Putting Education Reform To The Test

Sarah Gonzalez

Broadcast Reporter (Former)

Sarah Gonzalez was the Miami-based reporter for StateImpact Florida until March 2013. Previously, she worked at NPR in D.C. where she was a national desk reporter, web and show producer as an NPR Kroc Fellow. The San Diego native has worked as a reporter and producer for KPBS in San Diego and KALW in San Francisco, covering under-reported issues like youth violence, food insecurity and immigration. Her work has been awarded an SPJ Sigma Delta Chi and regional Edward R. Murrows. She graduated from Mills College in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and journalism.

How School Zero Tolerance Rules Turn Bad Behavior Into A Crime

Malcolm Calvert was in 7th grade when he got into an argument with his 6th grade friend on a school bus and hit him with a Tootsie Pop.  “I hit him with it on his head,” recalls Malcolm, who was a student at Lanier James Alternative School in Hallandale Beach, Fla., when the Tootsie Pop incident happened in 2011. “They handcuffed me and took me off the school bus.” Continue reading

Today at 4pm: Online Chat On Florida Education Changes For 2013

Join our live online education chat Tuesday, Feb. 19th here on StateImpact Florida.

StateImpact Florida and WLRN are holding an online education chat in advance of our WLRN-Miami Herald News Town Hall, where you’ll get the chance to ask lawmakers about their education priorities this legislative session.

We’ll talk about issues like proposed teacher salary increases and whether charter school teachers should be evaluated the same way traditional public school teachers are. Senate President Don Gaetz says they shouldn’t have to. Continue Reading

Teachers Question Why Proposed Pay Raises Come Before Teacher Evaluations

Sarah Gonzalez / StateImpact Florida

5th grade teacher Beverley Dowell says she hopes the Governor “isn’t trying to buy teacher votes” when he suggested every full-time teacher in the state get a pay raise before their evaluation results come in.

Most districts won’t start identifying, and potentially removing, low-performing teachers from their schools until next year. But Governor Rick Scott said he wants to give every full-time teacher in the state a pay raise now.

“For a while now we’ve been hearing how bad we are,” said Beverley Dowell, a 5th grade teacher at Treasure Island Elementary School in Miami-Dade. “[That] we need to weed out bad teachers, there’s so many bad teachers.”

She says it doesn’t make any sense to give teachers more money before those “bad teachers” have even been identified. 

“On one hand you’re cleaning us out of the system, on the other hand you’re going to reward us with $2,500 because according to the Governor we truly deserve it,” Dowell said. “We have to be concerned.”

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Town Hall: Ask Florida Lawmakers About Their Education Priorities This Session

On Feb. 25, leaders from the Florida Legislature will be answering your questions at a Town Hall on Session 2013, an event sponsored by Global Integrity.

Education is a big part of the conversation. From teacher pay to charter school funding laws, you can ask Florida lawmakers what their education priorities will be during the upcoming legislative session. 

RSVP to join WLRN and The Miami Herald on Monday, Feb. 25th at 6:30pm for the live, free event at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale.

Guests include:

Florida Private Schools Team Up To Create A School Emergency Plan

JacksterD / Flickr

Private schools in Florida are coming together to create a school emergency plan, utilizing each school's existing resources.

Private schools in Florida are coming together to share their resources in case of a school emergency.

Dana Markham is the president of Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale. She says private, independent schools don’t have a support network the way public schools do.

Public middle and high schools, for example, share School Resource Officers — police officers who visit school campuses every day. Markham says if private schools want a police officer on their campuses, they have to pay an off-duty officer and hire them through a law enforcement agency.

She’s asked nearby private schools to create a crisis management plan together, utilizing each school’s existing resources.  Continue Reading

Being A School Bus Driver Can Be Minimum Wage Work With Big Responsibilities

Sarah Gonzalez / StateImpact Florida

Miami-Dade school bus driver Sharayne Milton says she tries to work overtime weekends every day to earn more money than the $12.16 she makes an hour. Her day can start at 4 a.m. and end at 10:30 p.m.

Driver Gwendolyn Tillman doesn’t usually get between students fighting on the school bus.

“Usually if there are some other guys on the bus and the guys have respect for the bus drivers, the other young men on the bus will pull them apart,” Tillman said.

If nobody pulls the kids apart, bus drivers are instructed to call the district dispatcher — and not the police.

“Our drivers do not take actions against individual students,” said Jerry Klein. He’s in charge of school transportation in Miami-Dade County.

