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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

ICYMI: Florida education news, week of Dec. 6, 2015



We're nearing the winter break, when schools and lawmakers get away from it all and news slows to a trickle. Anticipating the doldrums, they've created a flurry of activity during the past week of Florida education news. The school grading controversy heated up again, with education commissioner Pam Stewart releasing grade projections based on her recommended cut scores and rules, which aren't accepted by all. A parent push for elementary school recess found a welcoming audience among policy makers. Contract talks, meanwhile, dragged on for Hillsborough teachers who had grown accustomed to smooth negotiations. And so much more. Follow these and other education stories daily on the Gradebook.

Top of the Times

Parents in Pinellas and across Florida push for the return of recess, Colleen Wright
"Finn Cox would come home from kindergarten with flushed cheeks and blond hair matted with sweat. After nearly an hour of physical education, he exhausted all of his remaining energy on the Shore Acres Elementary playground, scaling equipment and racing down the slide, reveling in the freedom of recess. Then came first grade."

Florida school grades would change little if education commissioner Stewart gets her way, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"Fears that school grades would tank under Florida's new tests eased on Wednesday as Education Commissioner Pam Stewart issued a simulation showing that the distribution of A through F marks would remain largely unchanged from 2014 to 2015."
CHART: School grades simulation

Pinellas downplays problems at failing schools, but hires leader to fix them, Cara Fitzpatrick
"The Pinellas County School Board on Tuesday aired a video in which local business leaders praised district officials and downplayed the troubles at five failing elementary schools in south St. Petersburg. Minutes later, however, board members voted to hire a new administrator whose job will be to help turn those schools around."
RELATED: Pinellas hiring turnaround leader to help lowest-performing schools; 45,942 days lost

Teacher contract talks in Hillsborough are slow, contentious, Marlene Sokol
"The monthslong talks, which have been laced with indignation from the union side, illustrate a departure from a more cordial relationship that existed in the heyday of a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, when district money flowed more freely. Now, the district is citing financial difficulties as it rejects one union request after another."

Proposals aim at return to electing state commissioner of education, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"[Sue] Woltanski is among a growing bipartisan group of Floridians calling for a return to an elected education commissioner with Cabinet-level authority. It's an issue that has arisen before - by Democrats when Commissioner Tony Bennett resigned amid scandal in 2013, for instance, and by Republicans when Commissioner Gerard Robinson left under pressure a year earlier. The idea gained little traction then. But it's gathered support lately as parents have become more vocally disenchanted with the current model."

Around the State

DeSoto County school superintendent could face criminal charges, WINK-TV, Kristin Sanchez
"Violations that include appointing two employees to a non-existent position and approving a two-year contract with a forged signature could lead to criminal charges against DeSoto County school Superintendent Dr. Karyn Gary. School board members voted unanimously on Tuesday to ask Gov. Rick Scott to remove Gary from her position while the state Attorney's Office conducts an investigation."

Volusia public schools students to wear uniforms starting next school year, Daytona Beach News-Journal, Dustin Wyatt
"The calendar may say winter is on the way, but some Volusia County parents, students and teachers are going into the holidays heated with School Board members. Frustrations boiled over Tuesday evening as students held signs outside the DeLand Administrative Complex that read: ‘Say No to the Polo' and ‘It's Wacky to Make us Wear Khaki' hours before the board voted 4-1 to approve a uniform policy for the 2016-2017 school year."

State scores win in school-funding case, Associated Press, Gary Fineout
"Six years after a group of parents and education advocacy groups first filed a lawsuit that charged the Florida Legislature with shortchanging schools they had their first major moment in court on Monday. During a day-long hearing, Circuit Judge George Reynolds rejected a request by those who filed suit to shut down two state-created programs that pay to send children to private schools."

Bay District schools face substitute shortage, Panama City News Herald, Collin Breaux
"Schools in Bay County face a shortage of substitute teachers, forcing regular teachers to sometimes give up their planning time to fill in. And there is no easy answer to the problem, school officials said."

