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Thomas C. Tobin, Times Staff Writer

Thomas C. Tobin

Tom Tobin is the education editor at the Tampa Bay Times. He has worked at the Times since 1988, serving much of that time as a government reporter. He also has reported on the Church of Scientology periodically since 1996.

As the Times' state reporter, he covered the 2000 presidential recount in Florida and wrote about subsequent efforts to retool the state's election machinery. From 2003 to 2009, he covered education, focusing on school board issues, school finance, the achievement gap and desegregation.

Born in St. Louis, Mo., he lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Kathleen, and their three children.

Phone: (727) 893-8923


  1. New chairman at Pinellas Education Foundation


    Cathy Collins, a veteran member of the Pinellas Education Foundation’s board of directors, this week became the organization’s new chairman.

    She replaces Jim Myers, president of Crown Automotive Group, who will remain on the foundation’s board. Her term will last two years.

    Collins, who has worked in the clinical research industry for more than 20 years, has been a member of the foundation’s board since 2008, serving in several leadership roles....

  2. Study: Too many classroom decorations distract


    A new study raises questions about the age-old practice of teachers decorating their classroom walls with shapes, artwork, number lines, maps and other materials.

    Three researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have found that lavishly decorated classrooms can distract students to the point that they can get thrown off task and make fewer learning gains. "Young children spend a lot of time -- usually the whole day -- in the same classroom, and we have shown that the classroom's visual environment can affect how much children learn," said the study's lead author, Anna V. Fisher, an associate professor of psychology. The researchers placed 24 kindergarten students in laboratory classrooms for six introductory science classes. The students were taught three lessons in a heavily decorated classroom and three in a sparce classroom. Their accuracy on test questions was better by 13 percentage points in the sparsely decorated classroom....

  3. Magazine ranks FSU law school tops in the state


    This one could be a little controversial.

    U.S. News & World Report has released its annual law school rankings, and Florida State University College of Law is listed as No. 45, making it the highest-ranked law school in the state. The school wasted little time putting the news on its website and sending out press releases. Our bet is the folks at the University of Florida Levin College of Law think of themselves as tops in the state, with their long track record of turning out judges and other prominent alums. But U.S. News & World Report has them dropping to No. 49 this year, down from No. 46 last year. Of course, there is great debate about the validity of these rankings; they should always be viewed in context. But it’s fun to have the discussion....

  4. Florida schools: cheaper, faster, better?


    Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford have made quite a pair over the last two years, mostly smiling as they shared the reins of Florida's legislative branch. They are men of different generations but one mind. Hearing them talk, you get to know their priorities. And you learn that, this year, their favorite place on the planet is at the intersection of Education and Jobs....

  5. Weatherford says he 'woke up' on issues affecting the poor


    When the 2014 legislative session opens next week, House Speaker Will Weatherford will be strongly supporting education bills that would open doors for poor people.

    There’s a bill to bring down college tuition for children of undocumented immigrants, a bill expanding private school scholarships for low-income students, and a push to better fund early childhood education.

    The Republican leader told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board Thursday that it’s all the result of a personal epiphany he experienced recently. Here is some of what he said:...

  6. New study says SAT/ACT scores may not make a difference


    Do college and university admissions offices place too much emphasis on SAT and ACT scores as predictors of academic success? A new study first reported on Tuesday by National Public Radio suggests the answer might be yes.

    The study, led by two former admissions officers at Bates College in Maine, examined records for 123,000 students at 33 colleges and universities that make test scores optional for applicants. They found "few significant differences" in grades and graduation rates when they compared students who submitted test scores to those who didn't....

    “Human intelligence is so multifaceted, so complex, so varied, that no standardized testing system can be expected to capture it,” says study main author William Hiss.
  7. How much do SAT and ACT scores matter?


    Do college and university admissions offices place too much emphasis on SAT and ACT scores as predictors of academic success? A new study first reported on today by National Public Radio suggests the answer might be yes.

    The study, led by two former admissions officers at Bates College in Maine, examined records for 123,000 students at 33 colleges and universities that make test scores optional for applicants. They found “few significant differences” in grades and graduation rates when they compared students who submitted test scores to those who didn’t....

  8. It's official: FSU president Eric Barron to leave for Penn State


    In a unanimous vote a short time ago, the Penn State University Board of Trustees chose Florida State University president Eric J. Barron as its 18th president.

    Barron, a former professor and dean at Penn State, immediately walked to the podium with his wife Molly to accept the position. Trustees and a packed house of onlookers gave him a standing ovation.

    He will replace Rodney Erickson, who was appointed to the Penn State presidency from within after the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal led to the resignation of then-president Graham Spanier....

  9. USF St. Petersburg makes list of best online grad programs


    U.S. News and World Report has ranked six Florida schools, including USF St. Petersburg, in the top 100 of its list of Best Online Graduate Business Programs. USF St. Petersburg’s three-year-old online MBA program, part of the College of Business, came in at No. 91, behind the University of Florida (3), Florida International University (27), Florida State University (23) and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (70). Stetson University came in at No. 99. The ranking was based on several factors, including how well a program trains its professors to teach remotely, the amount of support given to students, student satisfaction, the responsiveness of faculty and how selective the program is. The rankings were based on data collected from 239 schools....

