Florida

Putting Education Reform To The Test

John O'Connor

Reporter

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.

More Schools Earn Failing Grades As Florida Prepares For Common Core Switch

The Florida Department of Education has released 2014 school grades for Florida elementary and middle schools.

chrisinplymouth / Flickr

The Florida Department of Education has released 2014 school grades for Florida elementary and middle schools.

More Florida elementary and middle schools earned an F rating this year, according to preliminary public school grades released Friday.

But the number of schools earning the state’s highest rating also increased this year.

“The increase in the number of schools earning an ‘A’ this year is great news for students and teachers who have worked hard for this success,”  Commissioner Pam Stewart said in a statement. “I appreciate the work by the educators and families and students and know they will continue to improve in the future even as we transition to a new grading system.”

The is the final year schools will earn grades based in part on results from FCAT exams. Next year the state switches to the Florida Standards Assessment, which will test students on Florida’s Common Core-based standards.

Department of Education officials pointed out 116 schools improved by at least two letter grades.

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Fewer Students Returning For Second Year Of College

The percentage of students returning to school after their first year of college has declined since 2009, according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Overall, 68.7 percent of students returned for a second year of college — down 1.2 percentage points. Four-year private colleges saw the biggest drop, while the percentage of students returning for a second year increased at four-year for-profit colleges.


According to the report, which was released today, 68.7 percent of students who first enrolled in the fall of 2012 returned to any U.S. institution the following fall. That number, which is the national “persistence” rate, was down from 69.9 percent for students who enrolled in 2009.

The 1.2 percentage point dip is substantial, as it applies to a total enrollment of 3.1 million students. That means an additional 37,000 students last fall would still be enrolled under the 2009 persistence rate. The largest decline was among young students who were just out of high school.

Improving student retention was a heavy focus during the four-year period the center studied, with increasing attention by policy makers, accreditors and many college leaders.

Read more at: www.insidehighered.com

Read The Federal Plan To Expand Wireless Internet Access At Schools

The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a plan to emphasize wireless Internet connections.

Stephen Melkisethian / Flickr

The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a plan to emphasize wireless Internet connections.

Tomorrow the Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote on a plan that would add $2 billion over two years to help schools and libraries purchase high-speed wireless Internet access.

The plan’s full details are not public, but the agency has published a short summary of the proposed changes.

The plan has three broad goals:

  • Expand the amount of grants available to help school purchase and maintain wireless Internet networks.
  • Change eligibility to broaden the number of schools and libraries that can receive grants.
  • Make the program simpler and faster for participating schools and libraries.

A Republican FCC commissioner and two Democratic senators have questioned the proposal this week. FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai said the plan numbers “don’t add up” and that the changes would mean higher charges on phone bills. U.S. Sen. John D. Rockefeller,  of West Virginia, and Edwrd Markey,  of Massachusetts, were concerned emphasizing wireless would come at the expense of funding for traditional Internet connections.

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Former Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett Reaches Ethics Deal

Former Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett.

Gina Jordan/StateImpact Florida

Former Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett.

Former Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett will pay a $5,000 fine as part of a proposed deal with Indiana ethics investigators, according to a copy of the agreement obtained by the Associated Press.

Bennett admits using state resources for his 2012 reelection campaign. But Bennett was also cleared of any ethics violations related to changes he sought to Indiana’s school grading formula in 2012.

Emails showed Bennett, A Republican, asked staff to adjust the state formula after learning an Indiana charter school would receive a lower than expected grade. The school was founded by a prominent political donor who favored Republicans in statewide races.

Bennett quickly resigned as Florida’s schools chief in August last year after the Associated Press published those emails.

The settlement would help provide clearer rules about allowed use of state resources, Bennett said in a statement.

The Indiana Ethics Commission will consider the deal today. Read the full story here.

Meet The New Head Of The Nation’s Largest Teacher’s Union

Last week the National Education Association elected Lily Eskelsen Garcia, a former school cafeteria worker and Utah teacher of the year, as its new president. In a Politico interview, Garcia said the union should not reflexively support Democratic candidates. She said she supports Common Core standards, but disagrees with the use of standardized tests for promotion and other purposes.


The new president of the largest teachers union in the country will become the voice of roughly 3 million teachers at perhaps the most critical moment in the National Education Association’s history. First item on the agenda: Win back the public. Union watchers say the newly elected Lily Eskelsen García – a former school cafeteria…

Read more at: www.politico.com

City Schools Say They’ll Get Less Money If Federal Internet Program Is Updated

Even if the Federal Communications Commission adds $2 billion to a program to help purchase high-speed Internet, urban school districts said they'll probably receive less money.

smemon / Flickr

Even if the Federal Communications Commission adds $2 billion to a program to help purchase high-speed Internet, urban school districts said they'll probably receive less money.

