Putting Education Reform To The Test

Judge Says Miami-Dade Schools Obstructed Charter Conversion Effort

Miami-Dade school officials attempted to derail an effort to convert a school for severely disabled children into a charter school — and then punished the principals who led the effort, a judge has ruled. The school district disputes the judge’s version of events, the Miami Herald reports.

The case is the first of its kind in Florida, where laws allow votes by parents and faculty to change public schools into charters, which receive public funding but are governed by an independent board. Parents and teachers of Wingate Oaks, for instance, are hoping to be the first to successfully convert a school in Miami-Dade or Broward counties.

Under Florida law, school district officials can’t punish their employees for taking part in the process. But that’s what Fernandez and Cristobal say happened to them after they raised the possibility that Neva King Cooper’s students could benefit if the school was converted to a charter.

Read more at: www.miamiherald.com

Collier And Lee Schools Say Cost Of Digital Upgrades A Concern

Southwest Florida school districts say they have the Internet capacity for new online tests and digital lessons. But the computers, tablets and other devices will cost more than twice what the state budgeted this year.

Districts have spent the past few years ramping up bandwidth, increasing Wi-Fi areas and creating technology policies in an effort to meet state demands.

Those demands require districts to have a computer or tablet available for every student in a class, especially because 50 percent of all instructional materials purchased by school districts are required to be digital by 2015.

By the 2017-18 school year, districts will be required to have a 1-to-1 student to computer ratio. No easy feat for Lee with 86,000 students and growing enrollment.

Read more at: www.news-press.com

Check Out The Practice Questions For The New FCAT Replacement

The new test has a new look.

Florida Standards Assessments / www.fsassessments.org

The new test has a new look.

The Florida Department of Education has released practice questions for the new assessments that will replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test next year.

The tests, which are aligned to the new Common Core-based Florida Standards, are available at the Florida Standards Assessments website.  Some questions are similar to what students might have seen on the FCAT—asking test-takers to identify main ideas in a text or figure out a percentage in a word problem.

And as promised, there are some new tasks in the design of the test, too. Like a prompt that asks students to drag and drop images as an answer to a question about a reading passage: Continue Reading

Republicans Have Made Up Their Minds About Common Core

Former Gov. Jeb Bush visited a Hialeah charter school for National School Choice Week.

Sammy Mack / StateImpact Florida

Former Gov. Jeb Bush visited a Hialeah charter school for National School Choice Week.

The national Republican fight over Common Core math and language arts standards is over, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others supporting the standards have lost.

That’s the conclusion of Vox writer Libby Nelson, based on a new Pew Research Center poll from last week.

Pew Research Center data shows “business conservatives” and “steadfast conservatives” — two designations Pew assigns in its poll — both oppose the standards equally. More than 60 percent of both groups said they oppose the standards.

This is very bad news for the standards’ supporters. Right-leaning supporters of Common Core say the standards are a state issue, created for states and by states (and that they wish Education Secretary Arne Duncan would stop talking about them). Opponents argue that the US Education Department’s efforts to get states to adopt the standards are an example of federal overreach.

Pew makes it clear: The opponents won. No matter how much supporters talk about state-led initiatives, the standards have been defined…

But now Bush’s support for the Common Core can’t be waved away as picking a side in an active intraparty controversy. Bush is backing an initiative that his party broadly opposes. Jindal didn’t turn on the Common Core to burnish his credentials with the most conservative Republicans. He did it to win over the mainstream.

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How Better Supervision Might Mean Better Principals In Broward County

JP Taravela High Principal Shawn Cerra with the school's guidance director, Jody Gaver.

Sarah Gonzalez / StateImpact Florida

Shawn Cerra, principal of J.P. Taravela High School in Coral Springs, with the school's guidance director, Jody Gaver in 2012.

A national foundation thinks school principals have more to learn.

The Wallace Foundation believes that the people who supervise principals spend too much time making sure they follow rules and procedures — and not enough time mentoring them.

So Wallace is launching a $30 million dollar, five-year national experiment to test whether students benefit from principals who get more coaching.

Broward County is one of the districts training more “principal supervisors” — and giving them fewer job duties.

Desmond Blackburn leads Broward County schools’ performance and accountability efforts. He said the county started reorganizing principal supervision a few years ago. It’s why the district applied for the Wallace Foundation grant.

“The job was budget, parent, community concerns, social services, field trips, leases, reassignments — a great deal of operational points,” he said. “And teaching and learning became what we got involved in when everything else was accomplished.”

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Explaining the Florida GI Bill And New Formula For School Grades

Veterans living in Florida can get in-state tuition at state colleges and universities starting Tuesday.

Virginia Guard Public Affairs / Flickr

Veterans living in Florida can get in-state tuition at state colleges and universities starting Tuesday.

Veterans will pay less to attend Florida colleges and universities starting Tuesday, one of a handful of laws taking effect at the start of a new budget year.

