Florida

Putting Education Reform To The Test

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

ACLU Challenges Single-Gender Programs In Three More Counties

Students at the all-girls Ferrell Preparatory Academy in Tampa.

John O'Connor / Flickr

Students at the all-girls Ferrell Preparatory Academy in Tampa.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed federal complaints challenging single-gender education programs in Broward, Hernando and Volusia county schools.

The group argues single-gender programs violate anti-discrimination laws and are based on flawed science. The ACLU has previously filed a complaint against single-gender programs in Hillsborough County schools.

“Parents should know that their school districts are spending tens of thousands of dollars training teachers that boys and girls are so different that they have to be taught separately using radically different teaching methods,” ACLU attorney Amy L. Katz said in a statement. “This theory is based on junk science that has been soundly debunked by experts, and has never been shown to improve educational outcomes.”

The ACLU complaint alleges the group has found documents that outline different teaching methods for boys and girls. That violates federal Title IX laws, the group said.

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Miami-Dade Schools Chief Wants To Delay New Testing, School Grades

Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho, right, Gov. Rick Scott and Southside Elementary principal Salvatore Schiavone tour the school.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho, from right, Gov. Rick Scott and Southside Elementary principal Salvatore Schiavone tour the school last month.

Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho said Florida leaders should rethink the scope and purpose of education testing and give schools more time to prepare for new math and language arts standards.

Carvalho’s proposal was published online and emailed to reporters. Carvalho has also been tweeting excerpts since Monday.

Carvalho draws a hard line at eliminating testing, even as some Florida school districts float the idea of boycotting state-required exams.

“Respectful accountability is a data tool of truth that enables and empowers appropriate intervention,” Carvalho wrote. “Simply relying on an “impression” of achievement is not enough, as history has taught us.”

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Lee County School Board Reverses Testing Boycott

Testing opponents quietly show support for speakers at Tuesday's Lee County school board meeting. The board voted 3-2 to reverse its state testing boycott.

Ashley Lopez / WGCU

Testing opponents quietly show support for speakers at Tuesday's Lee County school board meeting. The board voted 3-2 to reverse its state testing boycott.

The Lee County school board has reversed its decision to reject state tests, after board member Mary Fischer changed her mind.

Last week the board became the first in Florida to refuse to offer state tests to its students on a 3-2 vote. The test are required by state law, and the results help determine everything from who can graduate high school or move on to the next grade, to state grades for public schools and teacher evaluations and pay.

Several news outlets reported that the crowd mostly opposed the use of state tests, but several speakers urged the district to reverse the decision and come up with another plan first. District superintendent Nancy Graham said she was concerned the decision could put the district’s $280 million in state funding at risk.

We’ve gathered a Storify from this morning’s meeting:

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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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Lee County School Board Will Reconsider Decision To Skip State Tests

The Lee County school board member who cast the decisive vote to opt the district out of state-required tests wants to reconsider the vote next week. The district will meet at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday.


Armstrong does not plan to change his vote. Neither will Scott. Dozier has not yet returned phone calls.

“I think we drew a line in the sand and it was way past time to make a decision,” Armstrong said. “Without making that decision, we couldn’t reorganize how we teach our students. I’m sick of the state jamming their mandates down our throats … and never giving us a dime for it. And I’m going to stick to my position.”

Fischer told the News-Press she will not comment verbally on the issue, but plans to send out a written statement later today.

Read more at: www.news-press.com

Tuition Must Increase, University Of Florida President Says

University of Florida President Bernie Machen says the school must raise tuition — a challenge to Gov. Rick Scott who has opposed and vetoed tuition hikes. Florida public universities have among the lowest tuition in nation.


Machen and administrators at other public universities in Florida have advocated that they need some degree of autonomy in setting tuition rates to meet their budgetary needs, to retain valued professors and recruit new faculty, to stay competitive with universities in other states, and to establish need-based scholarships.

Read more at: www.gainesville.com

Florida’s Teacher Union Says Scholarship Program Is Unconstitutional

Gov. Rick Scott at a reception for Step Up For Students, which oversees most of the state's tax credit scholarship program. The Florida Education Association is challenging the constitutionality of the scholarships.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Gov. Rick Scott at a reception for Step Up For Students, which oversees most of the state's tax credit scholarship program. The Florida Education Association is challenging the constitutionality of the scholarships.

When Florida first approved its private school tax credit scholarship program in 2001, Florida Education Association attorney Ron Meyer said education groups questioned the legality, but no one really objected to helping low-income students get out of low-performing schools.

But then the scholarship program started to grow. Lawmakers approved a law that automatically expanded the program each year. Then earlier this year, lawmakers raised the income cap. Now, a family of four earning $62,000 can receive a partial scholarship.

The program enrolls about 69,000 kids with a top scholarship value of just under $5,300.

“There comes a time when there’s a tipping point that’s reached,” Meyer said. “I think a lot of people turned a blind eye to the constitutional questions which were presented, even as this program was rolled out.”

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Read: School Boards Group Outlines Consequences Of Skipping State Tests

The Florida School Boards Association has outlined the consequences of districts skipping state tests, and most of them have to do with money.

401(k) 2012 / Flickr

The Florida School Boards Association has outlined the consequences of districts skipping state tests, and most of them have to do with money.

Last night, the Lee County school board became the first district to refuse state testing entirely. Other Florida school districts are also considering saying no to state exams.

The Florida School Boards Association is meeting next week and has posted an outline of the consequences for not complying state law.

The first step is an investigation by Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, according to the document posted by FSBA. If Stewart determines the district isn’t complying with state law, the State Board of Education can order the district to comply.

If the district refuses, the State Board of Education can ask the Legislature to take action. The state board can also withhold the transfer of state funds (and a big chunk of operations money goes through the state budget), lottery money or grants.

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