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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of March 19, 2017

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It was another active week for Florida education news, with controversial measures moving through the Legislature and new revelations about achievement and access gaps for minority children. A federal judge allowed immigrant families to pursue their lawsuit alleging Collier County schools denied their children an education, and the Jefferson County School Board approved a contract to have all its schools run by a charter operator.

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Top of the Times

Florida Senate takes 'stand for liberty' in passing religious freedom bill for schools over Democratic concerns, Kristen M. Clark
"Florida's public schools would have to let students lead religious prayers during the school day and at school-sanctioned events under a controversial proposal that the state Senate approved Thursday."

Bill to limit job guarantees for annual contract teachers advances in Florida House, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"Since Florida lawmakers eliminated annual contracts for public school teachers, a majority of the state's school districts including Pinellas have guaranteed yearly renewals to those educators who earned an ‘effective' or ‘highly effective' evaluation rating. The Florida House Education Committee on Thursday moved to end that authority."

Florida Board of Education raises concerns over services for English-language learners, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"Board members admitted to being baffled by what they considered a counterintuitive result that lower standards would yield fewer students qualifying to leave the program. They said it raised more basic concerns. ‘How do we improve the proficiency beyond the testing?' asked board member Michael Olenick, who mentioned visiting schools and seeing some ELL students struggle. "I'm looking at it from the lens of a third grader.'"

Are class size counts on their way out for Florida's class size enforcement?, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"Both chambers of the Florida Legislature this week advanced bills that would end penalties for schools that do not meet voter mandated class size requirements at the classroom level."

Around the State

Lottery rakes in cash but fewer students, particularly poor ones, make cut for scholarships, Miami Herald, Kyra Gurney
"Since the Florida Legislature started instituting tougher standards tied to higher test scores beginning in 2011, Miami-Dade schools with large populations of low-income and African-American and Hispanic students have seen a drastic decrease in the number of students who qualify for what has long been billed as the Lottery's primary payout for education."

Bonding question hovers over Florida's education projects, News Service of Florida, Lloyd Dunkelberger
"If Florida lawmakers don't agree to borrow money to pay for school construction and maintenance projects, they will come up about $36 million short of what state education officials have requested for a key program next year."

Judge: Immigrants' lawsuit vs. Collier schools over enrollment can continue, Naples Daily News, Brett Murphy
"A federal judge shot down the Collier County school district's attempt to toss out a lawsuit that alleges discrimination against hundreds of immigrant students."

Florida Teachers failing & frustrated: teacher test scores not improving, new state numbers show, WFTS, Katie LaGrone, Matthew Apthorp
"At a recent college education conference in Tampa, college Deans of Education programs across the state were talking about the state's teacher test and it's unprecedented failure rates. ‘We have a real crisis,' said Dr. Gloria Pelaez, St. Thomas University Dean of the School of Arts which oversees its Colllege of Education."

Even with high scores, many minority students passed over for AP classes, Palm Beach Post, Andrew Marra
"Black and Hispanic students with promising test scores are far less likely than similarly skilled white students to be enrolled in college-level classes in Palm Beach County's public high schools, a disparity that school district leaders blame in part on ‘implicit bias' in the schools."

Jefferson County selects charter school company, Tallahassee Democrat, Ryan Dailey
"In a decision Education Commissioner Pam Stewart called ‘historic,' the Jefferson County school board voted unanimously Tuesday to accept the application of Somerset Academy, Inc. to operate local schools and become the first charter school district in Florida."

Other Views

Public, charter schools should not be totally equal when it comes to state funding, Miami Herald editorial
"The biggest threat looming over the Miami-Dade public school system during this legislative session is not a cut in funding, but a proposal to split construction funding with charter schools - a move that would make for-profit charter schools equal recipients of taxpayer money in the state. That's a troubling encroachment."

Is there liberty and justice for all in our schools?, St. Augustine Record editorial
"Should the Florida Senate gets its way, our schools may experience the promise of ‘liberty and justice for all' in ways not yet imagined. We all may discover setbacks in the fine print."

Want less tests? Change the Accountability System, United For FL Children
"The high stakes placed on testing has led to the emphasis in the classroom becoming all about the test. Because of the way they are evaluated, teachers risk losing their pay, or even their jobs, if their students don't perform well on tests. The problem is, it isn't working."

