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.

Florida Schools Struggle To Find Enough Bilingual Teachers

Royal Palm Elementary School Alexandra Martin has two teaching certifications. She says creating bilingual lessons is twice the work.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Royal Palm Elementary School Alexandra Martin has two teaching certifications. She says creating bilingual lessons is twice the work.

Most of the students at Royal Palm Elementary in Miami have Spanish-speaking families.

But those families also want their kids to speak – and read and write – more Spanish in school.

So teacher Alexandra Martin is leading her 1st grade class through “Vamos Papa,” with each child reading a passage from the Spanish language story. Martin helps students through proper pronunciation and words they stumble on.

This is the Miami-Dade public schools’ extended foreign language program, or EFL

Students have 5 hours a week of classes taught in Spanish with additional lessons in English. That’s not just reading and writing, but also math and science.

Spanish is part of everyday life in Miami that’s different from the rest of the country. But Miami-Dade is struggling to find enough teachers qualified in both English and Spanish.

“We had more applicants than we could service so we had to hold a raffle,” said Marta Garcia, principal of Royal Palm Elementary School, near Florida International University. Three students applied for each slot in Royal Palm’s EFL program.

“Parents have realized that it really makes a difference in their child’s education,” Garcia said. “To truly be biliterate and bilingual, it is a big advantage.”


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The Possible Fallout From Falling National Test Scores

The latest batch of scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress are due next week, and many expect scores will drop. So the question is why? And who will get the blame?

There’s no doubt that if the scores, which had been inching up recently, have now tanked, everyone will be pointing fingers. In fact, many people will surely point them directly at outgoing U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who pushed through sweeping policy changes in a short time period. (And if the rumors are true, could this even be an explanation for his early exit, after he spent many years giving the impression he would remain until the end of President Obama’s term?)

Whatever the NAEP results say—and I emphasize here that neither I nor Petrill have seen them—the caveat about “misNAEPery” applies: Remember that it’s extremely difficult to use NAEP data to prove whether a particular policy worked or didn’t work.

Read more at: blogs.edweek.org

Explaining The Rise Of School Shootings

Columbine killer Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold wrote a script that school shooters are still following, Malcom Gladwell writes the in The New Yorker. The result, he argues, is that kids who might never kill now go through with it because they can follow a playbook of techniques and rituals.

The sociologist Nathalie E. Paton has analyzed the online videos created by post-Columbine shooters and found a recurring set of stylized images: a moment where the killer points his gun at the camera, then at his own temple, and then spreads his arms wide with a gun in each hand; the closeup; the wave goodbye at the end. “School shooters explicitly name or represent each other,” she writes. She mentions one who “refers to Cho as a brother-in-arms”; another who “points out that his cultural tastes are like those of ‘Eric and Dylan’ ”; a third who “uses images from the Columbine shooting surveillance camera and devotes several videos to the Columbine killers.” And she notes, “This aspect underlines the fact that the boys actively take part in associating themselves to a group.”

Read more at: www.newyorker.com

The Evidence That White Children Benefit From Integrated Schools

A recent debate about integrating Brooklyn schools got NPR’s education looking at what research says about integrated school performance. Turns out, white students do just as well on tests whether they attend schools with a high percentage of black or Hispanic students or a low percentage.

The federal government just released a report looking at the black-white achievement gap. It found something remarkable: “White student achievement in schools with the highest Black student density did not differ from White student achievement in schools with the lowest density.”

Translation: After controlling for socioeconomic status, white students essentially had the same test scores whether they went to a school that was overwhelmingly white or one that was overwhelmingly black.

This finding “confirms decades of research that white students’ achievement is not harmed” by the color of their classmates’ skin, says Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, an education professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, who researches race, stratification and inequality in American schools.

Read more at: www.npr.org

Bill Would Let Principals Take Over Low-Performing Schools

A Miami lawmaker is backing a bill which would create a pilot program with the University of Virginia to train principals to turn-around low performing schools. The principals would have autonomy like a charter school, but the state’s teacher union says it take a community to improve schools.

The initiative is similar to a more aggressive state takeover model that has been tried in Massachusetts and is now being implemented in New York, in which a state-appointed “receiver” — which could be an individual, another school district or a non-profit organization, like a charter school operator — receives broad authority to implement strategies that aim to rapidly improve student performance. In some cases, receivers are allowed to fire teachers, lengthen the school day or year and overhaul curriculum.

”I love that idea. I love that model,” Diaz said, referring to the receivership program tried in other states. “I think that’s the way that’s most effective. But I think this is kind of baby steps to create that atmosphere so someone could come into the schools and change the culture.

Read more at: www.capitalnewyork.com

Veteran Florida Teachers Wonder If New Bonuses Are Meant For Them

Teacher think lawmakers might have ulterior motives when they created a $44 million bonus program.

