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.

Fewer ‘A’ Grades For Florida’s High Schools

Tougher standards mean fewer Florida public high schools earned the state’s top rating this year. But the state’s high school graduation rate hit its highest level in 11 years, at 76.1 percent.

The grading scale increased this year because the State Board of Education had decided that it would make the grading formula tougher once 75 percent of schools earned A’s or B’s. That happened in 2013, so this year the grading scale got harder and fewer schools earned A’s.

The joint release of grades and graduation rates showed that, despite new challenges, most high schools did well, said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

“I think there’s much to celebrate here,” she said.

Read more at: www.orlandosentinel.com

What Polling Says About Common Core And Jeb Bush’s Presidential Run

Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Jeb Bush tour a Homestead manufacturing facility in August.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Jeb Bush tour a Homestead manufacturing facility in August.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush took a first step toward becoming a 2016 presidential candidate Tuesday.

And that has many asking how his position on education issues would affect both a Republican primary candidacy and, if Bush survives, a general election candidacy.

Bush made education one of his top issues during his two terms as governor — expanding the use of standardized tests, grading public schools and districts, holding back third graders with the lowest scores on the state reading test. He’s spent his time out of office urging other states to adopt similar policies.

He’s also one of the leading proponents for the Common Core math and language arts standards adopted by more than 40 states, including Florida. But opposition to Common Core is growing, and states like North Carolina, South Carolina and Louisiana are considering how to repeal or change Common Core.

At 538, Nate Silver grabs an Associated Press-NORC Center poll — from July 2013 — to argue, if Bush has a chance, his “support of the Common Core should be somewhere between benign and modestly helpful for him.” Vox makes a similar argument: “Common Core won’t sink Jeb Bush’s presidential run.”

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Billion-Dollar Budget Surplus Should Be Good News For Florida Schools

State economists say low gas prices should mean more spending — and more tax collections. That could help Gov. Rick Scott deliver on his campaign pledge of record per-student funding, and help lawmakers pay for more technology, high-speed Internet connections and other digital learning tools.

Prospects for Scott’s campaign promises improved after a University of Michigan index last month measured national consumer confidence at above average and at its highest level since July 2007. That optimism, combined with dropping gas prices, have produced a rarity in recent Florida economic history: disposable income.

“It’s not a perfect correlation that people will go out and spend,” said chief state economist Amy Baker of the index. “But it is a signal that people are feeling good. ”

Baker said the lower gas prices were viewed more as a fluke.

“Our belief is that most will view (lower gas prices) not as a permanent change, but as a windfall, and spend it on taxable sales, meaning more Christmas shopping or one-time purchases,” Baker said.

Read more at: www.tampabay.com

A Bush Presidential Run Will Put Focus On Education

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush took a first step toward a 2016 presidential run Tuesday, announcing he was forming a political action committee to raise money and explore a candidacy. Bush has spent much of his time out of office pushing education issues — which will likely be a centerpiece of any presidential campaign.

Whether you agree with Bush’s positions on things like school choice and the Common Core State Standards or not, his entrance into the race would exponentially raise the profile of K-12 education, which is often an afterthought in national campaigns. He was one of the most active governors on education in recent history and after leaving office even started an organization, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, that’s geared towards K-12 policy.

Especially interesting if you’re an edu-policy geek: Bush doesn’t see eye-to-eye with many of the more conservative members of his party on what’s arguably the biggest K-12 political issue of the day, the common core standards.

That’s not something he’s backed away from. Bush launched a spirited defense of common core last month, telling an audience his annual National Summit for the Foundation for Excellence in Education that it’s fine if states don’t want to adopt the standards, but if they don’t, they should aim even higher. China, he said, isn’t in the midst of a hot debate about whether “academic expectations should be lowered to protect students’ self-esteem.”

Read more at: blogs.edweek.org

For-Profit College Wants To Open Charter Schools

ITT Technical Institute, one of the best-known for-profit colleges, is getting into the charter school business offering high school juniors and seniors a chance to earn a diploma and an associate’s degree, NPR reports. The company is opening the Early Career Academy chain of charter schools, with locations proposed in Tampa and Jacksonville.

The story of ITT and Early Career Academy illustrates the intersection of two trends: the changing business models of some for-profit education companies and the changing governance of charter public schools.

Experts say this is the first time a proprietary college has sought to get into the charter school business.

