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.
He chatted with StateImpact Florida about school discipline, testing requirements and how Congress is rewriting the federal No Child Left Behind education law.
Q: We are currently in the midst of a national conversation about race and policing following the deaths of several black men and women either in police custody or at the hands of police. Is this conversation extending to education and how is it?
A: It absolutely is and lots of different ways.
So I’ve spent time in Ferguson after the issues there. Spent time in Baltimore; recently been back there a couple times.
And our schools operate in the real world. And our kids have questions. They are sometimes scared; they’re sometimes angry; they’re sometimes confused; they’re sometimes frightened. And we have to have very open and honest conversations about a whole host of issues — race being a difficult one, but I think hugely important.
And it’s interesting. I think you know we have a lot of work to do ourselves.
We’ve been very, very public about the school to prison pipeline. Sometimes folks don’t like when I talk about that, but that is real.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder and I put out data from our civil rights data collection process that showed that across the country the school prison pipeline starts in pre-K, with three- and four-year-olds, with disproportionate numbers of young boys of color are being suspended and expelled.
Miami-Dade schools have included $3.2 million dollars in the district budget to eliminate out-of-school suspension.
“Traditional outdoor suspensions and disciplinary actions don’t work,” said Miami-Dade schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho. “We ought to understand the root causes of student misbehavior…to actually address the human being behind the behavior, rather than simply condemning it and applying a consequence to it.”
The district is setting up “success centers” so suspended students don’t disrupt classrooms. The centers are staffed by teachers, social workers and other service providers to work with the students – and keep them on their classwork.
“This is not going to be a vacation” for suspended students, said Carvalho.
So the Schultz Center had to change. The non-profit is expanding beyond Northeast Florida to offer training to teachers statewide, both in person and online. And they’re building an incubator for education entrepreneurs.
They’re also helping teachers adjust to big changes in the classroom.
State law requires that teachers are evaluated each year. That evaluation must include how well that teacher’s students performed on standardized exams — and whether they did better or worse than expected, based on a complex statistical formula.
That formula is known as VAM, or value-added model. The VAM score counts for at least one-third of a teacher’s total evaluation score.
Thursday’s decision sets a statewide standard for 4th through 10th grade language arts teachers, 4th through 8th grade math teachers and Algebra I teachers — teachers in subjects with a statewide exam. State officials said the rule change will apply to about one-third of all Florida teachers.
State Board of Education member Rebecca Fishman Lipsey is questioning the accuracy of forcible sexual assaults reported on state college campuses.
A State Board of Education member is questioning the number of sexual assaults reported on state college campuses.
Rebecca Fishman Lipsey believes it is unlikely that there were only seven forcible sexual assaults reported by the 28-college sytem with more than 400,000 students. Those figures do not include crime data for the dozen schools in the state’s university system.
Fishman Lipsey began Wednesday’s board meeting by handing out pages of state college system crime data. Notice anything unusual she asked?
“It’s just a string of zeroes,” she said of the column tallying forcible sexual assaults. “Initially, for maybe half a second, my brain could go ‘Wow, how wonderful there’s not a single rape at any of our campuses. That’s an incredible thing.’
But Fishman Lipsey said she doubts the news is that good. She asked the Florida Department of Education to look into the accuracy of the figures.
Broward County schools superintendent Robert Runcie shared lessons learned at a White House summit on student discipline.
South Florida school leaders traveled to Washington Wednesday to share ideas on how to reduce on-campus arrests and suspensions.
Superintendents from Broward County and Miami-Dade County shared how their districts dealt with the problem at a summit hosted by the White House.
Research shows that students who are suspended before 9th grade are less likely to graduate. And on-campus arrests can stick with a student for life, hindering chances at a college education or finding a job.
Broward County schools superintendent Robert Runcie said his district led the state in the rate of arrests and suspensions when he took control in 2011. Minority students were arrested and suspended at disproportionate rates.
“Our goal can’t be to have students go into the courtroom,” Runcie said. “Our focus has got to be keep them in the classroom and out of the courtroom.”
The district started a new program to try to change student behavior and avoid arrests and suspensions. More than 2,000 students went through the program its first year and more than 90 percent did not commit a second offense.
Orange County schools superintendent has removed a cartoon mascot depicting Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a middle school. The local school board member says Superintendent Barbara Jenkins also plans to ask the board to rename the school.
Lee Middle opened in 1956, with its sports teams nicknamed the Rebels.
It was one of a number of schools across the South named for Confederate leaders by white-run school boards after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 school desegregation case.
They were part of a “resurgence of Confederate identity” that emerged as part of the South’s resistance to the Brown v. Board of Education, said Bill Link, a history professor at the University of Florida, during a 2013 interview with the Orlando Sentinel.
The number of students home schooling increased by more than 9 percent last year — the largest rate of growth since 2011. The percentage of students home schooling is growing faster than the rate of public school enrollment.
It’s hard to say what, exactly is driving the trend, or what caused the growth spike this year, since the state does not collect large amounts of data on home-school students.
It is worth noting that while the number of home-school students increased substantially, the number of home-school families only increased by 2.6 percent. That suggests that during the 2014-15 school year, a number of children in households that were already home schooling joined older brothers or sisters being taught by their parents.
The Senate voted not to allow parents to opt their students out of annual state tests during debate of the rewrite of the federal No Child Left Behind law. The U.S. House has included the idea, which means the two houses will have to reach an agreement.
The chamber voted 64 to 32 against the amendment, proposed by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) amid a backlash against mandated standardized tests. “Parents, not politicians or bureaucrats, will have the final say over whether individual children take tests,” he said.
But Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) — the Republican co-sponsor of the carefully crafted bipartisan bill — spoke forcefully against the proposal, saying it would strip states of the right to decide whether to allow parents to opt out.
“I say to my Republican friends, do we only agree with local control when we agree with the local policy?” said Alexander, who has framed the bill as an effort to transfer power over education from the federal government to the states.
The vote sets up an important difference to reconcile between the House and Senate bills to rewrite No Child Left Behind, the nation’s main federal education law.
Seminole County schools superintendent Walt Griffin says Florida should get rid of the Florida Standards Assessments and replace it with the Iowa Test and the SAT. Both tests are taken with paper and pencil.
Both are paper-based exams unlike the FSA, which requires many exams to be given on computer. By eliminating computer-based testing, schools would be free of the disruptions caused by needing to schedule hundreds of students into testing sessions on a limited number of school computers.
The two national exams would take only four hours of testing per year per student. The FSA computer-based exams interrupted 31 days of classes for Seminole high schools.
As national exams, both would provide a way to see how Florida students stacked up to counterparts in other states.