Putting Education Reform To The Test

How Finland Wants To Restructure School Lessons

Schools in Finland are scrapping subject-based classes, like math and foreign language, in favor of lesson on topics. The idea is similar to what American education reformer John Dewey proposed a century ago.

Now, Finnish schools are embracing an even more radical approach to teaching. One major initiative is to encourage teaching by topic instead of by subject. According to The Independent, instead of teaching geography and foreign language classes separately, teachers will ask kids to name countries on a map in a foreign language. Instead of separate lessons on history and economics, they’ll talk about the European Union.

Read more at: www.washingtonpost.com

Project Gives Developmentally Disabled a Chance to Go to College

Quan Jones of Project 10 Stingray works at the marina behind USFSP

M.S. Butler / StateImpact Florida

Quan Jones of Project 10 Stingray works at the marina behind USFSP

A college education is generally considered a student’s best shot at getting a good job these days, and it’s often assumed most high schoolers are prepared to attend college.

But there’s one group that has been quietly excluded from that process — students with intellectual disabilities.

A program at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg  is giving these students college experience that while it’s not a traditional degree, it’s giving them a head start on their career goals.

It’s a very windy afternoon at the small marina behind the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and Quan Jones is trying to keep busy. 

“I work at the waterfront and we help people check out canoes, kayaks and paddle boards. This is something that I want to work at in my future,” said Jones.

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How The Senate And House School Testing Bills Are Different

A Senate committee has approved a bill which would limit state testing. The bill also allows districts which had technology problems during testing to get a waiver from using those results to calculate school or teacher performance.

Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, agreed that the bill aims to put testing into its proper perspective — an “important anticlimax” to the school year — after years of stampeding children into nervous wrecks.

“Maybe one of the things we can do is cool it with the testing frenzy,” Gaetz said.

But he gave no encouragement to those who want to do away with accountability, data and measurement. That’s not going to happen, he said.

“I support high standards and I support higher standards,” Gaetz said. “Once we meet those, I support higher standards after that.”

Read more at: www.tampabay.com

Senate Bill Would Let Parents Have More Control Over Kids’ Education

Parents could enroll their child in any Florida school which isn’t full, according to a school choice bill approved by a Senate committee Wednesday. Parents could also pull their child from a class taught by someone working outside of her or her subject field.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican who sponsored the bill, downplayed how many parents were likely to take advantage of the provision.

“I don’t anticipate there’s a mass move by parents to send their children or take their children to schools two counties away, or three counties away,” she said.

Benacquisto also pushed back against the idea that parents would be able to choose their children’s teachers, pointing out that the bill simply allows parents to request, or in some cases demand, that a student be moved out of a certain classroom. The school district could then assign the child to another class.

“This does not allow a parent to cherry-pick a teacher in any way, shape or form,” she said.

Read more at: www.redefinedonline.org

House Leader Says No Pension Changes This Year

It’s a hearty perennial for state lawmakers, but this year it seems pension reform is going nowhere. That should be a relief to teachers, which have fought efforts to eliminate the traditional pension for new hires.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said questions about a new financial analysis of proposed changes to the pension fund have prompted him to call off any legislation this spring on the Florida Retirement System. Instead, Crisafulli said lawmakers will now put an extra emphasis on bills seeking to reform municipal pension funds for police and firefighters this year.

As in the past two years, House leaders had pushed legislation to reduce the size of the Florida pension fund for state workers, school system employees and county workers over the long term. The main emphasis was to encourage more workers to sign up for a 401(k)-type investment plan for their retirement rather than the more costly traditional pension with its guaranteed benefits.

Read more at: www.news-journalonline.com

Scott Unlikely To Get Full Funding For Schools

A draft budget from House lawmakers falls short of the school funding campaign promise Gov. Rick Scott made on the campaign trail. The House plan would allocate $7,129 per student — less than the $7,176 that Scott sought.

Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican who chairs the subcommittee, stressed that the House plan would still hit Scott’s goal of the highest per-student funding in state history.

