitting a portfolio of their work, through alternative test scores or other methods.
Schools in Finland are scrapping subject-based classes, like math and foreign language, in favor of lesson on topics. The idea is similar to what American education reformer John Dewey proposed a century ago.
Now, Finnish schools are embracing an even more radical approach to teaching. One major initiative is to encourage teaching by topic instead of by subject. According to The Independent, instead of teaching geography and foreign language classes separately, teachers will ask kids to name countries on a map in a foreign language. Instead of separate lessons on history and economics, they’ll talk about the European Union.
A Senate committee has approved a bill which would limit state testing. The bill also allows districts which had technology problems during testing to get a waiver from using those results to calculate school or teacher performance.
Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, agreed that the bill aims to put testing into its proper perspective — an “important anticlimax” to the school year — after years of stampeding children into nervous wrecks.
“Maybe one of the things we can do is cool it with the testing frenzy,” Gaetz said.
But he gave no encouragement to those who want to do away with accountability, data and measurement. That’s not going to happen, he said.
“I support high standards and I support higher standards,” Gaetz said. “Once we meet those, I support higher standards after that.”
Parents could enroll their child in any Florida school which isn’t full, according to a school choice bill approved by a Senate committee Wednesday. Parents could also pull their child from a class taught by someone working outside of her or her subject field.
Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican who sponsored the bill, downplayed how many parents were likely to take advantage of the provision.
“I don’t anticipate there’s a mass move by parents to send their children or take their children to schools two counties away, or three counties away,” she said.
Benacquisto also pushed back against the idea that parents would be able to choose their children’s teachers, pointing out that the bill simply allows parents to request, or in some cases demand, that a student be moved out of a certain classroom. The school district could then assign the child to another class.
“This does not allow a parent to cherry-pick a teacher in any way, shape or form,” she said.
It’s a hearty perennial for state lawmakers, but this year it seems pension reform is going nowhere. That should be a relief to teachers, which have fought efforts to eliminate the traditional pension for new hires.
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said questions about a new financial analysis of proposed changes to the pension fund have prompted him to call off any legislation this spring on the Florida Retirement System. Instead, Crisafulli said lawmakers will now put an extra emphasis on bills seeking to reform municipal pension funds for police and firefighters this year.
As in the past two years, House leaders had pushed legislation to reduce the size of the Florida pension fund for state workers, school system employees and county workers over the long term. The main emphasis was to encourage more workers to sign up for a 401(k)-type investment plan for their retirement rather than the more costly traditional pension with its guaranteed benefits.
A draft budget from House lawmakers falls short of the school funding campaign promise Gov. Rick Scott made on the campaign trail. The House plan would allocate $7,129 per student — less than the $7,176 that Scott sought.
Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican who chairs the subcommittee, stressed that the House plan would still hit Scott’s goal of the highest per-student funding in state history.
“It wasn’t a slight to the governor,” Fresen said. “We wanted to make sure we hit his historic number.”
The subcommittee did not vote on Fresen’s plan, which will instead be incorporated into the House’s full budget proposal and voted on by the Appropriations Committee.
Sen. Don Gaetz, Fresen’s counterpart in the Senate, said the Senate budget proposal will also probably come up short of the governor’s request, largely because of a potential drop in health-care funding from the federal government.
This week, PBS is launching a new documentary series “180 Days.”
One of the films focuses on Hartsville, South Carolina, a rural and poor district which has managed to become one of the highest rating school districts according to South Carolina’s ranking.
Tampa public media station WUSF hosted a town hall meeting at Artz 4 Life Academy in Clearwater last week to screen a portion of the movie and to discuss education issues. Artz 4 Life is an after-school arts and life coaching program.
Big on the mind of those who attended was Florida’s new test, the Florida Standards Assessments. The test is linked to Florida’s new Common Core-based math and language arts standards, which outline what students should know by the end of each grade.
But parents were worried the new test is expected to be tougher, and must be taken on a computer.
“We went from FCAT to FSA and that’s worse than what we were already at,” said mom of three Lisa Hewitt. “We set our students up to fail…If they weren’t doing so well in FCAT why would we develop another test that’s worse?
Despite pleas from superintendents, parents and others, a House committee does not want to wait a year before issuing school grades based on Florida’s new test results. While the state will issue school grades this year, those grades will have no consequences.
Joy Frank, of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said pausing school grades for a year would “recalibrate the system.”
“This is not been an easy transition,” Frank said. “The teachers have been working very hard and diligently to implement these standards and administer this test with fidelity. The students have been prepared and ready to take the assessment, and many of them last week could not get on the system. I think it behooves us to support the teachers and the students.”
Representatives from the Broward, Palm Beach, Pasco and Polk school districts also endorsed the proposed amendment.
But Republicans on the panel disagreed.
“The pressure helps our schools to continue to strive to do better,” said Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach.
Sen. Don Gaetz has filed an amendment which would force school districts to share local construction money with charter schools.
School districts would have to share local school construction and maintenance money with charter schools, according to an amendment filed by an influential state senator.
Sen. Don Gaetz, a former Senate president, filed the amendment Tuesday. The amendment would require half of the money raised by an optional local property tax to be split between charter and traditional schools on a per-student basis.
Studies have found publicly-funded, but privately-run charter schools typically receive less money per student than traditional public schools. A good piece of the difference in Florida is the local construction money — which few school districts share with charter schools.
Earmarking a source of construction funding has been a top priority of charter schools for years. Charter schools argue their parents are taxpayers too, so public money should pay for charter school construction and maintenance.