Putting Education Reform To The Test

John O'Connor


John O'Connor is the Miami-based education reporter for StateImpact Florida. John previously covered politics, the budget and taxes for The (Columbia, S.C) State. He is a graduate of Allegheny College and the University of Maryland.

Teachers And Parents Say Criticism Of Miami-Dade Schools Comes With A Cost

Parents and teachers who have publicly criticized the Miami-Dade school district say they feel the district has tried to squelch dissent. The school district regularly calls people who have signed up to speak at school board meeting. District staff says they’re trying to address concerns.

Teachers and parents say some of the district’s tactics can be subtle. To speak at board meetings, for example, the district asks people to sign up days in advance and list their topic. Those who do usually get a call from the district ahead of time. Some describe the calls as an attempt to talk speakers out of airing complaints as cameras roll.

Other teachers also have reported what they view as pressure from higher ups, including Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, after speaking up.

District leaders counter that they are simply trying to solve problems or follow up on them — an approach they contend has helped improve Miami-Dade’s academic standing and reputation.

Read more at: www.miamiherald.com

Gov. Scott Signs Bill Limiting Testing

Gov. Rick Scott has signed a bill eliminating some 11th grade tests and capping the total testing time for all students. Critics of testing say the bill doesn’t go far enough, and that this year’s test results should have no consequences.

Scott conceded that there was still work to be done.

“I agree with many teachers and parents who say we have too many tests, and while this legislation is a great step forward, we will keep working to make sure Florida students are not over tested,” he said in a statement.

Rita Solnet, one of the founders of the group Parents Across America, said Scott should consider signing an executive order holding students harmless during the transition to new standards and exams.

Read more at: www.tampabay.com

Florida Schools More Likely To Refer Students To Police Than Most States

Florida ranks third in the nation for the number of students schools refer to police and courts, according to an analysis from the Center for Public Integrity. While students aren’t always arrested, the referrals can mean missed school time and have lasting consequences.

Kayleb Moon-Robinson was 11 years old last fall when charges – criminal charges – began piling up at school. Diagnosed as autistic, Kayleb was being scolded for misbehavior one day and kicked a trash can at Linkhorne Middle School in Lynchburg, Virginia, in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Read more at: www.publicintegrity.org

Evaluating Florida’s University Performance Funding Formula

Florida’s attempt to fund universities based on objective goals is sometimes a little less than objective, Inside Higher Ed reports. The one-size-fits-all formula has judged the state’s highly-rated liberal arts school and its historically black university the harshest.

The best-laid plans often go awry. And in the case of Florida’s performance-based funding model, even the most formula-based system can turn, at times, into something less than an objective process.
In the two years since the 10-metric system took effect, there have been scoring ties that affect which universities finish in the top and bottom groups. More importantly, those top and bottom classifications influence how much — if any — of millions of performance-based dollars universities can claim. So far, the institutions that have lost out on award money are small regional universities, the state’s only liberal arts college and the state’s only public historically black institution.

Read more at: www.insidehighered.com

How The End Of Race-Based Admissions Has Changed Florida Universities

The percentage of students who are black has declined at Florida universities since then-Gov. Jeb Bush eliminated race-based admission policies in 2000. Universities say there are too few black students on campus. But, the percentage of Hispanic students has more than doubled over the same period.

But at Florida’s two premier universities, black enrollment is shrinking. At the University of Florida in Gainesville and at Florida State University in Tallahassee, administrators say they worry that the trend risks diminishing their standing as world-class universities and hurts the college experience.

The black share of the UF freshman class, for instance, plunged to 6 percent in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available. That is down from 9 percent in 2011.

“If we don’t address this in the next two or three years, I think we’re going to have a problem,” said Brandon Bowden, assistant vice president for student affairs at Florida State, which had a 15 percent drop in the number of black freshmen enrolled between 2000 and 2009. “There will be so few black students on our campus that prospective students [who are black] will choose not to come here because they see no one who looks like them.”

Read more at: www.washingtonpost.com

A Q & A With The University Of Florida’s New President

W. Kent Fuchs is the new president of the University of Florida. During his time at Cornell University, he helped establish a New York City campus.

Cornell University

W. Kent Fuchs is the new president of the University of Florida. During his time at Cornell University, he helped establish a New York City campus.

Three months ago Kent Fuchs became president of the University of Florida, leaving New York’s Cornell University.

Fuchs says Florida universities are adding new faculty, but opposition to higher tuition means more pressure to find private donations.

The University of Florida is also expanding a new online program, with a goal of eventually enrolling 24,000 students.

