Florida education news in review, week of Oct. 23, 2016
Testing, dress codes, integration and other hot-button issues loomed large in the last week of Florida education news. Some districts also continued to struggle with budget shortfalls for operations and capital projects, with some facing imminent votes on referenda for added revenue. Meanwhile, policy makers continued to grapple with how to best hold low-performing schools accountable. Read about all these stories and more daily on the Gradebook.
Top of the Times
'I have my future': USF opens new path to admission for community college students, Claire McNeill
"Florida students who complete an associate's degree are able to count on guaranteed admission to a state university - just not necessarily the one they want. The new FUSE program gives them 100 percent confidence they'll end up at USF, at the institution of their choosing, in any one of a dozen select degree pathways. That's big news for students at participating regional colleges. FUSE's fall pilot program drew more than 40 students from HCC and St. Petersburg College. Next year, five more regional colleges will join."
Tampa teacher, facing firing, describes year-end music test as her "worst nightmare", Marlene Sokol
"In public education's drive to hold schools and teachers accountable, they test. And test. And test some more. Critics contend that not only does excessive testing stress out children and sap their love of learning, they aren't even reliable in the younger years, when tests are more likely to measure whether a child can sit still through an assessment. Testing fatigue is feeding a national ‘opt out' movement that has parents placing terminally ill children in front of television cameras to protest that they, too, are being forced endure standardized tests. At first, they were only tested in major academic subjects. But as standardized test scores became more important in evaluating teacher performance, problems arose when trying to assess how well teachers of electives like art and music were doing their jobs."
Plaintiffs in desegregation case suspend negotiations with Pinellas County Schools, Cara Fitzpatrick
"The plaintiffs in a Civil Rights-era desegregation lawsuit announced Monday that they are suspending informal negotiations with the Pinellas County School District. In a letter emailed to the district, Enrique Escarraz and Roger Plata, lawyers for the plaintiffs, said that after more than a half-dozen meetings, progress has been ‘extremely slow and uneven.'"
Hillsborough middle school students voice concerns about overtesting, job cuts, electives and more, Marlene Sokol
"Middle school students in Hillsborough County want more elective courses - performing arts and languages. They are concerned about the physical condition of the buildings and the buses. They spend much too much time taking tests. They worry about classmates with learning disabilities. And they see the impact of the district's budget crunch, from teachers who leave and are not replaced to blue-collar jobs that are being phased out."
ACLU, parents back one student's protest over Ridgewood High's new dress code, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"A Pasco County student who was warned he could face legal trouble for encouraging a protest of his school's new dress code has gained support from some parents and the ACLU."
Around the State
State education officials aim to reduce percentage of low-performing schools, Politico Florida, Jessica Bakeman
"The state Board of Education wants to halve the proportion of low-performing schools in Florida over the next few years. The panel of policymakers added a new goal to their strategic plan on Wednesday: Reduce the percentage of schools rated D or F under the state's A-F grading scale from the current 15 percent to 7.5 percent in 2020."
Hundreds of PBC teachers missing hours of class time for meetings, Palm Beach Post, Andrew Marra
"Thousands of Palm Beach County students are missing up to two hours a month of classroom time with their regular teachers as the teachers comply with a new countywide directive to leave their classes for team meetings."
School ‘suspensions' continue despite Miami-Dade's no-suspension policy, WLRN-Miami Herald, Rowan Moore Gerety
"A year ago, Miami-Dade County Public Schools made a splash by eliminating out-of-school suspensions. At the time, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho cited research saying sending kids home made them fall behind in school and made them more likely to get into trouble again. In an interview eight months into the initiative, he called the new alternative-to-suspension program a ‘transformational' success for students. ... But some kids are still being sent home from school, whether the district calls it suspension or not, reports WLRN-Miami Herald News."
How the political clout of a charter school mega-company could be at risk in Florida, Miami Herald, Kyra Gurney
"One of Florida's largest for-profit charter school management companies, Academica, has long enjoyed considerable influence in the state Legislature. Until last year, two Academica employees served as state lawmakers - and the brother-in-law of the company's founder also held the education purse strings in the House. The November election puts the company's clout at risk and, at least potentially, could have broader implications for a booming charter school industry that has claimed a significant share of state taxpayer dollars."
Minorities, poor hit hardest by stricter Bright Futures requirements, Sun-Sentinel, Caitlin McGlade and Scott Travis
"Tens of thousands of Florida's poorest students are finding it harder to afford college because of tougher qualifications for the state's Bright Futures scholarship."
Schools need a facilities fix, Gainesville Sun editorial
"Alachua County Public Schools face the same problem as districts across Florida: Our schools have serious needs that the state has failed to address."
Mother wins case against state's refusal to allow test exemption, Herald-Tribune columnist Tom Lyons
"Severely disabled Maddy Drew doesn't know, or care, but her mother just won a victory in her legal fight with Florida Education Commissioner Stewart. Paula Drew had believed victory would come, eventually, but the win by settlement caught her quite by surprise when Stewart agreed this week to permanently exempt Maddy from the state's required standardized academic testing."
How do school "vouchers' actually work?, Florida Today columnist Matt Reed, VIDEO
Reports of Note
Do Low-Income Students Have Equal Access to Effective Teachers? Evidence from 26 Districts, U.S. Department of Education
"There are small differences in the effectiveness of teachers of high- and low-income students in the average study district. In both subjects, differences in the effectiveness of teachers of high- and low-income students are one percentile point, on average. The average teacher of a low-income student is just below the 50th percentile, while the average teacher of a high-income student is at the 51st percentile. As a result, providing low-income students with at least equally effective teachers typically would not substantively reduce the student achievement gap."
The Uneven Implementation of Universal School Policies: Maternal Education and Florida's Mandatory Grade Retention Policy, National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research
"We find that the more educated a student's mother is, the less likely she is to be retained due to the Florida policy. Students are also more likely to be retained due to the policy if their mother is foreign born, if they qualify for free or reduced price lunch, or if they are black. We also find that the socioeconomic differences in the effect of the policy are mainly driven by the fact that students from high-SES families are more likely to be granted an exemption even after we control for exemption eligibility. These findings are robust to various model specifications and hold true for different student, teacher, and school subgroups of interest."