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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of April 24, 2016



Florida education news can't seem to leave the national spotlight. Marion County schools captured attention this week for its new transgender student bathroom rule, while the state's new open enrollment law got people talking about how easy school choice is becoming in the Sunshine State. Testing, turnarounds and teacher shortages, meanwhile, remained key issues for educators and officials to grapple with. Keep up with the latest every day on the Gradebook.

Top of the Times

Hernando schools struggle with shortage of money for substitute teachers, Dan DeWitt
"Because of a shortage of money available to pay substitutes, schools are hiring fewer of them this year. And, judging by the number of teacher complaints to School Board members, schools are instead relying more heavily on the practice of ‘splitting classes' - distributing absent teachers' students among other teachers' classrooms. In higher grades, especially, this can leave a handful of students working on one subject - completing math worksheets, for example - in a classroom where a teacher is lecturing on, say, social studies or English. ‘It's a mess,' School Board member Susan Duval, a former principal, said of the practice of splitting classes."

Pinellas superintendent Mike Grego moves to overhaul leadership at troubled schools, Cara Fitzpatrick, Lisa Gartner and Colleen Wright
"Principals at three of five failing elementary schools will be replaced at the end of the school year, the latest of several major steps being taken to transform the south St. Petersburg campuses, superintendent Mike Grego announced late Tuesday."

Tampa businessman cautions against dismantling school choice in Florida, Kristen M. Clark
"Speaking to the Economic Club of Florida today in Tallahassee, Tampa venture capitalist John Kirtley likened the push for ‘school choice' in Florida's public education system to the Cold War divisions the Berlin Wall illustrated. East Berlin, he said, was like today's traditional public school system -- ‘where decisions were made at the top' and a uniform system applied to everyone -- whereas West Berlin offered freedom and economic opportunities. ‘I think that it's just too hard, even if you have the best people, to manage a huge system from the top down and allocate resources that way,' Kirtley told a crowd of about 150 people at the Economic Club luncheon. ‘If parents were empowered to choose, it would be better for teachers, better for parents and better for students.'

Religious boundaries in public schools continue to baffle Hillsborough leaders, Marlene Sokol
"In a year when attention has been focused on the Hillsborough County school district's relationship with Christian organizations, it took a lawyer in Wisconsin to stop a self-styled minister with a criminal record from spreading the Gospel to athletes at five public high schools. The district responded promptly, banning the Fellowship of Christian Athletes representative from campus and making plans to train all other adults in the local organization on Monday. But the controversy made this clear: Religious recruitment is widespread in the district, as it is in schools around the nation."

Pasco School Board to rewrite athletic eligibility rules, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"Along with ending its athletics transfer review committee, the Pasco County school district is rewriting its student-athlete eligibility rules in light of newly adopted state law that makes it easier for teens to move and still play their sports."

Around the State

Bathroom ban imposed: School Board blocks transgender kids from choosing restrooms, Ocala Star-Banner, Joe Callahan
"The Marion County School Board on Tuesday officially implemented a bathroom ban on transgender students, despite a warning from the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida that the move is unlawful."

School board divided on LGBT policy, Florida Today, Ilana Kowarski
"After weeks of heated debate about whether Brevard Public Schools should add a clause to its non-discrimination and equal employment policies which would shield the gay community, the school superintendent and a 3-2 majority of Brevard County school board members expressed support for the concept of such an amendment."

Duval board may add tests to middle, high school schedules, Florida Times-Union, Denise Smith  Amos
"Duval County's School Board next Tuesday will vote on whether to add to the tests its middle school and high school students already take. These won't be the kinds of tests parents tend to complain about because they're not the state-mandated tests, district officials said Wednesday. These are national exams, designed to measure students' readiness for college while opening up more chances for scholarships and academic enrichment opportunities."

School district police department's budget overruns prompt audit, Sun-Sentinel, Brittany Shammas
"The Broward County School District's police department has overspent its budget by about $2.5 million, administrators said, prompting an audit of the department and a request for more funding."

Gov. Scott accepting applications to fill vacant school board seat, Palm Beach Post, Andrew Marra
"Gov. Rick Scott's office is considering applicants to fill the vacancy created on the Palm Beach County School Board last week  by Mike Murgio's resignation. Murgio resigned on Friday, one day after being indicted on federal bribery charges, leaving an opening on the seven-member school board. It is up to Scott to decide whether to fill the position and with whom."

Challenges against Best and Brightest scholarships for teachers fail, Naples Daily News, Arek Sarkissian
"Two court challenges that would have forced the Florida Department of Education to review applicants for a lucrative and controversial salary bonus program appear dead after administrative judges ruled two Sarasota School District employees were not eligible after all."

