Putting Education Reform To The Test

The Education Stories To Watch in 2013

Screenshot / Common Core State Standards

The national switch to Common Core standards will continue to be a big story in Florida in 2013.

We’re wrapping up 2012, which means it’s time to peer into the crystal ball for what’s coming up in 2013.

Florida’s new education commissioner is likely to be the big story, but Common Core is on the horizon as well.

Here’s what we’ll be watching for in the next year.

Tony Bennett – Florida’s education commissioner might be the nation’s most high-profile state post. The state is known as the laboratory for a suite of policies many states have adopted the last few years.

Bennett comes from one of those states, Indiana. But he lost his reelection bid due to a backlash from teachers and those who oppose Common Core standards.

Bennett will face a lot of pressure in Florida.

Can he balance his own deeply held views with those of a governor, Rick Scott, running for reelection seeking to boost his poll numbers?

Can he work with the Florida legislature?

Can he manage all the other parties who have a stake in Florida education policy?

Can he temper what he admits is poor bedside manner when working with unions, school districts, parents and others who bristle at the sweeping education overhaul he advocates?

We’ll find out soon.

Common Core – The transition to the new standards has already begun, but more Florida teachers, students and parents will get their introduction in 2013.

The new standards set guideposts for students as they progress from grade to grade. By the time students graduate high school, the expectation is that every graduate will be prepared for college or a job.

But Common Core will mean a sweeping overhaul for the way teachers approach their lessons and how students are expected to demonstrate their knowledge.

For example, students learning to divide fractions learn to multiply by the reciprocal – that’s the rule that gets you the right solution. But it isn’t enough to be able to be able to show your work, you have to be able to explain it as well.

Common Core will also usher in a new standardized test, PARCC, by the 2014-2015 school year.

The new standards will likely mean a big drop in the percentage of students passing state standardized tests.

The State Board of Education hired Bennett, in part, because of his experience with Common Core.

Teacher evaluations – This year was the first year where all state school districts were required to evaluate teachers and administrators under a new state law.

The evaluations are partly based on student scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Districts use a complex formula to determine whether students did better or worse than projected by the formula.

The state’s largest teacher’s union has challenged the law in court. The Florida Education Association won an early victory when a judge threw out a Department of Education rule regarding the evaluations.

But the bigger court case still looms and could come up this year.

So far, nearly every teacher earned an “effective” or “highly effective” rating. But many districts designed their systems to be forgiving at first, and ratings are likely to fall as districts adjust the formulas.

Higher education overhaul – Florida lawmakers are likely to apply some of the same ideas to state universities that they have done with K-12 schools the past decade.

One proposal is to charge lower tuition for degrees in fields more in demand or viewed as having better long-term benefits to the state, such as science, technology, engineering and math majors.

And state colleges and universities and Gov. Rick Scott will have to work out a compromise on how to pay for high-quality higher education programs while keeping tuition affordable. Scott has asked colleges to design bachelor programs which cost $10,000 from start to degree.

Lawmakers and state officials will also explore ways to expand the number of courses and programs Florida colleges and universities offer online.

Rick Scott’s agenda – Scott may be the most unpopular governor in America.

One tack he’s taken in an effort to improve those numbers, observers say, is to focus on education.

Last year Scott asked lawmakers to add $1 billion to education funding, and they complied. Lately Scott has addressed complaints about the FCAT.

And Scott is asking students receiving tax credit scholarships at private schools to have to abide by the same requirements as public school students, including taking state-required standardized tests.

Guns on campus – The Newtown, Connecticut shooting means this issue will be on the front-burner in 2013. One Florida lawmakers has already proposed TKTKT

Teachers have said they don’t like the idea of carrying guns on campus. Will parents put pressure on districts to step up security?

Parent Trigger – The most contentious education bill of the last legislative session is likely to be back this year.

The proposal would allow the majority of parents at chronically low-performing schools to choose how to overhaul the school. That could include closing the school, firing the principal or staff or converting to a charter school.

It’s the last option which has opponents concerned. Converting to a charter school would turn public facilities over to a privately run charter school board. Often those boards hire for-profit companies to manage the schools.

The bill died on a tie vote in the state Senate on the last day of the legislative session.

Budgets –  After some of the nation’s steepest budget cuts, Florida lawmakers added $1 billion back to school budgets last year. This year the budget forecast is a little better.

But there’s a long way to go before Florida schools see the same funding they got before the Great Recession. And Florida lawmakers still have not said what their long-term solution is to declining construction and maintenance money for Florida schools, colleges and universities.


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