Putting Education Reform To The Test

Sammy Mack

Sammy Mack is the Miami-based education reporter for StateImpact Florida. Sammy previously was a digital editor and health care policy reporter for WLRN - Miami Herald News. She is a St. Petersburg native and a product of Florida public schools. She even took the first FCAT.

  • Email: smack@miamiherald.com

Mining Student Data To Keep Kids From Dropping Out

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Sammy Mack / StateImpact Florida

It’s report card day at Miami Carol City Senior High, and sophomore Mack Godbee is reviewing his grades with his mentor, Natasha Santana-Viera.

The first quarter on Godbee’s report card is littered with Ds and Fs. This quarter, there are more Cs and Bs. He’s got an A in English.

“Congratulations on that,” says Santana-Viera. “When you need help, do you know where to go?”

“Straight to y’all,” says Godbee.

Lots of teachers talk to their students about their report cards. But this conversation is the result of a school initiative to monitor student data—looking for dropout risk before the obvious signs that a student is struggling. It’s part of a national program called Diplomas Now, which operates in several schools in Florida.

Talking to Godbee about his report card and his goals for the next quarter is just one piece of a strategic plan to make sure he stays in school.

Florida lawmakers are currently considering a proposed bill that would, among other things, create similar early warning systems in middle schools to flag students who are at risk of dropping out.

Why Police Support Common Core Standards In Florida

Chief Ian Moffett of Miami-Dade County Public Schools supports the state's new standards.

Sammy Mack / StateImpact Florida

Chief Ian Moffett of Miami-Dade County Public Schools supports the state's new standards.

Florida’s Common Core standards have a new group of supporters: law enforcement.

The national anti-crime group Fight Crime: Invest in Kids released a position paper in favor of Florida’s new standards for English language arts and math. The group argues that assessments and higher standards can prevent crime.

Here’s the paper’s summary of the connection:

“Florida’s law enforcement leaders see the Florida Standards as integral to the effort to ensure that all students are college- and career- ready, and essential if we are going to successfully prevent future crime. What works to help all our young people be employable and succeed will also work to bring down crime. That is why we in law enforcement support the Florida Standards and aligned assessments.”

You can hear more from the organization and law enforcement here:

Three Questions: Andy Ford On Policy Priorities For Florida Teachers’ Unions

In his State of the State address on Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott promoted his $18.8 billion budget for education.

FEA President Andy Ford

NEA Public Relations/flickr

FEA President Andy Ford

But if it were up to Florida Education Association president Andy Ford, there would be even more money going to Florida’s public schools.

The Florida Education Association is the state umbrella group for Florida teachers’ unions. Before the legislative session began, Ford sat down with StateImpact Florida to talk about policy priorities this year.

Q: Where is FEA on the Common Core State Standards now?

A: We support the standards and even the Florida version of the standards. We think those improvements were actually for the better. But we have some problems with the implementation. There hasn’t been sufficient time put in place to move from one system to the other. We also don’t have the resources to be able to make the transition. And we’re just moving too quickly, we need to slow it down a little.

This year teachers are teaching the standards. The test the kids are going to take is based on the old standards. So there’s going to be some confusion there. Continue Reading

Documentary Sparks Conversation About Struggling School In Duval County

This weekend, a Duval County high school will be hosting a conversation about volunteerism, bridging disparities and the community roll of a historic African-American school.

William M. Raines High School opened in segregated Jacksonville in 1965. Its first principal famously hired the best teachers he could find—recruiting educators with degrees from Columbia. For decades, it was a community pillar.

But in recent years, Raines has struggled with poverty, neighborhood violence and low test scores. At one point, the state threatened to close Raines and several other failing Duval schools.

But for many Raines grads—including filmmaker Emanuel Washington—the school was too important to dissolve.

Washington made a documentary about the school’s history, We Remember Raines, which will be screened at the school on Saturday.
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Marco Rubio Wants To Change College

Sen. Marco Rubio wants to change higher education.

Sen. Marco Rubio wants to change higher education.

When Sen. Marco Rubio was growing up, his parents gave him an edict:

“From a very early age they used to tell us, ‘tu tienes que estudiar,’ which means, ‘you have to study.’ So growing up I don’t ever recall not considering going to college,” Rubio told an audience at Miami-Dade College on Monday.

Rubio talked at length about his education with a crowd of students, advocates and press at a summit presented by The National Journal on Monday. He used his speech to outline what he calls the “growing opportunity gap” and explain what he would do to change higher education.

