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.

State Senator Wants School Board To Stop Teaching New Standards

A state senator has asked his local school board to stop — as much as possible — teaching Florida’s new Common Core-based standards. Though Sen. Alan Hays said he wasn’t asking the district to break the law, state law requires students in every grade meet the new standards.

“Everything he was asking us to do is his job in Tallahassee,” Board member Bill Mathias said. “I would not want the public to have the impression based on a state senator coming formally before the board that we have the authority. It is disingenuous in my opinion that we can do what he asked us to do when it is up to the state Legislature.”

Mathias said if the district were to stop teaching the standards it would put students’ high school diplomas at risk and their applications for Bright Futures Scholarships in jeopardy.

According to documents from the Florida School Boards Association, if districts opt out of the Florida Standards and assessments, they could lose Title I funding, school principals would be ineligible for performance pay, the school district could not be an academically high performing school district and the school district would be ineligible for competitive grants, among other repercussions.

Read more at: www.dailycommercial.com

Court, Public Relations Battle Over Florida Private School Programs Heating Up

The Florida Education Association has amended its challenge of a new school choice law in the Leon County's Second Judicial Circuit.

flguardian2 / Flickr

The Florida Education Association has amended its challenge of a new school choice law in the Leon County's Second Judicial Circuit.

The legal and public relations battle over Florida’s private school scholarship programs continues, with the statewide teacher’s union revising its lawsuit and a school choice group producing a new television ad supporting the programs.

Wednesday, the Florida Education Association amended its complaint challenging a new school choice law. The new complaint adds South Florida parents after a judge ruled the parties named in the previously filed suit lacked standing to challenge the law.

The new plaintiffs are Miami-Dade and Lee County parents and attorneys argue their kids’ education suffers because the tax credit scholarship program diverts money to private schools instead of public schools.

“With the result that the Miami-Dade County Public Schools lost approximately $75 million in funding, which was redirected from the public fisc to private schools,” the complaint says.

The suit challenges a bill approved this year which creates a new voucher program for students with disabilities. But the bill also expands the state’s existing private school scholarship program funded with state tax credits for businesses that donate to the scholarship fund.

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South Florida State House Candidates Agree There’s Too Much Testing

Republican, Democrat and independent candidates were unanimous Tuesday -- Florida schools test too much.

shinealight / Flickr

Republican, Democrat and independent candidates were unanimous Tuesday -- Florida schools test too much.

The candidates running for three South Dade state House seats — Republican, Democrat, independent — all agree that Florida students and schools spend too much time testing.

Candidates running for the Florida House of Representatives in the 112th, 114th and 115th districts gathered for an education forum Tuesday night at Palmetto Middle School.

“The biggest problem that the assessment process has right now,” said Rep. Erik Fresen, a Republican who represents the 114th district and is chairman of the House Education Appropriations subcommittee, “we have a completely twisted form of actually executing the assessments. Assessments end up drowning the school.”

His challengers, Democrat Daisy Baez and independent Ross Hancock both agreed: There’s too much testing and teachers must adjust their plans and lessons to prepare students for those exams.

In the 115th district, Republican incumbent Mike Bileca and Democratic opponent Kris Decossard agreed. So did Democratic Rep. Jose Javier Rodriquez, who represents the 112th district. His opponent did not participate.

Tuesday’s forum was the latest sign that the political tide has turned against the testing requirements of Florida education policy and local school school districts.

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Florida Schools Top “Social Mobility” Rankings

The Carnegia Library at Florida A&M University in the 1930s.


The Carnegia Library at Florida A&M University in the 1930s.

Five Florida schools are in the nation’s top 50 on a new ranking that measures how well graduates climb the economic ladder.

Florida A&M University is ranked number three and Florida International University is ranked seventh on the Social Mobility Index created by CollegeNET, a higher education technology firm, and Payscale, which tracks worker pay.

The rankings factor tuition, percentage of low income students, graduation rates, recent graduate earnings and school endowment. The rankings reward schools with low tuition or a high percentage of low-income students, in particular.

Florida State University ranked 29th, University of Florida 40th and the University of South Florida 48th.

Overall, the state of Florida ranked number four in the nation.

By comparison, Princeton ranked 360th, Harvard 438th and Yale 440th.

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Incentives Help Florida College Students Complete Math Courses, Study Finds

Hillsborough Community College students were more likely to visit tutors and complete remedial math courses with a $600 bonus on the line.

apalapala / Flickr

Hillsborough Community College students were more likely to visit tutors and complete remedial math courses with a $600 bonus on the line.

Hillsborough Community College students who were paid cash bonuses were more likely to complete remedial math courses and meet with math tutors, according to a new study from social science research firm MDRC.

