Putting Education Reform To The Test

Gina Jordan

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Summer Camps Teach STEM Skills To Kids In Foster Homes

We hope the students in Jacksonville build better robots than these at their camp this week.

Dan Coulter / Flickr

We hope the students in Jacksonville build better robots than these at their camp this week.

Hundreds of kids in foster care are working on science, technology, engineering and math — otherwise known as STEM – projects this summer.

The projects are part of the Florida Department of Children and Families Camps for Champions.

“Many foster children don’t have the same opportunities to travel and learn new activities like their peers do,” said football star Derrick Brooks, who helped launch the camps in St. Petersburg this week. “These camps give them those opportunities.”

At the kick-off camp, 30 kids learned STEM skills in St. Pete. Campers in Jacksonville are teaming up to build robots this week.

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Call It Operation Core: Florida Planning “Full Frontal Assault” On New Standards

Gina Jordan/StateImpact Florida

Education Commissioner Tony Bennett is pledging a "full frontal assault" to prepare students, teachers and schools for new standards by fall 2014.

Three words reporters didn’t expect to hear during a conference call with state education leaders last week: Full frontal assault.

The words were uttered several times in the midst of a 45 minute call about results from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

In this case, the speakers were talking about Common Core State Standards – a new way of teaching that dives deeply into fewer subjects. The goal is to get more students college and career ready.

The Florida Department of Education is smarting from “unacceptable” FCAT results — they were flat — and they’re looking ahead to what Common Core will mean for student learning.

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Commissioner Bennett Sees Mixed Bag In Student Test Results


Florida students showed greater improvement on end-of-course exams than FCAT 2.0 in results released today.

Education Commissioner Tony Bennett is responding like a disappointed dad to news that Florida students did a little bit better on their standardized tests this year, but not as well as he would have liked.

The Florida Department of Education released results in FCAT 2.0 and End-of-Course (EOC) assessments today.

They show across-the-board improvement on EOC assessments, particularly in Biology 1 and Geometry.

In a press release, DOE said FCAT 2.0 Reading scores increased in grades 6, 8, 9 and 10. For FCAT 2.0 Mathematics, grade 4 showed improvement. In FCAT 2.0 Science, grade 5 showed improvement and grade 8 remained the same.

But the scores didn’t move enough to appease Bennett.

“The FCAT results are flat, and I find that personally unacceptable,” Bennett said. “I think we have to refocus our efforts on reading and making sure our students have the foundational skills necessary in mathematics.”

Bennett said the FCAT scores weren’t disastrous; they simply looked unimpressive compared to EOC assessment results that were very good.

The scores help determine overall school grades, which impact teacher salaries. Bennett expects a decline in school grades this year because of tougher standards.   Continue Reading

Report: Florida Universities Improve Grad Rates While Keeping Costs Down


Florida gets high marks in a national report for keeping university costs down while improving graduation rates.

A new report finds Florida’s public university system is a good model in affordability for the rest of the country.

Florida Rising: An Assessment of Public Universities in the Sunshine State analyzed cost, administrative and academic spending, curriculum, and graduation rates at Florida’s 11 universities.

(Florida Polytechnic University – the 12th in the system – doesn’t begin classes until August 2014.)

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) and The James Madison Institute are the groups behind the assessment.

“Overall, Florida public universities are on a prudent and successful course during these difficult economic times,” researchers wrote. “Significant challenges and difficult decisions over priorities remain. It is clear, however, that Florida has high potential to be a model for other states.”

While state funding for the system fell from $2.6 billion to $1.7 billion between 2007 and 2012, the report finds a six-year graduation rate of 66 percent – putting Florida in the top ten nationally.

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Governor’s Office Answers Questions About Teacher Raises

Paul Gooddy/freedigitalphotos.net

Districts will negotiate with collective bargaining units to determine salary increases for teachers and other school employees.

A lot of teachers must be wondering exactly how the state plans to dole out $480 million in newly approved educator raises.

The governor’s office has created a list of frequently asked questions about the salary increases.

The answers make it clear that the districts must negotiate the pay hikes with the local teachers union – something House Speaker Will Weatherford pointed out before the Legislature approved the funding.

Gov. Rick Scott requested $2,500 across-the-board raises for teachers starting July 1st.

What he got was a compromise. The Florida Legislature found the money for raises, but it won’t be spent exactly as the governor intended.

Teachers will get a pay hike, but so will administrators and other school personnel. Charter and virtual school employees are included.

In some cases, districts may decide that teachers who earn “highly effective” ratings on their evaluations will get more than those rated as “effective.”

Districts must submit their plans for the money to the Florida Department of Education.

Here is a portion of the FAQ list released by the Governor’s Office:   Continue Reading

Orange County Schools Want To Set An Example During Switch To Common Core And Digital Instruction


Orange County Superintendent Barbara Jenkins and Chairman Bill Sublette focused their State of the Schools speech on changes in curriculum and technology.

Orange County schools superintendent Barbara Jenkins says the district should be a leader as they switch to new education standards and add more required digital instruction.

“Orange County Public Schools intends to be at the forefront of that change,” Jenkins said during her “State of the Schools” address last week with school board Chairman Bill Sublette.

