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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida education news: Testing, homelessness, vouchers and more

CHOICE: Florida lawmakers are interfering with local control in offering families school choices they aren't even asking for, Times columnist John Romano writes.

TESTING: School districts are trying to make sense of Florida's newest testing laws, often with differing results, the Orlando Sentinel reports. • Florida Gov. Rick Scott should allow school districts to use alternatives to the Florida Standards Assessments until the technology works, the Orlando Sentinel editorializes.

EMPLOYEE RELATIONS: A Manatee school official faces continued scrutiny into statements on his employment application, the Bradenton Herald reports.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME: Marion schools work with more than 2,000 homeless students, the Ocala Star Banner reports.

VOUCHERS: Expansion of Florida's tax credit scholarship program will be limited as donations lag, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

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Florida education news: Budgets, for-profit colleges, end-of-course exams and more

INFIGHTING: A Republican feud over budget negotiations grinds the Florida legislative session to a halt.

FOR-PROFIT: For-profit DeVry University will shut down its Tampa locations by December. • The Miami Herald investigates how for-profit colleges came to thrive in Florida.

BYOD: The Hillsborough school district is smart to finally allow students to use their personal devices in classes, the Times editorializes.

TESTING: The Broward school district eliminates all its local end-of-course exams for the year, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

SCHOOL CHOICE: The Florida House approves a bill that would create open enrollment across county lines, the AP reports.

SCHEDULING: Manatee officials consider allowing high schools to move to 7-period block schedules, the Bradenton Herald reports.

WHO CAN YOU TRUST? An Orange County high school's security guard is arrested on accusations of fondling an underage boy in the school bathroom, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

OOPS: The Manatee district accidentally sends an unintended phone message to parents all over the county, the Herald-Tribune reports.

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Scholars are named in Hillsborough

the Hillsborough County Public Schools announced their National Merit, National Achievement and National Hispanic finalists on Friday. They will be honored at a School Board recognition meeting on May 12.

In all, there were 79 scholars named:

Blake High School: Derek A. Roura (National Hispanic)

Bloomingdale: Tanner K. Chastain, Joseph P. Gallagher, Sean P. Monaghan (National Merit)

Durant: Christopher Springfield (National Merit)

Gaither: Savannah J. Herrera (National Hispanic)

Hillsborough: Devan H. Adhia, Garrett J. Andrews, Katherine M. Jones, Alexandra Lutton, Christina Maldonado, Hayley McAleese, Samantha J. Votzke (National Merit); Louis M. Leon, Christina Maldonado, Elina Rodriguez (National Hispanic).

Jefferson: Alec D. Taylor (National Achievement).

King: Kireet Agrawal, Isha A. Bhutada, Matthew E. Chan, Tianbo Chen, Divya Chopra, Michael Cory, Bindiya Desai, Sudha R. Dhulipala, Enoch Kuo, Tianchen Li, Eric Y. Luo, Alvin G. O’Garro, James J. O’Malley, Sathvik Palakurty, James J. Park, John Qin, Sheela Ranganathan, Jae H. Shim, Daniel Suen (all National Merit, Alvin G. O'Garro also National Achievement). Sarah E. Colarte (National Hispanic). …

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Tampa area school districts pondering next moves on local testing

In the wake of Miami-Dade's decision to eliminate most local end-of-course exams, Tampa area parents have begun asking whether their districts will follow suit.

Short answer: They're exploring the options.

Pinellas superintendent Mike Grego said he does not consider all tests bad, and noted that teachers worked hard to develop the EOCs that the students would start taking soon. He wanted to meet with teachers and other interested parties to assess whether the district has too many exams and what to do next.

"We'll get that done in Pinellas County probably next week," Grego said.

Tanya Arja, a spokeswoman for Hillsborough schools, said Hillsborough does not have many local end-of-course tests for elementary school subjects. The exams in middle and high schools are under review, Arja said, but no decision is has been reached.

Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning announced in early April the elimination of many elementary EOC tests. His staff is discussing whether to cut back secondary-level exams, as well, with consideration to how to evaluate teachers without the results. Spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said she expected any changes to be announced early enough to allow teachers to prepare. …

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Pinellas relief bus driver named Florida's school-related employee of the year

Florida Department of Education

Cheryl A. Thomas, a relief bus driver and training assistant with Pinellas County Schools, was honored Friday in Orlando as Florida’s 2015 School-Related Employee of the Year. Thomas was selected from among five statewide finalists.

“Every school employee is important in creating an environment that encourages student learning,” education commissioner Pam Stewart said. “I am pleased to honor Ms. Thomas for her extraordinary commitment to her students and community. I know she has made a lasting impact on the families of Pinellas County.”  

