Putting Education Reform To The Test


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Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee to Headline Tell Me More/StateImpact Florida Education Forum

Joe Raedle / Getty Images News

StudentsFirst founder Michelle Rhee has advised Gov. Rick Scott. Rhee is one of the scheduled guests on the Tell Me More/StateImpact Florida special.

If you’re interested in the future of education in Florida and our nation, you’ll want to be next to your radio, computer, or smartphone on Oct. 10.

That’s when the NPR show “Tell Me More” and StateImpact Florida are teaming up for a special show.

We’ve convinced some of the heavy-hitters in education to be part of the forum — including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the provocative former leader of Washington D.C.’s public schools, Michelle Rhee.

The event is taking place in Miami at WLRN Public Media, where you can hear the show. You can also hear it at 11 a.m. on WUSF Public Media in Tampa.

Meanwhile, you can join the conversation right now. Tweet your thoughts and ideas with @TellMeMoreNPR using #npredchat and #IsYourSchoolBroken.

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Join the Education Conversation with NPR’s Tell Me More and StateImpact

At StateImpact Florida, our mission is to “put education reform to the test.”

And now, we are teaming up with NPR’s midday-talk program, Tell Me More, in an extensive – and inclusive – discussion to spotlight education in America.

Tell Me More has launched a Twitter Education Forum (#npredchat). We’re asking you to engage in an ongoing conversation about education reform.

And on Oct. 10, the conversation hits the airwaves with a live broadcast from StateImpact Florida partner WLRN in Miami.

NPR’s Cara Philbin sat down with Tell Me More, StateImpact and WLRN to explore this collaboration: Continue Reading

Why Valencia College Is NOT Raising Tuition

Valencia College President Sandy Shugart says he's found ways to avoid a tuition hike this year.

Gov. Rick Scott is drawing a line on tuition hikes this year. He wants state universities to find other ways to deal with budget cuts.

At a contentious Board of Governors meeting in June,  many universities asked for the maximum tuition increase. A few got it; most did not.

But some colleges are heeding Scott’s request.

StateImpact Florida’s John O’Connor spoke to Valencia College president Sandy Shugart about why the state’s second-largest college is not raising tuition next year.

Shugart says he doesn’t want to raise tuition too much now because he may need to raise it in the future.

Instead, the community college plans to raise class sizes and do other belt-tightening.

Shugart said the college is particularly sensitive to the needs of low-income students as the hard economic times continue in Florida.

FCAT Grows Up…Or Out of Control?

The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is all grown up. But has it grown into a monster?

Holtsman / Flickr

The FCAT is under increasing scrutiny from parents, teachers and school boards.

That’s the question raised by a Tampa Bay Times article recounting the birth and adolescence of the FCAT:

Florida has tested students for decades, but since its inception 14 years ago the FCAT has evolved from a simple measure of student learning to an all-encompassing arbiter of student, teacher and school performance. The test factors into third-grade promotion, high school graduation, class placement, teacher pay and evaluations, even whether a school stays open.

Even though one teacher tries to downplay the FCAT to her students by calling it the F-Kitty, the story includes lots of examples of little kids experiencing insomnia and, let’s just say, intestinal distress because of test anxiety.

There’s a growing drumbeat from parents and county school board to de-emphasize the test.

The actual FCAT appears to be on its way out, replaced by new tests based on the national Common Curriculum.

But even though the names may change, the desire to test remains the same.

A sidebar story in the Times profiles Tampa lawyer John G. Brady, who failed an early precursor to the FCAT in the 1970s.

His father fought that test in court and lost, establishing the state’s right to develop high-stakes tests.

But Brady went on to have success at St. Leo University and Stetson College of Law.

The lesson, according to Brady: “I know you can’t always trust standardized tests to give an accurate picture of a student’s abilities.”



Lawmakers React With Anger, Defiance to University of South Florida Budget Cut

AP Photo/Phil Coale

Some Tampa Bay lawmakers are reacting with anger and defiance to a Senate proposal to cut 58 percent of state funding for the University of South Florida.

Those proposed cuts are more than twice as big as the proposed reductions for other universities, according to an analysis by USF.

Senate Finance Chairman J.D. Alexander of Lake Wales pushed for the cuts after USF President Judy Genshaft opposed him on independence for USF Polytechnic.

Senator Mike Fasano of New Port Richey didn’t mince words today in describing what he thinks of Alexander’s actions: Continue Reading

Cashing In On Kids: Investigations Raise Questions About Florida Charter Schools

New investigations by the Miami Herald and StateImpact Florida raise serious concerns about Florida’s charter schools – including who’s profiting from them, and whether they are serving kids with severe disabilities.

