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.

More Florida Students Home Schooling

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.

Read more at: www.redefinedonline.org

Senate Says No To Allowing Parents To Opt Out Of Tests

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.

Read more at: www.washingtonpost.com

Replace The FSA With The Iowa Test And SAT, Superintendent Says

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.

The advantages, according to Griffin:

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.

Read more at: www.orlandosentinel.com

Meet The New Director Of The Florida School Boards Association

Andrea Messina replaces Wayne Blanton leading the statewide association of school boards. The organization is regrouping after supporting after several members of leadership were defeated in elections last year.

The road to Tallahassee began in Charlotte County. Messina taught in three of the district’s main high schools – Charlotte High in Punta Gorda, Lemon Bay High in Englewood and Port Charlotte High. A graduate of the University of Central Florida, Messina also worked as a teacher in Orange County.

Messina left the classroom after eight years to impact policy at the district level, serving for three terms of office for the Charlotte school board.

In terms of advocacy, Messina took part in a national committee charged with making recommendations to the federal government for its No Child Left Behind policy. From 2006 to 2008, she met with education, business and political leaders across the nation to evaluate how the measure was working and what needed to be done to make it better.

Read more at: www.news-press.com

Why Some State Test Results Are Less Honest Than Others

The difference in passing rates between state and federal tests has been dubbed the proficiency, or honesty, gap.

booleansplit / Flickr

The difference in passing rates between state and federal tests has been dubbed the proficiency, or honesty, gap.

Some states are telling students and parents they are better at reading, writing, math and other subjects than they really are, according to a new website from the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

The website, WhyProficiencyMatters.com, tracks the percentage of students scoring at grade level on state tests — “proficient” in education jargon. The site then compares those rates to how well students perform on the National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP. Students take the NAEP every two years and the exam results are considered the gold-standard of education data.

The group has found that many states report a much higher percentage of students are proficient on state tests than are proficient on NAEP. Foundation for Excellence in Education director Patricia Levesque says some states are telling students they’re ready for college or the workforce when they might not be.

“It’s really important to look at what is the gap between how your students are doing on the national test compared to how they’re doing on the state test,” she said, “because that gap tells you, basically, how honest is your state being to parents with how their individual child is doing.

“We’ve been telling parents ‘Oh no, your child is fine.’ But then when they get to college they’re actually not ready.”

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Poll: Strong Support For Requiring Public School Students To Study Spanish

Two-thirds of people surveyed in a University of Florida poll say public school students should have to study Spanish.

Paul Sableman / Flickr

Two-thirds of people surveyed in a University of Florida poll say public school students should have to study Spanish.

More than two-thirds of Florida residents polled say public school students should have to take Spanish, according to a monthly University of Florida economic survey.

You’d expect South Florida residents might see a reason to require students to study Spanish — gateway to Latin America, and all — and they do.

But the University of Florida found the idea was supported by more than 60 percent of those polled in every region of the state — North, Central, Southwest and Southeast.

Christopher McCarty is the director of the University of Florida Survey Research Center at the Bureau of Economic and Business Research. He added the question to the university’s monthly economic poll and is surprised by the result.

“Given this is somewhat of a contentious issue, certainly in other states, I thought that this might be more contentious here,” he said. “But there was strong support for requiring Spanish and requiring our children learn to be bilingual.”

POLL: Tell us what language you think Florida students should learn.

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What Jobs Skills Are Florida Students Learning?

Adobe Photoshop is the top job skill Florida students are learning in school.

reinis / flickr

Adobe Photoshop is the top job skill Florida students are learning in school.

Earlier this week we told you about AMskills, a program bringing German-style apprenticeships to Tampa-area students.

Another way Florida has tried to help school prepare students for jobs is the Career and Professional Education Act. The law helps businesses create academies within public schools to train students and help them earn professional certifications. Those certifications can help students find a job or earn college credit.

Improving CAPE was a top priority of legislative leaders in 2013.

So what kinds of certifications are Florida students earning?

Computer skills are a top choice, with students learning how to edit and manipulate images, create web sites and use basic office software. Food protection is the top career-specific certification, followed by several medical certifications.

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Congress Starts Debate On Revamped Federal Education Law

An update to the federal No Child Left Behind law is finally hitting the Senate floor for debate. The bill has support of Republicans and Democrats, but there is still much disagreement over what the federal government’s role in education should be.

Congress is making another run at rewriting the Bush-era No Child Left Behind education law, even as the White House urges changes that the administration says would ensure that schools be held accountable when their students are seriously lagging their peers in other better-performing elementary and middle schools.

Read more at: abcnews.go.com

Who’s Been Giving To Jeb Bush’s Education Group?

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

National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA)/flickr

The education foundation started by former Gov. Jeb Bush has released a list of donors.

This week, the education advocacy group started by former Gov. Jeb Bush released a detailed list of donors for the first time. The Foundation for Excellence in Education posted the list on its website.

The Foundation for Excellence in Education conducts research and advocates for states to adopt education policies, including expanding school choice, measuring student, teacher and school progress and adopting the Common Core math and language arts standards. The group has raised $46 million since 2007.

The donor list does not reveal exact amounts, but lists each gift within a range — such as from $10,000 to $25,000. Gifts of more than $1 million did not have an upper range. More than 180 donors have given to the group.

Foundations were the biggest givers, with the Walton Family Foundation donating between $3.5 million and more than $6 million. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave between $3 million and more than $5 million over five years.

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Financial, Education Firms Big Donors To Jeb Bush’s Foundation

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has disclosed donors to the education-focused non-profit for the first time. It’s part of Bush coming clean with tax returns and other records as part of his presidential campaign.

After leaving the Florida governor’s office in 2007, Bush formed the Foundation for Excellence in Education, with a mission “to build an American education system that equips every child to achieve their God-given potential.” With Bush serving as president, the group attracted $46 million from donors through 2014.

That donor list shows the circular connections as Bush moved from governor to education advocate to corporate board member. Supporters in each of those stages of his career contributed to his educational foundation — which, in turn, sometimes supported causes benefiting its donors. They include Rupert Murdoch’s media giant News Corp., GOP mega-donor Paul Singer’s foundation, energy companies such as Exxon Mobil, even the Florida Lottery.

The voluntary release of the donor names comes less than 24 hours after Bush took the unprecedented step of releasing 33 years of personal tax returns.

Read more at: bigstory.ap.org

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