Florida

Putting Education Reform To The Test

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Florida’s New School Standards Both “Successful” And A “Disaster”

 Frances S. Tucker Elementary School fifth grade teacher Yaliesperanza Salazar. Math lessons are carefully designed to match Florida's new Common Core-based standards.

John O’Connor / StateImpact Florida

Frances S. Tucker Elementary School fifth grade teacher Yaliesperanza Salazar. Math lessons are carefully designed to match Florida’s new Common Core-based standards.

Florida just completed the first year of one of the biggest experiments in U.S. education.

For the first time this year, every grade in every public school used new math and language arts standards that outline what students should know each year. The goal to have is high school graduates who are ready for college-level classes or the full-time work force.

School district and state leaders generally support the switch. Teacher and parent opinions differ about whether the new standards are an improvement.

But nearly everyone agrees the switch has been imperfect.

“This has been not necessarily a smooth transition,” said Miami-Dade schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

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Fine Arts Museum Bringing Students, Ancient Worlds Together

St. Petersburg Museium of Fine Arts docent Tina Douglass shares the story behind an African elephant mask with sixth graders from Clearwater's Oak Grove Middle School.

Mary Shedden / StateImpact Florida

St. Petersburg Museium of Fine Arts docent Tina Douglass shares the story behind an African elephant mask with sixth graders from Clearwater's Oak Grove Middle School.

It’s just a few dozen yards from the charter buses to the stately columns of the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts entrance.

Dozens of energetic 12- and 13-year-olds jump off the bus after a 25-minute ride from their Clearwater’s Oak Grove Middle School.

Volunteer docents scramble to sort out small groups by color, and hand out clipboards and pencils.

“Purple, nice straight line!” one docent yells from the top of the steps.

“Green group over here,” another barks.

“Guys heads up,” says another volunteer at the front door. “Do you have gum? You need to put it in the garbage can when we go in.”

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How The Internet Is Helping Florida Students Pay For Their Education

Ashley Jean has enrolled in a global studies program at Long Island University. Now she's trying to raise money to help pay for travel costs.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Ashley Jean has enrolled in a global studies program at Long Island University. Now she's trying to raise money to help pay for travel costs.

Ashley Jean is graduating from Miami’s iPrep Academy this week. And then she’s planning to travel the world.

Jean will start a global studies program through Long Island University that will eventually take her to places like Costa Rica, Australia, Bali and Spain.

That’s a lot of plane tickets.

“I don’t want money to be a reason why I can’t change my life,” Jean says, “so I have to work hard to do what I can to get this program.”

Like a growing number of college students, Jean is turning to crowdfunding sites to help her raise money for college. The sites let users search by location or topic and donate directly to causes they like.

Jean is using a gofundme page to help her raise money for school. She’s set a goal of $2,200 to pay for tickets, visas, health insurance and other expenses of studying abroad.

It’s just a fraction of the total cost of the program – but every bit helps. She says gofundme lets her make the pitch her way.

“I put orange because that’s my favorite color,” she says of her page. “Usually the photo or video it usually enhances — they require you to have a photo because it makes it [easier] for you to get more money and stuff.”

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Charter School Takes Aim At At-Risk Students

The entrance to Enterprise High School, a charter school in Pinellas County for students at risk for not completing their educations.

M.S. Butler / StateImpact Florida

The entrance to Enterprise High School, a charter school in Pinellas County for students at risk for not completing their educations.

Of the more than 600 charter schools in Florida. Some focus on the arts, some on sciences. Others are high schools that help students who are at risk for not finishing or dropping out completely.

At the crossroads of  busy four lane highway in Clearwater, students have to make their way through the noise and exhaust of heavy traffic to get to their high school classes.

Tucked in the back of of a strip mall is Enterprise High School. The 5-year-old charter school focuses on just one kind of student, those at risk for not finishing high school at all.
You may have one a lot like it very close by and not even know it.

Donna Hulbert, Director of the school says Enterprise gives its student free bus passes, eliminating one obstacle to getting here on time.

“We are located here, really, for one purpose only. We have four bus stops on the corners of our intersection.”

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It Takes A “Forest” To Feed An Elementary School

The young crops in Kelsey Pharr Elementary school's new "food forest."

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

The young crops in Kelsey Pharr Elementary school's new "food forest."

Rain is terrible when you’re trying to give tours of your new garden.

But it’s great for the spinach, sweet potato and purple passion fruit rapidly taking root.

On a very rainy day, Kelsey Pharr Elementary third graders Ronnield Luna and Jeffrey Arroyo are showing grownups around what used to be a grass field.

Now the school in Miami’s Brownsville neighborhood has several thousand square feet of all kinds of fruit and vegetables.

Some you can find at your supermarket.

“And here we have lemongrass,” Arroyo says. “When you rip a little piece and you smell it, it smells like lemon.”

Other produce is more exotic.

“And here we have the Moringa, the Moringa tree,” Arrroyo says. “It’s the healthiest plant ever and it has protein.”

“It makes you live longer,” Luna adds

Students at ten other Miami-Dade elementary schools also will soon be eating kale, tomatoes and guava they grow themselves.

