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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of June 12, 2016



With classes over and test results released, Florida school news turned toward policy and budgets over the past week. Leaders discussed transgender restroom rules and student suspension actions, while also talking about spending plans and reviewing year-end audits. The state teachers union started looking at which legislative races to target, as the filing deadline for state and local races approached. Read the latest every day on the Gradebook. Send comments to [email protected]

Top of the Times

Pastors warn Hillsborough School Board about political backlash over transgender restroom issue, Marlene Sokol
"Two days after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history struck a gay nightclub in Orlando, local pastors lined up at a public meeting - but not to express solidarity with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Instead, they vowed to retaliate against Hillsborough County School Board members if they add ‘gender expression' to a list of student protections and allow students to choose their bathrooms."

FEA taking close look at Florida legislative races, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"The Florida Education Association, long one of the state's most politically-involved unions, is taking a long hard look at which state House and Senate races it wants to target this fall."

Wall Street is encouraged, but watchful as Hills­borough school leaders hold down spending, Marlene Sokol
"Credit rating agencies in New York are monitoring the Hillsborough County School District's efforts to limit spending, and warn another downgrade is still possible. But they're also encouraged by steps district leaders have taken to reverse four years of operating deficits and, with enough improvement, could raise its ratings."
BLOG POST: See the most recent ratings

Nonprofit AMIKids Pasco denies teachers their promised pay after district cancels contract, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"The Pasco County School District has canceled its contract with the Tampa-based nonprofit, saying it wants to run the program for up to 120 troubled teens in-house. And AMIKids has told its Pasco teachers they won't be getting all their withheld pay."

Around the State

Advocacy group set to file complaint against Bay District, Panama City News Herald, Eryn Dion
"A local student advocacy group gave its notice of intent to file a complaint against the Bay District School Board with the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) by the end of the month alleging, among other things, unfair disciplinary actions against minority students and the disregard of established protocols in handing out suspensions and expulsions."

State Judge Rules On Sarasota 'Best And Brightest' Challenge, WUSF, Cathy Carter
"On Monday, a state administrative judge ruled that lawmakers intended the bonus program to be open to all teachers, not just classroom teachers."

Vitti: Duval will investigate transgender student's claims of mistreatment, Florida Times-Union, Denise Smith Amos
"Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said Monday he is concerned about and will investigate claims made by a transgender student about mistreatment at Paxon School for Advanced Studies. He also vowed to step up training for school and district staff on how to recognize and avoid discrimination, particularly as it pertains to students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. ‘I'm not assuming guilt here, but the accusations are concerning,' he said."

Scathing audit rips Nova High debate program; principal may face suspension, Sun-Sentinel, Scott Travis
"Nova High School's nationally competitive debate program violated numerous school district policies and possibly state and federal laws, district officials said. A scathing audit paints a picture of a program gone amok at the Davie school, with students being forced to pay to participate, a for-profit debate camp posing as a school group, expenses that couldn't be accounted for and improper use of the school's tax exempt status. ‘I found the outcomes of this audit to be so egregious that they can only be characterized as a gross lack of operational control by the school principal,' said Valerie Wanza, chief school performance and accountability officer, adding, ‘in my 25 years, I don't think I've ever seen an audit like this before.'"

Other Views

Saving America's Education System, The National Review, Jeb Bush
"To put it bluntly, a baby born into poverty today, without a quality education, will never be able to secure a good job in his or her lifetime. Education should be the great equalizer in our society, one that provides the opportunity for every individual to rise, yet sadly, the divide has gotten bigger and bigger. It's truth time: We must massively disrupt our education system if we want to ensure our long-term national and economic security."

Third-grade reading scores cast doubt on 'reforms, Sun-Sentinel editorial
"The persistently poor reading scores, however, call into question the overall success of Florida's long and controversial experiment with high-stakes testing. After nearly two decades, the measured improvements should be more profound."

Hopefully, the black cloud that enveloped our schools is behind us, Highlands Today editorial
"For a while it looked like the negative - and disturbing - headlines about the Highlands County School District would never end even though, in fairness, a few bad apples were making the rest of the teachers and administrators look bad. As we get ready for a new year in a couple of months, let's hope we start with a clean slate and a commitment to end the distasteful behavior that we have seen among some teachers."

Parents need more control over kids' school, Sun-Sentinel guest column, Estefania Nunez-Brady of Step Up for Students
"We need a fairer system, in which parents have more control over where the kids go to school. Since I graduated, the options available to families in the neighborhood where I grew up have increased. Miami-Dade has created more magnet schools and choice programs and a growing array of charter schools. It's home to some of the most vibrant private schools in Florida, and thanks to three scholarship programs, they're now within reach for thousands more families. New options have also begun to flourish in Broward, and in the coming years, parents will have even more choices in the public school system, as open enrollment expands statewide. Children should not have to feel stuck in a school they don't like. Parents shouldn't have to commit a felony to find a school where their child feels safe."

What will St. Johns County School District learn from a suspect test?, St. Augustine Record editorial
"The issues were so pervasive the test scores were recorded, but did not count either for or against young victims last year. What makes it so important to get it right is it affects so much more than the students - who can be denied graduation and held back a grade based solely on this test score. It also affects their teachers, whose yearly assessments depend upon the achievement of their classrooms. Bad grades can cost them promotions, bonuses and possibly their jobs. There's a lot riding on the FSA. For students and teachers alike, the acronym might as correctly be OSYO (One strike, you're out.)"

Reports of Note

School reading performance and the extended school day policy in Florida, Institute of Education Sciences
"While school reading performance grew considerably, this change cannot be attributed to the policy because it did not exceed what was expected. If this study had not accounted for expected change, it would have appeared that growth in school reading performance among the lowest performing schools was attributed to the extra hour of instruction provided. Unsupportable conclusions might have been made about the relationship between extending the school day and improved student performance."

The High Cost of Harsh Discipline and Its Disparate Impact, The Center for Civil Rights Remedies
"This study found that there are substantial economic costs to suspending students, as students who receive suspensions are more likely to drop out of high school. At the national level, suspensions increased the number of dropouts by more than 67,000, which cost taxpayers more than $11 billion. Cutting the suspension rate in half would save taxpayers $5.5 billion. ...  In Florida, suspensions likely increased the number of dropouts by 3,400, costing taxpayers more than $500 million. This study demonstrates emphatically that suspensions impose large fiscal costs and that reducing suspension rates would reap substantial savings for taxpayers."

A Call to Action To Improve the Quality of Full-Time Virtual Charter Public Schools, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
"Most striking and troubling in these reports is the finding of large-scale underperformance by full-time virtual charter schools. If traditional public schools were producing such results, we would rightly be outraged. We should not feel any different just because these are charter schools."

Implementation of College- and Career-Readiness Standards and Aligned Assessments, Interactive maps, The Center on Standards, Alignment, Instruction and Learning

Coming up

June 21-22: The Florida Board of Education meets in Palm Beach County, with a light agenda.
June 24: Candidates for Florida's local, state and federal elections have until noon to qualify for their races. Follow the legislative races here.

[Last modified: Friday, June 17, 2016 2:07pm]


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