Putting Education Reform To The Test

Why ‘Community Schools’ Are Taking Root In Florida

Part of the curriculum at Evans High School

Evans High School

Part of the curriculum at Evans High School

Evans High School in Orange County used to be known as a dropout factory. But since 2007, it’s gone from a two-time F-rated school to a B-rated school – in one of Orlando’s most troubled neighborhoods. Now, the “community school” concept is spreading to other Florida cities.

Evans is in a neighborhood called Pine Hills, where homes and businesses have bars at the windows. One student, found carrying a Taser, said it was due to her dangerous route home. The neighborhood has exceptionally high rates of juvenile crime and referrals to the Florida Department of Children and Families.

“We have long said at the Department of Children and Families that if we’re ever going to get our arms around neglect and abuse, it has to be a community-wide effort.”

DCF Secretary Mike Carroll. He says Evans has succeeded by becoming what’s called a “community school” — addressing the barriers to student success in a high-risk neighborhood.

“Everything from getting a child to school when they need to be there to making sure they’re fed when they arrive at school to making sure it’s safe going back and forth to school. If there are issues at home that may impact the child’s ability to learn when they get to school, that there’s assistance to do that…”

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Why Brevard County Teachers Are Leaving The Classroom

More Brevard County teachers left their jobs during the past school year than any other year in the last five. And more than 2,000 teachers had left their position or retired during the last six years. School district officials say those numbers aren’t alarming.

FLORIDA TODAY spoke with five teachers who decided to resign over the past year. Disrespect, pay, health and planning time were among the reasons they decided to pull the trigger.

Kim Hunt, a former Space Coast Jr./Sr. High math teacher, left in August 2014 after she said her doctor found the stress she was facing from work was adversely affecting her health.

“My blood pressure was way up and the doctor told me that I had to be on anti-depressants to be able to do my job,” Hunt said, who had been teaching since 1983. “At that point, I decided I could not have a career that I had to be medicated in order to do.”

Read more at: www.floridatoday.com

Computer Coding For Kindergartners To Begin In Central Florida

Using kid-friendly robots that look like bees, kindergarteners in Central Florida will begin learning basic computer coding skills this coming school year. The plan is designed to help students understand the science of writing programs that tell computers what to do. Seminole County Schools Superintendent Walt Griffin says the ultimate goal is to offer computer coding education in each grade by 2020.

The program that is unique to Central Florida begins with every kindergarten class receiving coding lessons this school year. A voter-approved property tax hike is paying for the $145,000 for the teachers’ training and equipment.

The plan stands out nationally at a time when there is a need for people who understand computer science in the workforce, experts say.

Read more at: www.orlandosentinel.com

Duval Schools Will Get Tough With Students Who Fight

Duval County’s school board voted for stricter penalties for students who get in multiple fights during school. But the board was divided about consequences for students who defend themselves.

The code changes will streamline the process for removing persistent brawlers and other troubled students and assigning them to one of Duval’s two alternative learning centers, Mattie V. Rutherford or Grand Park.

Before, it was possible for students to fight three times in one year and still come back to their home school but with the proposed changes a third fight would automatically land a middle-schooler or high school student in Grand Park for months at a time.

Currently both alternative schools receive students for a variety of repeat infractions, everything from cursing out a school employee to selling drugs.

Now the most violent middle and high school students and those involved in sexual offenses, drugs or weapons, will go to Grand Park, whlie Mattie V. Rutherford would handle fourth through ninth-grade students with, at most, one fighting offense.

Read more at: jacksonville.com

Study Finds Money Spent Training Teachers Yields Few Results

A new study by The New Teacher Project, a non-profit organization, has found that billions of taxpayer dollars used for teacher training is doing little to improve the quality of education.The TNTP study found districts that participated in the study spent an average of $18,000 per teacher annually on educational development, a figure higher than previously thought.

In the TNTP study, about one-third of teachers — 3 out of 10 — improved over a two-to-three-year period after participating in training while 20 percent got worse, as measured by teacher evaluations.

The study also found that school districts are not helping teachers understand their weaknesses. Fewer than half of the teachers surveyed agreed that they had weaknesses in the classroom while more than 60 percent of teachers who earned low performance ratings gave themselves high grades.

Read more at: www.washingtonpost.com

New Database Will Track Who Runs Charter Schools

Charter school advocates think a first-of-its-kind database can help prevent bad apples from opening charter schools.

comedynose / Flickr

Charter school advocates think a first-of-its-kind database can help prevent bad apples from opening charter schools.

