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.

Florida PTA Wants State To Consider Delaying School Grades

The Florida PTA is asking the state to delay school grades during the transition to new standards and tests.

jjvaca / Flickr

The Florida PTA is asking the state to delay school grades during the transition to new standards and tests.

The Florida PTA is asking state leaders to consider delaying school grading to give students and schools time to adjust to new math and language arts standards and online tests.

This is the first year every grade is using Florida’s Common Core-based standards and students will take the new Florida Standards Assessment early in 2015.

The Florida PTA is asking:

Allow for proper field-testing and test development in areas with similar demographics to Florida’s diverse demographics — The American Institutes For Research, the state’s new test vendor, is building an exam using test questions developed for Utah. Florida educators are concerned those questions won’t be as valid for Florida, which has a higher percentage of black, Hispanic and low-income students than Utah.

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State Universities Want $45 Million To Offset Bright Futures Changes

State university officials are asking for $45 million in needs-based aid to help make up for cuts to Bright Futures.

Abd allah Foteih / Flickr

State university officials are asking for $45 million in needs-based aid to help make up for cuts to Bright Futures.

State university leaders want to add $45 million in needs-based financial aid to help make up for changes to the Bright Futures scholarship program. Those new, higher qualifications will eliminate more than $250 million a year in college aid by 2018.

The State University System Board of Governors will discuss the proposal today. UPDATE: The Board of Governors has delayed a vote on adding $45 million. They want more time to discuss the issue.

“Without these funds, retention and graduation rates are likely to fall as students come to grips with the financial implications of continuing their schooling,” system officials wrote in an analysis of the proposal. Students graduating with less debt and ready to enter the workforce can return three times the money in tax revenue and economic growth than the cost of the aid, they wrote.

The report also notes a strong correlation between income and college entrance exam test scores, such as the ACT and SAT. Bright Futures eligibility is now heavily dependent on SAT and ACT scores. The U.S. Department of Education has reopened an investigation to determine whether Bright Futures’ use of test results is discriminatory.

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Americans Want Higher Standards, More Training For Teachers

University of Central Florida elementary education students discuss how to incorporate books, maps, magazines and other materials into lesson plans.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

University of Central Florida elementary education students discuss how to incorporate books, maps, magazines and other materials into lesson plans in this 2013 photo.

A strong majority of Americans surveyed want teachers to have at least one year’s practice time in the classroom and pass a board certification before teaching, according to a new national poll.

The Phi Delta Kappa professional teacher’s organization and Gallup released a second batch of their annual survey data Tuesday. The poll surveyed 1,001 adults by phone and has a margin of error of 4.6 percent.

“It appears we’ve reached a real turning point in public attitudes,” said William Bushaw, chief executive officer of PDK International. “While we can speculate about all the factors that brought us here, there’s no longer any question about whether the public supports a major overhaul in the preparation and evaluation of teachers.”

Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said they trust teachers. And seven in ten said they oppose the use of standardized tests to evaluate teachers.

But 43 percent surveyed said teachers should have a year of practice time under a certified teacher before taking over a classroom. Another 30 percent said teachers needed two years of practice time.

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State Suspends Elementary Reading Test

Florida has suspended the FAIR reading test for kindergartners through second grade. An Alachua County teacher refused to give the test to her students last week because of difficulties administering the online exam.

“With the implementation of new technology this year related to FAIR in grades K-2, some districts have experienced challenges,” Department of Education communications director Joe Follick wrote in an emailed statement. “The technology issue only affected the K-2 FAIR assessments. Because of this technological glitch and based on the input of superintendents, Commissioner Stewart took action on this matter.”

The statewide testing system did experience sweeping outages recently, but the headlines last week were dominated by Chiles Elementary School kindergarten teacher Susan Bowles when she went public with her refusal to administer the FAIR to her students.

Read more at: www.gainesville.com

Lawmaker Says Financial Aid Could Depend On Classes, Not Just Test Scores

Senate Education Chairman John Legg said lawmakers may base financial aid requirements on high school courses instead of just test scores.

The Florida Senate

Senate Education Chairman John Legg said lawmakers may base financial aid requirements on high school courses instead of just test scores.

A key Senate lawmaker may put less emphasis on test scores to determine which students qualify for state financial aid for college — possibly including Bright Futures.

Instead, scholarships  and grants would depend more on taking tougher classes in high school.

Senator John Legg, R-Trinity, said he and other lawmakers have heard complaints and concerns since raising the minimum SAT and ACT scores required to qualify for Bright Futures.

In the future, students could have to earn the new scholar version of Florida’s high school diploma to qualify for state aid. Florida also has a standard diploma and another focused on job certifications.

