Putting Education Reform To The Test

Billion-Dollar Budget Surplus Should Be Good News For Florida Schools

State economists say low gas prices should mean more spending — and more tax collections. That could help Gov. Rick Scott deliver on his campaign pledge of record per-student funding, and help lawmakers pay for more technology, high-speed Internet connections and other digital learning tools.

Prospects for Scott’s campaign promises improved after a University of Michigan index last month measured national consumer confidence at above average and at its highest level since July 2007. That optimism, combined with dropping gas prices, have produced a rarity in recent Florida economic history: disposable income.

“It’s not a perfect correlation that people will go out and spend,” said chief state economist Amy Baker of the index. “But it is a signal that people are feeling good. ”

Baker said the lower gas prices were viewed more as a fluke.

“Our belief is that most will view (lower gas prices) not as a permanent change, but as a windfall, and spend it on taxable sales, meaning more Christmas shopping or one-time purchases,” Baker said.

Read more at: www.tampabay.com

A Bush Presidential Run Will Put Focus On Education

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush took a first step toward a 2016 presidential run Tuesday, announcing he was forming a political action committee to raise money and explore a candidacy. Bush has spent much of his time out of office pushing education issues — which will likely be a centerpiece of any presidential campaign.

Whether you agree with Bush’s positions on things like school choice and the Common Core State Standards or not, his entrance into the race would exponentially raise the profile of K-12 education, which is often an afterthought in national campaigns. He was one of the most active governors on education in recent history and after leaving office even started an organization, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, that’s geared towards K-12 policy.

Especially interesting if you’re an edu-policy geek: Bush doesn’t see eye-to-eye with many of the more conservative members of his party on what’s arguably the biggest K-12 political issue of the day, the common core standards.

That’s not something he’s backed away from. Bush launched a spirited defense of common core last month, telling an audience his annual National Summit for the Foundation for Excellence in Education that it’s fine if states don’t want to adopt the standards, but if they don’t, they should aim even higher. China, he said, isn’t in the midst of a hot debate about whether “academic expectations should be lowered to protect students’ self-esteem.”

Read more at: blogs.edweek.org

For-Profit College Wants To Open Charter Schools

ITT Technical Institute, one of the best-known for-profit colleges, is getting into the charter school business offering high school juniors and seniors a chance to earn a diploma and an associate’s degree, NPR reports. The company is opening the Early Career Academy chain of charter schools, with locations proposed in Tampa and Jacksonville.

The story of ITT and Early Career Academy illustrates the intersection of two trends: the changing business models of some for-profit education companies and the changing governance of charter public schools.

Experts say this is the first time a proprietary college has sought to get into the charter school business.

In an interview with NPR Ed, the CEO of ITT Technical Institute, Kevin Modany, characterized the new venture as an experiment. He said it could prove to be a logical extension of his company’s educational mission: “an opportunity to be part of the solution to access, affordability, and completion rates.”

Read more at: wusfnews.wusf.usf.edu

Why Miami-Dade High School Students Are Teaching Their Classmates About Health

Diamante Sharpe leads an practice session for student health educators in the HIP program.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Diamante Sharpe leads an practice session for student health educators in the HIP program.

Abuse. Drugs. Mental health issues.

It’s tough enough for anyone to talk about those problems. It can be even harder for teens facing them for the first time.

That’s why the Health Information Project (HIP) trains high school juniors and seniors to lead freshmen through a year-long health education program. The program is in 37 Miami-Dade public high schools, plus one private school.  It has trained more than 1,000 juniors and seniors on how to teach and talk to younger schoolmates about health issues.

“What we’ve realized over the years is that peers can be very persuasive in a positive way and they can influence those that look like them,” said Risa Berrin, who started the program.

The school day is over at North Miami Beach High School. Most students have headed for the doors. But Diamante Sharpe and Erica Poitevien and about a dozen classmates are working on their lesson plans.

“So welcome back to HIP. My name is Diamante,” Sharpe tells the group. “And today is our fourth session – mental health.”

They ask those gathered to clear their desks, pay attention and offer constructive criticism to classmates to help them teach the material better.

Over the course of the year, students teach eight lessons and lead discussions.

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FCC Adds $1.5 Billion For School Internet Program

The Federal Communications Commission has approved a $1.5 Billion expansion of the E-Rate program, which helps schools — including those in Florida — purchase high-speed Internet access. The 3-2 vote was on party lines, with Democrats voting for and Republicans voting against.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement the vote “ensures the program will continue to help our schools be part of the digital age.” Duncan said the move is a step forward in line with the administration’s ConnectEd Initiative, which aims to connect 99 percent of students with broadband and high-speed Internet in their schools by 2017.