401(k) 2012 / Flickr

Teacher think lawmakers might have ulterior motives when they created a $44 million bonus program.

“Who are these bonuses for?”

It’s a question we heard from teachers over and over again while reporting on the new Best and Brightest Scholarships. They’re not actually scholarships — they’re bonuses worth up to $10,000 for teachers who scored in the top 20 percent of students when they took the SAT or ACT and earned the state’s top rating, “highly effective.”

Miami Republican Rep. Erik Fresen proposed the $44 million program during the legislative session. He’s said he was inspired by Amanda Ripley’s book “The Smartest Kids In the World.” In the book, Ripley found top students wanted to become teachers in Finland, South Korea and other top-performing nations. That isn’t always the case in the U.S.

Fresen’s bill went nowhere, but he managed to get the money added to the state budget despite objections from the Senate.

For many teachers, qualifying for the bonus meant tracking down decades-old test scores from the two testing companies or from the college they attended. Many teachers said they couldn’t get the records before the October 1st deadline.

It’s why many veteran teachers don’t think they bonuses were meant for them. They think they were intended for young teachers. More recent graduates can get their test scores online and first-year teachers are exempt from the “highly effective” requirement.

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In Florida And Across The Nation, Common Core Standards Still Standing

A man holds up a copy of the Constitution to oppose Common Core before a State Board of Education meeting in Orlando.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

A man holds up a copy of the Constitution to oppose Common Core before a February 2014 State Board of Education meeting in Orlando.

The uprising against the Common Core State Standards is over, Politico reports, and Common Core opponents have lost.

A handful of states have ditched Common Core, which outlines what students should know in math and language arts at the end of each grade..

Florida and another, larger, group of states have chosen not to use one of the two nationally-designed tests for Common Core.

But most of the states which adopted the standards are knee-deep in making them work now and have no plans to turn back. Even some of the loudest critics are conceding the standards are here to stay:

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New Florida Teacher Bonus Program Draws Complaints

Miami teacher Brigette Kinney qualifies for a new state bonus program,  but disagrees with the concept.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Miami teacher Brigette Kinney qualifies for a new state bonus program, but disagrees with the concept.

In Brigette Kinney’s design class at Ada Merritt K-8 center in Miami, one of the key concepts is editing and revising ideas after getting feedback.

Her 8th graders created role-playing games based on books they read. And then adjust the games, after watching their classmates play.

Kinney hopes Florida lawmakers will be as open to change as her students.

“I feel that legislators are out of touch with what it means to be a good teacher,” she said.

Kinney was talking about the new program called the “Best and Brightest Scholarships.” It’s not not actually a scholarship. It’s bonuses for teachers based on how they did on the SATs and ACTs. And they could get as much as ten thousand dollars.

To get the money, teachers need to have scored in the top twenty percent when they took the college placement exams. They also have to earn the state’s top teacher rating – “highly effective.”

Lawmakers in Tallahassee earmarked $44 million in the state budget for the bonuses.

But to get them, many teachers have to track down scores they may not have seen since high school.

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Bilingual South Florida Students Can Now Earn A Special Diploma

South Florida school districts will start adding a seal to high school diplomas of students who prove they are fluent in English and another language. Ten states have approved the designation, and six Florida districts are certifying bilingual students. Advocates want Florida to pass a law as well.

The new program, which will recognize students with an award presented at graduation, was approved last month by the school boards in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. It’s still in the works in Broward County, with administrators planning to have it available by the end of the school year.

In a region that often attracts global companies, it could help boost students’ resumes, said David Coddington, vice president of business development for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, Broward County’s economic development group.

“I think to a certain extent, it’s just what international companies are going to expect,” he said. “And the fact that the school system is doing it is fantastic. It’s another tool in the toolbox for a student when they go into a competitive market to try and land a job.”

Read more at: www.sun-sentinel.com

Few Urban High School Students Are Taking The SAT And ACT

Less than one in three students in the 50 largest U.S. cities take the SAT or ACT college entrance exams. In Tampa, it’s 18.5 percent, Jacksonville 16.7 percent and Miami 14.1 percent of students. The report from the Center for Reinventing Public Education highlights a number of disparities between schools in cities and schools elsewhere.

In 50 of the largest U.S. cities, examined in a new report from the University of Washington Bothell’s nonpartisan Center On Reinventing Public Education, fewer than one in three students takes either of those tests.

The rate of taking the SAT or ACT in those cities topped out in Memphis, at just 30 percent. In three-fifths of the cities it was less than half that. While there’s a trend toward test-optional admissions at some colleges, the majority of four year institutions in the country still require one or the other.

The findings are including in a broad report by the researchers, gathering a variety of publicly available information on school performance in those 50 cities.

Read more at: www.npr.org

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