Make us your home page


Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

How much did 'schools of choice' option affect Florida's class size compliance?

The effects of Florida's 'schools of choice' class size option was dramatic, education commissioner Pam Stewart wrote in a recent letter to the Senate Education Committee.

Before appeals, Florida schools of choice were out of compliance by just 84 students statewide in 2014, Stewart wrote. If those same schools had been held to classroom counts, as the 2002 amendment mandates, they would have missed by 31,257 students.

If those numbers would have been applied to penalties, districts that used the schools of choice designation would have faced $162.5 million in funding adjustments. Instead, they paid $421,513, Stewart noted.

Districts that escaped large potential fines by using the loophole, which Senate Education chairman John Legg helped write and is now trying to close, include Miami-Dade ($49.1 million), Duval ($21.6 million), Palm Beach ($10.8 million), Lee ($10.6 million), and Broward ($10 million).

Locally, Pasco schools could have faced a $6.8 million fine, while the Hernando, Pinellas and Hillsborough districts would have faced just over $200,000 combined.

The commissioner's report "gives you a sense of the magnitude of what is out there," Legg said. …

Full Story

Florida's controversial teacher bonus based on SAT scores returns

Perhaps it is fitting that in the same week that school districts must tell the Department of Education how many teachers qualified for the state's very controversial Best and Brightest bonus, the Florida House Education Committee will consider legislation to make the one-time measure permanent.

Senate Education Committee chairman John Legg, meanwhile, filed his own version of the bill overnight, noting the House and Gov. Rick Scott have included the concept in their budgets and saying the Senate needs to be part of the conversation.

"We want to open up the hood and see what's under there," Legg said Tuesday, indicating continued concerns with the model. "Is this a Porsche? Or is this a Yugo?" 

The House measure would provide "scholarships" up to $10,000 -- depending on the annual appropriation -- to teachers whose scores were in the 80th percentile or higher.

The 2015 legislative action, reviled by many teachers who disdained the idea of being judged by their years-old SAT and ACT scores, was good for just one year as a budget line item. This latest effort aims to provide annual bonuses to the teachers. …

Full Story

Pinellas teachers may be one step closer to a contract after tonight

Representatives from Pinellas County's teachers union will meet tonight to give a recommendation on the latest proposed contract with the School Board before teachers vote at their schools on Thursday.

The Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association faculty representative council will meet at PCTA headquarters in Largo at 5 p.m. Council chairwoman Christine York-Amstutz said the group will most likely recommend a "yes" vote to members, given that the deal hammered out earlier this month by representatives restores language the teachers wanted, keeps previously negotiated salary increases averaging 4 percent and protects the sanctity of lesson planning time.

"I don't anticipate a lot of discussion," York-Amstutz said. "This has a lot of the things that we really wanted."

Negotiators went back to the bargaining table after 77 percent of teachers overwhelmingly rejected the previous negotiated contract, which omitted language regarding physical education teachers and guidance counselors as well as first-year teachers' eligibility for extended leave. …

Full Story

Wanting recess back, a new chapter, a saucy enterprise and more

PLAYTIME: Florida parents are pushing back against the lack of recess in public schools, StateImpact Florida reports.

MOVING ON: Manatee County School Board member Bob Gause announces he will not run for re-election next year, the Bradenton Herald and Sarasota Herald-Tribune report.

STUDENT BUSINESS: The Naples Daily News reports on a project at Immokalee High School that has resulted in a student-run company, Taste of Immokalee, which makes salsas and barbecue sauces. Their products have been sold at a number of stores, including a local Winn Dixie.

GETTING TOUGHER: Florida legislators are mulling proposals for stronger regulation of for-profit colleges, which enroll roughly 20 percent of college students in the state, the Miami Herald reports.

LET A JURY DECIDE: The case of a man who tried to extort former Palm Beach County superintendent Wayne Gent is scheduled to go to trial in January, the Palm Beach Post reports.

LOCAL HERO: Palm Beach County honors a driver who calmly evacuated students from a school bus before it burst into flames, the Palm Beach Post reports. …

Full Story

Principal who launched Pinellas academy transfers mid-year

The principal who helped pilot Pinellas County's first fully immersed personalized learning program at Lealman Innovation Academy has left for an administrative assignment.

Bursara Pitts, 43, was appointed to a special assignment with the school district's Assessment, Accountability and Research department, effective Monday. Assistant principal Connisheia Mathews will serve as interim principal until a full-time replacement is hired, said district spokeswoman Lisa Wolf.

Wolf said principals sometimes take a special assignment during the school year if it is in the best interest of the principal, students and/or staff.

Pitts joined Pinellas Schools in 1999.