Teacher evaluation formula different than expected, the Ledger, Sara Drumm
"In late May, teachers were told that, despite state law, student test scores would not factor into their 2014-15 evaluations. For one year only, they were to be evaluated based on their principals' reviews and self-reviews. Yet this week, teachers have been receiving evaluations for 2014-15 based on student achievement."

Reports of Note

2015-16 Florida Class Size, Florida Department of Education (with charts)

Leaders and Laggards: Improving Opportunities for African-American Students, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation
"In three states, more than 40% of African-American students graduated having taken at least one Advanced Placement (AP) exam - the District of Columbia at 47.5%, Hawaii at 43.7%, and Florida at 43.6%. However, Hawaii was the only state to see more than 15% of African-American students actually pass (score a 3, 4, or 5 on a 1-5 scale) at least one of those exams during their high school years."
Florida-specific data here

Other Views

Florida test sets contradictory standards, Daytona Beach News-Journal op-ed, Leslie Larue, Volusia District Advisory Chairperson
"As a vocal advocate for public education, I fully support accountability, and want students to learn skills that will make them successful contributors to our society. I can honestly tell you, I do not believe that the Florida Standards Assessment is that gauge."

Stop calendar creep in school schedule, Herald-Tribune op-ed, Carla Bach, parent and petitioner
"A change was made this year allowing schools to begin as early as Aug. 10, and the Sarasota County school system wasted no time ignoring this popular initiative by proposing a calendar where students will now begin school at least three weeks before Labor Day. This calendar needlessly disrupts family vacation time in August, a worldwide travel month, and it also forces students to remain in school late next year so their first day of winter break isn't until Dec. 23."

Paying Florida teachers based on 30-year-old test scores is nuts, Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell
"In Florida, trying to pick the worst idea in the Legislature is a lot like trying to pick the stinkiest clump in the litter box. So many of each are produced with such regularity, it's a noxious task. Still, a top contender for ‘Worst Idea of 2015' has to be the Legislature's scheme to give teachers bonuses based on - wait for it - the SAT or ACT scores they earned as teenagers."

Recently Filed

Florida School Grading Rule revisions, 6A-1.09981 (Download here)
Letter grades shall be assigned to schools based on the percentage of total applicable points earned as follows:
a. Sixty-two (62) percent of total applicable points or higher equals a letter grade of A;
b. Fifty-four (54) to sixty-one (61) percent of total applicable points equals a letter grade of B;
c. Forty-one (41) to fifty-three (53) percent of total applicable points equals a letter grade of C;
d. Thirty-two (32) to forty (40) percent of total applicable points equals a letter grade of D; and
e. Thirty-one (31) percent of total applicable points or less equals a letter grade of F.

SB 1018, Instructional Materials, by Sen. Alan Hays (Related: HB 899, by Rep. Ray Pilon)
"Each district school board shall adopt a policy regarding a parent's or taxpayer's objection to the use of a specific instructional material based on the criteria specified in subparagraph 1., which clearly describes a process to handle all objections and provides for resolutions that shall be applied and enforced on a districtwide basis to eliminate the use of objectionable instructional materials in all schools within the district. The process must also include a right to timely appeal any district decision to the district school board and to seek damages, injunctive relief, and attorney fees and costs arising from or related to an appeal of a district school board decision."

SB 1062, Educational Choice, by Sen. Kelli Stargel
Deleting a requirement that a student has to spend the prior school year in attendance at certain schools in order to receive a John M. McKay Scholars, or to enroll in public virtual school

HB 903, Assessment and Accountability, by Rep. Shevrin Jones
"For the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years, results from the statewide, standardized assessments in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics administered pursuant to s. 1008.22, Florida Statutes, may not be used to determine the promotion or retention of a student, to satisfy graduation requirements to earn a standard high school diploma, or as evaluation criteria for the annual evaluation of instructional personnel and school administrators."

[Last modified: Saturday, December 12, 2015 7:33am]


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