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.

Federal Education Secretary Says He’s Committed To Yearly Testing

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says lawmakers should maintain annual testing requirements as they rewrite the federal No Child Left Behind law. Parents, students and teachers have a right to know whether students are making progress each year, he told the New York Times.

In July, the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers’ union, called for an end to mandated yearly testing, and a growing group of parents and educators has been pushing back against what they see as rampant testing and test preparation.

In August, Mr. Duncan said that testing issues were “sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools” and allowed states to delay using test scores in teacher evaluations.

The requirement that schools test students every year in reading and math between third and eighth grade and once in high school was enshrined in the No Child Left Behind Act. The tests were intended as a way for schools to see whether all student groups, but particularly minorities and poor students, were being taught adequately.

That law, which governs how $23.3 billion in federal education funding is spent and was passed with bipartisan fanfare in 2001, has been up for reauthorization since 2007. So far, Congress has been unable to agree on a new version. The House passed a bill in 2013, but the Senate version did not make it out of the Education Committee.

Read more at: www.nytimes.com

Fewer And Better: How Lawmakers Want To Change State Testing

Students will take the Florida Standards Assessments online.

Extra Ketchup/flickr

Most students will take the Florida Standards Assessments online.

When lawmakers return to Tallahassee in March for the annual legislative session, they have a lot of questions they need to answer about public school testing.

Senators laid out their concerns about the state testing system last week at a series of meetings.

They don’t know how many tests the state requires, or how long it takes to complete those exams.

They don’t know how much the state and school districts spend on testing.

And they’re not convinced they can depend on all the results of those exams.

Sen. David Simmons – and his colleagues — wants to change that.

“We’ve got the chance here this spring to do a re-write of this so that we can, in fact, assure that we’re not over-testing our children,” Simmons said.

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South Florida College Leaders Support President’s Free College Plan

The president of Broward College supports President Barack Obama's proposal to offer students two years of college tuition-free.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

The president of Broward College supports President Barack Obama's proposal to offer students two years of college tuition-free.

The leaders of two of the nation’s largest community colleges say they support President Barack Obama’s proposal to give students two years of college for free.

Obama proposed the idea in Tennessee Friday.

In a written statement, Broward College president J. David Armstrong says the proposal could mean more training for teachers, nurses, paramedics, firefighters and police. That’s good for the economy, he says.

The proposal “provides unprecedented access and opportunity for all to attend the first two years of college and earn a certificate or associate’s degree since it directly addresses economic barriers for those seeking the American Dream,” Armstrong says.

Miami Dade College already offers full scholarships to many students.

President Eduardo Padron says community colleges support the idea because the cost of college often prevents students from finishing their studies.

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President Obama Wants Free Community College

President Barack Obama is proposing that all students could attend two-year community colleges for free. Supporters say its a leading way to make college more affordable, while critics say the plan would likely shift college aid from low-income students to middle class students.

“For the president to say we’re going to make (community college) free all over the country, it’s not clear how the federal government would do that,” says Sandy Baum, an author and educator who has spent much of her career studying trends in college costs.

Baum is a skeptic: First of all, she says, the federal government has no say in how much tuition community colleges charge. Second, community colleges in most states are pretty affordable and already free for low income students.

She’s concerned about making it free for people who can afford to go.

“It’s not that there’s something wrong with it being free,” Baum says. “It’s that it’s wrong to allocate our scarce funds when you have a lot of low income students who are struggling to pay their living costs.”

Read more at: www.npr.org

Florida Comes In 28th On State Education System Ranking

Florida earned a C grade on this year's Education Week state rankings, coming in 28th overall.

lwr / Flickr

Florida earned a C grade on this year's Education Week state rankings, coming in 28th overall.

Florida’s earned a C grade and ranked 28th overall on this year’s Education Week Quality Counts ratings.

Education Week gave the state strong scores for equity in student achievement. Test results show minority students generally perform better in Florida than other states, and the gap between white and minority student scores is smaller in Florida than other states.

But Education Week took big deductions for what Florida spends on education. Florida earned an F for school spending.

Education Week didn’t rank states overall last year, but in 2013 Florida ranked sixth in the nation. The comparison is slightly unfair because Education Week changed the criteria used to rank schools this year.

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Florida Senators Raise Testing Questions At Budget Hearing

Sen. Bill Montford is also CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.


