Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Take more time using testing results for evaluations, U.S. education secretary Duncan says

Saying that testing is "sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools," U.S. education secretary Arne Duncan today said his department would ease its rules on using test results in teacher evaluations.

Tying ratings to scores has been part of the federal government's requirement for states to waive other mandates. Florida began doing so a couple of years ago.

Duncan said it's time to step back and reassess: …

Full Story

Pasco district expands reading program for low performing elementary schools

Pasco County school district officials don't want to see any local elementary schools on the state's lowest performing 300 list for reading again next year.

So after finding resources to add a state-mandated extra hour of instruction to the three on the list this year, the district expanded its efforts to its schools that landed between 300 and 400 in the recent calculation. The five additional schools -- Centennial, Calusa, Fox Hollow, Hudson and Sunray -- will get extra instructional technology to boost children's learning during the new academic year.

The School Board on Tuesday approved the purchase of new laptops and the iReady reading and math software for the schools, using money from its federal Title I grant and state Digital Classroom funds. iReady is described as a program to provide more individualized instruction based on student needs.

Fourth and fifth graders at Lacoochee, Cox and Gulfside elementary schools began attending an extra 50 minutes of school daily this week, as they came under the state rules for reading performance. Those schools also will use the iReady system, with one-to-one computer access.

Full Story

Gov. Rick Scott announces proposal to boost Florida education spending

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, facing a heated reelection battle in which his dedication to education has been challenged, this morning announced his plan to recommend "an increase in Florida’s per-pupil spending to the highest level in our state’s history." 

"We already have the highest total spending in K-12 this year and gave every teacher the opportunity for a pay raise," Scott said in a release. "Because we were able to get Florida’s economy back on track, revenues are now projected to stay at a strong enough rate to support historic investments in education."

Politifact Florida has said Scott's claim of having the state's highest education budget this year is half true, depending on how you look at the numbers. During his tenure, Scott has proposed massive cuts to education funding, and then later restored some of the $1.3 billion he cut. He pushed for and got money for teacher raises in the fiscal 2014 budget, but did not make a similar press in the current budget.

Seeking to boost his support amid attacks by Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist, who boasts of vetoing massive changes to teachers' employment terms, Scott now talks of education in populist language. …

Full Story

Florida education news: Grade changes, volunteer hours, test scores and more

IN THE DETAILS: An investigation report offers insight into a grade changing controversy involving Hernando School Board member John Sweeney.

TENSIONS MOUNT: The Pasco school district reprimands teacher union president Kenny Blankenship over accusations of political speech at employee training.

VOLUNTEER HOURS: Some Pasco teens gain credit toward Bright Futures scholarships while also learning about career opportunities by volunteering at a local hospital.

EXPERIENCE MATTERS: A new report shows Miami-Dade's lowest performing schools have the least experienced teachers, State Impact Florida reports. District officials say they're aware of the issue and working to resolve it, the Miami Herald reports.

TEST SCORES: Florida's 2014 ACT results are among the worst in the nation, the Sunshine State News reports.

AT RISK: The Duval school district considers closing a brand new charter school because of low enrollment and missing teacher background checks, the Florida Times-Union reports.

ACHIEVEMENT GAP: Some Broward parents discuss ways to better educate black males, the Sun-Sentinel reports. …

Full Story

Pasco superintendent backs candidate who opposes school impact fee increases

In press releases and robocalls, Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning has endorsed County Commission candidate Mike Moore, who is on the record as being opposed to tax and fee increases – including to the school impact fees which Browning and his administration have backed.

The district has seen its enrollment grow lately after a few static years, and officials have planned new schools to cope with the increase. Revenue from higher impact fees on new construction could help pay for the construction.

Browning's administration has been researching the possibilities, which would depend upon a commission vote. On Wednesday, Browning said he stands by his backing of Moore, one of three Republican candidates seeking to replace the retiring Pat Mulieri in Commission District 2.

Moore said at an early August candidate forum that he was "not for raising" school impact fees.

That did not dissuade the superintendent.

"The candidate assured him that he would be open to considering input on fee increases, but the district would have to make the case," school district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said for Browning.

Reached while campaigning, Moore backed Browning's view. …

Full Story

ELL test warning not the first for Florida

Florida officials could not have been too surprised at the U.S. Department of Education's recent warning that the state's stance on test scores for English-language learners would not withstand federal scrutiny.

