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.

Experts Say Evidence Is Mixed On Adding An Extra Hour Of Reading

Does adding an extra hour of reading instruction help students? WJCT reporter Rhema Thompson finds, like many things in education, the evidence is mixed. Experts said success depends on how the addition instruction is implemented.

“You can find supported that it does work or that it doesn’t work. Some researchers say that this is the best way to help children who need intervention and others say ‘Let’s think about the need for play, teacher motivation,’” Fagen said.

Fagen’s colleague Developmental Pediatrics Chief Dr. David Childers said the the additional time is “a good starting point” in the journey to success.

“One of the things that we always have to ask is ‘What is going to be the outcome at grade 12?’” he said. “Reading is going to determine, more than anything else, where you end up in the socio-economic status in our society.”

Read more at: news.wjct.org

Report Says Tax Credit Scholarship Students Aren’t Falling Behind

Students receiving tax credit scholarships to private schools are keeping pace with national norms, according an annual review of student test scores redefinED reports. The report found tax credit scholarship students are typically among the lowest-performing and most economically disadvantaged students.

Each year, schools that serve students on the scholarship program report their test scores to an independent research team led by David Figlio of Northwestern University, who analyzes their performance on national norm-referenced tests and compares the results to students nationwide.

This is the seventh such report, and the bottom line is familiar. As Figlio writes, tax credit scholarship “participants on average keep pace with national norms, suggesting that they neither gain ground nor lose ground on average relative to a national peer group that includes not just low-income families but also higher-income families.”

Read more at: www.redefinedonline.org

Lee County School Board Members Want Out Of Testing

The Lee County school board is considering opting the entire district out of standardized tests — and would be the first school district in Florida to do so. Board members said the tests are too expensive and are designed for kids to fail.

Board members unanimously expressed their disdain for standardized testing at the school board meeting Tuesday, pledging to research the possibility of “opting out” the entire district from standardized testing.

“There needs to be a come-to-Jesus meeting … to talk about these issues point blank,” Chairman Tom Scott said.

Board member Don Armstrong said the district cannot afford to continue testing at the current rate.

“A lot of our money is being poured out of this county to go to one company, I won’t say names,” he said. “But on this board or not on this board, I won’t stand for it anymore.”

Read more at: www.news-press.com

Why Schools Are Finding It’s Difficult To Go Digital

School districts across the country are running into roadblocks as they try to update technology and teaching methods in classrooms, MindShift reports. Florida schools are required to add digital curriculum, but not every district has added the high-speed Internet capacity needed to make it work.

Funding – or lack of it – is the number one issue facing school districts as they convert to the digital learning world, said John Halpin, vice president of the Center for Digital Education, a national research institute that focuses on in K-12 and higher education technology trends. It’s not that districts don’t necessarily have money for instructional materials; rather, state policy and district proclivity often haven’t caught up with tech realities. States have operated for decades in a system where they have huge textbook adoption cycles where they shell out millions for, say, middle school science texts that are expected to last for five-to-seven years — even if a new planet is discovered or dumped.

In the transition to digital, districts buy a license for a specific software and pay based on the number of students using it. Though it’s uncertain whether the move saves money, there are other benefits. Districts could negotiate for updates and improvements, just like any other software program.

Read more at: blogs.kqed.org

A Q & A With The President Of Florida’s Newest University

A model of the future Florida Polytechnic campus.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

A model of the future Florida Polytechnic campus.

This coming Saturday marks the grand opening for Florida’s 12th state university. Florida Polytechnic University, in Polk County, will offer a tuition-free education focused on science, technology, engineering and math — STEM — to its inaugural class of about 550 students. They start on August 25th.

President Randy Avent sat down with Robin Sussingham from WUSF in Tampa to talk about his vision for the new university.

Q: This is not a Silicon Valley, this is not a Research Triangle, this is a rural Polk County location. So how is that going to affect this university? How’s it going to affect your job? Is it going to make recruiting more difficult? Tell me about how this fits in?

