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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of March 20, 2016



This week in Florida education news found many students and teachers on spring break. That didn't stop some schools from pressuring kids to do test prep work anyway, as the Sun-Sentinel reported. Key lawmakers doubled down on the controversial Best and Brightest teacher bonus, saying they want to expand it again next year. Meanwhile, the Duval district had to deal with the mess it created by telling teachers they were eligible for a performance bonus, only to retract the news a day later. Gov. Rick Scott signed a handful of education bills into law, including ones relating to Bright Futures Scholarships and competency-based education. And the Board of Education prepared to meet briefly next week. Visit the Gradebook daily for the latest in Sunshine State education news. Send your tips and comments to

Top of the Times

Reactions vary to Pasco high school teacher who is skilled but harsh, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"What to do with a teacher who generates both love and hate, strong academic outcomes but also shaky emotional ones? In the current atmosphere of increasing standards and expectations, teachers who can get their students to think more critically and logically have high value. But experts suggest the end cannot justify the means."

School turnaround leader Antonio Burt to take on Pinellas' Failure Factories, Cara Fitzpatrick
"Five weeks into his new job, Antonio Burt sat at a tense community meeting. A lawyer announced that the plaintiffs in a 50-year-old federal desegregation lawsuit were going back to court because Pinellas County school leaders had broken their promises to black students. Called upon to speak, Burt had a message: District leaders need to have ‘courageous conversations' to fix five failing elementary schools in south St. Petersburg. That means confronting the reasons behind the schools' persistent failure."

Plant High special ed instructor is Hillsborough Teacher of the Year, Marlene Sokol
"The students in Mary Beth Radigan's special education classes at Plant High School do not learn in isolation. They plant organic gardens that are then studied by the Advanced Placement environmental students. They brew, sell and serve coffee in a business Radigan launched, which grooms them for employment. ... ‘Academics cover an important and necessary part of the special needs student,' Radigan, who was named Hillsborough County's Teacher of the Year on Wednesday, wrote in her contest essay."

Despite objections, lawmakers look to expand Best and Brightest teacher bonus program, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"Hopes for the demise of Florida's hotly debated Best and Brightest teacher bonuses faded last week as the $49 million budget item survived Gov. Rick Scott's veto list. As a result, the program that rewards teachers for top performance evaluations and college entry exam scores will remain unchanged for another year, despite heavy criticism from some teachers and lawmakers. What's more, legislative leaders have set their sights on expanding the program in 2017 and making it law, rather than a year-to-year line in the budget."

Parents speak out about five failing schools during NAACP forum, Cara Fitzpatrick
"Jenee Skipper wanted to be involved in her son's education at Campbell Park Elementary. At every turn, the school made it difficult. She recruited volunteers to read to students. School officials told the volunteers they could work in the cafeteria. She asked for homework. She didn't receive any. She wanted to attend parent meetings. The meetings were scheduled at 7:30 a.m. - a time that was convenient for school staff, but tough for working parents reliant on public transportation."

Around the State

Parents fume as kids told to do test prep over spring break, Sun-Sentinel, Brittany Shammas
"It's spring break for schoolchildren across Broward and Palm Beach counties, but some parents are complaining their kids aren't getting much time to relax - they're too busy prepping for standardized tests."

Duval retracts bonus notice for 273 Duval teachers just days after telling teachers money was on its way, Florida Times-Union, Denise Smith Amos
"Duval County Schools mistakenly told more than 270 teachers they were going to receive performance pay bonuses Thursday and then retracted the notices."

Hard-of-hearing student objects to audio section of test, Orlando Sentinel, Leslie Postal
"Payton Bogert is a straight-A student taking advanced high school classes, yet she knows she'll likely struggle on a part of Florida's upcoming language arts exam. The 15-year-old is profoundly hard of hearing, and that section of the high-stakes test needed for graduation will ask students to put on headphones and listen to a passage before answering questions."