Florida school districts will have a new way to track the financial and academic records of charter school operators.

For the first time, a new database is connecting charter schools to who runs them. The goal is to reduce the number of charter schools that close.

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers wants to create a paper trail. The group has launched a database that lists who is operating a school and includes performance data from the website GreatSchools.org.

William Haft with the association says it’s surprisingly difficult to track down who runs a charter school.

“We want to help the authorizers, help districts make good decisions,” Haft said. “You want to know how well they’ve been doing, how they’ve been performing… where they’re been doing it.”

Nearly one in three Florida charter schools have closed since the state first allowed the publicly funded but privately run schools. And Florida charter schools were three times as likely to close during their first year than they were nationally during the 2013-2014 school year.

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Why Schools Are Becoming More Segregated

The New York Times Magazine takes a look at why U.S. schools are becoming more segregated, even as evidence show integrating schools is an effective way to improve minority student performance. Reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones also turned her story into a radio piece for This American Life.

It is a story of children locked away from opportunity, what happens when those children are given a chance to escape failing schools and what happens to those children left behind. It is a story of how powerful people decided to do something only when the problems of the worst district in the state were no longer contained. And above all, it is a story of the staggering educational inequality we are willing to accept.

Read more at: www.nytimes.com

Miami-Dade Adding Healthier Choices To School Menus

A "lean and green" meal from the Miami-Dade schools test kitchen. This one has spinach lasagna, salad and a mozerella-stuffed bread stick.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

A "lean and green" meal from the Miami-Dade schools test kitchen. This one has spinach lasagna, salad and a mozerella-stuffed bread stick.

Miami-Dade school meals are going lean and green this school year.

The district is adding smoothies made with Naked brand juices, greek yogurt and vegetarian lasagna.

But at an event Monday unveiling the new dishes, the district was most proud of their version of a Miami classic. The “guavalito” is a whole grain, lower sugar version of a guava and cheese pastry made by a local baker.

“This was developed right here by the staff,” said Penny Parham, the district’s director of food and nutrition, slicing open one of the pastries. “This is 100 calories; no trans fat. The added sugar is below 35 percent – it meets our district wellness policy.”

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Florida Schools Strive To Identify And Help Homeless Students

Students who are considered homeless by Florida schools can be living in hotels, trailer parks, in campgrounds or doubled up with friends or relatives. And with as many as 71,000 or more homeless students in the state the challenges can extend beyond the kids and families to include the schools.

For most kids school is a place of achievement and learning, or just a place to socialize with friends. But for kids without stable living arrangements it can mean much more than that.

It's difficult to estimate how many students are homeless.

Tampa Bay 2-1-1

It's difficult to estimate how many students are homeless.

School districts want to help their homeless students, but first they have to know who they are.

Estimates vary greatly on how many homeless students there are in Florida. Some say the number is as high as one in every 18.

Ken Gaughan supervises social work for Hillsborough County Public Schools. They asked experts how many homeless students they may have.

“And the input we get is – you need to look at your free lunch count in the district and our free lunch count is pretty high,” Gaughan said. “It’s around 55 percent. They say about 10 percent of your free lunch population is also homeless. And that’s a pretty big number.”

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A Q & A With Federal Education Secretary Arne Duncan

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaks at a town hall event at Pembroke Pines Charter High School in 2012.

US Department of Education/flickr

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaks at a town hall event at Pembroke Pines Charter High School in 2012.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan was in South Florida Thursday to attend the national Urban League conference in Fort Lauderdale.

He chatted with StateImpact Florida about school discipline, testing requirements and how Congress is rewriting the federal No Child Left Behind education law.

Q: We are currently in the midst of a national conversation about race and policing following the deaths of several black men and women either in police custody or at the hands of police. Is this conversation extending to education and how is it?

A: It absolutely is and lots of different ways.

So I’ve spent time in Ferguson after the issues there. Spent time in Baltimore; recently been back there a couple times.

And our schools operate in the real world. And our kids have questions. They are sometimes scared; they’re sometimes angry; they’re sometimes confused; they’re sometimes frightened.  And we have to have very open and honest conversations about a whole host of issues — race being a difficult one, but I think hugely important.

And it’s interesting. I think you know we have a lot of work to do ourselves.

We’ve been very, very public about the school to prison pipeline. Sometimes folks don’t like when I talk about that, but that is real.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder and I put out data from our civil rights data collection process that showed that across the country the school prison pipeline starts in pre-K, with three- and four-year-olds, with disproportionate numbers of young boys of color are being suspended and expelled.

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