A: It will make recruiting more difficult, but it’s an opportunity. We like to use this a catalyst to really develop that [Interstate]-4 corridor, high-tech corridor that everyone talks about. You know, we’re geographically located halfway between Tampa and [the University of South Florida] and Orlando and [the University of Central Florida] – both of them great institutions. And so the question is how can we bridge the gap between those two institutions and help create that mission and create that corridor

Q: I read an article  about you recently and he said “Dr. Avent sees the future of university research as less curiosity-driven and more focused on solving real-world problems.” Tell me what that means?

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Common Core Won’t Ruin Everything; Common Core Won’t Fix Everything

Common Core math and language standards are neither as bad as critics say nor the silver bullet proponents want, Conor P. Williams writes. But what the standards should do is improve state data and allow states to better compare what is working and what isn’t.

So take it easy: the Common Core isn’t likely to meaningfully change kids’ public school experiences in the coming years. And sorry, but it can’t solve many of our myriad educational problems. However, it can help us build a baseline of data reliability that will help organize what has traditionally been a stubbornly opaque system. That may not be rhetoric to stir the soul, but it’s probably closer to the truth than anything else you’ll hear about the Common Core in the coming months.

Read more at: talkingpointsmemo.com

Advocates Struggle To Raise Money To Rename Jacksonville High School

Advocates who pushed to rename Jacksonville’s Nathan Bedford Forrest High School have raised less than $3,000 of the $242,000 cost of changing logos, mascots and more.

The name change has been controversial, mostly because the original name referred to a storied Confederate general who owned slaves and later founded the Ku Klux Klan.

Many people over the years agitated to change the name, saying that it was emblematic of shameful periods in the nation’s history, including several hundred years of slavery and still lingering racial discrimination and conflict.

Read more at: members.jacksonville.com

Crist Wants To Pause Penalties During Switch To Common Core-Based Standards

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist says he wants to pause penalties for teachers and schools while Florida transitions to Common Core-based standards and a new online exam.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist says he wants to pause penalties for teachers and schools while Florida transitions to Common Core-based standards and a new online exam.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist said he would pause any penalties for students, teachers and schools while the state transitions to new Common Core-based math and language arts standards and a new online test.

Florida school leaders have asked for a three-year pause while teachers get comfortable with the new standards and students adjust to what is expected to be more challenging class work and state exams. States which are already using Common Core-tied exams saw the percentage of students passing the exams decline by about 30 points the first year the tests were used.

Florida schools are rated based, in part, on student test scores. Schools which earn a low grade can have their leadership and staff replaced or even be closed. Teachers will also be evaluated and paid based, in part, on those new test results.

“They’re unfair,” Crist said of why he supports pausing the penalties. “They don’t even know what test they’re going to use now. It’s a disaster. We need to change and we need help.”

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Study Finds Family More Important Than Education For Success

The rooftops of Baltimore. Johns Hopkins University researchers followed 800 Baltimore kids in a 30-year study.

3sonsproductions / Flickr

The rooftops of Baltimore. Johns Hopkins University researchers followed 800 Baltimore kids in a 30-year study.

Family and wealth — and not education — are the most important factors in whether a child succeeds in life according to 30-year study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Children whose parents were married and working ended up better off than peers in poor or single-parent homes.

Just 33 of the nearly 800 people included in the study went from being considered low-income to considered high-income.

NPR profiled two people included in the study, and you can listen to the story below.

Union Leader Says Lawmakers Shouldn’t Use “Backdoor” To Pass Education Laws

The vice president of the Florida Education Association has written an op-ed explaining the union’s lawsuit challenging a law expanding tax credit scholarships and creating a new voucher for students with disabilities. Joanne McCall said lawmakers took a five-page bill and expanded it to 40 pages — much of it added

FEA opposed the expansion of the corporate voucher program, and we had serious concerns about accountability for the personal learning accounts for students with disabilities. We find it ironic that the state wants to move these students with disabilities to unaccountable private providers at the same time it is not properly funding the programs in public schools and districts are forced to reduce staffing for these students. These programs get 14.4 percent less money than they got seven years ago, despite higher demand. Districts are assigning paraprofessionals away from these programs because of lack of funds.

Read more at: tbo.com

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