Florida

Putting Education Reform To The Test

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Why Florida Is Fighting The U.S. Education Department Over English Learners

Althea Valle teaches a class of ELL's. She says of the new federal requirement, "I think it’s going to put a lot of pressure on the schools to get these kids where we think they should be."

Gina Jordan/StateImpact Florida

Althea Valle teaches a class of ELL's. She says of the new federal requirement, "I think it’s going to put a lot of pressure on the schools to get these kids where we think they should be."

A 10th grader born in Haiti struggles to read in his class at Godby High School in Tallahassee. The student is more comfortable with Haitian Creole than English. Teacher Althea Valle has students of various nationalities trying to master the language.

“It’s a challenge,” Valle says. “There’s a lot of gesturing, and you know sometimes I feel like I’m onstage and sometimes I have to be onstage to make myself understood.”

Valle is the ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) coordinator for Leon County schools. Her developmental language class is offered as an elective for students who want the extra help, like Anas Al-Humiari from Yemen. His native language is Arabic, and he’s been studying English for 5 years.

“First of all, the words are the main things that get me down and the time, me trying to understand the sentence and what is the article or text actually means,” Al-Humiari says, trying to find the right words.

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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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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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Why The ACLU Is Challenging Single-Gender Classes In Florida Schools

The ACLU is worried single-gender classes might reinforce stereotypes of the 1950s.

Gardiner & James Families / Wikimedia Commons

The ACLU is worried single-gender classes might reinforce stereotypes of the 1950s.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed federal complaints against school districts in Broward, Hernando, Hillsborough and Volusia counties over the use of all-girls or all-boys classes. The ACLU wants the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to investigate the programs.

StateImpact Florida’s Gina Jordan spoke with Galen Sherwin, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, about the complaints.

Q: Galen, what do the complaints say?

A: Schools shouldn’t be in the business of making crude judgments of children’s educational needs based solely on whether they’re a boy or a girl – that’s the definition of sex discrimination.

They’re using different teaching methods, environments and even curricula.

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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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New Teacher’s Union Leader Promises More Florida Activism

Lily Eskelsen Garcia asks students what they want from the president on a visit to Allapattah Middle School last week.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Lily Eskelsen Garcia asks students what they want from the president on a visit to Allapattah Middle School last week.

At a Spanish restaurant in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, one of the most powerful women in education, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, pumps up union members by telling them where her career started – the cafeteria.

Lily Eskelsen Garcia is the first Latina elected to lead the nation’s largest union – the National Education Association.

Thursday was her fourth day on the job. She started at 6 a.m. with a tour of the Keys by plane. She followed with visits to Allapattah Middle School and Hialeah High School in Miami-Dade County.

And she wrapped up a 12-hour day with a high-energy pitch for union members to get out and support Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist in his race against Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

“I like to say I was the lunch lady – that was my first job in a public school,” Eskelsen Garcia told about 50 members of the United Teachers of Dade. “That is padding my resume. I was the salad girl.

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FAU Students Building Robot Boat To Conquer The World

Ivan Bertaska, Anderson Lebadd and Edoardo Sarda run their robotic boat through the motions on the Intracoastal Waterway near Dania Beach.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Ivan Bertaska, Anderson Lebadd and Edoardo Sarda run their robotic boat through the motions on the Intracoastal Waterway near Dania Beach.

On the Intracoastal Waterway near Dania Beach, Ivan Bertaska was getting ready to captain his vessel.

Bertaska wants to check the boat’s capabilities by having it speed up and slow down as it carves a wavy wake across the Intracoastal.

“The wave pattern actually gives me a good range of velocities,” he said, “so at first we go about two knots and then we get to the top corners where we’re making sharp turns we’re going about one knot. So I get a good operational range of the vehicle.

“We get a lot of funny looks from boaters.”

Funny looks because Bertaska and a team of other engineers are building a boat that can drive itself.

The team is from Florida Atlantic University and Villanova University in Philadelphia. It includes FAU student Edoardo Sarda and Villanova student Anderson Lebbad. They’re traveling to Singapore in October for the Maritime RobotX Challenge.

And they’re one of just three teams from the United States chosen for the competition.

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Take An Audio Tour Of Florida’s Newest University

The distinctive facade of the main building on Florida Polytechnic's campus.

Steve Newborn / WUSF

The distinctive facade of the main building on Florida Polytechnic's campus.

Florida’s 12th university, Florida Polytechnic University, is an architectural marvel that sits right next to Interstate 4 in Polk County.

The main building features a swooping veil-like facade designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

The public can get a peek of the new campus when it opens on Saturday. But WUSF reporter Steve Newborn took a tour with university spokesman Crystal Lauderdale to talk about the features and Calatrava’s intent.

“It was designed to inspire innovation,” Lauderdale said of the design, which she said people have described as looking like a spaceship, a fountain, or less impressively, a football.

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Computer Programming Camp Offers Lesson In Logic

Ryan Seashore starts off every CodeNow workshop with a simple request — write out step-by-step instructions for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

A CodeNow teacher pretends to be a robot, and follows the students’ orders exactly as they’re written.

Students quickly find that asking a computer to perform an everyday task isn’t so easy.

CodeNow's Kareem Grant works with students during a June coding camp in Miami. Grant likes that coding requires disciplined thinking.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

CodeNow's Kareem Grant works with students during a June coding camp in Miami. Grant likes that coding requires disciplined thinking.

“They basically follow every instruction,” said Seashore, who founded CodeNow. “And so if it’s ‘Hey, take out bread from a bag,’ they will tear the bag of bread open. If it’s like ‘Spread the peanut butter’ and they didn’t say ‘Hey, twist the lid off’ it’ll spread the jar on it.

“This is a really amazing exercise because it teaches students the importance of logic.”

The lesson: Good programming starts with organized, disciplined thinking. And one mistake can cause everything to crash.

Coding is a hot subject right now in Florida schools. Florida lawmakers allowed students to substitute computer programming for a math or science high school graduation requirement.

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A Q & A With Activist And Algebra Project Founder Bob Moses

Algebra Project founder Bob Moses.

miller_center / Flickr

Algebra Project founder Bob Moses.

Fifty years ago Bob Moses organized volunteers to register voters in Mississippi during the Freedom Summer.

And for decades, Moses has been fighting for civil rights as an educator.

He’s won a MacArthur Genius Grant to develop a new way to teach algebra in largely low-income and minority schools.

The Algebra Project shows students how to translate mathematics into common language and back — to simplify algebra.

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