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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of Oct. 18



The plight of children at five struggling St. Petersburg schools captured the attention of Obama administration officials in the past week. Parents geared up for next week's Florida Board of Education meeting, where they expect to discuss testing and accountability issues. And state lawmakers presented new ideas on class size requirements, a move that some observers viewed as a payback for superintendents and school boards criticizing the state's school grading system. Find all this Florida education news and more daily on the Gradebook. Send your thoughts and tips to And thanks for reading.

Top of the Times

Who's my teacher today?, Cara Fitzpatrick, Michael LaForgia and Adam Playford
"James Sampson had so many teachers at Melrose Elementary that the 9-year-old couldn't keep them all straight. He started the year with Ms. Davis, but by the fourth day of school he had Mr. Ware. Then came Ms. Flynt, Ms. Schick, Mr. Graveley and Ms. Smith. In all, James had a dozen different fill-ins between August 2014 and June 2015. More than a quarter of his school year was taught by substitutes."
VIDEO: Watch teachers describe what it was like to teach in these schools.
GALLERY: See more photos of the students affected by the schools' actions.
NEXT STEPS: U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan visits parents, students and community members to assess the situation.

Sticker shock: How Hillsborough County's Gates grant became a budget buster, Marlene Sokol
"The partnership would reform the way teachers were evaluated and paid. Its goal would be to make school better for children - especially poor and minority children. The Gates name would put Hillsborough on the map, and make its superintendent an education superstar. Six years later, Elia is gone and there is more hand-wringing than hand-holding as the nation's eighth-largest district comes to grips with an experiment that left it in financial disarray."

Schools may see the return of early August start dates, Colleen Wright
"Pinellas is the latest district to propose the change, which is allowed under a new state law that gives local school boards more flexibility to set their calendars. The School Board showed little opposition Tuesday to a proposal to start classes on Aug. 10 for the 2016-17 academic year - two weeks earlier than this year's start. A vote and public hearing are set for next Tuesday at district headquarters in Largo. The Hillsborough County School Board voted last month to approve an Aug. 10 start date for next year, and Pasco County board members will consider a start date of Aug. 15 at their meeting in early November."

Senator seeks to curb school districts' misuse of Florida class size loophole, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg says he wants to stop Florida school districts from playing fast and loose with state class-size laws. Too many districts are misapplying a 2013 law that allows "schools of choice" to evade classroom student counts, Legg said, instead using the more lenient schoolwide average that saves them money and space."

Bill would allow Florida students to replace foreign language with computer language courses, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"With the backing of key Senate Republican leaders, [Sen.Jeremy] Ring has filed Senate Bill 468 to allow high school students to replace their two-year foreign language graduation requirement with two years of computer coding courses. ‘Obviously, if you can have computer language skills, you can communicate with people all over the world,' he explained. ‘Technology is the great equalizer.'"

Around the State

Ohio's new state tests in 2016 will have questions from Arizona, Florida and Utah, Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Patrick O'Donnell
"A few hundred Ohio educators and the American Institutes for Research are piecing together the state's new English and math tests for 2016 from questions that have already appeared on state tests in Arizona, Florida and Utah."

Lee schools feel pinch of teacher shortage, Fort Myers News-Press, Pamela Staik
"A teacher shortage in Lee County is draining the pool of quality substitutes the school system can pull from when the flu or cold attacks. And with fewer subs stepping forward, teachers are being told they can no longer take off work for professional training."

School districts split on all those extra final exams, Orlando Sentinel, Leslie Postal
"Many Orange County students will take district final exams this school year, even in electives such as ceramics and yoga, with the results used to help evaluate their teachers. In Lake and Seminole county schools, however, plans for such final exams were scrapped last spring after the Legislature passed a new law to curb testing in public schools. Most have not been revived for this school year. That reduces the number of tests students in those districts will take, but it also means some teachers likely will be evaluated in part on how their students do in subjects they do not teach."