Other Views

Lawmakers Are Reducing Florida's Public Schools To Factories of Failure and Inequity, column, Julie Delegal
"Florida's approach to improving public education is getting serious scrutiny on several fronts. Now is the time to take a good look at whether the changes we've endured - mass privatization, real-dollar funding decreases, high-stakes testing, and loss of local school board authority - gets us closer to carrying out our constitutional duty to our children."

Lake should settle union dispute, Orlando Sentinel columnist Lauren Ritchie
"As part of a continuing theme of focusing time and money on problems the size of a gnat while ignoring the massive issue of poor student performance, the School Board again wins the ‘Most Oblivious' award for five-member boards in Florida. The school district also is a runner-up in the ‘Most Easily Distracted' category. The district's contract with the blue-collar workers who drive buses was to begin June 30 last year, but the two parties couldn't agree on who should strap handicapped children into the seats on the bus during the summer and watch them as they travel. Yes, that is really the issue. No one is making this up."

Florida Legislature delivered for education in ‘16 session, Naples Daily News guest column, Collier County School Board member Erika Donalds
"Public School Choice empowers parents to enroll their child in any Florida public school, even across county lines, so long as it has space available and parents provide transportation. The measure also gives parents the ability to request a different classroom for their child and requires districts to publish how much funding is spent per pupil in every classroom. There are a myriad of reasons why parents having enrollment flexibility will serve to help, not hurt, public school students and Florida families."

Inside the testing marathon, Miami Herald guest column, Miami-Dade science teacher Laurie Futterman
"Whatever the future holds, I just hope we come to the realization that kids don't get smarter by testing - they get smarter by learning. Meaningful testing has its place, but it has been allowed to supersede that which it was meant to shadow."

Negron's university plan will take money - and sacrifice, TCPalm editorial
"More money, more money, more money. Treasure Coast Newspapers' Editorial Board supports Negron's goal of making Florida's universities great. We think doing so is key to Florida's economic future. But we do wonder where all this money is supposed to come from."

Reports of Note

It Pays to Improve School Quality, Education Next, Eric Hanushek
"In this essay, we document the long-term economic impact of a state's student-achievement levels, which in turn permits us to calculate the economic returns from school improvement. First, we show that in the 40 years between 1970 and 2010, the spread among the states in their per-capita gross domestic product (GDP) widened considerably. Next, we show that the level of student achievement is a strong predictor of the state's growth rate in GDP per capita over that time period, even after accounting for both the standard measure of school attainment and other economic factors. Finally, we project for each state the large positive impact that improvements in student achievement would have on a state's GDP."

Linking U.S. School District Test Score Distributions to a Common Scale, 2009-2013, Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis
From Education Week's Inside School Research blog, by Sarah Sparks: "Fifteen years of new programs, testing, standards, and accountability have not ended racial achievement gaps in the United States. The Stanford Education Data Archive, a massive new database that allows researchers to compare school districts across state lines has led to the unwelcome finding that racial achievement gaps yawn in nearly every district in the country-and the districts with the most resources in place to serve all students frequently have the worst inequities."

The Invisible Ones: How Latino Children Are Left Out of Our Nation's Census Count, Child Trends Hispanic Institute
"There was a net undercount of nearly 400,000 young Latino children ages 0 to 4 in the 2010 Census. Much of this undercount is concentrated in a few states, and within those states, particular counties. Five states - California, Texas, Florida, Arizona, and New York - account for almost three-quarters (72 percent) of the net undercount."

"[R]esearch thus far has treated all test prep activities homogenously without discerning the worthy from the worthless. In this study, we set out to learn if there was some bright line that could be drawn around a threshold amount of time or a set of characteristics where teachers would say, ‘This is good test prep.' The bright line we found showed that alignment between tests and curriculum is important, that there are clearly some activities that teachers want to be doing, and that teachers prefer to have autonomy in choosing the test prep activities they do."

Summary of research on the association between state interventions in chronically low-performing schools and student achievement, Institute of Educational Sciences
"Eight of the eighteen studies that focused on a turnaround partner intervention were conducted in California. The remaining studies were conducted in Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina (two studies), South Carolina, and Texas. The six studies that investigated the effects of turnaround partner interventions using a comparison group found mixed results for student achievement. Three studies were retrospective and found that schools that improved had strong leadership, used data to guide instruction, had a positive school culture characterized by trust, and had increased expectations for students."

[Last modified: Friday, April 29, 2016 2:09pm]


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