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Putting Education Reform To The Test

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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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Is Typing A Test A Big Deal For Students?

This year, some students will have to type their responses on the state writing test.

jypsygen / Flickr

This year, some students will have to type their responses on the state writing test.

This week Florida students are taking the new Florida Standards Assessments writing test for the first time.

The test is online for students in 8th through 10th grade, which has led some to wonder whether it’s fair to ask students to type the exam rather than write by hand?

Lawmakers asked Education Commissioner Pam Stewart that question in November.

“Are we actually testing their writing,” Stewart said, “or are we then testing their computer skills? I would suggest to you the answer to that really is we need to be doing both.”

Typing was a big enough question about the FSA that the Florida Department of Education decided to let students through 7th grade take a paper and pencil version of the writing test.

But should it be? Florida has used online exams for several years. The state is requiring schools deliver half of classroom instruction digitally, starting this fall. And kids can be pretty adept with computers, tablets and other devices.

As we talked to students this week about what they were expecting on the new test, we asked about typing.

Samantha Arroyo is an 8th grader at Allapattah Middle School in Miami. She says the change is a big deal for her.

“One thing that puts a lot of pressure on me is that we have to type it out, and there’s only one hour,” she said of practice exams.

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Ready Or Not, Students, New Florida Exam Is Here

The new Florida Standards Assessments begin today. Most students will take the exam online, though some students will take a paper and pencil version of the writing exam.

Extra Ketchup / Flickr

The new Florida Standards Assessments begin today. Most students will take the exam online, though some students will take a paper and pencil version of the writing exam.

At Miami’s iPrep Academy, getting ready for the state’s new standardized test includes rapping.

Two students are recording the daily announcements, telling classmates when and where they need to be starting today.

“Monday is ninth graders, with last name A to G,” one student raps, in a rhyme that’s no threat to Miami’s Rick Ross.

“On Tuesday, it’s ninth graders with last name H through Z,” his partner continues.

“All testing is in room 2 – 0 – 4!” they conclude together, Beastie Boys-style.

Today marks the start of testing season for Florida schools. Students have state exams scheduled every few weeks from now until the end of the school year.

It’s the first time students will take a new test called the Florida Standards Assessments, or FSA, which replaces most FCAT exams.

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How A Private Middle School Is Preparing Students For High School Success

Academy Prep in St. Petersburg is a private middle school that only enrolls low-income students.

AcademyPrep.org

Academy Prep in St. Petersburg is a private middle school that only enrolls low-income students.

It’s 7:30 a.m. and the fifth through eight graders at Academy Prep in midtown St. Petersburg are lined up outside to recite the school pledge. It’s a cool February morning and they’re a little fidgety until Head of School Gina Burkett raises two fingers above her head and all goes quiet.

The pledge starts with “ Standing in this room are the greatest, most committed, most responsible people this world has ever known.”

That may sound slightly immodest but getting these kids to believe they are capable of great things is a big part of the curriculum here.

You see, Academy Prep is a private middle school exclusively for children whose families live below the poverty level and it is paid for entirely with corporate and private donations. It’s in one of the poorest areas of Pinellas County.

The school was started 17 years ago when the owners of a local resort overheard their employees talking about the problems their kids were having in the local public school.

So, using their own money and private donations they, along with some retired educators started this not-for-profit school in the heart of one of St. Petersburg’s most troubled neighborhoods.

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