Putting Education Reform To The Test

More Than Half Of U.S. Public School Students In Poverty

The majority of U.S. public school students live in poverty, as measured by students receiving free and reduced-price lunches, according to new data. Florida’s rate is 59 percent, which is among the highest in the nation.

The shift to a majority-poor student population means that in public schools, more than half of the children start kindergarten already trailing their more privileged peers and rarely, if ever, catch up. They are less likely to have support at home to succeed, are less frequently exposed to enriching activities outside of school, and are more likely to drop out and never attend college.

It also means that education policy, funding decisions and classroom instruction must adapt to the swelling ranks of needy children arriving at the schoolhouse door each morning.

Read more at: www.washingtonpost.com

Amateur Radio Club Connects Miami Students With Space Station

A student asks a question of European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoferretti while Dade Radio Club of Miami president Miguel Garate looks on.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

A student asks a question of European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoferretti while Dade Radio Club of Miami president Miguel Garate looks on.

At first, the kids in the auditorium at Richmond Heights Middle School weren’t sure they’d hear a voice above the ear-burning static.

Dade Radio Club of Miami president Miguel Garate kept signaling the space station.

“NA1SS, NA1SS, this is Richmond Heights. Over,” Garate said repeatedly, trying to hail the space station.

They had just minutes before astronaut Samantha Cristoferretti would be out of range.

A voice cut through the white noise.

“This is November Alpha One, I-S-S. I read you three by five,” Cristoferretti said.

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Gov. Scott Wants To Set Aside $100 Million For Charter School Construction

Gov. Rick Scott wants to include $100 million in the state budget for charter school construction. He made the announcement Thursday at a Miami charter school founded by rapper Pitbull.

The current state budget includes $75 million for charter-school construction.

Charter schools receive public funding, but are run by private governing boards.

Earlier in the week, Scott said he would like to see lawmakers increase the statewide K-12 education budget from $18.9 billion to $19.75 billion. His recommendation includes $7,716 per student, a record high not accounting for inflation.

Read more at: www.tampabay.com

Lawmakers Send More Questions To Education Commissioner

State senators have sent more questions to Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, the Times/Herald capital bureau reports, including asking for specific answers on how much state testing costs and how long it will take. They also want her to clear up whether and how students can “opt out” of state tests.

“We appreciate your willingness to discuss these issues fully and candidly and to engage senators on a very specific level,” the Senate leaders wrote. “While our questions may be probing and detailed, our committees’ inquiries are inspired by an abiding commitment to accountability and a concern that thoughtful, effective, timely and valid implementation is the best way to ensure that Florida districts, schools, students, and educators are motivated and measured by the highest standards of performance.”

Read more at: www.tampabay.com

Florida And The Congressional Debate Over Rewriting No Child Left Behind

With Republicans in control of both houses, the long-overdue No Child Left Behind overhaul may happen.

saxen / Flickr

With Republicans in control of both houses, the long-overdue No Child Left Behind overhaul may happen.

No Child Left Behind needs an update. Born in 2002, the law expired in 2007 and has sat as Republicans and Democrats struggled to find agreement.

But Republicans now in control of both Congressional chambers seem ready to take on the task — and likely reduce federal education requirements on states.

The biggest question is whether the new law will require annual testing of students. NCLB requires states to annually test third grade through eighth grade students in reading and math. The law also requires math and reading testing at least once in high school and three science exams before graduating high school.

Florida was testing students annually before NCLB and using those results to grade public school and district performance.

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Federal Education Secretary Says He’s Committed To Yearly Testing

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says lawmakers should maintain annual testing requirements as they rewrite the federal No Child Left Behind law. Parents, students and teachers have a right to know whether students are making progress each year, he told the New York Times.

In July, the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers’ union, called for an end to mandated yearly testing, and a growing group of parents and educators has been pushing back against what they see as rampant testing and test preparation.

In August, Mr. Duncan said that testing issues were “sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools” and allowed states to delay using test scores in teacher evaluations.

