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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

ICYMI: Florida education news, week of April 3, 2016



There's rarely a dull moment in the world of Florida education. This week, the Pinellas County school district found itself under federal scrutiny over its treatment of black students, which it aimed to overhaul with a new turnaround plan. The treatment of transgender students in schools became a topic of debate in three Florida districts, while another continued to struggle with whether to ban Confederate flags. Gov. Rick Scott's wife made a little news, too, when parents at a Hillsborough school complained that she read children a book containing inappropriate language. Catch the latest daily at the Gradebook. Send your comments and ideas to [email protected]

Top of the Times

Facing outside pressure after 'Failure Factories,' Pinellas proposes sweeping fixes to schools, Cara Fitzpatrick
"The Pinellas County school system would undergo a major overhaul under a new proposal aimed at repairing the damage done to schools in St. Petersburg's black neighborhoods after years of neglect. District leaders released a broad set of recommendations late Tuesday that include hiring a minority achievement officer, creating special centers for students suspended out of school, and establishing a "transformation zone" with intense support for Pinellas' failing elementary schools. That includes paying teachers up to $25,000 more a year, a longer school day and more control over the curriculum and schedule."
Black leaders skeptical about district plan to fix 'Failure Factories', Cara Fitzpatrick, Michael LaForgia and Lisa Gartner
U.S. Education Department opens civil rights investigation into Pinellas schools, Cara Fitzpatrick, Michael LaForgia and Lisa Gartner

Hillsborough school officials push for staff training on the language of gender identification, Marlene Sokol
"Do you know the difference between gender identity and gender expression? Relax. Your child's principal probably doesn't know the difference either. Hillsborough County school officials on Tuesday agreed to add ‘gender expression' to a list of circumstances in which students and staff are protected against harassment and discrimination - a list that already includes gender identity, along with race, religion, national origin and disability."
Transgender policies draw protesters, supporters back to Sarasota School Board meeting, Herald-Tribune, Shelby Webb
Parent objects after Vanguard High allows transgender student to use boys restroom, Ocala Star-Banner, Joe Callahan

After years of attempts, Florida Legislature approves changes to high school athletics, Kristen M. Clark
"The landscape of Florida high school athletics is poised to change starting next school year, but just how drastically remains to be seen. The ‘school choice' legislation that lawmakers passed last month - and that awaits Republican Gov. Rick Scott's signature - includes provisions long sought by the Republican-led Legislature to ensure that student-athletes have more freedom to play sports when switching schools."

Florida Standards Assessments 'never' sole factor in promotion, state says, Jeffrey S. Solochek
Parents of third graders across Florida have raised loud complaints lately that their school administrators and teachers have threatened their children with retention if they don't pass the Florida Standards Assessment or an alternate test. District officials say they're sticking to state law. A Florida Department of Education spokeswoman, however, stressed that the test score alone ‘never' is used to determine a student's promotion. Press secretary Alix Miller pointed to the same law, which sets forth several good cause exemptions for retention.
STATUTE: 1008.25

A Land Remembered will be a book remembered at a Hillsborough school, Marlene Sokol
"The book [Florida First Lady Ann Scott] read to two fifth grade classes was A Land Remembered, a critically acclaimed novel about Florida pioneers by the late Patrick D. Smith. As you can see here, the opening pages include some language that might not be considered suitable for young ears. Words like ‘prostitute.' And ‘son-of-a-b----.' Someone -- parent? teacher? We might never know -- alerted the media. By the end of the day, Scott's office had issued this letter of apology."

Around the State

Choctaw's new approval process for prom attire sparks concern, Northwest Florida Daily News, Leah Johnson
"Next to a wedding day, prom is one of the biggest moments in a girl's life. It's all about the hair, the makeup and most importantly, the dress. At Choctaw High School, school officials said they have implemented a screening process for dresses to ensure that girls and their parents have a seamless experience. To Fort Walton Beach resident Sarah Morgan, the process seems one-sided."