They have, in fact, heard it before.

In an April letter to Florida commissioner Pam Stewart, U.S. assistant education secretary Deborah Delisle noted that the rules on counting the test scores had been in place since the outset, and the onus was on Florida -- not the feds -- to change.

"I appreciate Florida's efforts to be in compliance with federal law and, at the same time, address the concerns of its constituents," Delisle wrote at the time. "However, consistent with the reasons ED conditioned Florida's original approval of ESEA flexibility, I am declining to exercise my authority to grant the waivers that you have requested."

Knowing this, the bigger question is why the USDOE extended Florida's waiver of the No Child Left Behind rules, Education Week writer Lesli Maxwell suggested: …

Full Story

East Windsor kids placed in new schools

The dozens of children who were kicked out of a charter school days before the first day of school were all placed in new schools by late Tuesday, a Pinellas County Schools spokeswoman said.

Melanie Marquez Parra said that 33 studied who were enrolled in East Windsor on Thursday and no longer enrolled there have been assigned to a new school in Pinellas, Parra said.

However, Pinellas was unsure if this captured all the students leaving the charter school after it held a second lottery for students on Thursday.

"There could be other students currently shown as enrolled at East Windsor but their parent requested and received a reservation at a traditional public school," Parra said in an email. "If they have not gone to the (new) school yet to complete their child's enrollment," they would still show up as enrolled at East Windsor.

Parra said there could also be more students who were promised seats at East Windsor but that the charter did not technically enroll by putting the children's information into the computer system.

"If any of those students contacted Student Assignment seeking a (new school assignment), they received one," Parra said.

Full Story

Pasco School Board member proposes easing student-athlete transfer rules

Pasco County School Board vice chairman Steve Luikart's push to revamp the board's student-athlete transfer policy has created a stir among district leaders, who are seeking more details as they head to a second workshop on the subject.

"I got the sense there's more to the story," said chairwoman Alison Crumbley.

Luikart pointed out that his concerns arose when approached by a mom who used to be one of his students when he worked at Ridgewood High. She wants her son, who has attended four high schools in four years, to play sports at Ridgewood. A district appeal committee, and then the superintendent's representative, denied the application.

Luikart argued that the district should not use sports participation punitively. He suggested that the student's mom had lived in the Ridgewood zone all along, and her son enrolled appropriately over the summer, so the boy should be able to play.

He proposed modifying the district policy, which the board adopted unanimously a year ago, to give more specific definitions to types of transfers. Notably, Luikart recommended these terms for "enrolled students": …

Full Story

Florida education news: Testing, student-athletes, junk food and more

TESTING DISPUTE: Florida and the federal government disagree over the state's rules about when to count test scores of students still learning English.

SMOOTHER START: The Pasco school district's new call center, paired with other improvements to the student transportation system, leads to fewer problems and complaints in the first days back to school.

STUDENT-ATHLETES: A Pasco School Board member questions the fairness of the district's student-athlete transfer policy.

CHARTER WOES: Parents don't know how to proceed now that their Miami-Dade charter school is being closed, NBC Miami reports. • Two Palm Beach charter schools fail to open for lack of enrollment, the Palm Beach Post reports.

JUNK FOOD: The Duval School Board will consider setting a policy for junk food fund raisers even as the federal government increases nutritional standards for school lunches, the Florida Times-Union reports.

BUS RIDES: The St. Lucie school system will allow students who live closer than 2 miles from school to pay for bus rides, the St. Lucie Tribune reports.

GOING CHARTER: A Polk Montessori school seeks to become a charter, the Ledger reports. …

Full Story

More kids in Hillsborough schools

Hillsborough County's school district is on track to grow again, according to first-day enrollment numbers.

The district said 190,814 students reported to school, up nearly 4,000 from the first day of school in 2013. While it's too soon to say how many were in charter schools and how many in district-run schools, the district expects both populations to grow, reaching a total of approximately 205,000 when families return from summer vacations.

Enrollment has been growing for the past three years.

The district also was pleased with its new relationship with kelly Services, which now provides substitute teachers. The system filled 99.6 percent of openings on Tuesday, up from less than 80 percent under the old system.

