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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Straight talk about special education

olson.jpgA pragmatist on the Hillsborough County School Board, Candy Olson speaks her mind even if what she says, in some circles, is not politically correct. With much discussion centered around exceptional student education, Olson spent some of Thursday's workshop challenging the notion that inclusion is always best.

Here is some of what she said:

"I think everyone who is sitting here in this room knows that we have parents who beg for inclusion, who plead for inclusion, who demand inclusion and threaten to sue for inclusion. But inclusion, as far as I can tell, has never been declined.

"We have 190,000 children. 40,000 of them have significant medical needs. Close to 30,000 of them are special needs kids. Some are both. And what I hear in schools, I hear the compassion. I hear the fear that they’re going to be next. I hear frustration, cause they're really not quite sure of what to do. …

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Two ways of measuring the pay to Hillsborough's ESE aides

Criticized for under-paying its exceptional student education aides, the Hillsborough County school district performed a salary survey.

What officials found was that Hillsborough pays its aides in the middle range of comparable Florida districts: $17,618 per year, less than Polk or Seminole County but more than Pasco or Volusia County.

That's a good bit higher than a Tampa Bay Times study, which put Hillsborough at slightly more than $14,000.

Here's why:

The district calculated its $17,618 average by taking the mid-point between the minimum hourly wage of $8.42 and the maximum wage of $15.55, then multiplying that number ($11.98) by the hours in the work day (7 1/2) and work days in the year (196.)

In other words: They used the average salary that the aides can potentially make. Calling around to other districts, they got a similar set of numbers.

The Times, however, examined payroll records of 762 employees in Hillsborough and nearly 9,000 around the state to see how much the employees actually earn. Using this method, Hillsborough wound up close to the bottom.

Here's the breakdown of salaries of the 762 employees in the Times study:

 

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FLDOE issues new SAT and ACT replacement scores for FCAT graduation requirement

Florida's high school juniors don't have to wait any longer to learn whether their ACT and SAT scores are good enough to qualify as a graduation requirement. The state Department of Education on Thursday released new concordant scores for those two national exams, tied to what is considered a passing mark on the FCAT 2.0 reading test.

A student may use an ACT score of 19 or an SAT score of 430.

There had been much consternation in the high schools in recent months as the state did not calculate the ACT and SAT scores that would be considered equivalent to passing the FCAT 2.0, leaving thousands of juniors in the lurch as the next FCAT administration approached. Department officials said they did not expect to have the concordant scores until fall.

After the Times wrote about the controversy in mid-January, at least one key lawmaker called upon new education commissioner Tony Bennett to fix the problem quickly. Bennett shot off a memo to superintendents the same day saying a resolution was likely before the end of the month, and on Thursday he made good on that pledge.

See Bennett's latest memo to superintendents attached below. 

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Gov. Rick Scott releases his full budget proposal

After days of leaking details, Gov. Rick Scott has officially released his full 2013-14 budget proposal. You can see it here

As expected, the K-12 recommendation includes $480 million for teacher raises, $100 million for technology initiatives, $10 million for safe schools and a per-student funding increase of $412.25.

In higher education, the proposal includes a 7 percent funding increase for state colleges, $118 million for increased operating expenses for universities and $15 million to help the University of Florida achieve a Top 10 national ranking. Scott also has recommended fixed tuition and fees for undergraduates who are Florida residents.

As is the case with every governor's budget, lawmakers have made clear that the governor proposes and the Legislature disposes. Discussions will happen, changes will come. Stay tuned to see what takes place during session, which begins in March. 

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Florida PTA recognized for parent trigger opposition

The national PTA has given its Florida affiliate an Outstanding Advocacy Award for its fight to halt the Parent Empowerment Act, commonly referred to as the parent trigger, during the 2012 legislative session.

The Florida PTA joined several organizations in seeking to keep the proposal, in which parents could vote to convert their failing schools into charters, from becoming law. The groups stressed to lawmakers that the idea did not come from Florida parents at all. The Florida Senate defeated the measure in the final days of session.