The study looked at students in Hillsborough Community College’s Mathematics Access Performance Scholarship program, which pays students $600 per semester for three semesters, if they met goals. Those goals include visiting HCC’s Math Labs tutoring center at least five times and earning a ‘C’ grade or better on a college level math course or intermediate Algebra.

Researchers found:

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Did 3,000 Teachers Lose Their Jobs Under Charlie Crist? PolitiFact Says ‘Mostly False’

Gov. Rick Scott’s claim that 3,000 teachers lost their jobs while Charlie Crist was governor is “mostly false,” according to PolitiFact Florida. Scott repeated the claim at last night’s debate at Broward College, the second of three debates between the two candidates.

The claim omits some key points. The number was derived from media reports about possible layoffs; not all of them materialized. Also, the claim glosses over the fact that Crist accepted federal stimulus money that preserved thousands of teacher jobs. Finally, Crist was not solely responsible for teacher layoffs. Crist and the Republican-led Legislature signed off on budget cuts amid a national recession — something no single politician is personally responsible for.

Clearly, some teachers were laid off statewide, but there’s a lack of evidence that it amounted to 3,000 positions.

Read more at: www.politifact.com

National Educator Groups Want To Streamline Testing

The leaders of two large, national school groups say they want to change the amount of testing in schools. The Council of Great City Schools and the Council of Chief State School Officers want to eliminate tests which aren’t essential — many of them local — and make sure it’s clear why the tests are given and how the results are used. But the groups say they are committed to annual testing.

In a document put out with the announcement, the CCSSO and the council wrote that they would work together to ensure “assessments are used in responsible ways.” They also affirmed their commitment to yearly testing, writing that “without assessments given at least once a year, educational leaders would not have the information they need to know about who is learning and who is not.”

The state schools chiefs vowed in that document to publish a list of all state assessments, help get rid of duplicative assessments, and “partner with school districts to review their benchmark and formative assessments.” The urban district leaders said they would review the assessments administered in their districts for alignment and quality, eliminate inappropriate assessments, “curtail counterproductive ‘test prep’ practices,” and make the results of their reviews public.

Read more at: blogs.edweek.org

How A Miami Middle School Added Speech And Debate Classes On A Budget

Veldreana Oliver has taught physical education for 28 years at Allapattah Middle School. More recently, her principal asked her to teach writing, speech and debate.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Veldreana Oliver has taught physical education for 28 years at Allapattah Middle School. More recently, her principal asked her to teach writing, speech and debate.

Last week StateImpact Florida told you how a middle school in Miami has added speech and debate courses this year to improve reading, writing and speaking.

The school’s principal, Bridget McKinney majored in debate and thought the requirements for Florida’s new Common Core-based standards sounded a lot like her college classes. She needed a writing teacher for new speech and debate courses she wanted to create.

But like many Florida schools, Allapattah Middle has plenty of expectations but a limited budget.

She couldn’t hire a new teacher. It wasn’t in the budget. So she turned to what seems like an unusual place — physical education teacher Veldreana Oliver, who has been with the school for 28 years.

“Let’s go! Dale!” Oliver hollers at students looping around Allapattah’s campus. “Dale! Dale! Dale!”

She’s getting her students ready for a timed one-mile run.

But now she’s also getting them ready for the state’s new, annual exam.

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Students Trash Federal Healthy Lunch Requirements

Volusia and Flagler County schools report fewer students are buying lunch at school because of new federal healthy food rules. The rules require students to take fruits and vegetables if they are buying lunch — and much of that ends up in the garbage.

Schools that participate in the federal program receive reimbursements for breakfasts and lunches served in their cafeterias, but they must adhere to strict rules, including an especially unpopular one. Students must take fruit and vegetable items with them as they leave the serving line. New this year: Items served in the a la carte line must adhere to the federal requirements as well.

That hurts the bottom line for local school districts. The food service programs here are self-sustaining, so they don’t have to draw from the pot that funds teachers’ salaries and textbooks. Joan Young, the director of Volusia’s School Way Cafe, said it’s too soon to tell how hard her cafeterias have been hit, but the school managers have told her their sales are down. Angela Torres, Flagler’s director of food service, estimates she’s bringing in $5,000 less weekly on a la carte sales compared with last year. That doesn’t mean her program is operating in the red, she stressed, but her staff needs to find another way to recoup those losses.

Read more at: www.news-journalonline.com

More Florida Students Passing AP Exams, But Below National Average On SAT

Florida students passed Advanced Placement exams at a rate higher than the national average, but but scored below the national average on the SAT college placement exam.

Florida high school students continue to succeed with Advanced Placement courses in ever greater numbers, but their SAT scores suggest many still graduate ill-prepared for college classes, according to a new report released today. Florida was ranked eighth nationally based on student performance on AP exams, with about 16 percent passing compared with 13 percent nationally, the College Board said in its report.

Read more at: www.orlandosentinel.com

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