Full Story

Florida testing issues settle as debate moves to the Legislature

Land O Lakes High School students prepare to take the Florida Standards Assessment writing test

Andy Dunn / Pasco County School Board

Land O Lakes High School students prepare to take the Florida Standards Assessment writing test

Reports of problems with Florida's computerized writing test dwindled off Wednesday morning, with most area schools having fewer of the login troubles that scuttled the past two days.

"Schools across the district did experience slow loading this morning," Pasco County district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said. But "so far, no school has suspended testing."

Pasco and Hillsborough schools resumed testing after taking a day off to let the state resolve its technology problems, which appeared to stem from servers and software. "We're not having any issues. the last two days we had problems before 9:15. Today we have not had any calls," Hillsborough spokesman Steve Hegarty said.

Pinellas schools did not delay Tuesday.

Other districts, including Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, canceled FSA computerized testing again Wednesday. Their superintendents have said they don't want to start again until they feel comfortable that the system won't hurt students. …

Full Story

Florida education news: Testing, technology, Taliban and more

TESTING: Florida's computerized testing endures another day of problems, prompting some districts to postpone for another day. The issue heads to Tallahassee today. • An Orange County parent complains of difficulties as she tries to take her child home after opting out, the Orlando Sentinel reports. • Okaloosa students say the new tests are fine, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports. • More from the Bradenton Herald, Miami Herald, Sun-Sentinel

SUPERINTENDENTS: The Hillsborough School Board agrees narrowly to offer Jeff Eakins the superintendent's job, without any search. • Five finalists seek the Indian River superintendency, the Vero Beach Press-Journal reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Florida lawmakers consider creating a charter school institute at FSU, to support applicant and sponsors, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

TECHNOLOGY: The St. Johns school district sees academic gains with its Digital 1:1 initiative, the St. Augustine Record reports.

TEACHER DISCIPLINE: A Broward parent calls for the dismissal of a teacher who he says called his child a "rag-head Taliban," the Sun-Sentinel reports. …

Full Story

Florida computerized testing better, but not perfect, commissioner says

Toward the end of another problem-filled testing day, Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart on Tuesday advised superintendents that her department had continued to work the kinks out of the system.

Vendor AIR took "full responsibility," Stewart said, and progress was being made. But she made no promises for Wednesday.

"While we cannot guarantee that some users will not encounter similar issues tomorrow, I also do not want to prevent any districts who have had success from continuing their testing tomorrow," Stewart wrote.

At least a few superintendents said they wouldn't risk it, including those from Miami-Dade, Leon and Broward.

“We want the best possible testing environment for our students and that will not occur if there is any doubt that students will be able to sign on and complete their tests,” Leon superintendent Jackie Pons said in a statement to the Times. “The tenth grade test is directly tied to a graduation requirement. Based on my nine years of experiences as superintendent, we cannot afford to allow our students to go in to take a test with such high stakes and not have all the issues resolved." …

Full Story

Florida House committee to consider paying districts to implement student uniforms

As anticipated, the Florida House K-12 subcommittee has put forth a bill to address the clothes kids wear to school.

Cloaking the issue as one of student safety, the Students Attired for Safe Education bill aims to limit students' wardrobe choices to, essentially, solid colored pants or skirts, and collared shirts. Students would be encouraged to "express their individuality through personality and academic achievements, rather than outward appearance."

Districts and schools have had this opportunity for years, of course, choosing to implement uniforms to varying degrees. Some parents and principals swear by them, while others find them an unnecessary extra thing to monitor. The two sides recently faced off at Pasco County's Seven Springs Middle School, where uniforms did not win the day.

Knowing there's reluctance out there, and a need for more money, the House sponsors have added a financial incentive — the bill provides for $10 per student for any district that implements a district-wide "standard student attire policy." The money would come from a $10 million safe schools allocation in the state's education finance program. …

Full Story

Florida education commissioner gives okay to return to testing

Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart told school district superintendents shortly after 7 a.m. that her department and testing vendor AIR had located and fixed the cause of Monday's computerized testing problems.

She advised that schools can begin testing again as soon as they wish, and that the online effort should be vastly improved. Several districts already have canceled testing for today. UPDATE: Shortly after the memo came out, Hillsborough schools experienced similar problems as occurred Monday and told schools they could discontinue testing. See the breaking story here.

Read on for Stewart's full memo:

From: Commissioner Stewart <>
Date: March 3, 2015 at 7:06:57 AM EST
Subject: FSA Update


The department worked with AIR throughout the day and into the evening yesterday to better understand the issues that affected online testing in Florida on Monday. AIR has determined that a software issue caused log-in issues, including delays and error messages for a number of districts. AIR reports that of the 69,177 tests that were started yesterday, 67,745 were successfully completed. …

Full Story

Florida testing vendor AIR takes responsibility for Monday problems

Some Florida superintendents already have called off computerized testing for Tuesday. The Department of Education has pledged to find and fix the problems that plagued Monday's administration.