Superintendent Mike Grego praised Thomas for going beyond her assigned work to serve children, schools and the community.

"Cheryl’s ability to connect with students and her peers distinguishes her and makes her an exemplary employee," Grego said in a released statement. "She represents the high quality of employees we have in Pinellas County Schools and we are proud she has received this recognition."

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One-time Pasco assistant principal recommended for return to administration

Fivay High School graduation enhancement teacher Erin Galletta is being recommended to become an assistant principal at her Pasco County school.

Her proposed promotion is raising hackles in the school and surrounding community, School Board chairman Steve Luikart said, because of Galletta's past. In 2011, Galletta was removed from her post as Sunlake High School assistant principal, and not recommended for a new administrative contract, because she violated district policy in changing a student's grades.

Fivay principal Angie Stone then hired her as a teacher, and the district did not stand in the way.

Now, four years later, Stone is looking to promote Galletta. District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said the superintendent's leadership team "have confidence in her skills."

"We believe in second chances," Cobbe said.

Luikart, a retired long-time assistant principal, has concerns.

"We have a pool of how many people, and we pick a person who has a past with ethical violations?" he said. "I'm going to ask, how did she come to the cream of the crop?" …

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Florida education news: Principals, tests, school choice and more

HOT SEAT: Another Pasco Zephyrhills High principal runs into trouble leading the school. • The longtime principal of Pinellas Curlew Elementary abruptly resigns without explanation.

NEXT STEPS: Students at a high school in Miami's Liberty City community help each other prepare for higher education with their College Club, the Miami Herald reports.

TESTING: The Miami-Dade school district eliminates most local end-of-course exams that were to be used for teacher evaluations, Reuters reports. More from the Miami Herald. • A Marion School Board member asks colleagues to consider seeking an alternative to sketchy state tests, the Ocala Star Banner reports. • State officials need to do something to restore faith in Florida's testing system, the Northwest Florida Daily News editorializes. A Palm Beach School Board member blames commissioner Pam Stewart for all the problems, the Palm Beach Post reports.

OPTIONS: Florida lawmakers move ahead with legislation to expand school choice offerings, the Naples Daily News reports.

WHO'S IN CHARGE? Florida lawmakers aim to defang the private FHSAA in its oversight of high school sports, the Fort Myers News-Press reports. More from the Associated Press. …

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No Opportunity Scholarships for Florida students next year

Florida's Opportunity Scholarship program hasn't been the state's most popular school choice option in recent years.

Shrunk from its original vision, the system allows students attending a public school that has earned an F or three consecutive D's to move to higher performing public schools, with transportation provided. Last year, 3,588 students took advantage.

Next year, no new students will have access to the scholarships. Lawmakers have suspended accountability consequences associated with school grades for 2014-15. (Schools can escape state oversight provisions if they show improvement, though.)

"Since the school grades for the 2014-2015 school year are not intended to trigger program changes, sanctions, or penalties for schools, the Opportunity Scholarship program will not be offered for new participants in the upcoming school year," the Department of Education explains on its website. "Students who have participated in the Opportunity Scholarship during previous school years will continue in the program unaffected." …

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Florida school districts begin slashing local end-of-course exams

Throughout the spring, some Florida school districts started eliminating some of their local end-of-course exams in response to criticisms that children are over-tested.

Newly adopted state law paved the way for additional cuts. And districts are starting to jump on board.

The law removed language stating:

Except for those subjects and grade levels measured under the statewide, standardized assessment program, beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, each school district shall administer for each course offered in the district a local assessment that measures student mastery of course content at the necessary level of rigor for the course.

Charlotte County schools took the plunge Wednesday. Assistant superintendent Steve Dionisio issued a memo alerting principals that all local EOC's would be suspended. The district left it to teachers' discretion whether to use the exams. He wrote: …

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Pasco school district, union near settlement on grievance over board agendas

The United School Employees of Pasco won't be getting a paper copy of School Board agendas for now, just as superintendent Kurt Browning has directed.

The union will, however, get special access to the district's computerized agenda system so its leaders can make notes on the document -- just like they did when they got the paper version.

That's the deal the USEP and district tentatively worked out Wednesday during a one-hour hearing over the union's complaint about losing access to the printed file, district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.

Union leaders hope that will be the end of their formal grievance against the district, in which they contended that they were contractually entitled to a paper copy of the agendas.

"We did not come to a full resolution. We are looking at the option offered," USEP negotiator Jim Ciadella said. "It may resolve this issue. We hope it does."

