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 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

Why A Miami Middle School Is Teaching Debate To Conquer Common Core

Bridget McKinney, principal at Miami’s Allapattah Middle School, says her students struggle to pass the state’s reading and writing tests.

So when McKinney first read the Common Core math and language arts standards used in Florida schools this year, what jumped out was the emphasis on answering questions and making arguments using examples and evidence from what students are reading.

Allapattah Middle School principal Bridget McKinney sits in on one of the speech and debate classes she's required her students to take. McKinney says the Common Core standards emphasis using evidence and making arguments.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Allapattah Middle School principal Bridget McKinney sits in on one of the speech and debate classes she's required her students to take. McKinney says the Common Core standards emphasis using evidence and making arguments.

It took McKinney back to college — she was a speech major. So she decided her sixth, seventh and eighth graders would have to take a speech and debate course each year.

McKinney says the goal is to improve reading and writing skills — and state test scores.

“It’s been our Achilles’ heel at Allapattah, meeting that minimum requirement for literacy,” McKinney says. “I have to be very, very innovative or an out-of-the-box thinker to make this connection for my students.”

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Superintendents Ask For A One-Year Break From School Grading

Hillsborough County school superintendent MaryEllen Elia asked the State Board of Education for a one-year break from school grades and less reliance on test results on behalf of state superintendents. But Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said those changes would be up to the Legislature.

After Monday’s meeting, Stewart said in an interview that most of the issues Elia raised are controlled by the Legislature, not her.

The only area she saw as possibly outside lawmakers’ purview was the school grading formula, which was revamped over the spring. She said minor tweaks could be made.

Stewart noted that the state has changed tests before, most recently from the FCAT to the FCAT 2.0 in 2011-12. This time, she continued, the state provided more resources, materials and training to prepare for the switch than ever before.

“We got through that,” she said. “I think we can, and will, get through these changes.”

Read more at: www.tampabay.com

Miami-Dade Teachers Forced To Wait On School Supply Debit Cards

Last year Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers pushed a proposal to supply teachers with debit cards to purchase classroom supplies. But Miami-Dade teachers were told they couldn’t use the cards until September 26 — six weeks into the school year. The district said they wanted to get teachers hired before handing out the cards.

The state disbursed Miami-Dade’s share of the money — about $6 million — on July 9, education department spokesman Joe Follick said.

On Tuesday, some teachers said they still hadn’t received their debit card in the mail. Others said they had tried using theirs in an office supply store, only to have it declined.

Marte said the district sent multiple emails warning teachers not to use the cards before Sept. 26. She pointed out that teachers would be able to use the cards to help pay for projects and special events later in the school year.

But state Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican who sponsored the debit card legislation this year, said the program was intended for back-to-school shopping.

Read more at: www.miamiherald.com

Leading Lawmaker Defends State Testing

Florida’s next House Speaker, Steve Crisafulli, says he has no plans to eliminate Florida’s statewide testing system in a Florida Today op-ed. Crisafulli says the state does not have a testing “obsession” and that people are mistakenly calling the exams “high stakes.”

If we simply refuse these requirements, we would certainly lose billions of dollars for our schools. Especially hard hit would be funding for high- poverty schools and students with disabilities. Money isn’t the only loss to our students. The fact of the matter is that life is a series of tests. If you want a driver’s license, you need to pass a test. When you apply to college, you need to pass a test. If you want to become a doctor, lawyer, teacher, nurse, electrician, architect, plumber or engineer, you must pass a test.

If we stop measuring our kids’ progress, we’ll return to a failed system in which students are promoted from grade to grade without having the crucial reading, writing and math skills they need to succeed.

Read more at: www.floridatoday.com

Regional School Board Group: “Suspend High-Stakes Testing”

A group of 11 South Florida school districts — enrolling more than 40 percent of the state’s students — want to “suspend high-stakes testing.” They want to rewrite the state’s school rating system by 2017.

Karen Brill, the president of the consortium, said the motion can serve as a model for future change at the state level.

“I think what we showed to them is that we’re really all saying the same things but in different ways. We’re showing the Legislature that they can do it because we’re just as diverse as they are.”

The consortium, which requires a unanimous vote to pass motions, debated the motion’s aggressiveness and future efficacy for more than two hours in West Palm Beach on Friday afternoon.

Read more at: www.news-press.com

How Broward College Is Cutting Student Debt

The debt management seminar taught by Kent Dunston is part of the school's efforts to reduce student loan debt.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

The debt management seminar taught by Kent Dunston is part of the school's efforts to reduce student loan debt.

To get a student loan at Broward College, you’ve got to sit through a two-hour financial lesson with Kent Dunston first.

At times, it’s a little like “Scared Straight!” – that 1978 documentary about setting juvenile delinquents on the right path — but for your credit score.

Dunston’s first piece of advice – figure out how much money you’re going to need.

“You’re not going to borrow more than that amount of money,” he told the students. “You’ll be offered more. You don’t need it.”

Dunston is in charge of student loan defaults for Broward College. Those are students who stop paying their loans for nine months or longer.

Colleges have long been concerned about GPAs and SAT scores.

But now they have to be concerned about default rates as well. That’s the percentage of students who stop paying their student loans.

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Palm Beach County Says State Needs To Pay Up For Technology

One of Florida’s largest districts the state needs to pony up if they want districts to meet technology goals set by the state. Palm Beach County schools say the cost of meeting those goals are millions more than the state is paying for, and it will cost $70 million to have a computer for every student.

To that end, the state is doling out $40 million this year — $1.7 million to Palm Beach County – a sum that is woefully short of the need, said Mike Burke, the district’s chief operating officer.

The county’s charter schools – schools that operate with public money, but private management – can get a piece of that allocation if they complete a digital plan. A majority say they intend to write plans, said the district’s director of educational technology, Gary Weidenhamer.

“You’ll see that the need is much greater than the allocation. We did that on purpose,” Weidenhamer said. “We want to send a message to Tallahassee. In order to accomplish a lot of the things they want us to accomplish, additional funding is needed.”

Read more at: www.mypalmbeachpost.com

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