“There is a process for them to fill out a report and then the schools deal with it like any other misbehavior in the schools.”

Calling a dispatcher is the protocol for any emergency on a school bus. And that has sparked some controversy in Florida.

In Hillsborough County, a school bus driver called the district when 7-year-old Isabella Herrera was having trouble breathing on the school bus. The little girl had a neuromuscular disorder, and she later died

The Hillsborough County school district could not comment because they’re in the middle of a lawsuit over the circumstances surrounding Herrera’s death. But in Miami-Dade, Klein says calling a dispatcher is just as good as calling the police.

“We have access as quickly as they do to be able to call [the police], you don’t really save time,” Klein said. “But beyond that, the dispatcher can reach a wide variety of people and try to get the closest people there to be able to assist.” Continue Reading

Bennett Wants An “Intense Discussion” About Arming Florida Teachers

frankenstoen / Flickr

Should Florida teachers be allowed to carry guns on school property?

Incoming Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett used to be a teacher himself.

And when StateImpact Florida asked him what he thinks about a growing conversation to arm public school teachers, he spoke as a former teacher.

“I’m not going to speak as the education commissioner, I’m going to speak as a former science teacher who loved what I did every day teaching science,” Bennett said.

“I didn’t get up in the morning to teach science with ever believing I would need to carry a gun. Okay?

“Now it pains me and it saddens me to think that the society we live in today is so drastically different than it was maybe when I was teaching, but I still hold that value,” he said.

Bennett was the state superintendent in Indiana from 2009-2012 before losing his re-election bid in November. Continue Reading

Florida’s New Education Commissioner Tony Bennett Starts The Job Today

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Tony Bennett was Superintendent of Public Instruction in Indiana for one term. He lost his re-election bid in November 2012, and was appointed Florida's schools chief by Governor Rick Scott.

Tony Bennett drove from Indiana over the weekend to start his first day as schools chief in Florida today.

Last month the State Board of Education hired Bennett, a Republican who served as Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction for one term.

He lost his re-election bid there after Democrat Glenda Ritz organized a grassroots campaign with help from the teachers union.

Bennett was viewed by some as being too aggressive towards teachers and not showing enough compassion when he pushed new policies, such as merit pay.

StateImpact Florida caught up with Tony Bennett about his plans for education in our state.

Q:Let me first ask you, why did you want to be the Education Commissioner in Florida?

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Join Us For An Online Chat at 4pm: How Florida Schools Are Failing To Prepare Students For College

Join us Wednesday, December 19 at 4pm on this site to chat online with reporters Sarah Gonzalez of NPR’s StateImpact Florida and McNelly Torres of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting about the growing need for remedial education among Florida’s high school graduates and older students.

We’ll talk about how we got here and what can be done to fix it. You can join via Twitter by using the hashtag #NPRedchat or go to the WLRN website and type your comment or question.

One in two Florida students in 2010-2011 failed at least one section of the college placement test. Those students then had to take – and pay for – a remedial course in reading, writing and/or math.

We’ve already received comments and observations from teachers, students and parents from the Public Insight Network.

Tell us what you think. What should be the purpose of high school? Why are high school students graduating unprepared?

That’s today at 4pm with education reporters Sarah Gonzalez and McNelly Torres. Tweet us #NPRedchat or type your comment right on this page. You can login with your Facebook or Twitter account or just type your name.

13th Grade: ‘Common Core’ Standards Aim To Smooth The Path From K-12 to College

Sarah Gonzalez / StateImpact Florida

The Common Core State Standards will rewrite what students need to know by the time they graduate high school. The standards will mean a new test for Florida students and new curriculum in schools.

In Florida, a high school diploma is not the same thing as a certificate of college readiness.

In 2011 alone, more than 30,000 students learned this the hard way. After graduating from high school or receiving a G.E.D., they went on to community or state colleges in Florida and promptly failed at least one subject on the college placement test.

That didn’t mean they couldn’t go to college, but it did mean they had to take at least one remedial class to improve their basic skills. Those students had to pay college tuition to re-learn material they should have mastered in high school. 

The problem is that there is a disconnect between what’s taught at the K-12 level and the skills that students need to succeed in college. That’s been understood for a while. The research arm of the Florida legislature said as much in a report on remedial education back in 2006.

Only recently, however, have state policy makers begun making changes that aim to address the situation. The goal is to strengthen the K-12 system so that fewer students need remediation once they get to college.

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