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Gradebook

Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Satanists plan to send materials to Orange County schools

The Satanic Temple is at it again.

The group that once planned a rally to support Florida Gov. Rick Scott's signature permitting school districts to let students offer "inspirational messages" at school functions is now celebrating the Orange School Board's decision allowing the distribution of religious materials on its campuses.

It plans to circulate pamphlets related to the Temple’s tenets, philosophy and practice of Satanism, and about the legal right to practice Satanism in school.

“We would never seek to establish a precedent of disseminating our religious materials in public schools because we believe our constitutional values are better served by respecting a strong separation of Church and State," spokesman Lucien Greaves explained. "However, if a public school board is going to allow religious pamphlets and full Bibles to be distributed to students — as is the case in Orange County, Florida — we think the responsible thing to do is to ensure that these students are given access to a variety of differing religious opinions, as opposed to standing idly by while one religious voice dominates the discourse and delivers propaganda to youth." …

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Backers call for national mobilization in Florida's voucher fight

The battle over Florida's corporate tax credit scholarships continues to gain attention outside the state, with voucher advocates calling upon supporters to push hard to keep the Florida model intact.

The latest argument comes from Howard Fuller, head of the Black Alliance for Educational Options and former superintendent of Milwaukee (WI) public schools, home of one of the nation's first large-scale voucher programs. You can find his views on the Redefined blog run by Step Up for Students, which oversees the Florida program.

Fuller, a long-time civil rights activist, told Redefined that Florida's legal battle over vouchers for low-income children will resonate across the country. Vested interests have a big interest at stake, he contended, and backers of creating choices and opportunities need to remain vigilant, regardless of where they live. …

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Pasco teacher grievance hearing scheduled for midday, while teachers work

When teacher complaints rise to the superintendent's level in Pasco County, the hearings generally take place after work hours, so the teachers can attend.

Not so for the United School Employees of Pasco's latest grievance over planning time and the use of professional learning communities, or collaborative preparations.

The USEP has offered to hold its hearing before superintendent Kurt Browning during the workday, hinting that no teachers need testify at this time. Union leaders strongly suspect they know how Browning will come down on the matter, seeing that he mandated the PLCs and has said they will not go away. The USEP even asked to bring its gripes directly to the School Board, a request the administration rejected.

District officials did agree to the earlier start time for the hearing, though. It will have a 10:30 a.m. start on Friday, and isn't expected to last more than an hour or so. By contrast, the USEP's last class-action grievance hearing (over burdensome work demands) was a much longer evening affair. …

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Florida education news: Bright Futures, student data, immigrant children and more

HIGHER BAR: Florida students find it harder to qualify for Bright Futures scholarships and afford college, State Impact Florida reports.

PRIVACY: Florida is among several states grappling with the role of technology and student data in schools, the NY Times reports.

TOUGH TRANSITION: Central American immigrant children find it difficult to overcome language and cultural barriers when attending Florida schools, NBC News reports.

MENTORS: Duval seeks adult volunteers to work with high school students, the Florida Times-Union reports.

BUDGET CUTS: Walton district administrators will substitute teach up to four days a year to help save money, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

DISCIPLINE: A Seminole alternative school works through the kinks of changing its approach to behavior problems, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

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Florida education news: Sales taxes, magnet schools, kindergarten and more

TAXES: The Hernando school district pushes a sales tax referendum to hold off deep budget cuts, such as the possible closure of schools.

MAGNET SCHOOLS: The Broward school district must improve its magnet schools or lose the funding, the Sun-Sentinel editorializes.

DROPPING OUT: Duval's superintendent says district dropout retrieval centers do not help keep kids in schools, the Florida Times-Union reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Florida law allows failed charter school operators to relocate and try again with little added oversight, among other problems, the Naples Daily News reports. Part of a series.

TESTING: Brevard parents and educators say their children face too many tests, Florida Today reports.

