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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

ICYMI: Florida education news in review, Week of Aug. 14, 2016



School's back in session, but all eyes were on Florida's court system in this past week of education news. An appellate court upheld a lower court ruling that the Florida Education Association had no standing to challenge the state's corporate tax credit scholarship. We're still waiting to learn if that case heads to the Florida Supreme Court. Meanwhile, parents, the state Department of Education and school districts battled over venue in their lawsuit over Florida's third-grade retention rules. That matter is up for an emergency injunction hearing on Monday. Also in the news: Teacher diversity, testing opt out, teacher planning time and recess. Keep up with all the latest Florida education news on Gradebook. Send your tips and thoughts to [email protected]

Top of the Times

Appeals court deals setback to opponents of Florida's voucher-like program for schools, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"A Florida appeals court has dealt another blow to the state teachers union and others who oppose a public program that uses tax credits to steer money to private schools. In a ruling Tuesday, the First District Court of Appeal found that the Florida Education Association had no legal standing to bring its 2014 lawsuit challenging the state's corporate tax credit scholarship program. The court said the union didn't show it was harmed by the program, and it also rejected the idea that diverting money from public schools to private schools had harmed anyone else."
DOCUMENT: McCall v. Scott ruling
COLUMN: Stop attacking vouchers and go after politicians, John Romano
RELATED REPORT: Evaluation of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program Participation, Compliance and Test Scores in 2014-15, Learning Systems Institute, Florida State University   

Pinellas school plan aims to boost recruitment of minority teachers, Colleen Wright
"Pinellas County school officials outlined a plan Tuesday to address an issue that has dogged the district for years - a lack of black and Hispanic teachers. Paula Texel, the district's new director of human resources, told the School Board that the plan for recruiting and retaining more of those teachers included focus groups with current minority teachers, creating "hiring packets" to be given to job prospects, establishing support organizations for black and Hispanic educators in Pinellas, and strengthening the pipeline of recruits from high school teaching academies and a new teacher training partnership with St. Petersburg College."

Hillsborough's new chief of schools: 'We have to act with haste', Marlene Sokol
"As an educator, [Harrison Peters] has admired Hillsborough for years. But it pains him that a system with so many accolades has pockets of severe neglect. He wants to shake things up, and he just might. Or, if history repeats himself, he will move on to another place where black and brown children need better schools."

Around the State

As anti-testing movement gains steam, School District says opting out not an option, St. Augustine Record, Emilia Hitchner
"An anti-testing movement has gained national momentum throughout schools in recent months, but opting out of state-mandated tests won't be an option without consequence for students in St. Johns County."

Avossa drops teacher meeting requirement, blames "isolationists", Palm Beach Post, Andrew Marra and Sonja Isger
"Blaming opposition from "divisive" teachers," Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa has dropped his plan to require all county teachers to spend up to 90 minutes a week in group meetings."

District looks to alternative to in-school suspension, Highlands Today, Marc Valero
"Students with minor disciplinary infractions may soon be assigned to an after-school initiative instead of serving an in-school suspension. ... ‘We are going to use it and it is going to be an effort to keep kids out of ISS so it is a punishment before ISS,' [Avon Park Middle School Principal Seth Lambert] said. ‘We are going to keep them here for an hour after school each week and give them an opportunity to do some clean up.'"

Miami students get more play time for the new school year, Miami Herald, Kyra Gurney
"Kids in Miami-Dade will get some extra play time when they go back to school on Monday. The district has added 15 minutes a week of recess for preschool, kindergarten and elementary school students, giving children a total of one hour a week of unstructured play time. This means students will be able to run around outside every day except Wednesday, when school ends early. Principals and teachers will also have the option of giving students 15 to 20 minute ‘brain breaks' on days when recess is not scheduled."

Duval may give raises, performance pay to principals, Florida Times-Union, Denise Smith Amos
"Superintendent Nikolai Vitti Tuesday proposed dramatically changing the salary schedule for principals so they're paid not just according to school type - whether it's elementary or high school - but also according to how big a school is and how many students can read and do math at grade level. Vitti said the plan, which costs up to $1 million a year, will help Duval recruit principals for hard to staff schools while complying with state statutes which require educators be paid according to student performance."

Other Views

'Reformers' stoop low: They label them 'government schools' to knock students, teachers, Orlando Sentinel guest column, Kathleen Oropeza of Fund Education Now
"Most of us accept that the principle of caveat emptor places the burden on buyers to beware. But what about the darker, politically driven purpose of using words in calculating ways to damage or alter perceptions? Take public education, for example. There is a significant national effort underway by ‘reformers' urging people to restyle the delivery system of the American Dream as ‘government schools.'"

Florida's "opt-out" lawsuit: As civil disobedience goes, pushing your kids into trouble is questionable, Bridge To Tomorrow blog, Paul Cottle
"Today, I'm not even arguing about the value or testing or any of the other policies that Florida has adopted over the last twenty years. I'm just marveling at the parents who would use their young children as battering rams against educational policies with which they disagree. I don't understand these parents at all."

Tax credit program, thankfully, wins again, The Ledger editorial
"The union should spend the considerable resources extracted from its members more wisely than on repeated, frivolous efforts to undermine a scholarship program that helps families who earn far, far less than McCall and the FEA's top brass."

Earlier school start pushes against summer, Daytona Beach News-Journal columnist Mark Lane
"We're a society that's hostile to the whole idea of summer and has a puritanical horror of unstructured time. Educators warn that testable skills decline after three months of hanging out at home, yard and beach. The first months of school are dedicated to reminding kids of forgotten lessons. But pity the kids who don't get practice in unstructured time."

Community engagement is the answer to help rescue K-12 education in the Tampa Bay area, Tampa Bay Times guest column, Gene Marshall of the Council for Educational Change
"Mort's story highlights the importance of community involvement in improving our schools because our students - and our future workforce - deserve a quality education that enables greater access to well-paying jobs and a brighter future. We often expect our school system to fix itself with our tax dollars and elected officials. But school systems face severe limits in financial support and human capital."

Reports of Note

High hopes and harsh realities The real challenges to building a diverse workforce, Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings
"Our analysis finds that the effort to draw more black and Hispanic adults into the classroom faces obstacles at every point necessary to become a teacher: while gaps with white adults are minimal when it comes to who enrolls in college, the gaps loom large for each subsequent point described above. These compounding factors mean that the pool of available teachers of color barely supports the current level of diversity in the teacher workforce, much less keeps pace with a young population which is growing increasingly diverse and will continue to do so for decades to come. Making serious progress toward a teacher workforce which is as diverse as the students it serves will require exceptionally ambitious patches to fix the leaky pipeline into the teaching profession. As we will show, the path toward reaching a diverse teacher workforce is much steeper than anyone has acknowledged to date."

2016-17 School Year Information, Florida Department of Education
Not really a report, but a good overview of new laws, rules, programs and expectations for the new academic year, with links.

Coming Up

Rhea v. Stewart, a challenge to Florida's third-grade retention law, heads to state court for an evidentiary hearing at 10:30 a.m. Monday. Plaintiffs are hopeful to have an injunction decided early in the week.

The Florida Board of Education is scheduled to have a workshop and meeting at 8 a.m. Aug. 31 in St. Augustine.

[Last modified: Friday, August 19, 2016 3:04pm]


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