Replace Best and Brightest with a grant program: Let Florida's school districts be laboratories for innovation, Bridge to Tomorrow blog
"Imagine this: The Legislature appropriates $50 million to a grant program that is intended to recruit strong teachers - perhaps primarily targeting high needs schools and critical needs subjects, as the State Board of Education recommended last year. And then it asks the districts to write innovative proposals for meeting these objectives. Such an exercise would engage all 67 school districts. With such a broad base of expertise and experience addressing the issue, it's likely several (or maybe many) terrific ideas would result."

Classroom deadtime is real, but fixable, TC Palm guest column, Indian River School Board member Shawn Frost
"During classroom deadtime, teachers fight an uphill battle to keep students on track after months of cramming to make sure all material is covered before the assessment. It's difficult to hold the student's focus when teachers can no longer answer the age-old question - i.e., ‘Will this be on the test?' - in the affirmative. Thankfully, there is a solution, and it comes in the form of legislation to improve and focus assessments: Senate Bill 926 and House Bill 773."

Bill Would Let Floridians Challenge Inappropriate School Material, The New American, Alex Newman
"Despite legal prohibitions on providing obscene material to minors, public schools in Florida have been using apparently illegal materials including stories for ‘literature' involving prostitution, lesbianism, gang rape, marital infidelity, masturbation, masochism, abortion, and more. ... Now, activists have a plan to make it stop."

Reports of Note

Asian American Students Have Strong Academic Support - But Is It Too Much?, NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development
"Despite having the strongest academic support from parents, teachers, and friends, second-generation Asian American adolescents benefit much less from these supports than others, finds a study by NYU Steinhardt. The findings, published in the Asian American Journal of Psychology, suggest that support may be experienced as pressure and that stereotyping Asian Americans as high achievers can be problematic."

MEASURING UP TO THE MODEL: A Ranking of State Charter Public School Laws, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
"We also saw several states improve their support for charter school funding and facilities. For example, ... Florida increased funding for its facilities capital outlay program for charter schools from $50 million to $75 million and changed the eligibility criteria and allocation process for this program."

Coming Up

Week Four of the legislative session will see some committees wind up their work, while others continue to hear substantial legislation. On the calendar:

In the House, PreK-12 Quality meets at 12:30 p.m. Monday, where it will consider bills on instructional materials challenges and a financial literacy course graduation requirement, among others. Higher Education Appropriations meets at the same time, to discuss the chair's proposed budget along with some bills. PreK-12 Innovation meets at 8 a.m. Tuesday, with PreK-12 Appropriations and Postsecondary Education to meet at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. The full Education Committee is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Thursday.

In the Senate, the Education Committee will consider several testing-related bills at 1:30 p.m. Monday before holding a workshop on charter schools. PreK-12 Appropriations will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday to review budget proposals. Higher Education Appropriations will meet right afterward at 11 a.m., also to review budget proposals.

Students begin state testing on Monday.

Florida's Constitution Revision Commission is to hold its first scheduled public hearing at 5 p.m. Wednesday in Orlando. (Details)

On the Move

With the Legislature in session, many education related bills have begun to move through committees. Among them:

HB 303, Religious Expression in Public Schools, passed House Education Committee 15-0, remained substantially different from Senate counterpart, headed to House floor
SB 436, Religious Expression in Public Schools, passed Florida Senate 23-13
HB 591, Maximum Class Size, passed House Education 14-0 with amendments
SB 808, Maximum Class Size, passed Senate Education 7-0
SB 148, Students Remaining on School Grounds During School Hours, passed Senate Community Affairs 7-0
HB 757, Voluntary Prekindergarten Assessments, passed House PreK-12 Innovation 14-0
HB 1109, Private School Student Participation in Public School Sports, passed House Education 15-0, headed to the House floor

Gradebook: The Podcast

We're podcasting twice weekly, with newsmaker interviews and chats about the latest issues to crop up. Please take a listen, and send any thoughts, tips and ideas to New this week:

Education bills on the move, turnaround schools and more
Does new Florida law hurt school districts seeking construction funding?

Find our past episodes on SoundCloud.

[Last modified: Friday, March 24, 2017 1:43pm]


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