STANDARDS: The move to Common Core has changed the nature of kindergarten in Florida schools, the Herald-Tribune reports.

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Better, worse schools to be black in Hillsborough

Members of a Hillsborough task force on racial disparities in discipline have been meeting and looking at data for more than a year.

MARLENE SOKOL | Times

Members of a Hillsborough task force on racial disparities in discipline have been meeting and looking at data for more than a year.

The graphic raised eyebrows when it was displayed at Friday's task force meeting on racial disparities in discipline in Hillsborough County.

Shown in color, it compared recorded incidents of "inappropriate behavior" among black students to those of whites and Hispanics. The numbers for black students are in the middle, and some reacted strongly to the Wharton High School example.

But the graphic, while showing a stark comparison between the races, does not take into account the minority populations at those schools. Gradebook did a quick calculation that measured the likelihood of a black student at each of the 27 high schools to get in trouble for inappropriate behavior, a term that is sometimes considered vague and subjective.

It turns out Wharton ranks 17th on the list, almost dead center. …

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Florida education news: Enrollment, vouchers, remediation and more

CHOICES: Pinellas school enrollment grows for the first time in years, but mostly in charter schools.

IN THE RUNNING: Two longtime community activists seek a seat on the Hillsborough School Board.

VOUCHERS: Florida's corporate tax credit scholarships are a worthy option for families but mixed up in politics, the Wall Street Journal editorializes.

TESTING: Schools continue to prepare for the introduction of the Florida Standards Assessements, the Fort Myers News-Press reports. • Monroe educators and parents criticize the district's testing culture, the Keynoter reports.

CHALLENGES: The Santa Rosa school district works to integrate industry certification and Advanced Placement in certain academic areas, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

SECURITY GUARDS: Armed guards report to Manatee elementary schools on Wednesday, the Bradenton Herald reports.

EXTRA HELP: Enrollment in remedial classes bottoms out in Florida colleges but the needs remain, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

LET US PRAY: The Escambia School Board refuses to end its regular pre-meeting invocation, the Pensacola News-Journal reports.

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Student photography exhibit to open tonight

Students from the journalism programs at Melrose Elementary, John Hopkins Middle and Lakewood High School will have their work on display starting tonight at The Studio@620.

The annual exhibit, called Through Our Eyes: Midtown and Beyond, has 100 photos and multimedia displays. It opens tonight, with a reception from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., and runs through Oct. 2. Students will lead tours tonight. The studio is at 620 1st Ave. S in St. Petersburg.

Regular exhibit hours are from noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. 

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Forget test score requirement for Bright Futures, FSU professor suggests

Aiming to cut costs, Florida lawmakers in recent years have changed the requirements for teens to earn a Bright Futures scholarship.

Florida State University professor Paul Cottle suggests going even further. If the state is so interested in pushing science, technology, engineering and math, he says, why not tie the award to successful completion of those courses?

"My proposal is to replace the test score requirement for Bright Futures with a course-taking requirement that includes precalculus, biology, chemistry, physics and computer programming," Cottle writes in an op-ed for the Tallahassee Democrat. "Would this be a loss of rigor over an 1170 SAT requirement? I dare anyone to tell me that it would be. And this course requirement would put pressure on districts and the state to make these courses available to students in all high schools — which they should be doing, anyway."

Read his full column here. What do you think?

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Fewer students claim fundamental seats in first 10 days of school

Fewer students claimed seats in fundamental schools in the first 10 days of the school year.

This year, 7,120 students showed up at fundamental schools for the initial enrollment count, down 86 students from last year at the same time. It's sort of surprising, given that fundamental schools have long waiting lists and are incredibly popular with parents in Pinellas County. Every year the schools receive far more applications than other district programs. Fundamentals emphasize back-to-basics education, good behavior and parental involvement. 

District officials didn't have much of an explanation for the numbers. Early enrollment numbers fluctuate day to day, which is why the state does its official count in October.

