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Gradebook

Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Does it matter if kids miss school?

Pasco County school officials want students to come to school more often. High absenteeism -- 10 or more days -- has concerned officials for years. (They've often bemoaned the situation, which has changed little, in 2011, 2013, and again this week.)

The common refrain: "You can't learn if you're not there."

True for many. But true for all? Not necessarily.

In parsing the numbers, district officials discovered that absences don't always correlate to poor academic performance, particularly in the high schools.

According to district data, 56.46 percent of high school students who missed four days or fewer scored at a level of proficient or better on the FCAT. That percentage held fairly steady, though, for students absent 5-9 days (56.39 percent), 10-14 days (56.49 percent), and 15-19 days (50.5 percent).

The trend differed for elementary and middle school students, whose results more closely mirrored attendance, with higher passing rates at the lower absentee levels. Grade-point averages, by contrast, declined as absences rose. See the district's charts here. …

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Florida education news: Attendance, solicitations, testing and more

STUDENT NUMBERS: Hillsborough school enrollment continues to surge. • Pasco schools grapple with high absenteeism.

UNPREPARED: A St. Petersburg College official says too many Pinellas schools graduates arrive needing remedial work.

STUDY ABROAD: The Hernando School Board decides to extend its exchange program with a Chinese boarding school.

WHO'S CALLING? Some Hillsborough parents complain about a district robocall offering discounted Tampa Bay Lightning tickets.

TESTING: The Florida Department of Education faces major challenges as it implements new accountability measures, the Times editorializes. • The Duval School Board considers a resolution urging the state not to use new state testing results to grade schools, the Florida Times-Union reports. • The debate continues over the strength of the opt out movement in Lee County after the FDOE suspends FAIR testing for K-2 students, the Fort Myers News-Press reports. • Florida schools prepare to launch a new round of end-of-course exams to help evaluate teachers, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

TAXES: Brevard leaders debate the value of a proposed sales tax for school construction, Florida Today reports. …

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Universities need $45 million to offset changes to Bright Futures scholarship program

When Florida lawmakers made it harder to earn a Bright Futures scholarship, they celebrated the cost savings.

But the changes to the eligibility criteria may actually come with an unforeseen price tag.

State universities say they will need an additional $45 million next year to provide more need-based financial aid, according to a new budget proposal.

"The additional funding will be targeted to ensure lower-income students who are impacted by the loss of Bright Futures scholarships and academically qualified will continue to have the opportunity to pursue higher education goals without depending solely on student loans," university officials wrote.

The Board of Governors will hear a presentation on their request Wednesday.

Prior to 2011-12, students who scored 970 or higher on their SATs were eligible to receive a Bright Futures scholarship. Now that the law has been changed, students must earn a score of at least 1170 to receive the award.

According to a staff analysis by the universities, the change affected 38 percent of last year's freshman class. …

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UWF trustees stand behind Judy Bense after faculty no-confidence vote

From the Pensacola News Journal:

University of West Florida faculty and the Board of Trustees are at odds over the perceived performance of President Judy Bense.

University faculty aired a laundry list of grievances against Bense to a packed room in an emergency meeting of the Board of Trustees Monday morning, culminating in their call for Bense to step down from her position when her current term expires in June.

The University's Board of Trustees, however, voted overwhelmingly to pass a resolution in support of the president, citing the University's ascension to the national stage during her tenure.

The emergency meeting comes in the wake of a Motion of No Confidence vote in Bense by the 21-member faculty senate last Friday.

"The board thought that it was important (to pass this resolution) because of the comments made last Friday that the community might seem to think that was representative of the entire faculty," board chairman Lewis Bear, Jr. said. "We thought it was very important that we let the community know that we are in full support of our president, and we spelled out the many reasons why in this resolution."

Read more here.

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Michael Martin, finalist for FSU president, won't make his Wednesday interview

Michael Martin, one of four finalists to become Florida State University's next president, notified the school today that he is sick and unable to travel to Tallahassee for his interview on Wednesday.

Martin, chancellor of the Colorado State University System, is one of the favorites of FSU faculty although the vast majority of the schools' community has not had a chance to get to know him. Renisha Gibbs, vice chairman of the search committee, said Martin is still considered a candidate and any decision about rescheduling his interview will be made by this afternoon.

All four finalists were expected to participate in full-day interviews on campus this week. State Sen. John Thrasher was Monday, former West Virginia University provost Michele Wheatly is up today, Martin was to appear Wednesday and Richard Marchase, vice president for research and economic development at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, is coming on Friday. …

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Pasco school urges parents to stay off phones in car line

All over Florida, high school students learn not to text and drive. It's dangerous.

It's also a lesson that some parents still need to remember. Just ask Double Branch Elementary School in Pasco County.

Complaints about parents texting while driving in the school's car line, and in the parking lot, have grown to the point where they've posted a giant "Don't Text & Drive" sign on campus. The school also sent the message out on its Twitter feed, urging parents to "please help keep our students safe by not using your cell phones or texting in our car line."

District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said the concern has grown as parents walking across the parking lot have reported about others in their cars with their hands on the phones, rather than the wheel. So be careful out there.

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Pasco School Board set to give final budget approval

After months of discussion and debate, the Pasco County School Board is scheduled to officially adopt its 2014-15 budget during its meeting Tuesday night.

The spending plan calls for a slight tax rate decrease, and a 5 percent increase in general fund spending. That bump reflects a return to growth in property values, as well as a rising student population.

The budget does not make clear, however, how the district will provide employees with raises much beyond 1 percent, which has been a goal of the superintendent. During presentations, the finance team has indicated that the board would need to eliminate its early retirement plan, among other expenses, to give bigger salary hikes.

Contract negotiations have been slow going, though, with the sides snagging on issues large and small. The administration is waiting for the United School Employees of Pasco to make an "economic proposal" before formally putting anything on the table relating to wages and benefits. USEP leaders indicated they are getting close to making that request, but that it won't be happening this week. …

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Florida education news: Testing, financial aid, resource officers and more

TESTING: The Florida Department of Education suspends the state FAIR test for kindergarten through second grade amid technical problems. More from the Miami Herald, Gainesville Sun 

TESTY: State Sen. John Thrasher gets defensive and dodges questions during his interview for Florida State University president.

FINANCIAL AID: State Sen. John Legg says he might propose new rules to qualify for financial aid and scholarships such as Bright Futures, State Impact Florida reports.

GRADUATION: The University of Central Florida joins 10 other universities in a program to help low-income students complete their degrees, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

SECURITY: The Palmetto police department provides a resource officer for free to the elementary school in city limits, while the Manatee district pays a hefty fee to place armed guards on other campuses, the Bradenton Herald reports. • The Manatee sheriff has concerns about how armed guards will operate in the public schools, the Herald-Tribune reports.

CLASS SIZE: The Marion school district hires more teachers to comply with state class size requirements, the Ocala Star-Banner reports. …

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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

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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