Florida lawmakers raised required SAT and ACT score for Bright Futures, slashing the number of students receiving the scholarships. One in three high school graduates qualified for Bright Futures at its peak. Now, just one in eight graduates qualifies.

“There has been concern,” Legg said. “Obviously, when a student misses the Bright Futures eligibility, people are not happy with that.

“I think you’ll see the Legislature discussing how can we take those designations and attach some financial incentives.”

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Needs-Based A Larger Portion Of State Financial Aid Spending

States are increasing the share needs-based college financial aid, according to new data published Monday. However, the total amount of state-based financial aid — $11.28 billion — did not increase in 2012-2013.


The annual survey, conducted by the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs, found that although the top-line number of state aid — $11.28 billion — actually declined just slightly from the previous year when adjusting for inflation, states collectively boosted their investment in need-based grant aid.
States increased their spending on need-based grant aid by 3.5 percent in the 2012-13 academic year, while non-need-based grant aid declined by 2.1 percent. In inflation-adjusted dollars, states reduced their spending on aid with a merit component to $3.98 billion last year from $4.02 billion the previous year.

Read more at: www.insidehighered.com

New Bright Futures Rules Changing College Plans For Florida Students

Jake Seiler had to put his plans to attend the University of South Florida on hold for a year to earn an associate's degree at Palm Beach State College. His dad, Paul, calls changes to Bright Futures an "injustice."

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Jake Seiler had to put his plans to attend the University of South Florida on hold for a year to earn an associate's degree at Palm Beach State College because he didn't qualify for Bright Futures. His dad, Paul, calls changes to Bright Futures an "injustice."

Most new Palm Beach College Students were going through orientation earlier this month, but Jake Seiler was wrapping up his first three courses.

Despite earning the highest SAT scores of his two siblings — 1100, on six attempts — Seiler didn’t score high enough this year to earn the Bright Futures Florida Medallion scholarship his older sister got last year.

That’s because Bright Futures, Florida’s lottery-funded college scholarship, has finished going through what supporters say is a fundamental change. The program has raised required test scores and become much more exclusive. Bright Futures is now exclusively a merit-based program and not focused on expanding access to higher education.

And that means students like Seiler, who once would have qualified for the scholarship with ease, no longer make the cut. And he isn’t alone.

At its peak in 2008, one in three Florida high school graduates qualified for a Bright Futures scholarship. In Seiler’s graduating class, according to estimates by the Florida College Access Network, just one in eight students will qualify.

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Ranking College Degrees By Pay

538 has ranked the highest-paying college majors using U.S. Census data. Engineering dominates the top of the list, while library science, psychology and the arts had the lowest median pay.


The millions of American college students heading back to campus this month face a grim reality: A college degree is no guarantee of economic success. But through their choice of major, they can take at least some steps toward boosting their odds.

Read more at: fivethirtyeight.com

Florida Expects Small Budget Surplus Next Year

A legislative panel has approved a long-term budget forecast that includes a $336 million surplus for the budget year beginning July 1. That surplus would be in addition to setting aside money for savings and expected increases for education and other high-priority programs.


Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, cautioned against reading too much into the report, saying he believes everything the state spends should be reviewed annually.

“I think we don’t know for sure what items in the rest of the general revenue part of the budget … we will fund,” Negron said. “Just as this year, we found almost $500 million to send back and reduce tag and title fees, and we still ended up with $1.3 billion in reserves. It’s just too early to know how all that’s going to play out.”

Read more at: miami.cbslocal.com

Miami-Dade Community Groups Say School District Contracts Aren’t Fair

Ron Frazier, CEO of BAC Funding Corporation, a non-profit that lends to minority-owned businesses, and a retired architect, helped lead the Urban League and NAACP review of school district contracts.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Ron Frazier, CEO of BAC Funding Corporation, a non-profit that lends to minority-owned businesses, and a retired architect, helped lead the Urban League and NAACP review of school district contracts.

The Urban League of Miami and the local NAACP want the Miami-Dade school district to stop work on a $1.2 billion bond project to renovate schools and upgrade their technology.

The groups believe black-owned businesses aren’t getting a fair chance at school construction projects.

It was a district review of contracts — a legal requirement if the district wants to allocate contracts based on race or gender — which re-ignited the long-simmering dispute. The district review found black-owned businesses received a disproportionately larger share of district subcontracts.

Urban League and NAACP leaders questioned that conclusion and said the district couldn’t verify their numbers. So they launched their own review and released the results at a meeting Wednesday evening.

“We don’t believe what nobody tell us,” said T. Willard Fair, president of the Urban League of Greater Miami. “Because past experiences tell us that if we don’t stay on top of it, they have a…way of not remembering what they told us yesterday.”

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