Rubio described how, once he graduated from the University of Miami’s law school, he was surprised he couldn’t afford the repayments on his $100,000 student loan.

“One of the central problems of our outdated higher education system is that it has become increasingly unaffordable for those who stand to benefit the most,” he said.

And even if students can afford it, Rubio thinks traditional college isn’t a good investment for everyone. Continue Reading

Three Questions: Jeb Bush On The State Of Common Core And Testing In Florida

Former Gov. Jeb Bush visited a Hialeah charter school for National School Choice Week.

Sammy Mack / StateImpact Florida

Former Gov. Jeb Bush visited a Hialeah charter school for National School Choice Week.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush visited classrooms, observed students using their iPads, and took questions from a debate class at a high school in Hialeah, Fla. this week.

The tour of the Latin Builders Association Construction & Business Management Academy high school—which is the first charter opened with a business association—was part of National School Choice Week.

Bush wrapped up the tour in the debate class by answering questions from journalists so the students could see how a press conference works.

He talked testing and Common Core State Standards with StateImpact Florida’s Sammy Mack:

Continue Reading

What The President Said About Education In The State Of The Union

President Barack Obama delivers his 2010 State of the Union speech.

blatantworld.com / Flickr

President Barack Obama delivers his 2010 State of the Union speech.

President Barack Obama again asked Congress to expand access to early childhood education programs and defended a major federal grant program, but didn’t propose any new initiatives.

Education Week has the recap here:

President Barack Obama placed education at the center of a broad strategy to bolster economic mobility and combat poverty—calling on Congress in his State of the Union speech to approve previously unveiled initiatives to expand preschool to more 4-year-olds, beef up job-training programs, and make post-secondary education more effective and accessible.

“Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every 4-year-old,” said Obama, whose education agenda in his second term has shifted away from K-12 toward prekindergarten and college affordability. “As a parent as well as a president, I repeat that request tonight. But in the meantime, 30 states have raised pre-K funding on their own. They know we can’t wait.”

Obama used his speech to mount an indirect defense of the common-core standards and a more spirited, direct defense of the program that spurred states to adopt them: Race to the Top. This, too, from an administration that has been blamed for threatening the future of the Common Core State Standards by supporting them—and from a president who hasn’t talked much at all about Race to the Top in recent major speeches. He credits his Race to the Top competitive-grant program with helping raise standards—and performance (which many may argue it’s too soon to tell).

Several analyses of the address pointed out that funding universal pre-k is going to be a hurdle. Claudio Sanchez of NPR put it this way: Continue Reading

Interview: Rethinking Zero Tolerance Discipline Policies In Florida Public Schools

Some districts are reconsidering zero tolerance.

Sattva / freedigitalphotos.net

Some districts are reconsidering zero tolerance.

In many schools, zero tolerance discipline policies dictate harsh punishment—expulsion, suspension and arrest—for breaking rules.

But, as StateImpact Florida has been reporting, some districts are reconsidering zero tolerance over concerns about a rise in the number of children arrested on campus.

One of those districts walking away from zero tolerance is in Broward County, where the schools formed a unique coalition with law enforcement, local and state courts, and the NAACP to re-write the school codes.

StateImpact Florida spoke with one of the members of that partnership—Gordon Weekes, chief assistant public defender with Broward County’s juvenile justice division—who has been a critic of zero tolerance in the past.

You can listen to the conversation here:

   Continue Reading

Why Miami Jackson Senior High School Wants Its A

Miami Jackson Senior High wants an A grade.

Florida Department of Education / FLDOE.org

Miami Jackson Senior High wants an A grade.

Florida’s A through F system for school grades has been fraught with controversy.

Supporters say it’s a way of holding schools and districts accountable. Critics worry that the formula to calculate the grades doesn’t reflect how well schools really prepare children.

Now, in Miami-Dade County, one school has been told it probably won’t get the A it says it earned. Continue Reading

Jacksonville School Replaces KKK-Affiliated Name

Nathan B. Forrest High will get a new name

Sammy Mack / StateImpact Florida

Nathan B. Forrest High will get a new name

Nathan B. Forrest High—the Jacksonville school named for the Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader—has a new name.

The Duval County School Board voted to rename school #241 on Tuesday. Starting in the fall it will be Westside Senior High.

From the moment it was named in 1959, there’s been controversy over Forrest High, home of the Rebels.

In 2008 the school board elected not to rename the majority African American school.  The votes fell along color lines. Continue Reading

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