Charter School Graduates More Likely to Stay in College, Earn Higher Salaries, Education Week, Arianna Prothero
"Charter school graduates in Florida were more likely stay in college and earn higher salaries than their district school peers. That's even though attending charter schools did not have a significant impact on student's test scores, according to a study published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management."
REPORT: Charter High Schools' Effects on Long-Term Attainment and Earnings, Tim R. Sass Ron W. Zimmer, Brian P. Gill and T. Kevin Booker

Duval school board decides school changes, Florida Times-Union, Denise Smith Amos
"Andrew Jackson High, R.L. Brown Elementary and Longbranch and John Love schools will each have new academic programs next year, some new staff and, it is hoped, a lot of new students. But the changes are coming with some baggage - long-simmering tensions in the community and on the school board over neighborhood schools."

Audit: Broward schools may have to pay back $23 million in federal funds, Sun-Sentinel, Scott Travis
"Broward County schools may have to pay back $23 million after a state audit found it improperly distributed federal dollars designed to help low-income students."

Bay County students, start your engines: Driver's ed returns this summer, Panama City News Herald, Eryn Dion
"For the first time in almost a decade, Bay District students will be behind the wheel as part of a school-sponsored driver's education program this summer."

Other Views

Ban Confederate flags in school? Maybe there's a better solution, TC Palm columnist Laurence Reisman
"Racism and xenophobia remain relatively quiet in Indian River County, but they exist. Their overt display, in cases such as those at Freshman Learning Center, is disturbing."

Why Parents Are Opting Out of High Stakes Testing, Jacksonville Free Press op-ed, state Rep. Reggie Fullwood
"A wise man once said, ‘All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.' Why is this quote relevant? Because it is testing season in Florida, and around the country, and students in grades 3 and up will be subjected to hours and hours of testing that will not give their teacher or parents any meaningful feedback."

Restoring teacher planning time a win for district, Fort Myers News-Press op-ed, School Board member Jeanne Dozier
"I am hopeful that the improved work environment and the ability to refresh, plan and assess, will have a direct impact on our teacher turnover rate."

Reports of Note

Sleep Duration and Injury-Related Risk Behaviors Among High School Students - United States, 2007-2013, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
"Insufficient sleep is common among high school students and has been associated with an increased risk for motor vehicle crashes, sports injuries, and occupational injuries."

"Done right, secondary CTE provides preparation and skill building for careers in fields such as information technology, health services, and advanced manufacturing, in which many positions require a postsecondary education. While some high school CTE students do enter the workforce without additional training, many secondary CTE programs feed participants into professional certification or associate degree programs at two- or four-year colleges. The goal of today's CTE is simple: to connect students with growing industries in the American economy and to give them the skills and training required for long-term success."

Bridging the Financial Literacy Gap: Empowering teachers to support the next generation, PWC
From the press release: "Florida teachers cite lack of appropriate curriculum (81%), lack of qualified teachers (71%) and lack of take-home materials (70%) as key obstacles. Additionally, 66% cite that financial education still isn't seen as a critical skill for college readiness."

Meandering Toward Graduation, the Education Trust
Rather than ensuring students have access to a cohesive curriculum that aligns high school coursework and students' future goals, high schools are prioritizing credit accrual, which treats graduation as the end goal. These data call attention to how far we have yet to travel to assure that all of our students - and most especially students from disadvantaged backgrounds and students of color - are fully prepared to take advantage of the full range of opportunities that await them after high school

In the Standards

Every month, the Florida Department of Education features selected academic standards for added attention in the state's schools. For April, the department has picked a rather appropriate one for civics -- SS.7.C.2.8: Identify America's current political parties and illustrate their ideas about government.

Brevard County parents recently weighed in on this subject, in light of the heated presidential primaries. "Most said they thought that politics was an important topic of discussion for children and that it ought to be taught, but many had misgivings about the way that those topics might be introduced to children, with several warning about the risk of partisanship," Florida Today reported.

Some Pinellas County teachers recently shared how they teach Donald Trump, brash talk and all. Middle schoolers take their civics end-of-course exam in late April or early May.

Latest Laws

None this week. A handful of education-related measures remain for the governor's consideration.

[Last modified: Friday, April 8, 2016 2:24pm]


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