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.

How Jeb Bush’s Education Record Will Change The 2016 Republican Primary

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is expected to become a Republican presidential candidate Monday.

Education has been a signature issue for Bush. He helped start Florida’s first charter school. He says schools and teachers should be judged on student performance. He pushed for vouchers for private schools.

And he spent most of his time since leaving the Florida governor’s office advocating for his brand of school reform.

Former Governor Jeb Bush of Florida speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Former Governor Jeb Bush of Florida speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.

Bush will ensure education is a top issue in the 2016 presidential race. But he’s not the only candidate with a strong record on schools.

“You have a roster of candidates that are quite strong on this issue from the Republican side,” said Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank which generally supports Bush’s version of education reform.

“It did not get much airtime in 2008 or 2012 and I think it’s going to be different this time around. And for those of us that care about education and schools, I think that’s a good thing. It’s better to have the country engaged on these issues.”

Bush is the 800-pound gorilla in the GOP field. His family has already produced two U.S. presidents. He has been raising tens of millions over the past few months as he explores a presidential bid. And he has an 8-year record as Florida governor.

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House Rejects Idea To Limit Four-Year Degrees At State Colleges

The House has rejected a Senate proposal to cap the number of four-year degrees offered by state community colleges. Lawmakers are worried about duplicating programs with state universities, but state colleges are the most convenient campus in many parts of Florida.

The measure was an agreement Negron, R-Stuart, reached with state colleges in March to keep them focused on technical degrees and from competing with four-year universities. The Senate proposed to insert the language into the budget during budget negotiations with the House, which didn’t accept it. The Legislature is expected to pass a final state budget June 19, ending a special session.

Read more at: www.tcpalm.com

Oregon Opt Out Bill Could Cost State $140 Million, Feds Warn

The U.S. Department of Education says Oregon could lose $140 million in federal money if the state legislature approves a bill allowing parents to opt their children out of state testing. Florida law doesn’t allow students to opt out, but advocates have been asking for the right and coaching parents on how their kids can sit out tests.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 requires schools to test 95 percent of their students, or they are automatically labeled as failing to meet achievement targets. The reason? The NCLB law’s authors were concerned that schools could discourage students who might perform poorly on standardized tests, including English-language learners and students in special education, from taking the assessments in the first place.

In fact, if Oregon goes ahead and passes the bill, it could stand to lose $140 million in federal funding, according to a letter and email sent May 27 to the deputy state schools chief, Rob Saxton, from Deborah S. Delisle, the assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education.

Read more at: blogs.edweek.org

SAT Error Won’t Affect Scores

Florida was one of several states where students were told, in error, they had an additional five minutes on the SAT. The College Board, which oversees the test, says it will throw out those sections of the exam, but that it won’t change student scores.

An undetermined number of test booklets around the United States — though not overseas — had a printing error that told students they had 25 minutes to complete either Section 8 or Section 9 — either a math or reading section depending on the version of the test — when in fact they were supposed to only have 20 minutes.

In its new note on the error, the College Board, which owns the SAT, said that the test “is designed to collect enough information to provide valid and reliable scores even with an additional unscored section.” It also said: “We have deliberately constructed both the Reading and the Math Tests to include three equal sections with roughly the same level of difficulty. If one of the three sections is jeopardized, the correlation among sections is sufficient to be able to deliver reliable scores.”

Read more at: www.washingtonpost.com

Are High School Exit Exams An Unnecessary Barrier To Graduation?

Brandon Lewis, a junior at Miami's Dr. Michael M. Krop High School, passed Algebra I, but has struggled with the end-of-course exam in that subject.

LA Johnson / NPR

Brandon Lewis, a junior at Miami's Dr. Michael M. Krop High School, passed Algebra I, but has struggled with the end-of-course exam in that subject.

The US high school graduation rate is at an all-time high. But why? NPR Ed partnered with 14 member stations around the country to bring you the stories behind that number. Check out the rest of the stories here in our slideshow. And find out what’s happening in your state.

Eight times Brandon Lewis has taken Florida’s Algebra I end-of-course exam. And eight times he’s failed it, once coming just two points short of passing.

Lewis is a junior at Miami’s Dr. Michael M. Krop High School. Lewis passed the class his first year, but Florida also requires that students pass a state exam in a handful of key courses, including Algebra I. He’s worried the test will keep him from graduating.

“It hurts when you’re isolated from the other group of kids,” Lewis says, “and you feel like you’re slow and that you can’t do anything to, like, pass that test.”

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Corinthian Colleges Students May Get Some Relief From Student Loans

Students caught up in the bankruptcy of a large for-profit college may be able to get some relief from their college loans. The Obama Administration announced Corinthian Colleges students may have some of their debt forgiven.