City school districts say a plan to expand a federal program that helps schools and libraries purchase high-speed Internet access will actually reduce the amount of money those districts receive.

Miami-Dade school officials and the Council of Great City Schools said proposed changes to the E-Rate program will force city school districts to pay more to match federal grants and reduce the overall value of those grants.

That’s because the Federal Communications Commission has proposed changing how the grants are prioritized and funded in order to modernize the program. E-Rate is a grant program funded by taxes on phones and other communications. The program helps schools and libraries purchase high-speed Internet.

The goal is to put a higher priority on wireless networking. Wireless grants were only funded if any of the $2.3 billion E-Rate money was left over after wired grants were awarded. Few wireless grants were funded the past few years.

The proposal would also add $2 billion over the next two years.

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Rhee Group Backing Off Florida Advocacy Efforts

StudentsFirst, the education advocacy group founded by former D.C. schools' chancellor Michelle Rhee, is powering down its Florida efforts.

Commonwealth Club / Flickr

StudentsFirst, the education advocacy group founded by former D.C. schools' chancellor Michelle Rhee, is powering down its Florida efforts.

Former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee’s education advocacy group is scaling back its Florida efforts, Travis Pillow scoops for redefinED.

StudentsFirst spokesman Lane Wright said Florida has already adopted many policies the group promotes, so they are focusing efforts elsewhere.

That’s true. But, the group can’t exactly claim victory and walk off the field. StudentsFirst has failed to win approval for their top legislative priority each of the past three years.

StudentsFirst has been a major proponent for the “parent trigger,” which allow parents at schools earning failing grades to vote how to restructure the school — including converting to a charter school. The bills died in the Senate on a tie vote in both 2012 and 2013.

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How A Federal Program Will Help Florida Schools Go Wireless

Curtis Lanoue teaches music in a trailer behind Oliver Hoover Elementary School in Miami. His colleagues have interactive smart boards in their classrooms.

Those are like 21st-Century chalk boards that can can plug into the school’s network — and the Internet.

Schools are switching to mobile carts like this, loaded with iPads, and Wi-Fi hot spots for new online tests and high-tech lessons.

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Schools are switching to mobile carts like this, loaded with iPads, and Wi-Fi hot spots for new online tests and high-tech lessons.

But Lanoue doesn’t have a smartboard — or the Internet — in his portable classroom.

“YouTube might not be the greatest thing to let a kid use unattended,” he said, “but for the teacher to use it there’s a ton of resources on there.

“It would help a lot to show performances; to show historic stuff would be great.”

Miami-Dade schools are finishing a $1.2 billion overhaul of schools across the district. Most now have fast wireless networks — as of the end this school year. Others will soon – like Oliver Hoover Elementary.

Florida schools are in the middle of a high-tech transformation.

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Judge Says Miami-Dade Schools Obstructed Charter Conversion Effort

Miami-Dade school officials attempted to derail an effort to convert a school for severely disabled children into a charter school — and then punished the principals who led the effort, a judge has ruled. The school district disputes the judge’s version of events, the Miami Herald reports.


The case is the first of its kind in Florida, where laws allow votes by parents and faculty to change public schools into charters, which receive public funding but are governed by an independent board. Parents and teachers of Wingate Oaks, for instance, are hoping to be the first to successfully convert a school in Miami-Dade or Broward counties.

Under Florida law, school district officials can’t punish their employees for taking part in the process. But that’s what Fernandez and Cristobal say happened to them after they raised the possibility that Neva King Cooper’s students could benefit if the school was converted to a charter.

Read more at: www.miamiherald.com

Collier And Lee Schools Say Cost Of Digital Upgrades A Concern

Southwest Florida school districts say they have the Internet capacity for new online tests and digital lessons. But the computers, tablets and other devices will cost more than twice what the state budgeted this year.


Districts have spent the past few years ramping up bandwidth, increasing Wi-Fi areas and creating technology policies in an effort to meet state demands.

Those demands require districts to have a computer or tablet available for every student in a class, especially because 50 percent of all instructional materials purchased by school districts are required to be digital by 2015.

By the 2017-18 school year, districts will be required to have a 1-to-1 student to computer ratio. No easy feat for Lee with 86,000 students and growing enrollment.

Read more at: www.news-press.com

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