Putting Education Reform To The Test

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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Miami-Dade Schools Eliminating Out-Of-School Suspensions

Posters advertise new Miami-Dade County school choice programs.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Posters advertise new Miami-Dade County school choice programs.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools plan to eliminate out-of-school suspensions this year, preferring to keep kids in class and address behavior problems.

School districts around the country have made similar decisions because research and experience shows suspended students often find more trouble outside of school while on suspension. That can mean more neighborhood crime – and more suspended students getting arrested and charged.

Miami-Dade schools have included $3.2 million dollars in the district budget to eliminate out-of-school suspension.

“Traditional outdoor suspensions and disciplinary actions don’t work,” said Miami-Dade schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho. “We ought to understand the root causes of student misbehavior…to actually address the human being behind the behavior, rather than simply condemning it and applying a consequence to it.”

The district is setting up “success centers” so suspended students don’t disrupt classrooms. The centers are staffed by teachers, social workers and other service providers to work with the students – and keep them on their classwork.

“This is not going to be a vacation” for suspended students, said Carvalho.

Research shows that minority students and students with disabilities are more likely to be disciplined than their classmates. A recent study showed black girls in Miami-Dade public schools were disproportionately disciplined.

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Study Finds Schools Hire Stronger Teachers During A Weaker Economy

A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that teachers hired during a recession are more effective than those hired during times of greater economic prosperity. The findings are based on the analysis of “value-added measurement” scores of 33,000 fourth and fifth graders in Florida.

So what does this mean for policy? It doesn’t make sense to rely on recessions to improve the teacher candidate pool. But the study suggests that school districts could attract higher-quality teachers by paying new teachers more. Or in the words of the authors: “Increasing the economic benefits of becoming a teacher may be an effective strategy to increase the quality of the teaching workforce.”

Read more at: www.washingtonpost.com

Jacksonville Group Connecting Teachers To Improve Training

Schultz Center president Deborah Gianoulis.

The Schultz Center

Schultz Center president Deborah Gianoulis.

At one point, the Schultz Center had state funding and a big, multi-million dollar contract with Duval County schools to help teachers improve their craft.

The Schultz Center has trained thousands of teachers since it was founded in Jacksonville in 1997. But when state revenues declined, the Schultz Center funding was cut.

“The recession happened,” said Deborah Gianoulis, president of the Schultz Center. “That [state budget] line-item was never restored.”

And  Duval schools decided to provide their own staff development.

So the Schultz Center had to change. The non-profit is expanding beyond Northeast Florida to offer training to teachers statewide, both in person and online. And they’re building an incubator for education entrepreneurs.

They’re also helping teachers adjust to big changes in the classroom.

Common Core, or — a variation of it like Florida is using — is a roadmap of what students should know at the end each grade. But the standards have also changed the way teachers plan and present their lessons.

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Foundations Fill Gaps For Low-Income Students

Statewide about 60 non-profits and foundations fill needed gaps for low-income students with services ranging from school supplies and clothing to school nurses.

Since 2001, the state has provided matching grants for programs that target low-performing students, science, technology, engineering and math studies, technical and career education, literacy, quality teaching and improving the graduation rate.

“The needs are enormous,” said Betty Castor, a former education commissioner and lawmaker who was a proponent of the foundations when the Legislature authorized them in 1984.

Read more at: www.orlandosentinel.com

Schools Watch Social Media To Prevent Radicalization And Recruitment

Impero Software provides services to schools to monitor student social media activity to prevent issues ranging from bullying to suicide. But some districts are now using the software to watch for signs of students turning to religious extremism and recruitment by groups like ISIS. And privacy and anti-discrimination advocates are concerned about misuse of the programs.

Impero is not the only company offering to monitor students’ digital behavior, although it is the first to say it will include radicalization as a category. A variety of companies say they have been able to prevent student harm, such as suicide and bullying, through such monitoring.

Florida’s Orange County schools recently signed up with Snaptrends, a company that helps districts monitor publicly posted information and detect elements that pose safety concerns. Snaptrends declined to comment for this article.

Read more at: www.csmonitor.com

Cash Incentives Won’t Convince All Districts To Adopt School Uniforms, For Now

Florida House of Representatives K-12 Committee Chairwoman Janet Adkins is promoting an initiative providing cash incentives for school districts to adopt mandatory school uniform policies. But, so far, even with the need for the extra cash, some districts are apprehensive about the mandate.

Citing the need to improve school security, Adkins sought to persuade districts to adopt mandatory uniforms for elementary and middle schools. As an incentive, she wanted to offer districts $10 per student, with a cap of $10 million statewide, first come, first served.

House members loved the idea, with just eight opposing the bill. It failed in the Senate, though, with senators saying the money could be better spent.

Read more at: www.tampabay.com

State Board Of Education Sets New Goals For Some Teacher Evaluations

Jeremy Glazer says teacher evaluations miss some of the most important work he does.

sean dreilinger / Flickr

The State Board of Education has set new rules for the portion of teacher evaluations based on state test results.

The State Board of Education has approved a new statewide standard for the test-based portion of teacher evaluations.

State law requires that teachers are evaluated each year. That evaluation must include how well that teacher’s students performed on standardized exams — and whether they did better or worse than expected, based on a complex statistical formula.

That formula is known as VAM, or value-added model. The VAM score counts for at least one-third of a teacher’s total evaluation score.

Thursday’s decision sets a statewide standard for 4th through 10th grade language arts teachers, 4th through 8th grade math teachers and Algebra I teachers — teachers in subjects with a statewide exam. State officials said the rule change will apply to about one-third of all Florida teachers.

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State Board of Education Member Doubts Sexual Assault Figures

State Board of Education member Rebecca Fishman Lipsey is questioning the accuracy of forcible sexual assaults reported on state college campuses.

State Board of Education

State Board of Education member Rebecca Fishman Lipsey is questioning the accuracy of forcible sexual assaults reported on state college campuses.

A State Board of Education member is questioning the number of sexual assaults reported on state college campuses.

Rebecca Fishman Lipsey believes it is unlikely that there were only seven forcible sexual assaults reported by the 28-college sytem with more than 400,000 students. Those figures do not include crime data for the dozen schools in the state’s university system.
Fishman Lipsey began Wednesday’s board meeting by handing out pages of state college system crime data. Notice anything unusual she asked?

“It’s just a string of zeroes,” she said of the column tallying forcible sexual assaults. “Initially, for maybe half a second, my brain could go ‘Wow, how wonderful there’s not a single rape at any of our campuses. That’s an incredible thing.’

But Fishman Lipsey said she doubts the news is that good. She asked the Florida Department of Education to look into the accuracy of the figures.

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