“It wasn’t a slight to the governor,” Fresen said. “We wanted to make sure we hit his historic number.”

The subcommittee did not vote on Fresen’s plan, which will instead be incorporated into the House’s full budget proposal and voted on by the Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Don Gaetz, Fresen’s counterpart in the Senate, said the Senate budget proposal will also probably come up short of the governor’s request, largely because of a potential drop in health-care funding from the federal government.

Read more at: miami.cbslocal.com

Testing, School Choice, PE: A Town Hall Conversation About Florida Education

This week, PBS is launching a new documentary series “180 Days.”

One of the films focuses on Hartsville, South Carolina, a rural and poor district which has managed to become one of the highest rating school districts according to South Carolina’s ranking.

Tampa public media station WUSF hosted a town hall meeting at Artz 4 Life Academy in Clearwater last week to screen a portion of the movie and to discuss education issues. Artz 4 Life is an after-school arts and life coaching program.

Big on the mind of those who attended was Florida’s new test, the Florida Standards Assessments. The test is linked to Florida’s new Common Core-based math and language arts standards, which outline what students should know by the end of each grade.

But parents were worried the new test is expected to be tougher, and must be taken on a computer.

“We went from FCAT to FSA and that’s worse than what we were already at,” said mom of three Lisa Hewitt. “We set our students up to fail…If they weren’t doing so well in FCAT why would we develop another test that’s worse?

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Lawmakers Say No To Pausing Public School Grades

Despite pleas from superintendents, parents and others, a House committee does not want to wait a year before issuing school grades based on Florida’s new test results. While the state will issue school grades this year, those grades will have no consequences.

Joy Frank, of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said pausing school grades for a year would “recalibrate the system.”

“This is not been an easy transition,” Frank said. “The teachers have been working very hard and diligently to implement these standards and administer this test with fidelity. The students have been prepared and ready to take the assessment, and many of them last week could not get on the system. I think it behooves us to support the teachers and the students.”

Representatives from the Broward, Palm Beach, Pasco and Polk school districts also endorsed the proposed amendment.

But Republicans on the panel disagreed.

“The pressure helps our schools to continue to strive to do better,” said Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach.

Read more at: www.tampabay.com

Amendment Would Give Charter Schools A Share Of School Construction Money

Sen. Don Gaetz has filed an amendment which would force school districts to share local construction money with charter schools.

JD Hancock / Flickr

Sen. Don Gaetz has filed an amendment which would force school districts to share local construction money with charter schools.

School districts would have to share local school construction and maintenance money with charter schools, according to an amendment filed by an influential state senator.

Sen. Don Gaetz, a former Senate president, filed the amendment Tuesday. The amendment would require half of the money raised by an optional local property tax to be split between charter and traditional schools on a per-student basis.

Studies have found publicly-funded, but privately-run charter schools typically receive less money per student than traditional public schools. A good piece of the difference in Florida is the local construction money — which few school districts share with charter schools.

Earmarking a source of construction funding has been a top priority of charter schools for years. Charter schools argue their parents are taxpayers too, so public money should pay for charter school construction and maintenance.

Every year school districts and charter schools fight over a dwindling pool of construction and maintenance money funded by utility taxes in the state budget. Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to cut those taxes could mean even less money to fight over.

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Florida Lawmakers Consider Limiting Four-Year Community College Degrees

A state senator says Florida should restrict the number of four-year degree programs that community colleges offer. The programs are a growing — and less expensive — alternative to degrees from Florida universities. But Sen. Joe Negron says community colleges should focus on two-year degrees and workforce training.

Negron said he was concerned that state colleges, also known as community colleges, were forgetting their core mission: to give out associate degrees and provide work-force training.

“We have a great community-college system,” he said. “My concern is what started as a small part of their portfolio has grown dramatically and, left unchecked, some of these colleges view themselves as competing in the four-year space with universities.”

Negron said he favors giving universities a stronger say during the process if they want to oppose community colleges’ proposed new four-year degrees. He also is considering a cap on the number of students or degrees given.

Read more at: www.orlandosentinel.com

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