Florida

Putting Education Reform To The Test

State Suspends Elementary Reading Test

Florida has suspended the FAIR reading test for kindergartners through second grade. An Alachua County teacher refused to give the test to her students last week because of difficulties administering the online exam.

“With the implementation of new technology this year related to FAIR in grades K-2, some districts have experienced challenges,” Department of Education communications director Joe Follick wrote in an emailed statement. “The technology issue only affected the K-2 FAIR assessments. Because of this technological glitch and based on the input of superintendents, Commissioner Stewart took action on this matter.”

The statewide testing system did experience sweeping outages recently, but the headlines last week were dominated by Chiles Elementary School kindergarten teacher Susan Bowles when she went public with her refusal to administer the FAIR to her students.

Read more at: www.gainesville.com

Lawmaker Says Financial Aid Could Depend On Classes, Not Just Test Scores

Senate Education Chairman John Legg said lawmakers may base financial aid requirements on high school courses instead of just test scores.

The Florida Senate

Senate Education Chairman John Legg said lawmakers may base financial aid requirements on high school courses instead of just test scores.

A key Senate lawmaker may put less emphasis on test scores to determine which students qualify for state financial aid for college — possibly including Bright Futures.

Instead, scholarships  and grants would depend more on taking tougher classes in high school.

Senator John Legg, R-Trinity, said he and other lawmakers have heard complaints and concerns since raising the minimum SAT and ACT scores required to qualify for Bright Futures.

In the future, students could have to earn the new scholar version of Florida’s high school diploma to qualify for state aid. Florida also has a standard diploma and another focused on job certifications.

Florida lawmakers raised required SAT and ACT score for Bright Futures, slashing the number of students receiving the scholarships. One in three high school graduates qualified for Bright Futures at its peak. Now, just one in eight graduates qualifies.

“There has been concern,” Legg said. “Obviously, when a student misses the Bright Futures eligibility, people are not happy with that.

“I think you’ll see the Legislature discussing how can we take those designations and attach some financial incentives.”

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Needs-Based A Larger Portion Of State Financial Aid Spending

States are increasing the share needs-based college financial aid, according to new data published Monday. However, the total amount of state-based financial aid — $11.28 billion — did not increase in 2012-2013.


The annual survey, conducted by the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs, found that although the top-line number of state aid — $11.28 billion — actually declined just slightly from the previous year when adjusting for inflation, states collectively boosted their investment in need-based grant aid.
States increased their spending on need-based grant aid by 3.5 percent in the 2012-13 academic year, while non-need-based grant aid declined by 2.1 percent. In inflation-adjusted dollars, states reduced their spending on aid with a merit component to $3.98 billion last year from $4.02 billion the previous year.

Read more at: www.insidehighered.com

New Bright Futures Rules Changing College Plans For Florida Students

Jake Seiler had to put his plans to attend the University of South Florida on hold for a year to earn an associate's degree at Palm Beach State College. His dad, Paul, calls changes to Bright Futures an "injustice."

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Jake Seiler had to put his plans to attend the University of South Florida on hold for a year to earn an associate's degree at Palm Beach State College because he didn't qualify for Bright Futures. His dad, Paul, calls changes to Bright Futures an "injustice."

Most new Palm Beach College Students were going through orientation earlier this month, but Jake Seiler was wrapping up his first three courses.

Despite earning the highest SAT scores of his two siblings — 1100, on six attempts — Seiler didn’t score high enough this year to earn the Bright Futures Florida Medallion scholarship his older sister got last year.

That’s because Bright Futures, Florida’s lottery-funded college scholarship, has finished going through what supporters say is a fundamental change. The program has raised required test scores and become much more exclusive. Bright Futures is now exclusively a merit-based program and not focused on expanding access to higher education.

And that means students like Seiler, who once would have qualified for the scholarship with ease, no longer make the cut. And he isn’t alone.

At its peak in 2008, one in three Florida high school graduates qualified for a Bright Futures scholarship. In Seiler’s graduating class, according to estimates by the Florida College Access Network, just one in eight students will qualify.

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Ranking College Degrees By Pay

538 has ranked the highest-paying college majors using U.S. Census data. Engineering dominates the top of the list, while library science, psychology and the arts had the lowest median pay.


The millions of American college students heading back to campus this month face a grim reality: A college degree is no guarantee of economic success. But through their choice of major, they can take at least some steps toward boosting their odds.

Read more at: fivethirtyeight.com

Florida Expects Small Budget Surplus Next Year

A legislative panel has approved a long-term budget forecast that includes a $336 million surplus for the budget year beginning July 1. That surplus would be in addition to setting aside money for savings and expected increases for education and other high-priority programs.


Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, cautioned against reading too much into the report, saying he believes everything the state spends should be reviewed annually.

“I think we don’t know for sure what items in the rest of the general revenue part of the budget … we will fund,” Negron said. “Just as this year, we found almost $500 million to send back and reduce tag and title fees, and we still ended up with $1.3 billion in reserves. It’s just too early to know how all that’s going to play out.”

Read more at: miami.cbslocal.com

Miami-Dade Community Groups Say School District Contracts Aren’t Fair

Ron Frazier, CEO of BAC Funding Corporation, a non-profit that lends to minority-owned businesses, and a retired architect, helped lead the Urban League and NAACP review of school district contracts.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Ron Frazier, CEO of BAC Funding Corporation, a non-profit that lends to minority-owned businesses, and a retired architect, helped lead the Urban League and NAACP review of school district contracts.

The Urban League of Miami and the local NAACP want the Miami-Dade school district to stop work on a $1.2 billion bond project to renovate schools and upgrade their technology.

The groups believe black-owned businesses aren’t getting a fair chance at school construction projects.

It was a district review of contracts — a legal requirement if the district wants to allocate contracts based on race or gender — which re-ignited the long-simmering dispute. The district review found black-owned businesses received a disproportionately larger share of district subcontracts.

Urban League and NAACP leaders questioned that conclusion and said the district couldn’t verify their numbers. So they launched their own review and released the results at a meeting Wednesday evening.

“We don’t believe what nobody tell us,” said T. Willard Fair, president of the Urban League of Greater Miami. “Because past experiences tell us that if we don’t stay on top of it, they have a…way of not remembering what they told us yesterday.”

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Teacher Refuses To Give Standardized Test To Kindergarten Students

An Alachua County teacher is refusing to give a state-required test to her kindergarten students. The test, known as FAIR, is taken online this year and many of her students haven’t touched a keyboard. She’s also concerned kids unfamiliar with computers will lead to inaccurate results.


Some kindergartners are coming to the test without ever having touched a computer mouse before, which Bowles said causes the testing time to stretch from the prescribed 35 minutes to 50 minutes or an hour.

There is also no way to go back and correct answers on the test, she said, so a student who accidentally double-clicks to enter an answer could end up skipping multiple screens on the test, rendering their results inaccurate.

But the main issue for Bowles, and others, is the loss of instructional time after administering these tests — a total of six weeks, in fact.

Read more at: www.gainesville.com

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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College Graduates Earning More Than Expected

The job market for recent college grads is improving — at least in terms of pay. Starting salaries increased 7.5% from 2013 graduates, according to new data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers.


Incessant media reports about the poor prospects for new college grads have clearly taken a toll on students’ psyches.

More than 30% of respondents said they expected to earn between $30,001 and $40,000, while nearly 21% predicted they’d earn $30,000 or less in their first jobs after graduation.

“Students have a bleak outlook,” said John Barker, director of the career center at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. “I hear regular comments from students about the poor job market, but we don’t have a poor job market right now.”

Read more at: blogs.wsj.com

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