Putting Education Reform To The Test

Parents Fight For School Recess

rally for recess

Robin Sussingham

Remember recess? When you knew that if you just sat still for a couple more hours, you and your friends could go racing out to the merry-go-round or the hopscotch court for a daily dose of fun? In many public elementary schools in Florida, recess has become a thing of the past. And parents are not happy.

Five year old Garrett Hoskins goes to Highlands Grove Elementary school in Lakeland. He’s in kindergarten, and he loves recess. He’s kind of an authority on the slides.

“The slide I like is the bumpy one,” Garrett says. “I like the circle one because that one has sides. The other one doesn’t really have sides. Just short sides, to keep you safe.”

Garrettt goes to recess once a week, on Fridays, for 20 minutes. His mom, Stephanie Hoskins, says that’s not enough.

“Not for bustling five year olds, no,” she says.

They were at a community meeting recently, organized by Polk County school Superintendent Kathryn LeRoy. LeRoy  was responding to a growing and increasingly vocal demand by parents to give kids a break during the school day.

At the meeting, the frustration was palpable. Parents were supposed to ask questions by writing them down on a card and turning it in — but one mom, sitting in the audience, couldn’t contain herself. She said her eight-year-old son hates to go to school.  “He loves being outdoors and he gets no time,” she said. “He has to sit in a classroom from 8:30 until 3 o’clock. He goes to lunch and they’re not allowed to  talk at that time either.”

It probably came as no surprise to these parents when LeRoy presented the research showing the recess is important to kids in lots of ways, physically, socially and cognitively. The American Academy of Pediatrics calls recess crucial to child development.

Superintendent LeRoy told the crowd that she’s all in favor of recess. She said she was forming a county-wide committee to come up with recommendations, and she’d take them to the school board for a vote. But, she said, it’s not as easy as it once was to send the children out onto the playground.

Pointing to the wording of a state education statute that she’d projected up on a screen, LeRoy said, “The reason I am showing this to you is because I want you to get a sense of the magnitude and mandates that are laying on top of us….We are required to teach reading, writing, math, science, social studies, art and music (those are electives), and physical education.”

There’s also a requirement of 90 minutes every day for reading instruction — and more for low performing schools.

The state has made no policies regarding recess, leaving it up to the individual school districts. Some districts have no recess in schools. Others, like Miami Dade, require it for Pre-K through 5th grade. Miami-Dade even has a recess manual, that describes how to teach Double Dutch and hop scotch!

Time for recess has been squeezed out in recent years, but now social media is helping parents, such as Lakeland mother Amanda Lipham, organize recess supporters.
Lipham says she organized the push for recess in Polk when she saw changes in her five year old son.

“He was losing his enthusiasm for school,” Lipham says. “His attitude was changing. I could see his spirit being broken.”

First, Lipham handed out flyers in the car line at her son’s elementary school, and she spoke out at a school board meeting. Then, she formed an online petition that garnered thousands of signatures.

Now parents are creating similar online petitions around the state. More than 2200 people have signed a petition to make recess mandatory in Pinellas County, This fall, Parents in Osceola County also started a petition demanding recess. And a similar effort in Orange County last year led to a school board resolution recommending that schools provide the breaks.

And that’s the way change might happen, says Judy Stockman, who teaches at Sykes Elementary school in Lakeland — when parents get involved.

“Teachers have already voiced their opinions about this and nothing happened,” Stockman says.

The state does require every school to provide PE for 150 minutes a week. But Stockman, like the Superintendent and the parents at the meeting, say that’s not the same as recess.

“PE doesn’t count,” Stockman says. “That is structured. What I’m seeing lacking is time for social skills and social development. and that type of thing. Just to go and explore on your own.”

LeRoy said some school districts, like Orange county, have adopted Resolutions in favor of recess. But LeRoy said she wanted a policy for schools to follow.

The Polk County school board will take up the committee recommendations on recess at its Dec. 8th meeting.

Despite Losing Grant, Choral Group Still Teaching Miami Students To Sing

Natural Bridge Elementary School students sing "Amazing Grace."

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Natural Bridge Elementary School students sing "Amazing Grace."

As soon as the fourth and fifth graders at Natural Bridge Elementary were handed the lyrics to Amazing Grace, they were ready to sing out.

But first, they needed a lesson in the four voice types of a choir – bass, tenor, alto and soprano.

One by one members of the group added their part while the students waited to sing the melody. Finally, it was time to add soprano Sara Guttenberg

“I really hope she sings the melody,” tenor Patrick Muehleise kids.

