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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of May 1, 2016

With Florida students in testing mode, you might think education news would quiet down. Not so. A charter management firm got indicted on grand theft and money laundering charges. A key lawmaker set forth an aggressive school choice plan for the coming year. Some districts were accused of blocking access to immigrant children. And a local economic development leader said his county's schools are so bad that skilled employees don't want to live there. Keep up with these and other stories daily on the Gradebook. Send tips and comments to

Top of the Times

Grand jury indicts company that led four Pinellas charter schools into financial peril, Colleen Wright
"A company that has been criticized for poor financial management at four Pinellas County charter schools has been indicted by a north Florida grand jury on charges of grand theft, money laundering and aggravated white collar crime."

Testing will ease up in Hillsborough classrooms, Marlene Sokol
Children in the Hillsborough County public schools can look forward to less testing in the coming year as the district responds to a backlash that has existed nationwide for years.

Donald Blake is Pasco County's first statewide teacher of the year finalist, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"Donald Blake had heard that state officials were traveling Florida this week, naming finalists for the Macy's 2017 teacher of the year. He didn't expect them to wind up in his Marchman Technical College classroom. Blake was momentarily speechless Thursday morning as education commissioner Pam Stewart interrupted his lesson on the national electrical code to announce Blake's selection as the fourth of five finalists for the award."

Pinellas details plan to create magnets at six failing schools, but some are skeptical, Colleen Wright
"The Pinellas County School District has released new details of a plan to use magnet programs to attract families to its most struggling schools, making them more diverse. But some black leaders raised doubts that such programs would help neighborhood students already at those schools."

'A fire burning' to keep expanding school choice policies in Florida, Miami-Dade lawmaker says, Kristen M. Clark
"The Legislature's approval of a massive education bill and other innovative policies this spring has reinvigorated the ‘school choice' movement in Florida, a key Miami-Dade lawmaker said Tuesday. ... And Floridians can expect that wave of policies to continue in upcoming legislative sessions, said Diaz -- who's in line to be the next chairman of either the House Education Committee or the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee under incoming speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes."

Around the State

School libraries getting rid of nonfiction books, Sun-Sentinel, Brittany Shammas
"From dictionaries and encyclopedias to biographies and poetry collections, nonfiction books are disappearing from some Broward County high school libraries. School leaders say they are not needed because that information is accessible online or in the district's collection of electronic books. They say going digital saves money because electronic resources can be updated instantly, rather than replaced."

'Culture' of discipline to change in Lee school's code of conduct, Fort Myers News-Press, Pamela McCabe
"But what took place in this real-life student discipline case was restorative justice - a movement the Lee County school system is stepping toward as a way of righting wrongs while showing students the impact of their misbehavior. The idea behind restorative justice is to curb students' time outside the classroom, giving staff the time to ‘dig deep' into the root cause of why a student may have acted up in the first place. The goal, explained Pete Bohatch, the district's student services director, is to intervene before a student gets into more serious and repeated trouble."

Lakeland Economic Development Council: Public schools hurting economy, The Ledger, Chris Guinn and Sara Drumm
"In the choice between paying private school tuitions or sending their kids to Polk County's public schools, many skilled employees in Lakeland are choosing instead to live in Hillsborough County, said Lakeland Economic Development Council President Steve Scruggs. ‘High-skill, high-wage employees won't put their kids in our schools,' he told city commissioners, college officials and city staff members."

Father of twins from Germany says his daughters' struggles to enroll in school like those of immigrant families, Naples Daily News, Maria Perez
"A father who in January moved his twin 17-year-old daughters to Collier County from Germany has struggled to get them enrolled in high school, describing delays and other problems that recent immigrants have faced in the system already on notice for claims that schools deny some students access to a complete education."

Other Views

Florida's pre-K cuts hurt kids, ignore voters' mandate, Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell
"To provide the kind of pre-K kids really need, many preschools charge families more - for full days, certified teachers and top-notch curriculum. So we end up with precisely the kind of haves-and-have-nots system universal pre-K was trying to avoid. The good news is Florida's program has a broad reach. Nearly 80 percent of kids are enrolled. The bad news is they're enrolled in a program that meets just three of 10 national standards."

Teachers deserve respect, regardless of test scores, Tallahassee Democrat guest column, retired teacher Lenita Joe
"It sickens my heart to constantly hear people say that our teachers - and it's usually the public school teachers that they harp on - are not educating our children. "They" say that our schools earn C, D and F grades because our teachers are not teaching. It hurts to know that teachers are graded and retained or not retained based on the students' scores on a test. Do "they" actually think a teacher wouldn't teach, knowing that she will be graded on her students' scores?"

Anti-discrimination policies are not enough, Gainesville Sun guest column, Brittney Beck and LB Hannahs
"Let's continue serving as a trailblazer for affirming the civil rights and human dignities of all students in Florida and seek to implement more comprehensive anti-discrimination policies and practices in Alachua County schools. Having an anti-discrimination policy in place does not mean our work as educators is done."

How high stakes testing dumbs down education, Fort Myers News-Press guest column, history teacher Michael Andoscia
"Testing season! The time of year when parents watch their children become increasingly anxious. Instruction time is lost as students are pulled out of their classes or teachers are required to proctor. This is the price we pay for quality education. Teachers have no incentive to provide quality instruction without tests keeping them honest. At least that's what the purveyors of these tests tell us. They are wrong."

Minimize distraction in testing, Daytona Beach News-Journal editorial
"Florida State Assessment and end-of-course testing sessions can be up to two hours long, and as each session winds down, some students will be finished early. Under district policy in Volusia and Flagler counties, students are told to sit quietly with their test book or computer terminal until the time for the test elapses. But some parents are challenging whether students who have completed their tests should be allowed to quietly read until the session is over, as is permitted in other districts including Seminole County. There are arguments on both sides."

Reports of Note

Relationship between school professional climate and teachers' satisfaction with the evaluation process, U.S. Department of Education
"This study examined associations between teachers' perceptions of school professional climate and their satisfaction with the evaluation process. ... Of the two concepts used to measure school professional climate-principal leadership and teacher influence-only principal leadership was associated with teachers' satisfaction with the evaluation process."

Florida School Boards Association annual report on the policy implications of bills adopted in the 2016 Legislative session

The Role of STEM High Schools in Reducing Gaps in Science and Mathematics Coursetaking, RTI International
"These findings suggest that STEM schools are more equitable than the non-STEM schools. In almost all comparisons, gaps in advanced coursetaking and passing were smaller in the STEM schools than the non-STEM schools."

Coming Up

State Board of Education meeting - Doubletree by Hilton, Orlando, May 20 (Sorry, no agenda yet.)

Degrees to Jobs Summit - Gov. Rick Scott wants to bring together Florida business leaders and education officials to better connect Florida students with meaningful jobs. Universal Studios in Orlando on May 25-26.

Florida Chamber Foundation Education Summit - The annual "Learners to Earners" event includes a discussion on how to rate schools, and a conversation about how education will change in the next 15 years. Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate, June 2.

[Last modified: Friday, May 6, 2016 2:46pm]


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