In an interview with NPR Ed, the CEO of ITT Technical Institute, Kevin Modany, characterized the new venture as an experiment. He said it could prove to be a logical extension of his company’s educational mission: “an opportunity to be part of the solution to access, affordability, and completion rates.”

Read more at: wusfnews.wusf.usf.edu

Why Miami-Dade High School Students Are Teaching Their Classmates About Health

Diamante Sharpe leads an practice session for student health educators in the HIP program.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Diamante Sharpe leads an practice session for student health educators in the HIP program.

Abuse. Drugs. Mental health issues.

It’s tough enough for anyone to talk about those problems. It can be even harder for teens facing them for the first time.

That’s why the Health Information Project (HIP) trains high school juniors and seniors to lead freshmen through a year-long health education program. The program is in 37 Miami-Dade public high schools, plus one private school.  It has trained more than 1,000 juniors and seniors on how to teach and talk to younger schoolmates about health issues.

“What we’ve realized over the years is that peers can be very persuasive in a positive way and they can influence those that look like them,” said Risa Berrin, who started the program.

The school day is over at North Miami Beach High School. Most students have headed for the doors. But Diamante Sharpe and Erica Poitevien and about a dozen classmates are working on their lesson plans.

“So welcome back to HIP. My name is Diamante,” Sharpe tells the group. “And today is our fourth session – mental health.”

They ask those gathered to clear their desks, pay attention and offer constructive criticism to classmates to help them teach the material better.

Over the course of the year, students teach eight lessons and lead discussions.

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FCC Adds $1.5 Billion For School Internet Program

The Federal Communications Commission has approved a $1.5 Billion expansion of the E-Rate program, which helps schools — including those in Florida — purchase high-speed Internet access. The 3-2 vote was on party lines, with Democrats voting for and Republicans voting against.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement the vote “ensures the program will continue to help our schools be part of the digital age.” Duncan said the move is a step forward in line with the administration’s ConnectEd Initiative, which aims to connect 99 percent of students with broadband and high-speed Internet in their schools by 2017.

[MORE: Obama Announces $400 Million in Education Technology Commitments]

JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, said the funding boost reflects a “national commitment to educational excellence and equity.”

Read more at: www.usnews.com

Why First Generation Students Find It Tougher To Earn A College Degree

Students who are the first in their family to attend college often have a more difficult time finishing their degree.

Research shows those students know less about how to get into and pay for college. And first generation college students are less likely to take tough high school courses needed to be prepared for college.

Documentary filmmaker Adam Fenderson spent three years following a group of first generation students through high school as they prepared for college. His film is called First Generation and will be screened in Miami this week.

Fenderson talked about what he learned with WLRN’s StateImpact Florida reporter John O’Connor.

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More Florida Teachers Rated “Highly Effective”

More than 97 percent of Florida teachers earned one of the top two evaluation scores — “highly effective” or “effective” — according to preliminary statewide data released Wednesday.

More teachers are earning the state's highest rating, according to the first batch of data released Wednesday.

enokson / Flickr

More teachers are earning the state's highest rating, according to the first batch of data released Wednesday.

The percentage of teachers earning the top rating increased for the second year in a row. More than 42 percent of teachers were rated “highly effective.” That’s up from 23 percent two years ago.

More than half of teachers were rated “effective.”

The ratings at the other end of the scale were virtually unchanged from last year. Teachers earning “needs improvement” were 1.3 percent of the state total, while three in 1,000 teachers were rated “unsatisfactory.”

Nearly one in five teachers has yet to be evaluated.

The teacher ratings are based, in part, on student test scores and are required by a 2011 law. This is the third year Florida has released statewide data.

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Florida School Boards Group Wants To Change How Tests Are Used

The statewide group representing Florida’s 67 county school boards says the state should not use testing results for any other purpose other than measuring that student’s progress at the time he or she took the test. Florida School Boards Association members say the resolution is intended more for the public — which has been leading the anti-testing charge — than for lawmakers.

In a two-page resolution, the Florida School Boards Association also urged lawmakers to delay the consequences associated with new state tests until 2017. In the meantime, the group stated, local districts should be allowed to determine when students are promoted, when they graduate and how teachers are evaluated — some of the tasks that, under state mandate, are largely dictated by student test scores.

“There is a groundswell of support for these types of issues,” Collier County School Board member Roy Terry said during a discussion on the document. “We need to get moving on it while we do have the support.”

Read more at: www.tampabay.com

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