According to the National PTA, the Sunshine State's PTA earned its recognition by educating members about the bill with regular updates to County Councils and local organizations, and grassroots activation. The state PTA encouraged members to send action alerts, launch e-mail campaigns and participate in phone-a-thons to convince lawmakers of its position.

There has been talk about refiling the parent trigger proposal, perhaps with some different specifics. So far, no bills have been submitted.

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Florida university presidents push for immigration reform

 Saying the need for comprehensive immigration reform is as much about economics as it is fairness, four  Florida  higher education leaders are joining forces with a national organization lobbying for change.

Florida State University President Eric Barron said “now is the time to act” on the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013, calling it a bipartisan solution. He said allowing foreign students who come to the  United States  for college to remain in the country to live and work will create a stronger workforce.

“We are truly a nation of immigrants where we know that education has driven the economic success of this nation,” Barron said.

Foreign graduates who stay and work in the  U.S.  create 2.5 new jobs for American workers on average,  University  of  South Florida President Judy Genshaft  said. She said there aren’t enough  U.S.  born students to keep up with demands in science, technology, math and engineering fields. 

“Really it is very important for us to work closely and to support the visas for STEM graduates,” Genshaft said.   …

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Jeb Bush's foundation calls allegations of profiteering "beyond ridiculous"

As we told you Wednesday, a union-backed D.C. advocacy group has accused Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education of improperly influencing legislation around the country to benefit its corporate backers. 

Foundation spokeswoman Jaryn Emhof issued a statement that rejected the profiteering allegations while also acknowledging what has never been hidden, that the group does indeed help states draft bills that would promulgate the ideas the foundation espouses. Bush himself is in the news almost weekly for his advising lawmakers on how to pursue what some now call the Florida model.

We know this because the foundation regularly sends out advisories with links to the reports.

Here's what Emhof had to say: 

"It certainly is not surprising that In the Public Interest, a union-backed organization, opposes school choice and the expansion of digital education.

"And, it is hardly a secret that the Foundation for Excellence in Education (Excel in Ed) is committed to school choice and openly offers its expertise to legislators and policy makers interested in improving their education systems. It’s on our website. …

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What should kids do when two answers seem equally right?

In Florida's move to tougher standards and more "critical thinking," we often hear leaders say that children will have to figure out the "best right answer" if presented with more than one option that seems to fit the bill.

Some elementary school students we've talked to want to know, will they get a chance to explain their choice? Or will they simply be told they're wrong?

Here's one simple example from a recent piece of fourth grade homework some area schools use for reading lessons (leading, no doubt, to something on the FCAT). The kids were told that "homophones are words that sound the same, but have different meanings." The assignment is to pick the correct homophone.

Most are clear. (After running out of ________ (flour/flower), the baker had to stop baking.) But here's one that caught some students off guard: The fight ____________ (scene/seen) in the movie was extremely exciting! 

You might quickly pick "scene" because it definitely makes sense. But at least one said "seen" also works. Depends if you're talking about the fight scene that appears in the movie, or the fight as seen in the movie. …

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Florida education news: Education spending, college readiness, teacher evaluations and more

url.jpegBUDGET MATH: Lawmakers begin questioning Gov. Rick Scott's proposal to add $1.2 billion to the education budget, asking what he would cut to make the numbers work. More from the Naples Daily News. (Image from piggybankbudget.com)

COME TOGETHER: Pasco and Hernando school board members will meet with PHCC trustees to discuss ways they can combine efforts for students in areas such as dual enrollment and college readiness.

EATING GREEN: The science club at Pine Grove Elementary learns while watching its garden grow.

TIME FOR CHANGE: Pressure mounts in Tallahassee to improve the state's teacher evaluation system, the News Service of Florida reports. Leaders are right to call for a closer review, the Panama City News-Herald editorializes.

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D.C. advocacy group accuses Jeb Bush's education foundation of undue influence

In case you weren't already aware of this, In the Public Interest -- an offshoot of the labor advocacy group Partnership for Working Families -- issued a  press release Wednesday stating that Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education has influenced laws and policies in several states, often in a way that might benefit some of the companies that underwrite its existence.