Full Story

Florida lawmakers take issue with USDOE position on English-language learners

In extending Florida's No Child Left Behind waiver, the U.S. Department of Education made clear its displeasure with one key action added by Florida lawmakers.

The state's decision not to count test scores of English-language learners in school accountability ratings until the students had been in a U.S. school at least two years wasn't going to fly, assistant secretary Deborah Delisle informed education commissioner Pam Stewart.

"Current law requires assessing all students in tested grades and including their results in accountability determinations in order to ensure that teachers and parents of ELs (English learners) have information on students’ progress and that schools are held accountable for the academic achievement of ELs," Delisle wrote to Stewart.

State lawmakers were not impressed.

"What I think Florida is going to do, and has to do, is quite frankly to fight it," said Rep. Erik Fresen, the House Education Appropriations chairman, who sponsored the legislation. "Florida's law directly reflects Florida's reality."

Read our full story here.

Full Story

Memo to Pasco teachers: No coffee makers allowed

Pasco County schools, like most others throughout Florida, are in energy conservation mode as a way to save money.

That's meant stricter control of thermostats and limited access to buildings on weekends. And for Pasco teachers, it also means restrictions on "energy consuming devices" in their classrooms.

Read that as coffee makers, microwaves and the like.

The district maintenance team has sent a memo to teachers reminding them that such items are unauthorized, and should stay at home: "It has come to our attention that as we start the new year, staff may not be aware or have forgotten that the  use of personal appliances, such as microwaves, coffee pots, unit heaters, etc. are not permitted in student instructional/counseling areas or offices."

But all is not lost for the cold, hungry and caffeine-seeking set. The memo continues: "Appliances in teacher planning areas may be considered 

Just remember to turn them off.

Full Story

Florida education news: Textbooks, volunteer hours, immigrants and more

TEXTBOOKS: Several Hernando schools begin the year without textbooks after a publisher recalls the materials for edits.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME: A Hernando charter school moves into its own permanent building after a year spent in portables. • An Okaloosa charter school gets a new campus of its own, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

SUPPORT TRADITIONAL SCHOOLS: Problems at a Pinellas charter school highlight why Florida lawmakers should do more to support the mainstream schools that support most students, the Times editorializes. • The Florida Board of Education shuts two south Florida charter schools on the first day of classes, the Miami Herald reports.

TURNED AWAY: A Broward boy is unenrolled from his charter school after his parents fail to complete sufficient volunteer hours, NBC Miami reports.

BUTTING HEADS: The Clay School Board and County Commission dig in as they prepare to head to court over a referendum over whether to elect or appoint the schools superintendent, the Florida Times-Union reports.

CITY SCHOOLS: The West Palm Beach City Commission takes its first steps toward creating a city-run charter school, the Palm Beach Post reports. …

Full Story

Pasco school enrollment grows, mostly in charters

As expected, Pasco County schools enrollment continued to rise, with the first day attendance logging in 795 students more than the first day a year ago. Last year, the first-day enrollment was 890 children higher than the year before that.

Most of the growth this year came in the county's charter schools. Three new ones opened this fall, and they accounted for 734 students of the increased numbers, district officials showed in their end of the day report.

Ultimately, the district expects to see its student count up by 925 full-time equivalents. The first day count almost always is lower than the official numbers, which usually rise and then level out after about two weeks of classes.

These first figures help to show officials where the children are coming. Among the notable specifics, John Long Middle School is up 100 students from a year ago, but had looked for only 52 more. Nearby Seven Oaks Elementary is up 88 kids, but projected growth of 12. Pine View Elementary, by contrast, was down 130 from a year ago, while New River Elementary was down 20 but expected an increase of 70.


Full Story

Textbooks arrive on time in Pinellas, Hillsborough

Hernando's in a bit of a sticky situation after textbook publisher Pearson recalled books aligned to the Common Core, but not tweaked to the Florida Standards.

But all's well in Pinellas and Hillsborough, the districts report.

"We are not waiting on any textbooks," said Melanie Marquez Parra, a spokeswoman for Pinellas County Schools. "Our new adoption materials were from (publishers) Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Carnegie Learning."

Stephen Hegarty, a spokesman for Hillsborough's school system, said that "whatever books we have from Pearson are not affected by the switch to Florida Standards from Common Core. So, they're not late or being revised or anything."

Full Story