The requirement that schools test students every year in reading and math between third and eighth grade and once in high school was enshrined in the No Child Left Behind Act. The tests were intended as a way for schools to see whether all student groups, but particularly minorities and poor students, were being taught adequately.

That law, which governs how $23.3 billion in federal education funding is spent and was passed with bipartisan fanfare in 2001, has been up for reauthorization since 2007. So far, Congress has been unable to agree on a new version. The House passed a bill in 2013, but the Senate version did not make it out of the Education Committee.

Read more at: www.nytimes.com

Fewer And Better: How Lawmakers Want To Change State Testing

Students will take the Florida Standards Assessments online.

Extra Ketchup/flickr

Most students will take the Florida Standards Assessments online.

When lawmakers return to Tallahassee in March for the annual legislative session, they have a lot of questions they need to answer about public school testing.

Senators laid out their concerns about the state testing system last week at a series of meetings.

They don’t know how many tests the state requires, or how long it takes to complete those exams.

They don’t know how much the state and school districts spend on testing.

And they’re not convinced they can depend on all the results of those exams.

Sen. David Simmons – and his colleagues — wants to change that.

“We’ve got the chance here this spring to do a re-write of this so that we can, in fact, assure that we’re not over-testing our children,” Simmons said.

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South Florida College Leaders Support President’s Free College Plan

The president of Broward College supports President Barack Obama's proposal to offer students two years of college tuition-free.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

The president of Broward College supports President Barack Obama's proposal to offer students two years of college tuition-free.

The leaders of two of the nation’s largest community colleges say they support President Barack Obama’s proposal to give students two years of college for free.

Obama proposed the idea in Tennessee Friday.

In a written statement, Broward College president J. David Armstrong says the proposal could mean more training for teachers, nurses, paramedics, firefighters and police. That’s good for the economy, he says.

The proposal “provides unprecedented access and opportunity for all to attend the first two years of college and earn a certificate or associate’s degree since it directly addresses economic barriers for those seeking the American Dream,” Armstrong says.

Miami Dade College already offers full scholarships to many students.

President Eduardo Padron says community colleges support the idea because the cost of college often prevents students from finishing their studies.

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President Obama Wants Free Community College

President Barack Obama is proposing that all students could attend two-year community colleges for free. Supporters say its a leading way to make college more affordable, while critics say the plan would likely shift college aid from low-income students to middle class students.

“For the president to say we’re going to make (community college) free all over the country, it’s not clear how the federal government would do that,” says Sandy Baum, an author and educator who has spent much of her career studying trends in college costs.

Baum is a skeptic: First of all, she says, the federal government has no say in how much tuition community colleges charge. Second, community colleges in most states are pretty affordable and already free for low income students.

She’s concerned about making it free for people who can afford to go.

“It’s not that there’s something wrong with it being free,” Baum says. “It’s that it’s wrong to allocate our scarce funds when you have a lot of low income students who are struggling to pay their living costs.”

Read more at: www.npr.org

Bill Would Set Minimum Teacher Starting Salary Of $50,000

Orlando Democratic Sen. Darren Soto has introduced a bill establishing a minimum salary of $50,000 for all "instructional personnel."

Florida Senate

Orlando Democratic Sen. Darren Soto has introduced a bill establishing a minimum salary of $50,000 for all "instructional personnel."

Beginning teachers would earn at least a $50,000 salary – starting next school year – under a bill filed this week in Tallahassee.

Sen. Darren Soto (D-Orlando) filed the bill, SB 280, which cites a need for the state to attract and retain teachers. It seeks to increase their pay without affecting other personnel and programs.

Lawmakers would have to put enough money into education to guarantee the minimum starting salary for teachers and to ensure that districts have enough money to maintain other services. The base salary would be adjusted each year for inflation.

The bill doesn’t explain how lawmakers should come up with the money to boost all of those salaries. It makes no mention of teacher evaluations – which impact salaries. It also doesn’t say whether experienced teachers would get a pay increase since beginners would be bumped up considerably.

While the starting pay varies among districts, the state Department of Education says the average salary among all Florida teachers for the 2013-2014 school year was $47,780.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics says the average salary for all Florida workers is just over $41,000.

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