The emails, obtained through public records requests, reveal that the organization, sometimes working through its Chiefs For Change affiliate, wrote and edited laws, regulations and executive orders, often in ways that improved profit opportunities for the organization's financial backers.

"Testing companies and for-profit online schools see education as big business," said In the Public Interest Chair Donald Cohen. "For-profit companies are hiding behind FEE and other business lobby organizations they fund to write laws and promote policies that enrich the companies." …

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Senate minority leader: Scott's education push means election season near

Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith said Gov. Rick Scott has done a poor job leading the state during his first term and doesn't deserve another. Smith described the governor as back-pedaling on education by boosting funding after initially cutting school budgets.

“When he’s now throwing gimmicks and dollars at education when he came in and slashed education tremendously shows that he’s finally admitted that 'I was wrong to try to starve education,'" Smith said. 

He went on to say that the governor's education policies appeared to be ploys to cull favor with voters leading into the 2014 election season.  He used Scott’s proposal to give teachers across-the-board pay raises as a prime example. Smith said more money for teachers is always welcome, but Scott's decision seemed to be driving by politics.

“You look at the 3 percent we’ve taken the last two years, so when you get at this $2,500 dollars it’s not a net gain for teachers because of what he’s done in the past," Smith said. “To have this sudden epiphany to me reeks of election year is coming.”

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Gov. Rick Scott to ask for $1.25 billion more in education funding

From the Buzz:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced Wednesday he will ask the Legislature to increase funding for public schools by $1.2 billion next year, or the equivalent of about $400 more per student.

A third of that amount would fund a $2,500 pay raise for teachers, and another $300 million would be a contribution to the state pension fund to reduce its unfunded liability. A total of $118 million would pay for normal growth in student enrollment.

Speaking to the annual AP news forum in Tallahassee, Scott presented a case that Florida's economy has steadily improved under his direction and that now is the time to "strategically invest" in public education. 

More here.

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School districts take issue with Florida's testing item bank

Several Florida school districts, led by Volusia County, are raising concerns about the Department of Education's plans to provide shared test items this spring for assessments tied to teacher evaluations.

The crux of the issue: The FLDOE chose to share the items on the SchoolNet computer platform by testing giant Pearson, which doesn't interface with the systems that many of them use or plan to implement. These Local Instructional Improvement Systems (often referred to as LIIS) are required under the state's Race to the Top grant, but there is no mandate as to which one districts select.

Volusia chose a platform for student data and testing called Global Scholar. The state's choice is causing problems, as superintendent Peg Smith explained in a memo (attached below) that went to all state superintendents late last week:

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Florida education news: Teacher evaluations, school safety, charter school closures and more

her_brooks013013_257535c.jpegHARD WORK: Hernando teacher of the year Bethann Brooks teaches nursing to high school students, and also works in a hospital as a nurse on weekends. (Times photo, Octavio Jones)

INEFFECTIVE: Florida Senate president Don Gaetz says the state's new teacher evaluation system does not work, the AP reports. • The administrator in charge of Hillsborough's effective teaching program offers an assessment of the progress half way through.

SAFETY FIRST: The Hillsborough School Board plans a workshop to discuss steps to improve the safety of ESE students. • Broward lawmakers will ask for approval to let county residents vote on whether to impose a tax to pay for officers in every school, the Sun-Sentinel reports. • A Marion second-grader gets a 10-day suspension for bringing a toy gun to school, the Ocala Star Banner reports.

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Hillsborough Special Ed safety plan shapes up

A plan to tighten safety and increase staff training in Hillsborough County's special education department is shaping up as the School Board prepares to tackle the issue on Thursday afternoon.

The district posted four recent updates and the results of its parent/community survey on the meeting agenda.

http://www2.sdhc.k12.fl.us/boardagenda2010/Shared/SupportMaterialsList.asp?AICS_ID=13686

The workshop begins at 4 p.m. on Thursday in the school board auditorium. It's open to the public, but no public comment is allowed and the board will not be allowed to vote.

 

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