The two spoke about “schools of the future” and what it will take to make Orange County, one of the nation’s largest school districts, the “top producer of successful students in the nation.”

So, it’s out with the old and in with the new.

“After 16 years of Sunshine State Standards and FCAT,” Jenkins said, “we are transitioning to Common Core State Standards.”

The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test  is being phased out. In its place, students will take exams being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers, or PARCC, starting in 2015.

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Orange County Opting For More K-8 Schools


Orange County is planning to add up to five K-8 schools. Research shows students at those schools tend to perform better and have fewer discipline problems.

The popularity of K-8 schools is growing in one of Florida’s largest districts.

Orange County Public Schools will add up to five kindergarten through 8th grade schools to the three already in place.

These are traditional public schools, not charters or magnets. Kids will be zoned for them just like any other.

“A growing body of research shows the K-8 model is correlated to higher student achievement, higher attendance, and lower student discipline levels,” Superintendent Barbara Jenkins said during the State of the Schools address.

The average middle school in Orange County has 1,000 students. The new K-8 schools will have similar student populations.

“Our research has shown that the optimal size of a K-8 is 900 to 1,200 students,” Jenkins said. “Anything larger, and we need to build a traditional middle school. Anything smaller, and we cannot justify the operating costs.”

The key to their popularity is that K-8 schools are smaller and the kids only have to make one transition — into high school.

But private schools and charters are often the only option for parents who prefer a K-8 school.

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Bush: Don’t Back Away From High Education Standards

National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA)/flickr

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told business leaders gathered in Michigan that education can pull kids out of poverty.

“There’s an unspoken right in our country,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told attendees at the Mackinac Policy Conference in Michigan Wednesday.

“That is the right to rise. The right for all Americans to reach their full potential.”

Bush gave a keynote speech to the audience of business leaders, spending much of his time talking about education. He’s behind two groups that have set out to change education – the Foundation for Florida’s Future and the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

He stayed on point with his message: School choice, merit-based pay for teachers, and higher academic standards are good; Unions and social promotion of students are bad.

Bush said being competitive in a global economy means measuring everything American students do against the best students in the world.

“Higher standards is a key element of that. The Common Core State Standards are clear and straight forward,” Bush said. “They will allow for more innovation in the classroom; less regulation. They’ll equip students to compete with their peers across the globe.”

“Do not pull back. Please do not pull back from high, lofty standards,” said Bush, acknowledging the backlash of late against Common Core.

“The greatest mistake we make in public education is underestimating the capacity of our children to learn. When we do that, particularly with our at risk kids,” Bush said, “we take from them the right to rise.”

Bush said America isn’t rising to the challenge, because only 4 in 10 kids who “go through the most expensive education process in the world” are ready for college or a career by the end of 12th grade.   Continue Reading

Pinellas Superintendent Outlines District Goals At Education Summit


Superintendent Mike Grego is wrapping up his first school year as head of Pinellas County Schools.

Education leaders gathered in Orlando today for a summit sponsored by the Florida Sterling Council, a not-for-profit corporation supported by the Executive Office of the Governor.

The summit covered a wide range of issues facing schools and universities.

Pinellas Superintendent Mike Grego laid out his plan to move the district forward as the state transitions to Common Core standards. Florida schools are scheduled to use the new standards in every grade by the fall of 2014.

The district will need to establish goals in critical need areas and hold the players accountable, he said.

Grego’s five goals include improving student performance, especially at schools with a higher percentage of students living in poverty; improving district reading instruction; ensuring schools are safe and reducing staff turnover; balancing the district budget; and making sure school technology is up to date and ready for online end-of-course exams.

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Bennett Ready To ‘Drill Into The Data’ To Improve FCAT Reading Scores

Wishard of Oz/flickr

Students get one more year of the FCAT, then they begin taking Common Core assessments.

Education Commissioner Tony Bennett is talking about today’s Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) results.

The Florida Department of Education (DOE) released results from 3rd grade Reading and Mathematics assessments as well as FCAT 2.0 Writing for grades 4, 8 and 10.

“While we have relatively static third grade reading and math scores, we think the writing component is a real step forward,” Bennett said, noting that scores for third-graders didn’t change much from last year.

Overall, 3rd grade students increased their reading scores by one percentage point and math scores stayed the same.

“I am a person that doesn’t believe that static scores are really ever acceptable. We can’t be satisfied,” Bennett said, “and frankly I think the flat performance in reading is something we should take special notice to given our emphasis on reading.”

“We intend to drill into the data with our districts,” Bennett said, “help our districts come up with improvement plans to make sure we are improving ourselves in those areas.”

On a positive note, 4th graders saw a nine-point increase in the percentage of students scoring at 3.5 or higher in writing.

“The 4th grade writing results, I think, show incredible improvement,” Bennett said.

As Florida transitions to Common Core State Standards, Bennett said he expects to see improvement in all areas because teachers will be better able to meet “the instructional needs of students.”

Next year, students will again take FCAT 2.0 Reading, Writing and Math – then switch to the new Common Core assessments in 2014-15.

Tidbits from DOE:

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