In a couple of years, the banana and jackfruit trees will be ready too.

The gardens — dubbed “food forests” — are part of a program to teach kids to eat more healthy and to teach them the science of farming and nutrition.

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Explaining Florida’s For-Profit College Industry

Corinthian Colleges, the parent company of Everest University, has agreed to sell or close all its campuses. This campus is Boston will close. Florida campuses will be sold.

Kirk Carapezza / WGBH

Corinthian Colleges, the parent company of Everest University, agreed to sell or close all its campuses. This campus in Boston has closed. Florida campuses were sold.

Miami Herald reporter Michael Vasquez has spent a year digging into Florida’s for-profit college industry for a series called Higher Ed Hustle.

About 300,000 Florida students attend a for-profit college, which often specialize in training low-skill workers for a new career.

But students often find their degree doesn’t qualify for the career they were seeking, and they graduate withe tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

Vasquez spoke with StateImpact Florida about what he discovered:

Q: Michael, you have spent a year looking at how for-profit colleges, career colleges, operate in Florida. Why don’t you kind of sum up what you’ve found?

A: Sometimes career colleges, which are mostly for-profit, sometimes they do a good job with students. They take students who are typically non-traditional older students. Maybe, if they’re younger, they probably weren’t the best students in high school.

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Required Financial Literacy Course Gets Second Chance in Florida Senate

The Florida Council on Economic Education says personal bankruptcies have increased 2200 percent in the last 40 years. That’s one reason why the council is leading a campaign called Require The Money Course.

Trianons Oficial/flickr

The Florida Council on Economic Education says personal bankruptcies have increased 2200 percent in the last 40 years. That’s one reason why the council is leading a campaign called Require The Money Course.

Bills filed in the Florida House and Senate would require high school students to take a one-semester financial literacy course. But with just three weeks left in the legislative session, the proposals (House bill 29 and Senate bill 92)  haven’t been discussed by committees.

Now, there’s another option in the Florida Senate to get the class into high schools if the legislative proposals fail. An alternative is now part of the Senate budget plan for the state starting in July. It would create a required financial literacy pilot project in Broward County schools and a grant program that would enable other districts to participate.

A survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling finds about three-quarters of Americans think they would benefit from professional help with their everyday finances.

Criminology major Justin Buis, a junior at Florida State University, has friends who could use the help.

“They have a certain amount of money for a semester and by the time the semester is halfway through, all their money is gone,” Buis says. “They’re living on gas station food or ramen noodles because they don’t know how to manage their money.

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

W. Kent Fuchs is the new president of the University of Florida. During his time at Cornell University, he helped establish a New York City campus.

Cornell University

W. Kent Fuchs is the new president of the University of Florida. During his time at Cornell University, he helped establish a New York City campus.

Three months ago Kent Fuchs became president of the University of Florida, leaving New York’s Cornell University.

Fuchs says Florida universities are adding new faculty, but opposition to higher tuition means more pressure to find private donations.

The University of Florida is also expanding a new online program, with a goal of eventually enrolling 24,000 students.

Fuchs sat down with WLRN’s StateImpact Florida reporter John O’Connor to talk about the issues in higher education.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the state right now. You’ve been here three months. What have you learned so far? Where do you think things are? And where do you think they’re going?

A: When I look at the national landscape, the University of Florida, and indeed the state universities across our state, are in a different place than many of our peers.

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Testing, School Choice, PE: A Town Hall Conversation About Florida Education

This week, PBS is launching a new documentary series “180 Days.”

One of the films focuses on Hartsville, South Carolina, a rural and poor district which has managed to become one of the highest rating school districts according to South Carolina’s ranking.

Tampa public media station WUSF hosted a town hall meeting at Artz 4 Life Academy in Clearwater last week to screen a portion of the movie and to discuss education issues. Artz 4 Life is an after-school arts and life coaching program.

Big on the mind of those who attended was Florida’s new test, the Florida Standards Assessments. The test is linked to Florida’s new Common Core-based math and language arts standards, which outline what students should know by the end of each grade.

But parents were worried the new test is expected to be tougher, and must be taken on a computer.

“We went from FCAT to FSA and that’s worse than what we were already at,” said mom of three Lisa Hewitt. “We set our students up to fail…If they weren’t doing so well in FCAT why would we develop another test that’s worse?

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Five Questions About Florida’s Testing Problems

Florida students had trouble connecting to the state's new online writing test on Monday and Tuesday. The problems seemed to be fixed by Wednesday afternoon.

stanfordedtech / Flickr

Florida students had trouble connecting to the state's new online writing test on Monday and Tuesday. The problems seemed to be fixed by Wednesday afternoon.

Last week, dozens of Florida school districts had to postpone state testing because of problems with the new Florida Standards Assessments.

Students couldn’t log in to the online writing exam — and some who did were booted out and temporarily lost their answers.

The problems seem to have been resolved Thursday. By Friday, more than half of students scheduled to take the online writing exam had finished.

Here’s five questions about what happened and what’s next.

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