Brevard Public Schools To Review Its Robocall Policy, Brevard Times
"Starting today, the Brevard County Public School District is in the process of reviewing possible changes to its robocall policy following a Brevard Times investigation into BPS's use of the auto-messaging system known as Blackboard Connect. Recent changes made by the Federal Communications Commission to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) may have had sweeping repercussions as to how school districts can conduct their robocalls and automated texts to parents with cell phones."

Reports of Note

Weak Markets, Strong Teachers: Recession at Career Start and Teacher Effectiveness, National Bureau of Economic Research, Markus Nagler, Marc Piopiunik, Martin R. West
The NCTQ summarizes: "Using the value-added scores of Florida teachers (where a teaching degree isn't required to enter the classroom), they found that teachers starting their careers during a recession were, on average, better at raising their students' math and reading scores than teachers who began teaching in a stronger economy. The effect was evident across teachers at all levels of ability, but particularly striking was that the effectiveness of top teachers outpaced the top performers of non-recession years by an even greater margin."

Individual Learning Plans for College and Career Readiness: State Policies and School-Based Practices, Hobsons for the National Association for College Admission Counseling
"College and career readiness is an increasing priority of secondary schools, school districts, and states. The changing economic and technological landscape has necessitated that schools provide students with the skills to navigate the complex requirements of the 21st century workplace. This report examines how states and schools have responded to these demands through schools' use and implementation of Individual Learning Plans (ILPs)."

How the States Got Their Rates,
"The analysis reveals that while many states have multiple diploma options for students, many of these states do not publicly report how many students earn which diploma. The lack of transparency means that in most states there are more questions than answers about the true value of a high school diploma, including: How many and which students complete which diplomas and how are those students faring in life beyond high school?"

Other Views

Is the standardized testing ‘opt-out' movement gaining clout?, Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano
"I would not advocate anyone purposefully hold their child out of a state test, but I'm grateful many have. And that's because this state grew so obsessed with testing children, it forgot that the greater goal is teaching children."

Ignoring all the education experts, Daily Commercial editorial
"It is inexplicable that [Florida education commissioner Pam] Stewart and the rest of the education hierarchy in Tallahassee - is Gov. Rick Scott even paying attention? - refuse to acknowledge the collective wisdom and expertise of the state's school superintendents, school boards and teachers, not to mention parents, and bring the out-of-control testing train to a stop. Certainly Stewart knows how much rides on student scores and school grades, so why would she proceed with a system no one trusts?"

In 19 states, it's okay to hit kids with a wooden board, Huffington Post, University of Florida Prof. Joseph Gagnon
"Sadly, despite all evidence to the contrary, many principals do believe that corporal punishment is effective for some students. Also, principals cite pressure from parents as a primary reason for using corporal punishment. Despite the science, the idea that corporal punishment is effective, ‘Because that's how I was raised,' pervades the discussion."

School bus alarm cost insignificant compared to human cost, Palm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino
"After this week's close call in Palm Beach County, the cost of installing alarm systems on the district's 124 school buses without them suddenly seems insignificant compared to the costs, both in dollars and human terms, of accidentally leaving a child on an empty bus for very long in the South Florida heat."

Just as military won't lower the bar, neither should Florida's educators, Orlando Sentinel guest columnist retired Lt. Gen. Robert J. Winglass
"The State Board of Education is currently deciding what is considered a passing, or proficient, score on the new Florida Standards Assessment. This is an important decision, not only for our state, but also for our future national security. Right now, 71 percent of young people in Florida are not qualified for military service, according to the Department of Defense. This is because they are too poorly educated, they are physically unfit, or they have a criminal record."

Coming Up

The Florida Board of Education discusses test cut scores and school accountability 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency Orlando Airport. Can't go? Watch on The Florida Channel.

Recently Filed

SB 470, Blended Learning, by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg
This bill would delete a requirement that students in a blended learning course be full-time students of the school and receive the online instruction in a classroom setting at the school.

HB 377, Dyslexia Education, by Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart
This bill would create a Dyslexia Choice Academy Pilot Project in Duval County and five other school districts.

[Last modified: Friday, October 23, 2015 1:47pm]


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