Fuchs sat down with WLRN’s StateImpact Florida reporter John O’Connor to talk about the issues in higher education.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the state right now. You’ve been here three months. What have you learned so far? Where do you think things are? And where do you think they’re going?

A: When I look at the national landscape, the University of Florida, and indeed the state universities across our state, are in a different place than many of our peers.

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School Grades Could Be Put On Hold This Year If Test Doesn’t Measure Up

The Florida Senate is requiring an outside review of the state’s new Florida Standards Assessments exam before the results can be used to judge school or teacher performance. So far, the House has refused to support a similar proposal.

Members of the state Senate have been torn on the issue of school grades for the past several weeks.

The language added Wednesday was meant to be a compromise with the parents, teachers and superintendents who have demanded a pause in the education accountability program while Florida transitions to new standards and tests.

But some members of the Senate said the amendment did not go far enough.

“It’s not what your constituents are asking of you,” said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, pointing out that parents had grown even more adamant about a pause after technical glitches plagued last month’s rollout of new Web-based exams.

Read more at: www.tampabay.com

As Schools Switch To Common Core, They’re Leaving Textbooks Behind

The time it’s taking publishers to produce Common Core-aligned textbooks is giving independent groups an open door to create curriculum for schools. Some schools are choosing free, web-based curriculum written by non-profits over traditional textbooks.

“We’re going from the dominant paradigm of the publishing industry to a much more nimble, often electronically distributed, more Silicon Valley-like lifting up of content from lots of sources, often from teachers themselves for other teachers and leaders, with new distribution platforms that go directly to users with a much broader base of content developers,” said Scott Hartl, CEO of New York City-based Expeditionary Learning, which developed an English curriculum for EngageNY. “The industry itself is changing.”
Miriam Foster, 6, a kindergartener at Emerson Elementary School (with her mom, with Mom Tawankon, 31) in Berkeley, California, where schools have stopped using textbooks, making backpacks lighter.
Miriam Foster, 6, a kindergartener at Emerson Elementary School (with her mom, with Mom Tawankon, 31) in Berkeley, California, where schools have stopped using textbooks, making backpacks lighter. Photo: Rachel Monahan
Two studies of math textbooks last year, by Schmidt and another professor, have found major publishers’ math textbooks labeled Common Core that don’t actually address key parts of the new standards and include extraneous material while remaining similar to past versions of the textbook series.

Read more at: hechingerreport.org

Most Florida Students Prefer Computerized Exams To Paper And Pencil

A majority of Florida students say they prefer computerized tests to paper and pencil tests. Florida has used computerized online exams since 2011, and this year is introducing the Florida Standards Assessments.

Though a majority said they’d prefer a computer-based test, nearly 16 percent strongly disagreed with the statement “I would choose the computer-based test,” and another 10 percent disagreed.

About 22 percent said they were “neutral” on the issue, while about 30 percent strongly agreed they’d prefer computer to paper and another 23 percent agreed.

That more than a quarter of students wouldn’t opt for a computer-based test is interesting given that far fewer reported problems taking their exams online. Some students, it seems, prefer paper and pencil even when computer-based testing goes well.

Read more at: www.orlandosentinel.com

College-Affiliated Bank Accounts Often Not A Good Deal For Students

Students can pay hundreds of dollars a year in overdraft fees from banks. Often those banks have special partnerships with colleges or universities, but students can likely find as good or better deals on their own.

borman818 / flickr

Students can pay hundreds of dollars a year in overdraft fees from banks. Often those banks have special partnerships with colleges or universities, but students can likely find as good or better deals on their own.

The federal government should ban overdraft fees for financial accounts established through a partnership between banks and colleges and universities, according to a new report from the Center for Responsible Lending.

Those overdraft fees can cost students hundreds of dollars a year — more than books — on accounts often set up to handle financial aid payments.

The review included two schools in Florida with bank partnerships: the University of Central Florida and Miami Dade College. UCF partners with Fairwinds Credit Union, which charges $35 per overdraft while Miami Dade College partners with Higher One. Some Higher One accounts charge a monthly fee but have no overdraft fees, while other accounts charge up to $38 per overdraft.

About 40 percent of young adults said they overdrew their account at least twice per year. The heaviest offenders, 11 percent of young adults surveyed, said they overdrew their account 19 times per year — or $665 in overdraft fees under the terms of a UCF Fairwinds Credit Union account.

Students could avoid those charges if banks declined the debit charges rather than charging overdraft fees, sometimes several in a day before students know their account is overdrawn.

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