Melanie Marquez Parra, a district spokeswoman, said the number of seats allocated at fundamental schools was the same this year. The district is now pulling from waiting lists to fill any open seats. 

"Those numbers should be increasing over the next few weeks," she said.

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Pasco 'teacher chairs' miss the mark on safety, too

Virco 9050-P chair previously recommended for Pasco County teachers

Pasco County purchasing catalog

Virco 9050-P chair previously recommended for Pasco County teachers

Maybe it's a good thing that the Pasco County school district is moving away from the plastic molded chair it had designated for teachers.

One observant reader noted that they're frowned upon as workplace furniture. He said his office got rid of all four-legged chairs years ago, in favor of more study ones with five.

A quick search of federal regulations found just that information. While they're not forbidden, the four-legged chairs are certainly not recommended.

"Chairs with four or fewer legs may provide inadequate support and are prone to tipping," the Occupational Health and Safety Administration states in its guidelines. "Chairs should have a strong, five-legged base."

And you thought only kids leaned their chairs back far enough to flip over.

Read more safety tips for office chairs here.

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Florida education news: Planning time, teacher chairs, virtual school and more

AT ODDS: Talks to resolve a dispute over teacher planning time fail, highlighting tensions between the Pasco teacher union and administration.

PICK YOUR SEAT: Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning changes the rules about teacher chair selection after one educator complains about the choices.

PRESIDENT SEARCH: Florida State University improved its presidential search by making it more fair and transparent, the Times editorializes.

ACCOUNTABILITY: Pompano Beach city officials ask Broward school leaders to explain why schools in the city are performing so poorly, the Sun-Sentinel reports. • Duval School Board members question why the district's dropout prevention programs are not yielding better results, WJCT reports.

BYOD: Two Ocala teens are arrested for sexting in class, WKMG reports.

ONLINE EDUCATION: Hodges University sells six-month fixed price subscriptions to its virtual courses, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

TESTING: Alachua's superintendent says he shares a kindergarten teacher's concerns about testing, but says she must follow the law and administer the FAIR assessment, the Gainesville Sun reports.

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All is quiet as Hillsborough charter talks continue

Things have been quiet lately between the Hillsborough County school district and Charter Schools USA, and officials say that's a good thing.

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FSU students, alumni launch 'support John Thrasher' website

State Sen. John Thrasher's supporters are launching an online campaign in hopes of helping him become Florida State University's next president. The SupportJohnThrasher.com website is collecting the names of people who want to publicly back this powerful alum and controversial candidate for the job.

"We believe now is the time to stand up for Senator Thrasher. He has been good to FSU and we believe he is well qualified and ready to serve as our next president," said Madeline Perrotta, a senior from Orlando, in a news release.

Perrotta is leading the "Students for John Thrasher" effort alongside three other seniors, according to the news release.

Thrasher will interview on campus Monday in a series of meetings with students, staff, faculty, alumni and community supporters. The other three finalists' interviews will follow throughout the week.

Read more here.

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Florida Board of Education to move forward with standard charter school contract

The Florida Board of Education is set to adopt a new standard charter school contract when it meets Sept. 29 in Tampa. The move comes despite lengthy debate by lawmakers that ended in the spiking of a bill that would have mandated a single uniform contract for all charters.

The state board's notice of the proposed rule, published in July, indicates that it's moving ahead based on a 2013 law that authorized the Department of Education to "implement a charter model application form, standard evaluation instrument, and standard charter and charter renewal contracts."

The recommended new rule makes clear that the standard contract would serve as the basis for an initial draft contract. Both charter applicants and districts would be allowed to modify the document, but would have to indicate clearly how they changed it and why.

Senate Education Committee chairman John Legg, who operates a Pasco County charter school, said the pending proposal tracks with what the Senate was willing to accept over the more hard-line House stance.

"It is a much more comfortable position ... than a one-size-fits-all for all charters," Legg said. "That's the position I think is the smart position." …

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