  10. Be in the know when approaching your search for schools


    Welcome to the 18th annual edition of School Search. Our goal is to help Pinellas families with the important task of choosing the right school for their children in this season when schools begin to seek new students for the 2014-15 academic year.

    This special section is built around the start of the application period for magnet, fundamental and career programs in Pinellas public schools. But private and charter schools are in recruitment mode as well, with January open houses and application deadlines of their own....

    At a discovery night last month at 
Bay Point Middle School in St. Petersburg, John Gehm holds 
son Nixon while looking at world history projects with wife Han Ly and their two sons, Kevin, 11, and Kyle, 7, along with Benjamin Nguyen, 11.
  11. A look at what's inside Scientology's long-delayed Flag Building

    Special Topics

    CLEARWATER — The Church of Scientology has purchased and remodeled dozens of buildings since it established its spiritual headquarters here 37 years ago. This weekend, it will open yet another.

    But this one — a seven-story behemoth with more than 300,000 square feet — is being touted by the church as a game changer.

    On the fifth floor, Scientology will make available to its members for the first time a "Super Power'' program developed in the 1970s by church founder L. Ron Hubbard....

  12. Gaetz: Common Core standards 'not some federal conspiracy'


    Striking a very different tone than Florida’s Republican governor, Senate President Don Gaetz on Monday dismissed concerns raised by conservative groups that the Common Core State Standards are an example of federal government intrusion.

    According to The News Service of Florida, Gaetz was answering questions following his speech before the Economic Club of Florida when he said this about the standards: "You can't dip them in milk and hold them over a candle and see the United Nations flag or Barack Obama's face. They're not some federal conspiracy."...

  13. In Texas lawsuit, judge orders Scientology and its leader to stop harassment

    Special Topics

    A Texas judge has issued a temporary restraining order against Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige, two church entities and two men alleged to be church operatives — part of a lawsuit that contends they have waged a campaign of surveillance, dirty tricks, intimidation and harassment against the wife of a church critic.

    Monique Rathbun, 41, filed the lawsuit last week in Comal County, Texas, near San Antonio. She is married to Marty Rathbun, a former church executive who once worked at Miscavige's side but since 2009 has been a high-profile critic of the leader....

    Scientology leader David Miscavige has been sued by Monique Rathbun.
  14. Understanding the Common Core State Standards


    In Florida and dozens of other states, the gradual transition to the Common Core State Standards is one of the biggest yet least understood issues affecting public schools today. And it's gaining momentum as the 2013-14 academic year approaches.

    States change their education standards all the time. It's part of a natural cycle in education, and rarely does the process get much attention. But when many states do it at the same time, and with a common goal, it changes the discussion. For those who have questions, we have some of the answers:...

    The much-despised FCAT, which Bryan Trinh, 16, was preparing for at River Ridge High in this 2010 photo, is going away. A new test is being developed, based on the new curriculum.
  15. Column: How to fix failing schools


    An elementary school teacher called me a few days ago, distraught at the recent news that eight area schools face severe state intervention. Under Florida law, which aims to mold them into "turnaround" schools, the whole staff must go — or justify why they should be rehired. • Last week, Pinellas school superintendent Mike Grego announced that 11 more schools could face the same fate next year. The teacher on the other end of the line has worked in one of those schools for years. • She says she will cry on that bittersweet June day when the kids in her class move on to the next grade. They've been through a lot together this year, and she wants the best for them. • She says that the staff members band together, work their guts out every day and see progress, but not nearly enough to satisfy the state's accountability system. • More than 80 percent of the students in her school were born into families in poverty. Some of their parents are drug addicts, or they've been in and out of jail, or they are simply worn down. Some days, there are kids who doze off in class — not because they are lazy but because the adults in their homes have been partying all night. • After all that, the teacher says, it is insulting and degrading and deflating for the state to waltz in and talk about cleaning the place out. This teacher has a question: How would her replacement keep those kids awake any better than she does? • You know she's speaking the truth because you've heard it so often from so many other teachers. It shows through in the statistics. You see her point. • And yet, these schools — by reasonable measures — are falling short. It's not just state bureaucrats who say so. Too few of these students will go on to graduate from high school, let alone to successful careers. • It is hard to ignore the voices in education who understand the teacher's frustration but hear resignation and unwarranted hopelessness and excuses in her words. These are the voices who invented and nurtured the idea of turnaround schools. And they believe in the mantra that every child can learn — deserves and has a right to learn — and that schools should be up to the task no matter what kind of home a child comes from....

    Alabama first lady Dianne Bentley, left, toured Mobile’s George Hall Elementary in 2011, a school touted as a national turnaround model. But even its numbers plateaued.