According to Education Week, testing vendor AIR has accepted responsibility for the glacial load times, ejection of students taking tests and other troubles. Here's the statement (which curiously didn't make its way to Florida media):

"AIR Assessment, the organization delivering the tests for Florida, accepts full responsibility for the difficulty," the organization said. "We updated student data, which was not immediately available to the testing servers. When students logged onto the test, the servers were forced to reach out to other databases to get the necessary student information."

"This substantially degraded performance," the AIR added. "This data is now available to the testing servers, so the problem should not recur."

District and department officials are set to discuss the issues in a conference call some time around 7 a.m. We'll be checking in to see what's next.

Full Story

Florida school districts suspend computerized testing for Tuesday

After facing problems with online testing Monday, a growing number of Florida superintendents are suspending the Florida Standards Assessment computerized writing test for Tuesday.

State officials have told districts they will work to resolve the problems through the night. But that did not assuage these district leaders.

“After talking with the Florida Commissioner of Education this afternoon, I am not confident that the state’s testing company can correct problems with their system in time for tomorrow's test-takers," Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning said in a robo-call to parents. "I do not want any more students to have questions about the validity of their answers due to problems with the state’s online testing system."

The Palm Beach district also announced its cancellation of Tuesday testing, as did Leon and Wakulla counties, which did not even begin on Monday to avoid anticipated glitches.

"We didn't start on purpose," Wakulla superintendent Bobby Pearce told the Tallahassee Democrat. "We were hoping this wouldn't happen. Right now, we are trying to hear what the definitive issues were. In the past, there were bandwidth issues." …

Full Story

Hillsborough responds to another federal lawsuit

Keith Logan Coty, a first grader at Seminole Heights Elementary School, suffered a brain hemorrhage and died in January 2014. His parents are suing the school district.

Keith Logan Coty, a first grader at Seminole Heights Elementary School, suffered a brain hemorrhage and died in January 2014. His parents are suing the school district.

Is lawyer Steven Maher reaching when he says Seminole Heights Elementary School showed an unconscionable disregard for student safety in the way it handled Keith Coty's illness? Or is there still a dangerous reluctance in Hillsborough to let staff call 911?

Lawyers for the district denied nearly all allegations in the family's federal lawsuit. Keith, a first grade student, suffered a brain hemorrhage and died the next day. At issue is whether school staff did all they could to get him the emergency medical treatment he needed, and if they acted quickly enough.

Here are the lawsuit and the district's response.

Full Story

Plans to end classes at Pasco's Moore-Mickens center continue uninterrupted

Dade City residents' complaints about moving classes away from Pasco County's Moore-Mickens Education Center have not impacted the school district's decision.

This week, the School Board plans to put an exclamation point on superintendent Kurt Browning's proposal with its 2015-16 allocation formula, a document with long-range implications that usually goes relatively unnoticed. In it, the district establishes how many of each kind of employee is required for schools and departments.

For Moore-Mickens, this year's plan couldn't be clearer. The formula reads, "Moore-Mickens Education Center: Removed all allocated units from this cost center."

Other lines indicate that the center's assistant principals for adult and community education will move to the James Irvin Education Center, while its teachers for the Teen Parent Program will relocate to Pasco High, among other changes.

So if anyone thought the district might relent on its plans to move classes away from the historic site, they might reconsider -- or urge the School Board to think twice before adopting the allocation formula. The board meets Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.

Full Story

Florida school districts report problems with new exams

Some school districts are reporting problems with the new Florida Standards Assessments, which made their debut Monday morning. Follow the breaking news here.

Miami-Dade school district spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego said the new online platform was running so slowly that testing had been postponed in Miami-Dade County until Tuesday.

Hillsborough schools spokesman Steve Hegarty reported similar issues.

"It's slow," Hegarty said. "The volume seems to be affecting the online testing."

Hegarty said middle schools had been impacted in particular because they logged on later than other schools.

Hillsborough schools also have the option of delaying testing, he added.

The problems were not limited to Miami-Dade and Hillsborough. Students in Palm Beach County were having trouble, too, according to the Palm Beach Post.

Testing began Monday, with students in grades 4 through 10 sitting for the writing portion of the exam.

This isn't the first time Florida's online servers have caused testing problems. It happened in 2011, and again in 2014. It's not as if superintendents didn't warn that this might happen.

Full Story