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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of Oct. 17, 2016



With elections nearing, speculation turned this week to who will lead the Florida legislative panels charged with overseeing education policy. Those possible leaders got some guidance on a few of those policy issues, including recess and guns on campus, when a new poll came out on those topics. School districts, meanwhile, began settling their teacher contracts for the year, leading to some questions about whether their agreements on job protections run afoul of state law. These and other issues made for yet another busy week in Florida education news. Visit the Gradebook daily for the latest.

Top of the Times

New faces will lead on education issues in the Legislature, but who?, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"For the first time in a while, new leaders will guide the conversations. Term limits and retirements claimed nearly all the last session's education committee chairs - most of whom had been in place for years. A spokeswoman for [Senate President Joe] Negron said he's deep into conversations with senators about their interest in policy areas, ahead of making appointments after the Nov. 8 election. [House Speaker Richard] Corcoran said he's given a lot of thought to his choices for his leadership team, who he intends to let pick subcommittee chairs. He anticipated having the slots filled by the winter holidays. That leaves plenty of time to predict who might take the reins."

Pinellas joins other Florida districts in seeking more job security for teachers, Colleen Wright
"38 school districts statewide, including two in Tampa Bay, have found a way to give a sense of job security for teachers in good standing, and Pinellas County hopes to join their ranks this week. District and union leaders signed a tentative agreement last month guaranteeing teachers who receive a rating of effective or highly effective, meet all eligibility requirements and have not faced disciplinary action will be recommended for renewal, providing there's still a spot for them at their school."
RELATED: Teacher annual contract guarantees go against legislative intent, original sponsor says, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning has insisted that districts shouldn't be taking the step that Pinellas and others have adopted. ... Former state senator John Legg, an original sponsor of Senate Bill 6 in 2010, said Browning is ‘100 percent right. ... The intent was very clear -- No automatic renewals.'"

Ridgewood High student warned that dress code protest could lead to arrest, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"In the heat of July, as his high school community debated the pros and cons of a new, stricter dress code, Hunter Banaciski quietly created a Facebook page opposing the idea. Almost no one paid attention, until Tuesday. That's when the new code went into effect, and when Ridgewood High officials took note that the 17-year-old senior had used the page to call for a Nov. 1 protest of the rule."

Pinellas students transfer out of four low-performing elementary schools, Cara Fitzpatrick
"Dozens of students transferred this year out of four low-performing elementary schools in south St. Petersburg, taking advantage of a long-standing state law."

Around the State

Survey points to support for armed school employees, News Service of Florida
"A majority of Floridians believe ‘trained staff' should be able to carry firearms on school grounds, according to the latest data from the Sunshine State Survey conducted by the University of South Florida and The Nielsen Company. Among those polled, 56 percent favor some school employees having guns, while 40 percent oppose it."

Despite ruling, districts don't move kids to 4th grade, Orlando Sentinel, Leslie Postal
"Nearly two months ago, a judge ruled that some Florida school districts, including several in Central Florida, wrongly barred from the fourth grade students who had refused to answer questions on the state's third grade reading test. Florida's opt out movement declared the ruling a victory for those opposed to high-stakes testing and the state law that mandates passing the reading exam to move to fourth grade. But today, only two of the 14 students named in the lawsuit challenging that reading law are where their parents wanted - in fourth grade in public school."

Leon County schools may reconsider letter grades for young students, Tallahassee Democrat, Ryan Dailey
"In a candidate forum hosted by the Tallahassee Democrat editorial board meeting in late September, all four candidates said another look needs to be taken at the grading policy for kindergarten and first grade. Incumbent Jackie Pons said even members of the school board have been ‘wanting to entertain going back' to a more standards-based grading system. Rocky Hanna took and even stronger stance: ‘I'm totally against it, we never should have instituted that to begin with.'"

