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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Black student study in limbo, again



The fate of a proposed research study into black student achievement in Pinellas is again unclear.

Interim superintendent John Stewart told school board members at yesterday’s workshop that he wanted to “go slowly” with a proposal involving black students and teacher effectiveness that crystallized during the final days of former Superintendent Julie Janssen’s tenure.

“I think the only approach to this is to put a toe into the water, not dive in,” Stewart said. “I am a question asker. We are going to ask a lot of questions.”

The idea of a research project was sparked in April after a St. Petersburg Times analysis found black students in Pinellas were falling further behind the state average for black students in both reading and math, and were dead last, in every grade, when compared with black students in the state’s 12 biggest urban districts.

Janssen initially proposed hiring Northwestern University professor David Figlio to take a closer look at the data and hopefully offer explanations. But leaders of a community group that advocates for black students raised objections. And a proposed contract was twice pulled from consideration by the school board.

In late August, after a meeting that included Janssen, Figlio and officials with the University of Florida’s Lastinger Center, a new proposal emerged: Identify the teachers or teams of teachers seeing the biggest gains among black students. Figure out what they’re doing to get those gains. Then use professional development to share those methods or practices with other teachers.

Lastinger officials said they secured a commitment from the Kellogg Foundation to fund the effort. Meanwhile, a couple of nationally know teacher quality experts said the Pinellas plan was potentially groundbreaking.

Stewart told board members he had only skimmed the proposal, which was submitted in writing earlier this month. (A copy is attached below.)

“Yes, there is potential here,” he said. “But I want to go slowly with it. And run it through different channels.”

Tuesday’s workshop marked the first time board members weighed in. They, too, reacted cautiously.

“I don’t want to put down this whole proposal,” said board member Linda Lerner. But “don’t we know who the good teachers are? To spend all this money … “

“This frustrates me,” was the comeback from board member Lew Williams. “To hear this referred to as ‘spending all this money’ … We should be focused on closing the achievement gap. I could care less how much it costs.”

Board chair Carol Cook encouraged other members to take a closer look. She referred to a months-long debate earlier this year over the district’s teacher training partnership with Lastinger.

“I get the sense that as soon as Lastinger is said, it’s a dirty word,” Cook said. “I’m willing to say, let’s put our toe in the water. I want us to do it (with) an open mind.”

- Kameel Stanley and Ron Matus, Times staff writers

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 21, 2011 4:26pm]


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