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.

How Common Core Brought Attention To The Math Education Debate

As schools switch to the Common Core standards, long-running teaching debates are becoming more public.

wwworks / Flickr

As schools switch to the Common Core standards, long-running teaching debates are becoming more public.

One of the by-products of states around the country adopting Common Core is that the standards have brought attention to long-running education debates that aren’t about money or testing.

This week our story looked at how Miami-Dade schools are changing math lessons to teach Florida’s Common Core-based math standards. The standards outline what students should know at the end of each grade — such as kindergarteners being able to count to 100.

As we noted in the story, many of these “new” techniques schools are adding have been around a while. And math educators have spent years debating the best ways to teach math.

Journalist Elizabeth Green cataloged what some argue are deficiencies in math education in a New York Times Magazine story headlined: “Why Do Americans Stink At Math?”

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School Board Members Launch New Pro-School Choice Group

Escambia County school board member Jeff Bergosh is leading the new school boards group.

Escambia County school board

Escambia County school board member Jeff Bergosh is leading the new school boards group.

School board members dissatisfied with the statewide association who represents them are forming their own group, the Fort Myers News-Press and others report.

One reason is the school board members are unhappy the Florida School Boards Association joined a lawsuit challenging the state’s private school tax credit scholarship.

From the News-Press story:

The Florida Coalition of School Board Members seeks to become a “financially responsible,” grassroots group that supports school choice options including charter school and local control of education issues.

“One of our responsibilities as a school board is to partner with the state… however, it’s become very clear that the school boards are really losing influence in Tallahassee,” said [Erika] Donalds, who was elected to the Collier school board in November. “We feel the FSBA has kind of lost touch.”

Why Elementary Math Lessons Are Changing In Florida Schools

Frances S. Tucker Elementary Schoo fifth grade math teacher Yaliesperanza Salazar leads her class through an exercise to group data on a line graph.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Frances S. Tucker Elementary Schoo fifth grade math teacher Yaliesperanza Salazar leads her class through an exercise to group data on a line graph.

At dinner tables across Florida, parents and their elementary school children are trying to solve a math problem: What’s going on with my kid’s homework?

Florida is one of dozens of states that has switched to new math standards based on Common Core. The standards outline what students should know in every grade.

Experts say it means big changes to how math is taught. More focus on understanding concepts and solving problems multiple ways. Less memorization of formulas and grinding out worksheets full of similar problems.

Math is a constant conversation for Jessica Knopf and her fifth-grader, Natasha.

They talk about math at the dinner table. They send questions and answers by phone. They sought tutoring in online videos.

“When this Common Core stuff starting coming home,” Knopf says, “it wasn’t something I could just scribble and go ‘Oh, here it is.’ No. I had to stop. I had to think about it. I had to go online to Khan Academy. I had to bring my husband in. It wasn’t logical.”

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Proposed Limit Might Not Reduce Testing Time

Florida lawmakers want to limit the amount of time students spend testing.

StephenMitchell

Florida lawmakers want to limit the amount of time students spend testing.

A proposal to limit students to 45 hours of testing a year is unlikely to reduce the amount of time spent on exams, according to a survey of Florida’s largest school districts.

Districts say they don’t currently track the time individual students spend on testing.

Calculating the number is complicated. The amount of testing varies by a student’s grade, the classes he or she is taking and other factors, such as whether the student is learning English or receives extra time to accommodate a disability.

Orange and Miami-Dade county schools provided estimates and say even if a student were to take every test available in a single year, the student still would not exceed 45 hours of testing.

For instance, the district says a Miami-Dade eleventh grader has 20.6 hours of required tests. If the student took every eleventh grade test possible that would add 15.2 hours. And two International Baccalaureate courses — an advanced program for motivated students — would add eight more hours.

That’s a total of 43.8 hours of testing — and most students don’t take that course load.

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Explaining Performance Funding For Florida Universities

A portion of Florida university's funding depends on how they score on the state's performance funding scale.

Tax Credits / Flickr

A portion of Florida university's funding depends on how they score on the state's performance funding scale.

A Florida State University researcher says programs which reward colleges and universities for hitting targets — known as performance funding — don’t help more students graduate or stay in school.