School Board Chair who sought Vitti's resignation is millionaire trying to help disadvantaged students, Florida Times-Union, Denise Smith Amos
"Duval County School Board Chairwoman Ashley Smith Juarez shocked many people last month when she privately asked for Superintendent Nikolai Vitti's resignation. Over her four years on the Board, Smith Juarez publicly supported Vitti's proposals most of the time. Often in Board conflicts, hers was a calm voice urging Vitti and the board toward consensus. Now, even after her resignation suggestion, Smith Juarez, 37, is not widely considered to be impulsive."

Sweating the small stuff: PBC schools battle years of campus decay, Palm Beach Post, Sonja Isger and Andrew Marra
"It's the same story at public schools across Palm Beach County, as the school district struggles to keep teaching amid roofs, air-conditioners and furniture that have surpassed their life expectancy. While fresh coats of paint and green landscaping keep the county's schools looking orderly, walls teem with mold, roofs leak, air-conditioners blow hot, aging bleachers creak, outdated computer crash, buses break down, and students squeeze into decades-old desks."

Other Views

Schools have crucial role teaching civics, debate, Tallahassee Democrat guest column, Bill Hoatson
"If children are growing up watching vicious spectacles like this year's elections, and think that this is the norm as to how adults are to act and govern, then we could over a generation lose the way as to how the government should ideally work. Schools can play a large part in laying a firm foundation, from kindergarten on up, of giving children actual experience in how a democratic system works."

Puzzling prospects for superintendent, Herald-Tribune columnist Tom Tryon
"Although the district's consultant says the original field of applicants was deep and strong, none of the finalists recommended by a citizens committee and selected by the School Board seems like a can't-miss prospect. This is odd: Sarasota County is one of only three districts with an A rating from the state. It is one of a handful of districts in Florida that benefits from an extra 1-mill property tax approved by voters. The district enjoys substantial support from three of the leading philanthropic foundations in Florida, and has received national acclaim for its integration of music and fine arts into its academic curriculum."

Library provides high school educations, too, Florida Times-Union, Roger Brown
"The program is a partnership between the state, 25 public libraries across Florida - including the Jacksonville Public Library - and the Smart Horizons and Gale Cengage learning programs. It enables Floridians without a high school diploma to enroll in an online academic program that not only gives them a high school diploma, but also career certification in a trade ranging from child care education, office management and commercial driving to high-level security work, retail customer service and the food and hospitality industry. Just as important, the program also provides these students with another valuable asset: A sense of empowerment."

New Florida Charters: How do they fare? Not so well!, League of Women Voters Education Blog
"A five year study (2011-2016) of federal startup charters in Florida, conducted by the Collaborative Assessment and Program Evaluation Services (CAPES) at the University of Florida, makes one wonder why Florida was given so much more federal money this year to launch new charter schools. It may be a bitter pill for the federal government to swallow, but this study reinforces the NAACP's decision to call for a moratorium on the expansion of charters."

Reports of Note

What Do We Know about School Discipline Reform? Assessing the alternatives to suspensions and expulsions, Mathematica Policy Research
"In general, we find that the evidence for critiques of exclusionary discipline and in support of alternative strategies is relatively thin. In part, this is because many discipline reforms at the state and local levels have only been implemented in the last few years. While disparities in school discipline by race and disability status have been well documented, the evidence is inconclusive as to whether or not these disparate practices involve racial bias and discrimination. Further, the evidence on alternative strategies is mainly correlational, suggesting that more research is necessary to uncover how alternative approaches to suspensions affect school safety and student outcomes."

Student Debt and the Class of 2015, The Institute for College Access and Success
"Nationally, about seven in 10 (68%) college seniors who graduated from public and private nonprofit colleges in 2015 had student loan debt, a similar share as in 2014. These borrowers owed an average of $30,100, up four percent from the 2014 average of $28,950. At the college level, average debt at graduation ranged from $3,000 to $53,000."

Coming Up

The Florida Board of Education meets at 10 a.m. Wednesday in Tallahassee. The agenda includes consideration of several districts' turnaround plans, as well as some technical rule amendments.

[Last modified: Friday, October 21, 2016 2:56pm]


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