Lee board hears plan to push back middle school start time, Fort Myers News-Press, Pamela McCabe
"Late buses have been an ongoing battle this school year in Lee County, and,Tuesday, school board members heard a proposal to reduce this traffic strain by pushing middle school bell times back by 10 minutes."

Reports of Note

"States that are not followers of CCSS have been reluctant to embrace the changes in curriculum and instruction that are encouraged in those standards. The models also show that CCSS implementation is associated with a change of less than a single NAEP scale score point in both fourth grade reading and eighth grade math. Critics blamed Common Core for disappointing NAEP scores in 2015. The good news for Common Core supporters is that nothing in the analysis supports that charge. The bad news is that there also is no evidence that CCSS has made much of a difference during a six-year period of stagnant NAEP scores."

Equity Starts Early: How Chiefs Will Build High-Quality Early Education, CCSSO
"Chiefs have identified five action steps to leverage the value of early childhood education for their state's public education system. 1. Engage families and communities in early learning. 2. Connect early childhood programs and elementary schools. 3. Accelerate improvement and innovation in early childhood programs. 4. Build a high performing early childhood workforce. 5. Increase investment to provide quality, voluntary early childhood education for all children."

Holding Teacher Preparation Accountable, National Education Policy Center
"Based on our extensive review of evidence and claims for four major initiatives intended to hold teacher preparation accountable, we conclude that for the most part, they are based on both thin evidence and a thin notion of equity that does not adequately account for the complex and longstanding out-of-school factors that produce and reproduce educational inequality."

Other Views

Want more Picassos? Then give kids more arts education, Miami Herald op-ed, Arts for Learning executive director Shiela Womble
"Art is our very first language. It provides us with the ability to create, identify solutions and formulate meaning of the world we live in. Time and time again, research has shown that children and youth who are exposed to the arts score higher on standardized tests, matriculate and graduate at higher rates, become more creative problem-solvers and engaged global citizens."

FL: Ed Commissioner Continues Child Abuse, Curmudgucation, Peter Greene
"[Florida education commissioner Pam] Stewart is on record multiple times as saying that opt out is not an option with a level of devotion that is as baffling as it is abusive. Is there some value in testing children who are terribly ill and/or severely disabled? If Stewart knows what that value would be, she's failed to explain it. But she sure does believe it, because here she goes again."

Florida policy-makers ignore the state's most pressing educational issue - the middle school math meltdown, Bridge to Tomorrow, Paul Cottle
"Right now, Florida's most pressing educational issue is not school choice or teacher certification.  It is not the loony Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program, nor foreign language education nor learning to program computers.  It is not even (and many parents will find this hard to believe) changes to high school sports. Florida's most urgent educational issue right now is the collapse of the state's middle school math program."

Gaining STEM, or STEAM: It's our economic future, Florida Today guest column, Brevard schools magnet school project director Cari Kupec
"Brevard needs to work harder to create strategic alignments with STEM partners while preparing students in K-12 for jobs that are being created on the Space Coast."

Florida's high-stakes school reforms in court, Orlando Sentinel guest column, Kathleen Oropeza of Fund Education Now
"Parents of children in public schools are well aware that the high-stakes testing season is here. What they may not realize is that Florida's marquee public education trial is under way in Leon County. Pay close attention. This is as big as it gets: Getting to trial has taken seven long years with the state battling to kill the suit - and I do not exaggerate."

Latest Laws

Signed into law March 24:

HB 793, Florida Bright Futures


Signed into law March 25:

HB 1365, Competency-Based Education Pilot Project

HB 1157, Postsecondary Education for Veterans

HB 837, McKay Scholarships

HB 249, Culinary Education

HB 189, Teacher Certification

HB 229, Bullying and Harassment in Schools

Coming Up

The Florida Board of Education meets by phone at 9 a.m. Tuesday. It's a short agenda, but member comments and the commissioner's report always offer the opportunity for something interesting to happen.

[Last modified: Friday, March 25, 2016 2:58pm]


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