[MORE: Obama Announces $400 Million in Education Technology Commitments]

JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, said the funding boost reflects a “national commitment to educational excellence and equity.”

Read more at: www.usnews.com

Why First Generation Students Find It Tougher To Earn A College Degree

Students who are the first in their family to attend college often have a more difficult time finishing their degree.

Research shows those students know less about how to get into and pay for college. And first generation college students are less likely to take tough high school courses needed to be prepared for college.

Documentary filmmaker Adam Fenderson spent three years following a group of first generation students through high school as they prepared for college. His film is called First Generation and will be screened in Miami this week.

Fenderson talked about what he learned with WLRN’s StateImpact Florida reporter John O’Connor.

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More Florida Teachers Rated “Highly Effective”

More than 97 percent of Florida teachers earned one of the top two evaluation scores — “highly effective” or “effective” — according to preliminary statewide data released Wednesday.

More teachers are earning the state's highest rating, according to the first batch of data released Wednesday.

enokson / Flickr

More teachers are earning the state's highest rating, according to the first batch of data released Wednesday.

The percentage of teachers earning the top rating increased for the second year in a row. More than 42 percent of teachers were rated “highly effective.” That’s up from 23 percent two years ago.

More than half of teachers were rated “effective.”

The ratings at the other end of the scale were virtually unchanged from last year. Teachers earning “needs improvement” were 1.3 percent of the state total, while three in 1,000 teachers were rated “unsatisfactory.”

Nearly one in five teachers has yet to be evaluated.

The teacher ratings are based, in part, on student test scores and are required by a 2011 law. This is the third year Florida has released statewide data.

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Florida School Boards Group Wants To Change How Tests Are Used

The statewide group representing Florida’s 67 county school boards says the state should not use testing results for any other purpose other than measuring that student’s progress at the time he or she took the test. Florida School Boards Association members say the resolution is intended more for the public — which has been leading the anti-testing charge — than for lawmakers.

In a two-page resolution, the Florida School Boards Association also urged lawmakers to delay the consequences associated with new state tests until 2017. In the meantime, the group stated, local districts should be allowed to determine when students are promoted, when they graduate and how teachers are evaluated — some of the tasks that, under state mandate, are largely dictated by student test scores.

“There is a groundswell of support for these types of issues,” Collier County School Board member Roy Terry said during a discussion on the document. “We need to get moving on it while we do have the support.”

Read more at: www.tampabay.com

Anti-Testing Groups Help Students Opt Out Of Florida Standardized Assessments

The Florida Standards Assessment replaces the FCAT. Students will take the test online.

Pearson K-12 Technology/flickr

The Florida Standards Assessment replaces the FCAT. Students will take the test online.

“Opt Out” groups are pushing back against what they say is too much standardized testing in Florida. The tests are changing as the state transitions to Florida Standards - an offshoot of the Common Core standards being implemented around the country.

Two-dozen groups have been formed at the district level to help parents learn the procedure for opting their students out of the tests.

By following a specific procedure (which may vary depending on the district), the student’s test is invalidated. The result is that the student doesn’t fail, school grades and teacher pay aren’t impacted, and the district is forced to find an alternative means of assessing what the student has learned.

Cindy Hamilton, co-founder of Opt Out Orlando, talked with StateImpact Florida’s Gina Jordan about why she wants an end to so much testing and what she’d like to see happen instead.

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What Florida’s New Reading Exam Means For Your Third Grader

Third graders who earn the lowest score on Florida's new statewide reading test this school year, are still at risk of repeating third grade.

OSDE / Flickr

Third graders who earn the lowest score on Florida's new statewide reading test this school year, are still at risk of repeating third grade.

We’ve been answering audience questions about Florida’s new statewide test, the Florida Standards Assessments.

A parent asked us on Facebook: “Please find out for us parents of third graders, who face mandatory retention if they fail the new reading assessment this spring, how the state plans to deal with them. Will they return to 3rd grade after the cut scores are determined in Winter 2015?”

The bottom line: third graders can still be held back next year if they score the equivalent of a 1, out of 5, on the reading test. But those students are still eligible to to advance to fourth grade through one of state’s exemptions, including a portfolio or passing an alternative exam.

Florida students will begin taking the Florida Standards Assessments beginning in early March, with testing running on and off through mid-May. But the State Board of Education isn’t expected to set final targets — known as cut scores — until Winter 2015.

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