Fernando Zulueta, president of Academica, gets a drink at the bar in Cain at The Cove, Friday, September 16, 2011, an exclusive beach club in the Bahamas' Atlantis resort. Academica held a leadership retreat for principals of several charter schools there. MIAMI HERALD PHOTO

That’s the topic of a one-hour radio special, “Cashing in on Kids,” by WLRN/Miami Herald News in conjunction with StateImpact Florida and WUSF Public Media.

Both stations aired the program at 2 p.m. Thursday (a first time this has happened in recent memory) and there was a great response from callers and followers on Twitter.

Two callers said they were parents of kids with disabilities who had seen charter schools rejecting students with special needs themselves.

StateImpact Florida reporters Sarah Gonzalez and John O’Connor talked about the main finding of their three-month investigation: that 86 percent of Florida’s charter schools do not serve a single child with a severe disability.

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Coming Soon: Our Big Charter School Investigation

Update: Here’s a link to the story.

For the past three months, StateImpact Florida has been working on an investigation of charter schools. Wednesday morning, the truth comes out — both here and on NPR’s Morning Edition.

The question: How many of Florida’s charter schools serve children with severe disabilities? Here’s a hint: surprisingly few.

Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald Staff

Jeremy Rosende participates in his first-grade art class at the Renaissance Charter School in Coral Springs.

This is being done in conjunction with a six-month investigation involving the Miami Herald called “Cashing in on Kids.” Check out their findings on self-dealing by charter school officials and even politicians cashing in on the system.

Other stories have included anecdotes suggesting charter schools are cherry picking their kids, and excluding kids with disabilities.

StateImpact Florida got the data (it wasn’t easy, more on that later) and it shows some interesting patterns.

You can see them here on this blog.

NPR is also airing a version of our story during Morning Edition Wednesday morning. Right now, the story is scheduled to start at 6:21 and 8:21 a.m. EST.

Charles Reed Blasts Florida’s Disjointed University System

Charles Reed is the former chancellor of Florida's university system, and now leads the nation's largest system in California.

Charles Reed says Florida’s colleges and universities have lost their way.

He paints a picture of a disjointed, parochial higher education system where every university and college is out for itself, and “It’s turned into what the local chamber wants, not what the state needs.”

Exhibit number one, he says: USF Polytechnic’s drive for independence.

“That’s no place for a polytechnic university,” he said. “That’s no Silicon Valley. California has only two polytechnics for 38 million people — and we have Silicon Valley.”

Why should you care? Reed has a unique perspective, as chancellor of the State University System of Florida from 1986 to 1998, and chancellor of the California State University system since 1998. Continue Reading

Four Ways Florida Can Improve College Success

Florida C.A.N.

Florida C.A.N. promotes college-readiness, access, and success for limited-income, first generation, and underrepresented students.

Now that the drama over USF Polytechnic is behind us (at least for now,) higher education officials are back to focusing on less showy things…like helping more Florida students to graduate successfully and get good-paying jobs.

That last part is the mission of Florida College Access Network (Florida C.A.N.) They’ve issued “A Call for Leadership” that urges state leaders not to focus on bright shiny objects (like proposed Texas reforms that don’t seem likely to take place even there).

(Full disclosure: Florida C.A.N. is a financial supporter of StateImpact Florida. As part of our agreement, they exercise no influence over what we report or how we report it.)

Florida C.A.N. has four short-term suggestions for improving the number of students successfully getting college and university degrees: Continue Reading

USF Polytechnic Wins Bid for Independence…Sort Of

Supporters of independence for USF Polytechnic in Florida have won a crucial vote by the university system Board of Governors. But they didn’t get everything they wanted.

University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft unsuccessfully argued to keep USF Polytechnic in the fold.

Board members voted 12 – 3 in favor of splitting Polytechnic from the University of South Florida…but not right away. USF Polytechnic has to jump over some hurdles before it becomes Florida’s 12th university.

It was as much drama as you can get at a Board of Governors meeting. In one corner was USF President Judy Genshaft. Up until then, she’d been pretty quiet about the proposed loss of one of USF’s branch campuses.

But Thursday in front of the Board of Governors, she came out swinging.

“This is not the right time, either economically, educationally, or practically for a drastic change to the USF system,” Genshaft said.

“It’s time to set the record straight.” Continue Reading

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