Sen. Bill Montford, a Democrat, is also CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

A state senator and leader of the Florida’s school superintendents association said he’s not sure schools will have the technology in place for new online exams this spring.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart told the Senate Education Appropriations committee that Florida’s new statewide tests, the Florida Standards Assessments, are on track for use beginning in March. The tests are tied to new Common Core-based math, reading and writing standards.

But Montford, a Democrat, wasn’t as sure that school districts would have the computer and Internet capacity for the exams, which are mostly taken online.

“I would feel very uncomfortable,” Montford said, “leaving here today thinking that all districts are ready from a technological standpoint to administer the assessment this year.”

The conversation came during the first big week of committee work prior to this year’s legislative session. The amount and cost of testing is expected to be a high-profile issue.

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Bush’s Foundation Connected Education And Business Leaders

Emails show just how closely former Gov. Jeb Bush, and the education foundations he started, worked with education leaders across the country and corporate donors to adopt specific policies, The Washington Post reports. The foundation’s work could open Bush to charges of crony capitalism during a Republican presidential primary.

As a nonprofit, Bush’s foundation is not required to disclose its donors. It reported $10 million in income in 2012, according to tax documents. The group’s Web site lists most donors, with their contributions included in ranges. The site was updated Friday to list every donor that contributed last year.

Among the top donors in 2014, giving $500,000 to $1 million, was News Corporation, which owns a firm called Amplify that markets tablets, software and data analysis to school districts. News Corp. chief executive Rupert Murdoch delivered a keynote speech to the Bush foundation’s annual meeting in 2011, when Amplify rolled out its tablet, saying it was time to “tear down an education system designed for the 19th century and replace it with one suited for the 21st.”

The donor lists show that the foundation has drawn funding from a wide range of sources, including Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charity arm of former New York mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I), and the Walton Family Foundation, a major backer of charter schools.

Read more at: www.washingtonpost.com

Florida Gets More Time Before Counting English-Learner Test Results

The standoff between Florida and the federal Education Department about testing students learning English is over, and Florida will get its way. The federal agency will allow the state to start counting English-learners results after two years in school. The feds wanted the state to count results after one year.

The test scores of these students are used in high-stakes decisions. They are factored into school letter grades, which can earn a school extra cash or force it to shut its doors. Teacher evaluations — which can be used to fire teachers or give them a raise — also count on them.

“The extra year is a huge deal,” said Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie. “You can just imagine if anyone here were to go to another country and, in just one year, we were expected to adjust to the new country … and be expected to perform at the same level. We’re putting a group of kids at a severe disadvantage if we do that, and it’s just not fair.”

Carvalho has said Miami-Dade’s figures show that the percentage of English-language learners who perform at-grade level increases by 28 points in the second year of instruction.

Read more at: www.miamiherald.com

Federal College Rating Proposal Gets Low Marks

Colleges are raising objections President Barack Obama’s rating system proposed on Friday. The plan may be dead on arrival. Florida awards its universities a small portion of total funding funding based on similar ratings.

The young PIRS drew lots of attention.

“Everyone likes the idea of accountability,” as Kevin Kinser, a higher education professor at the State University of New York, Albany, puts it.

But it just as quickly made mortal enemies, causing some to pronounce it “dead on arrival” this week.

Leaders of private liberal arts colleges said graduates’ earnings are a bad way to judge the value of a degree in the humanities.

Leaders of historically black colleges said they would be unfairly judged because they serve a diverse population, often with lower graduation rates.

Community colleges, teachers’ colleges, and large research universities each argued that their unique missions wouldn’t be recognized by a one-size-fits-all system.

Read more at: www.npr.org

The Education Year In Review — And What To Expect In 2015

Testing opponents quietly show support for speakers at an August Lee County school board meeting. The board voted 3-2 to reverse its state testing boycott.

Ashley Lopez / WGCU

Testing opponents quietly show support for speakers at an August Lee County school board meeting. The board voted 3-2 to reverse its state testing boycott.

2014 was a big year for education in Florida.

Activists in Lee County convinced the school board to ditch state testing – before the board reversed the decision a couple of days later.

Florida schools pushed ahead with new Common Core-based math and language arts standards in every grade, despite rising opposition to Common Core across the country.

And education was a top issue during the governor’s race.

Barry University political scientist Sean Foreman sat down with StateImpact Florida to talk about what we learned in 2014, and what’s next in 2015?

Q: The big story this year was on testing, and we saw some – in at least one county kind of an open revolt against the statewide testing requirements. And we’re starting to hear legislative leaders talk about changing the requirements as well. What do you think is going to happen and what did we learn this year?

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