Florida has performance funding for its university system. So how does it work?

Universities are scored in ten categories, with a maximum of 50 points. There are two pots of funding determined by a university’s score: $100 million in new funding; and $65 million contributed proportionally from each university’s budget.

Schools must earn at least 25 points out of 50 on the scoring scale to be eligible for a slice of the new funding. But the three lowest-scoring universities do not receive new money, even if they receive a score of more than 25 points.

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How Pearson Built Its Education Empire

The British publishing company is one of the biggest names in testing. And a Politico investigation finds the University of Florida gave the company a no-bid $186 million contract to launch UF Online.


A POLITICO investigation has found that Pearson stands to make tens of millions in taxpayer dollars and cuts in student tuition from deals arranged without competitive bids in states from Florida to Texas. The review also found Pearson’s contracts set forth specific performance targets — but don’t penalize the company when it fails to meet those standards. And in the higher ed realm, the contracts give Pearson extensive access to personal student data, with few constraints on how it is used.

POLITICO examined hundreds of pages of contracts, business plans and email exchanges, as well as tax filings, lobbying reports and marketing materials, in the first comprehensive look at Pearson’s business practices in the United States.

The investigation found that public officials often commit to buying from Pearson because it’s familiar, even when there’s little proof its products and services are effective.

Read more at: www.politico.com

Judge Will Decide Future Of School Choice Lawsuit

A Tallahassee judge will rule on whether a lawsuit challenging Florida’s tax credit scholarship program can proceed. Opponents, including Florida’s statewide teacher’s union, argued the program is a way to circumvent previous court rulings outlawing vouchers. Supporters said opponents can’t prove the program harms public school students and the case should be thrown out.


Judge George Reynolds must decide whether to throw out the lawsuit filed last year or let it proceed to a trial. He did not rule from the bench and gave each side 10 days to give him their final arguments in writing. The program now in place serves nearly 70,000 students from low-income families, many of whom attend religious schools.

Read more at: www.wptv.com

Unemployment Rate For College Grads Hits Six-Year Low

The unemployment rate for people with at least a bachelor’s degree is nearly three percentage points lower than the overall rate. Low unemployment among college grads means wages are likely to rise, experts say.


That could mean the U.S. isn’t far from a position that would have been crazy-talk not too long ago—running out of those types of people to employ, according to Guy LeBas, chief fixed-income strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia.
“Presumably, these educated workers are the most productive in our information economy, and, at some point in the coming year, we’re going to risk running out of new, productive people to employ,” LeBas wrote in a note to clients. “That comment would have been unthinkable just 12 or 18 months ago.”
That also has good implications for the wages of those workers. As those laborers become scarcer, companies will be forced to bid up their pay to attract the best and brightest.

Read more at: www.bloomberg.com

Bill Could Give Out-Of-State Charter Schools A Florida Foothold

A Rocketship Education ad, posted on Twitter, for a Washington, D.C. school choice event.

Rocketship Education

A Rocketship Education ad, posted on Twitter, for a Washington, D.C. school choice event.

Florida charter schools which consistently earn good grades on the state’s public school report card get special privileges.

Soon, out-of-state charter schools could too. It could help national charter school chains have an easier time finding a foothold in Florida.

The state’s “high performing” label allows schools to expand across Florida more quickly, sign longer-term contracts and pay lower fees to local school districts.

Senator Jeff Brandes’ bill would allow the State Board of Education to give out-of-state charter school chains the high-performing designation. The bill would also allow out-of-state school operators to pay lower administrative fees to school districts for three years.

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Brevard Schools Will Help Parents Opt Out Of Local Tests

The Brevard County school district says it will help parents who want their kids to skip locally-required exams. However, students are supposed to take the Florida Standards Assessments and other state-required tests.

District standardized exams are typically used as a diagnostic tool to see where students struggle. But ultimately, he said it’s the responsibility of parents “to make a decision that they think is right for their child.”

However, the district is not taking the same approach with state exams, which are used in accountability measures like school grades and teacher job evaluations. No “opt out” policy is being created, and parents will be told when the testing window is, typically a span of days or weeks, but not the specific day or time.

Read more at: www.floridatoday.com

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