The students are ready. They join in before the conductor gives them their cue.

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Congressmen Agree On Revisions To “No Child Left Behind”

Standardized testing will continue under the new rules, but the onerous sanctions imposed on schools could go away.

Overcoming years of partisan bickering over the federal government’s role in public education, congressional negotiators came to an agreement on Thursday to revise the No Child Left Behind law for the first time since it was signed by President George W. Bush 14 years ago.

Read more at: www.nytimes.com

International Baccalaureate Programs Finding A Home In Florida Middle and Elementary Schools

It’s game day in the 8th grade International Baccalaureate design class at Ada Merritt K-8 Center in Little Havana in Miami.

The games the students are playing are designed by their classmates. And they’re based on books the students read for class.

Four eighth graders prepare to set off on a board game based on the book “Everlost” – set in a fantasy world between life and death inhabited by “afterlights.”

Ada Merritt K-8 Center 8th graders Theo Urquiza and Victoria Fernandez play a role-playing game based on the book "Everlost" that their classmates created.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Ada Merritt K-8 Center 8th graders Theo Urquiza and Victoria Fernandez play a role-playing game based on the book "Everlost" that their classmates created.

Theo Urquiza reads the rules and introduces the characters.

“Every player must choose one character,” Urquiza reads, “and once you have chosen a character go to the table of contents to see what page your player is on.”

“So, who’s Allie?” he asks.

“Ok, Allie,” he continues, and reads the character description. “Although Allie is dead, she’s not really dead. She got stuck in between life and death in a world called Everlost.”

Students were asked to create a role-playing game – where players live in the heads of the characters they’re playing with.

In this game, the players face a series of scenarios as the move along the board. They make a choice, and the outcome is decided by a roll of the dice.

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Helping Student Veterans Succeed

Carlos Santana is a graduate student and leader of the Student Veterans Network at Hawaii Pacific University: “We need to create a clear, comprehensive system of information about higher education programs’ outcomes and costs so that it’s easy for all students to navigate the best pathway for them. The GI Bill Comparison Tool is a good starting place for veterans seeking higher education.”

Seventy years ago, Congress made a transformational step in preparing veterans to excel after military service by passing the GI Bill, which provided veterans unprecedented access to education beyond high school. As we celebrate our nation’s veterans on Nov.

Read more at: thehill.com

Suspensions Down In Hillsborough, But At What Cost To Teachers?

The Tampa Tribune reports that the Hillsborough School District is having success in getting their suspension numbers way down. The executive director of the Teachers Association, however, says teachers are telling her they feel they can’t remove misbehaving students from the classroom, and aren’t getting the support they need from administrators.

TAMPA – Fewer students in Hillsborough County are getting suspended this school year, but questions have arisen about whether the numbers mask a larger problem. Revisions made this year to the Hillsborough school district’s student handbook stress that removing a student from the classroom should be a last resort.

Read more at: www.tbo.com

Tampa Academy Introduces Students To Maritime Careers

Maritime Academy Director John Paradis (c) on the Port tour

Robin Sussingham / WUSF

Maritime Academy Director John Paradis (c) on the Port tour


Florida is a state that juts out into the water and is home to 14 ports — but still the maritime industry is a mystery to most teens. Now, a rapidly aging workforce in one of the state’s major economic engines is behind a push to reach a younger generation and teach them about sea-going jobs.

In Tampa Bay, maritime interests have teamed up with the Hillsborough School district to create the Maritime Honors Academy at Jefferson High School In Tampa. On a recent morning, 31 students from the the Academy’s freshman class took a tour of the Tampa port. They were welcomed by Port Tampa Bay President and CEO Paul Anderson, who told them “this program is a great way for you to learn about an industry that’s global, and has a great future for many of you, hopefully.

“There’s a lot of people here that, when you graduate, we won’t be working here any more,” Anderson said. “We’re going to be retired.”

And that, he told the students, means job opportunities for you.

Fourteen year old Alexia Hegedus says she’s interested in those jobs. She says she found out something in the program that amazed her. “Ninety-five percent of the world’s goods are traded through ships,” she says.  “It’s a very interesting subject, and I’ve always loved the ocean.”

Our conversation is interrupted when the tour guide points out dolphins, and the students rush to look over the side of the boat.

The dolphins get a bigger response than anything else on the port tour, which I mention to the Maritime program director, John Paradis.

“Eighty percent of [Academy freshmen] want to come in and pet a dolphin,” Paradis says. “The market is flooded with marine biologists, and the pay scale is not as high as it is on the maritime industry side.”