The agency said it would soon appoint an independent official, known as a special master, to “develop a broader system” for students and former students at other schools to request having their student debts wiped away. Those students would have to convince the agency that their institutions used deceptive practices before getting forgiveness.

The moves come amid mounting political pressure from student advocates and some members of Congress to offer relief to former students of Corinthian’s schools.

Read more at: www.wsj.com

Superintendents Say Fewer Florida Students Will Repeat Third Grade Next Year

Broward schools superintendent Robert Runcie, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, left, and Broward Teachers Union president Sharon Glickman, right, announced the creation of two task forces to recommend changes to teacher evaluations and high school schedules.

Broward schools superintendent Robert Runcie, with American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, left, and Broward Teachers Union president Sharon Glickman, right.

The superintendents of Florida two largest school district say it is less likely they’ll make students repeat third grade next year because of low state reading test scores.

State law requires that students earning the lowest score on the reading exam have to repeat third grade unless they are granted an exemption. About 16,000 students across the state were held back last year.

But Florida has switched to a new statewide test this year, the Florida Standards Assessments, and educators aren’t sure they can trust the results.

“I think teachers and principals will err on the side of caution and will want to do no harm to students,” said Miami-Dade schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who believes this year’s test results should have no consequences.

The state has hired an outside firm to make sure the test is valid. But the means results won’t be back until after the new school year has started — long after schools have decided which students should move on or not.

So lawmakers approved a law which gives school districts more say over the decision — for this year only.

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The Five Stages Of Common Core Support — And Opposition

Education Week takes a page from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross — who coined the five stages of grief — and outline the emotional stages of Common Core supporters and opponents. The math and language arts standards turn five years old this week. Florida schools are wrapping up the first school year of using their version of Common Core in every grade.

For the cheerleaders, the stages seemed to be jubilation, realization, humility, exhaustion, and cautious optimism. That is to say: Many teachers and policymakers were happy to have what they considered a superior set of academic expectations, with the potential of working across states to create good teaching materials, strategies and tests. When they realized how much of a shift in teaching the standards require, the heavy lift of professional development looked daunting, indeed.

Some districts just put their heads in the sand and hoped the whole thing would pass, leaving teachers exhausted as they scrambled on their own for training and materials. Further down the line, as more districts got in the game and focused deeply on the standards, more teachers started to feel, guardedly, that they understood what was expected of them, and that they were getting more of the support they need to make the most of the new standards.

For the critics, it went more like this: outrage, criticism, politicization, mobilization, and stagnation. The rallying cry of federal overreach went up from the beginning, since the federal government had used its bully pulpit and its Race to the Top funds to encourage states to adopt the standards. The vocal minority who actually focused on the standards’ content, instead of their political origin, attacked them for emphasizing nonfiction at the expense of literature, and setting math expectations too low. A very vocal hyper-minority also got hot under the collar about the absence of cursive writing requirements in the common core.

Read more at: blogs.edweek.org

Polk County Schools Won’t Use Test Scores To Evaluate Teachers — This Year

Polk County has opened up the next front in the pushback against Florida education laws: teacher evaluations. The district says it will not include student test performance in teacher evaluations, despite a state law requiring it. The change is only for this year.

Superintendent Kathryn LeRoy and Polk Education Association President Marianne Capoziello sent teachers a joint email Thursday about the evaluation change.

“We will not use any end-of-year testing or other measures of student performance to calculate your final overall rating,” the email says.

Students are still taking the tests, and Cheryl Etters, a Florida Department of Education spokeswoman, said school districts have to factor in their performance.

“The law is the law,” Etters said. “It doesn’t give any exceptions.”

Read more at: www.theledger.com

Gov. Scott Pushes Lawmakers On School Funding

Gov. Rick Scott spoke at a Miami elementary school to urge lawmakers to increase school funding.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Gov. Rick Scott spoke at a Miami elementary school to urge lawmakers to increase school funding.

Gov. Rick Scott visited a Miami elementary school Monday to ask lawmakers to meet his request for school funding.

Lawmakers return to Tallahassee today to finish the budget. The big disagreement is how to pay for health care. And that could affect how much money is left for education.

Scott opposes expanding the state-run Medicaid program. He says there’s more than enough money for to set per-student funding at $7,176, an all-time high unadjusted for inflation.

“We have a $1.8 billion dollar surplus,” Scott says. “A $1.8 billion dollar surplus. Ok. We can invest. We can have record funding for K-12 education. We can do the tax cuts. We will continue to get, keep continuing our economy. And we can make sure we have all the safety nets we need.”

But Senate Education chairman John Legg says that isn’t true.

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