Five for '10: Top education stories to watch for the new year
It's that time of year again when we try to guess which stories will make it big in the world of Florida education. We did pretty well with last year's predictions, so we thought we'd give it a go again. Let us know how our list matches yours, or what you might expect that's different. Here goes.
Race to the Top: Florida schools need more money, money that leaders argue isn't coming from state or local coffers. The U.S. Department of Education has $4.35 billion to share, and Florida stands to reap $700 million of it. There's a big but, though. School boards and teacher unions have to agree tom the many reforms the state and feds are pushing, not the least of which is merit pay, with student test results comprising a major portion of "merit." Will Florida race to the top? Or will the players decide the money isn't worth the time? Memoranda of understanding are due Jan. 12.
Hillsborough's Gates Foundation grant: Speaking of merit pay, Hillsborough schools are set to embark on a seven-year, $100 million effort to change the way teachers are trained, evaluated and paid. The lessons learned could pave the way for the state and nation. It's a big order, one that more than a few teachers are unhappy to fill. But district leaders are committed. Culture clash coming?
Florida's education adequacy lawsuit: Now that some parents and their high-profile lawyers have sued the state over the quality of Florida's public school system, look for lots of posturing on the real value of the system. Expect arguments over the meaning of the state's ranking on national exams, such as NAEP, and other rating measures such as graduation and dropout rates. Add to that the discussion over whether the state funds schools as the constitution requires, and you've got the recipe for a lively story about the state of education in Florida.
End-of-course exams: The state is well on its way toward implementing more of these tests in the high schools. But can it afford to develop them? Will it do away with the FCAT exit level exam, as Democrats are demanding? And what will the policy be when officials find, like in Texas, that kids aren't passing the end-of-course exams at high levels?
Class size: It's a perennial on our list that hasn't bloomed yet. But this year, it really must. The 2002 amendment requires schools to meet classroom counts by the start of the 2010-11 school year. The state's budget reality seems to signal it can't happen without some tough spending choices. GOP leaders in the Legislature keep talking about giving the issue back to voters to reconsider, a dicey prospect at best as teachers and parents indicate they like smaller classes for their students. Is there a solution? Does there really need to be one? This is the year -- mark our words -- that class size again becomes a big story, one way or the other.