Paradis says that when their eyes are opened to the larger world of shipping, they leave the dolphins behind. The upperclassmen say they want to be naval architects, or ship captains. One junior says her goal is Paul Anderson’s job — CEO of Port Tampa Bay.

As the boat passes through the Ybor Channel, the tour guide points out International Ship Repair, whose President, Dave Sessums, was the driving force behind this Maritime Academy. Sessums is a member of the Tampa port’s Propeller Club, a group that promotes shipping and maritime interests. Working on the Propeller Club’s outreach and education committee, he partnered with the Hillsborough School District to create the program. Sessums says he started out in the shipping industry at age 12, and nearly six decades later, says he feels compelled to draw new blood into the industry.

“You can’t just walk away and let it wither on the vine,” he says.

Sessums says when they created the program eight years ago, they wanted a broader focus of study than they saw at established schools in Florida, such as MAST academy in Key Biscayne, which focuses more on the yachting industry and marine science. With 16 fields of study, they introduce students to the array of possibilities of maritime work

“Those jobs are everything from a welder to a naval architect,” he says. “From a terminal operator to a tugboat captain. There are a lot of careers that most people don’t know about. And we’re getting old.”

Now Propeller clubs in Broward and Brevard county are working with school districts to set up similar maritime programs there.  Last May, the first students graduated from Hillsborough’s other maritime program, at Blake High School. Out of nine graduates, three went to merchant marine academies, and two more work at shipyard trades.

Sessums says he heard a speaker recently — Congressman Elijah Cummings — who summed it up:

“It they can’t see it, they can’t dream it. But once they see it, they start to dream it.”

And that’s the magic of it, Sessums says. For the Maritime Academy freshmen on the boat tour, the hope is that seeing will lead to dreaming.

How A Miami High School Made The Most Of Federal School Improvement Grants

Politico goes in depth to look at how Miami Edison Senior High School got ready to make the most of federal grants intended to turn the school around. In comparison, Miami Edison got better results than a Chicago school that bickered about the grant.

In 2009, the Obama administration saw a chance to tackle a problem that had bedeviled educators for decades. “Our goal is to turn around the 5,000 lowest-performing schools over the next five years, as part of our overall strategy for dramatically reducing the dropout rate, improving high school graduation rates and increasing the number of students who graduate prepared for success in college and the workplace,” said Arne Duncan, the administration’s new secretary of education in August of that year.

Read more at: www.politico.com

Poll Shows Strong Support For Testing — But Growing Calls For Opting Out

A strong majority of Floridians say they support regular school testing, even testing tied to the Common Core State Standards that Florida has adopted, according to a new poll from St. Leo University. But a growing number of parents say they should have the choice of opting their students out of testing.

The survey showed much higher support (about 80 percent) for regular testing, with 52 percent backing the use of test results as a measure of success. By contrast, 58 percent said graduation rates should be used to measure success, and 42 percent said teacher qualifications and accomplishments should be used.

Read more at: www.tampabay.com

Why President Obama’s Call For Less Testing Might Not Change Much

President Barack Obama recently said he thinks there should be less testing in schools. He admits his administration is partly to blame for the problem.

Pool / Getty News Images

President Barack Obama recently said he thinks there should be less testing in schools. He admits his administration is partly to blame for the problem.

Recently, President Barack Obama admitted he’d made a mistake when it comes to public schools.

Like most people with big news to share – he posted it on Facebook.

“I also hear from parents who, rightly, worry about too much testing,” Obama said in a video posted to the White House’s Facebook page.

For more than a decade, the federal government has required schools to test students every year and use those results to force changes in schools.  And since the late 1990s Florida has used tests the same way.

The president now says he wants less testing in schools.

To be clear, President Obama says he’s worried schools are “obsessing” about testing.

But he’s not isn’t saying that public schools should get rid of the Florida Standards Assessments and other annual exams.

“Our kids should only take tests that are worth taking,” Obama said in the video. “Tests that are high-quality, aimed at good instruction and make sure everybody’s on track.”

The president is asking school districts to limit testing to two percent of class time – but that’s still 26 hours out of the typical school year.

The reason Obama and Florida lawmakers are so focused on testing is parents like Kim Werner from Miami. She’s worried her daughter — who gets good grades — still may not graduate.

Cause she’s got to get a test score to get a high school standard diploma,” Werner said.

Werner was one of dozens of parents at a State Board of Education meeting in Orlando last week pleading for changes to the state’s testing system.

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