Browning has argued that the contract required only a copy, without specifiying whether it must be digital, printed out or otherwise. 

Once they've got a deal, they can move on to other pressing issues.

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Florida House beefs up school choice bill

It's that point in the session when lawmakers start combining all sorts of proposals.

We call them trains.

A new education train emerged Thursday in the Florida House.

The underlying bill (HB 1145) sought to let children enroll in any public school in the state with space. (Most school children are currently limited to schools in the county where they reside.) But House Choice and Innovation in Education Subcommittee Chairman Manny Diaz, Jr., R-Miami, filed a 26-page amendment adding language about charter schools.

The bill now creates the Florida Institute for Charter School Innovation, something that already passed out of the House as part of HB 7037. It also clarifies that a charter school receiving back-to-back F grades must be automatically closed, and allows new schools to delay their opening if they have trouble finding the right facility.

Notably, the Diaz amendment did not include a provision requiring schools districts to share their construction and maintenance money with charter schools. State representatives included that language in HB 7037, but with the state budget in flux, any measures requiring funding are on shaky grounds. …

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Florida education news: Sales tax, high school sports, ballroom dance and more

MORE MONEY: The Hernando School Board will ask voters to approve a half-cent sales tax to support school construction and capital projects.

HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS: The Florida House moves a bill to overhaul the oversight of high school athletics, the AP reports. More from the Stuart News.

TESTING: Districts in northern Florida had to stop testing because of a cut fiber optic cable that interfered with Internet access, WEAR-TV reports. More from the Jackson County Floridian. • Check out some testing commentary by Jac Ver Steeg and Paula Dockery. • The state should suspend all testing consequences, the Sun-Sentinel editorializes.

HELPING HAND: A Palm Beach teacher tries to raise money so her students can afford to attend prom, WPTV reports.

TOO MUCH TO DO: Osceola teachers protest their work load, the Osceola News-Gazette reports.

SAVINGS: Brevard schools save millions annually in energy expenses, Florida Today reports.

SAFETY: ABout one-third of an Okaloosa high school's students skip Wednesday amid rumors of pending violence, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports. …

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How do Pinellas teachers feel about Common Core?

Is there a buy-in problem when it comes to the Common Core State Standards in Pinellas County Schools? The answer may be yes if you believe the results of a recent survey of Pinellas teachers.

Conducted at the beginning of this school year, it said only 45 percent of the Pinellas teachers surveyed believe Common Core will "help prepare our students for college or career." Only 44 percent agreed that students at their schools "support their answers and explain their thinking," a major facet of Common Core. Just over half (53 percent) said the training they've had on Common Core "will help me improve my practice."

The survey was taken by The New Teacher Project, the reform-minded nonprofit that has contracted with the school district to help improve teaching at five low-performing elementary schools -- Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose.

The group surveyed teachers at each of the schools, but some of the more interesting results came from the 356 teachers across the district who were asked the same questions for comparison purposes. …

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Are you opting out of Florida testing?

Or are you minimally participating?

An interesting transformation is taking place in the Florida opt-out world, where according to law the the powers that be "opting out" does not really exist.

A growing number of parents are using the phrase "minimally participating" to describe what their kids are doing -- entering the testing room, signing in and pushing it away. Florida law requires public school students to participate.

"Participation in the assessment program is mandatory for all school districts and all students attending public schools," according to chapter 1008.

Answering is optional, of course. And so that's minimal participation, as opposed to opting out. What do you think?

Opting out, of course, is still what gains the headlines. It's particularly active in New York, where tens of thousands of students have taken that path. 

Testing experts have noted that if enough kids don't sit for the tests, the results could be skewed. In the view of groups like FairTest, that's the point of the protest.  …

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There's more to be said about TNTP's Pasco schools study

There's a mini ed reform storm swirling in the Pasco County school district, as two prominent groups pushing differing teacher evaluation models take shots at one another.

Briefly, TNTP (founded by Michelle Rhee) issued a report (funded by the Gates Foundation) blasting Pasco's teacher hiring, training and evaluation system, created by the Marzano Center.

Next, Marzano (one of two state-approved evaluation providers) fired back, calling the TNTP review inaccurate and imbalanced.

Go figure, but TNTP didn't let that stand as the last word. Partner Andy Jacob took issue with Marzano's characterization of its work, and with the insinuation that TNTP might be seeking business as an offshoot of its time in the district. 

“Our analysis is intended to provide a snapshot of how well Pasco County Schools are transitioning to the new Florida Standards, not a study of any particular company’s products," Jacob said in an email to the Gradebook. "That’s why our report is rooted in the experiences and voices of thousands of educators from across the district. …

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