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Putting Education Reform To The Test

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Remembering FCAT, 1995-2014

This is the last year Florida students will sit for the FCAT.

Photo by Norm Robbie (Flickr) / Illustration by Sammy Mack

This is the last year Florida students will sit for the FCAT.

The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is dying, say Florida education officials. By this time next year, the FCAT will be replaced with a new, Common Core-aligned assessment.

FCAT was born in 1995 in the humid June of a Tallahassee summer.

The Florida Commission on Education Reform and Accountability under Gov. Lawton Chiles gave birth to the test. It was part of a series of recommendations that were meant to give local districts more control and a better sense of how their schools were doing.

“At some point we may look fondly at the FCAT and wish we had it back,” says Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association — the umbrella organization for Florida’s teachers unions.

Eventually, Ford and the FEA would become outspoken rivals of FCAT, but the relationship didn’t sour immediately.

“It gave me information as a classroom teacher,” recalls Ford. “Unfortunately it was used as a political football to be the decision-maker for every decision that anybody wanted to tie to a test.”

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Mining Student Data To Keep Kids From Dropping Out

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Sammy Mack / StateImpact Florida

It’s report card day at Miami Carol City Senior High, and sophomore Mack Godbee is reviewing his grades with his mentor, Natasha Santana-Viera.

The first quarter on Godbee’s report card is littered with Ds and Fs. This quarter, there are more Cs and Bs. He’s got an A in English.

“Congratulations on that,” says Santana-Viera. “When you need help, do you know where to go?”

“Straight to y’all,” says Godbee.

Lots of teachers talk to their students about their report cards. But this conversation is the result of a school initiative to monitor student data—looking for dropout risk before the obvious signs that a student is struggling. It’s part of a national program called Diplomas Now, which operates in several schools in Florida.

Talking to Godbee about his report card and his goals for the next quarter is just one piece of a strategic plan to make sure he stays in school.

Florida lawmakers are currently considering a proposed bill that would, among other things, create similar early warning systems in middle schools to flag students who are at risk of dropping out.

Checking In On Education Bills As Florida Legislature Reaches Halfway Point

The 2014 Florida legislative session has reached the halfway point.

StevenM_61 / Flickr

The 2014 Florida legislative session has reached the halfway point.

The 2014 Florida legislative session reached the halfway point last week, so we thought we’d check in on some of the big education bills.

The Budget

The House, Senate and Gov. Rick Scott mostly agree on education spending based on their proposed budgets.

Both the House and the Senate approved roughly $75 billion budgets last week which would add more money for K-12. The House is proposing the largest increase – adding $207.98 more per student next year, or just over 3 percent. The Senate spending plan increases per-student funding by $175 per student.

While both budgets would set a record for total state education spending, both budget fall short of the per-student high water mark of $7,126 set during the the 2007-2008 school year.

Schools are also likely to receive more money for maintenance after several years with almost nothing in the state budget to fix roofs, replace equipment and take care of other long-term repairs. The House budget includes $50 million for district school maintenance, while the Senate includes $40 million.

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Why Police Support Common Core Standards In Florida

Chief Ian Moffett of Miami-Dade County Public Schools supports the state's new standards.

Sammy Mack / StateImpact Florida

Chief Ian Moffett of Miami-Dade County Public Schools supports the state's new standards.

Florida’s Common Core standards have a new group of supporters: law enforcement.

The national anti-crime group Fight Crime: Invest in Kids released a position paper in favor of Florida’s new standards for English language arts and math. The group argues that assessments and higher standards can prevent crime.

Here’s the paper’s summary of the connection:

“Florida’s law enforcement leaders see the Florida Standards as integral to the effort to ensure that all students are college- and career- ready, and essential if we are going to successfully prevent future crime. What works to help all our young people be employable and succeed will also work to bring down crime. That is why we in law enforcement support the Florida Standards and aligned assessments.”

You can hear more from the organization and law enforcement here:

Uh, Senators? You Know We Already Get In-State Tuition At Miami’s FIU, Right?

FRIDA'S SURPRISE: Senators learned from Miami resident and FIU grad Frida Ulloa that state resident tuition is already available for some undocumented immigrants.

The Florida Channel

FRIDA'S SURPRISE: Senators learned from Miami resident and FIU grad Frida Ulloa that state resident tuition is already available for some undocumented immigrants.

The Florida Senate Judiciary Committee got a big surprise this week.

Turns out, in-state university tuition rates are already available for some undocumented immigrants. That’s the case at Florida International University.

It may have strengthened the hands of opponents of an in-state tuition bill, but not enough to defeat it.

Rick Stone from member station WLRN has the story:

Conversation About The Cost Of College Starts In Florida

Graduation day at Northwest Florida State College.

sean.flynn / Flickr

Graduation day at Northwest Florida State College.

NPR has started a series of conversations about paying for the rising cost of college.

For their first interview, NPR spoke with David Sherker, a student at Coral Reef High School in Miami, and his family. President Barack Obama recently spoke at the school to encourage students to apply for federal financial aid and prod Congress to approve $100 million in ideas to make college more affordable.

The rising cost of college is frightening. From the story:

The College Board says the average at public four-year colleges and universities increased by 27 percent beyond the rate of inflation over the five years from the 2008-09 academic year to 2013-14. After adjusting for inflation, the cost of tuition more than tripled between 1973 and 2013.