The Florida GI bill means any veteran living in the Sunshine State only has to pay in-state tuition. That tuition is typically one-third the cost of out-of-state rates.

Our colleague at WUSF and Off The Base, Bobbie O’Brien, wrote about what else is in the bill — including scholarships for Florida National Guard members — when Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill in April:

That’s what lawmakers hope as well. So the new law includes other “military friendly provisions”:

  1. $1.5 million in scholarships for Florida National Guard members
  2. $12.5 million to renovate and upgrade National Guard facilities
  3. $7.5 million to buy land surrounding MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, and Naval Support Activity in Panama City.
  4. It waives state professional licensing fees for veterans up to five years after discharge.
  5. It grants a waiver to active-duty military family members, spouses and dependents, so they don’t have to obtain a Florida drivers license to get a job or attend public schools in the state.
  6. It establishes Florida Is For Veterans, a new nonprofit corporation, to promote the hiring of veterans and to get veterans to move to the state.
  7. It also requires the state’s tourism arm, Visit Florida, to spend $1 million a year marketing to veterans.
  8. It establishes the Florida Veterans’ Walk of Honor and Florida Veterans’ Memorial Garden in Tallahassee.

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The New Florida Education Laws That Take Effect July 1

Veterans can receive in-state tuition at Florida colleges and universities starting Tuesday, the News Service of Florida reports, one of a list of new laws that kicks in July 1. Another law changes the state’s school grading formula, stripping out some often confusing elements.

The budget spreads around a hefty surplus, adding new money to public schools, state colleges and universities, environmental projects and child welfare while leaving room for about $500 million in tax and fee cuts that are already being used as a centerpiece for Scott’s re-election campaign.

HB 7015, called the “Florida GI Bill,” provides university tuition waivers for veterans, pays for military and guard base improvements, is expected to help increase employment opportunities for veterans and allocates $1 million a year to sell the state to veterans.

The more than $30 million package requires Visit Florida to spend $1 million a year on marketing aimed at veterans and allocate another $300,000 to a new nonprofit corporation, Florida Is For Veterans, Inc. that would be used to encourage veterans to move to Florida and promote the hiring of veterans.

Read more at: www.orlandosentinel.com

Congress Considers Expanding Bankruptcy Protection To Private Student Loans

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, is working on legislation that would allow private student loans to be discharged through bankruptcy. Federal student loans would still be exempt.

Federal law currently prohibits, except in rare cases, private or federal student loans from being discharged in bankruptcy. Backers of the current law, including the banking industry, have argued it helps keep a lid on interest rates by reducing the risk that borrowers will walk away from their debts in court.

Consumer advocates say the prohibition is keeping some borrowers trapped under high debt burdens that they’ll likely never be able to repay. Most other types of consumer debt, including money owed on mortgages, credit cards and auto loans, can be discharged in bankruptcy.

Mr. Harkin’s measure would allow only student loans issued by private lenders — rather than the federal government — to be discharged in bankruptcy court. Private lenders hold only about 10% to 15% of the nation’s $1.1 trillion in outstanding student debt, with the U.S. Education Department holding the rest.

Read more at: blogs.wsj.com

Broward Schools Win Grant To Study Principal Supervision

Broward County schools have won a Wallace Foundation grant to study the best ways to supervise principals.

Eric E. Castro / Flickr

Broward County schools have won a Wallace Foundation grant to study the best ways to supervise principals.

Broward County schools have won a multimillion dollar, five-year grant to help improve supervision of district principals.

The grant is part of a $30 million nationwide effort from the Wallace Foundation to focus on a little-noticed slice of school administration in 14 urban districts. The foundation hopes districts spend more time developing principals’ school leadership skills.

“In many large school districts, principal supervisors oversee too many principals – 24 on average – and focus too much on bureaucratic compliance,” Jody Spiro, the Wallace Foundation’s director of education leadership, said in a statement. “This new initiative aims to help districts move principal supervisors’ focus to one of support, freeing them to better coach and develop principals to help them improve instruction.”

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Judge Says NYC Schools Can Restrict Unvaccinated Students During Illness

A federal judge has upheld a New York City policy barring students who were not vaccinated from school if another student has a vaccine-treatable disease. The plaintiffs have appealed the decision. Florida allows exemptions from vaccine rules for religious reasons and medical need, similar to New York’s law. About 90 percent of two-year-olds treated at Florida’s county health centers are vaccinated, according to state data.

Though widespread vaccinations have practically eliminated diseases like measles and mumps from the United States, flare-ups have occurred. The 477 measles cases reported this year represent the worst year-to-date count since 1994, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Among the 25 people who contracted measles in New York City between February and April this year, two were school-age children unvaccinated because of parental refusal. When one of the children, who was being home-schooled, contracted the measles, city health officials barred that child’s sibling, who had a religious exemption, from attending school. The sibling eventually contracted measles as well. Health officials credited the decision to keep the second child out of school with stopping the spread of disease in that community.

Read more at: www.nytimes.com

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