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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Sen. Jeff Brandes looks to be an education player



In legislative circles, St. Peterburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes mostly has been considered a transportation guy, as reflected by his leadership assignments.

But Brandes wants to break out of that box, and he's got his eye on education.

"If I have to say one area I'm passionate about in the Legislature, it's education," Brandes, recently elected to the Senate after one term in the House, told the Gradebook. "It's probably one of the most challenging areas to get your arms around. It really is an area that desperately needs leadership, and not in the traditional way."

He's been studying digital education and charter schools lately, and says he sees the future in changing the way Florida views education choices.

"I'm looking at class choice," Brandes said, suggesting that students should not be limited in any way by the place they live. "The world of class choice looks different than school choice. It's a real menu of options to choose from."

He filed one bill on this concept (SB 904) a week ago. If adopted, students would be able to take accredited charter classes that count toward graduation requirements at their home schools. They could be offered by any organization that gets the courses approved, and not just the handful of virtual operators on the scene now.

There's more coming, Brandes promised.

He expected to file another bill this week focusing on what he called "micro-credits," in which individual courses would be broken into smaller components that students could choose among to complete the course requirements. He likened the concept to video game playing, in which players can level up in a game by finishing levels in a variety of ways that are selected by the game creator.

So if a student wanted to pass Florida history by learning the core part of the curriculum and then rounding it out with micro-credits all about native Florida tribes, that could happen. Teachers would be guides for students seeking the best information and the best ways to learn.

"It really frees you up to choose your own path," Brandes explained, saying he would propose a pilot program to give the idea a trial run.

He's also looking at other ways to create more individual education experiences, even to the point of suggesting that students might be able to take the FCAT in places other than their schools at a set time.

Brandes is not a total newcomer to education issues, particularly not to issues on the edge. In 2011, for instance, he pushed an unsuccessful bill (HB 125) to create education savings accounts for all children.

He said he sees the Florida Senate as welcoming to new ways to offer educational choices, and that he'll be a strong voice for such efforts.

"I'm excited," Brandes said, "to see where this goes."

[Last modified: Monday, February 18, 2013 8:36am]


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