That reality has been forcing more and more students to take on staggering debts. Among all students who graduated from four-year colleges in 2012, seven in 10 left with debt.

And that debt load is heavy — an average of , according to the Institute for College Access and Success. Just 20 years ago, fewer than half of college students graduated with debt, and the amount was less than $10,000 on average.

But as we and others have noted: Not going to college will cost you. The earnings gap between those with a bachelor’s degree and those without is at a 50-year high.

Listen to the interview below:

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Explaining The Push For ‘Pay It Forward’ Tuition Plans

A Florida lawmaker has introduced a bill which would make college tuition free, but students would repay the cost over time.

thisisbossi / Flickr

A Florida lawmaker has introduced a bill which would make college tuition free, but students would repay the cost over time.

A Florida lawmaker has proposed allowing students to attend college tuition-free, and then repay the cost with a percentage of their salary after graduating.

The proposal has been nicknamed “Pay It Forward” tuition because students making their payments keep tuition free for future generations of college students. Students might pay their Alma mater between 2 percent and 6 percent of their annual salary for as long as 25 years, depending on the terms of the program.

The idea was first proposed in Oregon, which is creating a pilot program for lawmakers to consider. In Florida, Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, introduced SB 738, which would launch a pilot program to create a Pay It Forward program.

Pay It Forward seems tempting on its face. The University of Florida charges $6,270 a year in tuition. The median Florida salary is $41,334 for a household with one earner. Assuming 3 percent payback over 25 years, that University of Florida degree would cost $31,000.

“It’s disarmingly apparent that it sounds like a good deal,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor of higher education policy at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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Florida Matters: Choosing The Next FCAT

Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart will soon choose an FCAT replacement.

shinealight / Flickr

Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart will soon choose an FCAT replacement.

Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart is expected to recommend a test to (mostly) replace the FCAT this month.

A new test is needed because Florida is finishing the switch to new K-12 math, language arts and literacy standards this fall. The standards are largely based on Common Core standards fully adopted by 44 other states and the District of Columbia.

This evening, WUSF’s Florida Matters takes a look at the test decision with University of South Florida education historian Sherman Dorn, Pasco County assistant superintendent Amelia Van Name Larson, and Melissa Kicklighter, a vice president with the Florida PTA.

Dorn said we won’t know how much will change with the test until the decision is announced.

“It might be tests that are interesting and challenging,” he said. “It might be tests that are very close to what students experience with FCAT — or somewhere in between.”

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What A Florida Middle School Has Learned So Far Teaching Common Core Standards

This story is part of a series from The Hechinger Report and StateImpact Florida looking at how Florida schools are getting ready for Common Core standards. Read — and listen to — the first story here.

Monroe Middle School teacher Dawn Norris hears a difference in her language arts classes since she starting using Common Core standards two years ago. It’s how the 13-year teacher knows the new standards are working.

Middle schools across Florida will begin using the new math and language arts standards when classes start this fall. But most middle schools in the Tampa area, where Monroe is located, are already using Common Core.

Monroe Middle School teacher Dawn Norris talks to her students about how to write an essay about fairy tales. Norris has been teaching based on the Common Core standards for two years. Since making the switch, she says her students have taken more control of the lessons.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Monroe Middle School teacher Dawn Norris talks to her students about how to write an essay about fairy tales. Norris has been teaching based on the Common Core standards for two years. Since making the switch, she says her students have taken more control of the lessons.

Common Core has been fully adopted by 45 states. But the standards have been criticized for their quality, for reducing local control over classroom content and for continuing emphasis on student test results to determine whether teachers and schools are successful.

“What I’ve noticed in my classes now is they’re loud. And that’s OK,” Norris said. “Where in the old days it was, no, you want that silent classroom, but the more they talk, they’re all on task. They’re all working on that same common goal.”

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Conversation About Florida Standards Changing As Legislative Session Begins

Common Core protestors at February's State Board of Education Meeting in Orlando. They aren't giving up, but lawmakers say the conversation about Common Core is moving on.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Common Core protestors at February's State Board of Education Meeting in Orlando. They aren't giving up, but lawmakers say the conversation about Common Core is moving on.

Sondra Hulette and her granddaughter joined dozens of anti-Common Core protestors as they circled a fountain outside the Orange County school district offices last month.

Inside the building, the State Board of Education was about to rename Common Core as “The Florida Standards.” But outside, Hulette and others chanted “Stop Common Core!” “Keep education local!” and “Follow the money!”

Common Core are math and language arts standards adopted by Florida and 44 other states. They outline what students should know at the end of each grade.

But Hulette and many others oppose the standards because they are concerned about losing local control over classroom decisions, cost and other factors.

Hulette’s granddaughter is homeschooled, but she worries college placement exams are being written to the standards. And that would force parents of homeschooled students to address the standards or possibly leave their kids unprepared for the exams.

“I don’t want what’s happening in the public school to infiltrate what I have the authority over as homeschoolers,” Hulette said. “It’s going to impose some things on her that are illogical.”

Opposition to the standards has dominated Florida’s education conversation the past year, but Christina Phillips’ sixth grade language arts students at Monroe Middle School in Tampa wouldn’t know that from their school work. Phillips’ lessons have been Common Core-based for the past two years.

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