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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. How do Pinellas teachers feel about Common Core?


    Is there a buy-in problem when it comes to the Common Core State Standards in Pinellas County Schools? The answer may be yes if you believe the results of a recent survey of Pinellas teachers.

    Conducted at the beginning of this school year, it said only 45 percent of the Pinellas teachers surveyed believe Common Core will "help prepare our students for college or career." Only 44 percent agreed that students at their schools "support their answers and explain their thinking," a major facet of Common Core. Just over half (53 percent) said the training they've had on Common Core "will help me improve my practice."...

  2. Police report: Scientology leader spied on his dad 'no matter where he went'

    Special Topics

    When two police officers in West Allis, Wis., stopped the man who was walking around the neighborhood — surveying one resident's yard, peering through another home's front door, looking to neighbors like a drug dealer — he told them only part of the truth.

    Dwayne S. Powell said he was looking around for a house to buy.

    He had a fake Florida driver's license, a large knife in his front pocket and a black SUV loaded with so many weapons and other belongings that police towed it to their storage garage. They counted two rifles, four handguns, a homemade silencer, a brown leather whip and 2,000 rounds of ammunition, some of them already loaded into magazines....

    Scientology leader David Miscavige told the investigator to let his father die, police say.
  3. HBO documentary 'Going Clear' tackles the question: Why Scientology? (w/video)

    Special Topics

    Eight minutes and 13 seconds into his much-talked-about documentary on the Church of Scientology, writer-director Alex Gibney hits a sweet spot, going right at one of the key questions he sets out to answer.

    What is Scientology's allure?

    Jason Beghe, an actor who lasted 13 years in the church, is describing his first Scientology service — a drill that made him confront another person face-to-face, eyes closed. He says it made him "go exterior," or out of his body....

    Actor John Travolta attends "The Forger" premiere during the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival at Roy Thomson Hall on September 12, 2014, in Toronto, Canada. [Getty Images]
  4. Another big gift for USF


    The University of South Florida has been on a roll in recent months when it comes large donations, and that trend continues today with announcement that Jordan B. Zimmerman, a USF trustee and one of the nation's most successful advertising execs, has donated $10 million to the School of Mass Communications.

    See our story here. Of particular note is how Zimmerman became involved in the school a decade ago after noticing that its advertising curriculum hadn't changed since he was a student. You may know him as the guy who came up with the "Just Say No" antidrug campaign while still an undergrad at USF....

  5. Testy about all that testing


    IN THE 15-YEAR HISTORY of Florida's school accountability movement, it is difficult to recall a moment quite like this.

    Parents have never been more militant about overtesting, and more of them are voicing their disdain every day.

    District superintendents fear many of their students won't be ready for brand-new state tests — the Florida Standards Assessments — that roll out this week. ...

  6. Pinellas Outstanding Educator finalists bring a blend of talent


    Half have been teaching less than eight years. The other half, for the most part, have been in the classroom 30 years or more. The 10 finalists for 2015 Outstanding Educator of the Year in Pinellas public schools bring a wide mix of talent and experience to the recognition program. The winner will be announced at the annual "Evening of Excellence" Tuesday at Ruth Eckerd Hall.

    The event is presented by the Pinellas Education Foundation. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door and are available at or (727) 588-4816. ...

     This year’s Outstanding Educator for Pinellas public schools will be announced at the annual “Evening of Excellence” Feb. 14 at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. The event is presented by the Pinellas Education Foundation. We look at the 10 finalists with bios that include handout mugs provided by Pinellas County Schools.
  7. Pinellas School Board calls on state to fix testing system


    LARGO — Florida's system for testing students, grading schools and evaluating teachers is broken and state officials need to fix it, the Pinellas School Board says in a resolution approved Tuesday.

    The action, approved unanimously, made Pinellas the third local district and one of many across Florida to formally call on lawmakers and education officials in Tallahassee to overhaul the system, even as the state prepares to roll out new tests this spring....

  8. Families get more choices as Pinellas broadens its school options


    The Pinellas County School District is mostly a system of traditional neighborhood schools where students are assigned based on where they live.

    But you can feel a distinct shift over the past two years in favor of families who want to look beyond their zoned school. Their options are expanding as the district hurries to match the growth of charter schools, private schools and a state voucher system that pays private school tuition for low-income students....

    Thomas C. Tobin
  9. Feds relent in standoff over testing students still learning English


    Federal education officials have backed down in a dispute with Florida over how the state should test thousands of new students who are still learning English in public schools.

    The government will allow Florida to wait two years before counting those students' test scores toward a school's grade instead of the federally required one year.

    The decision affects a quarter-million Florida students considered "English-language learners," often referred to as ELLs in education circles. More than 30,000 of them go to school in the Tampa Bay area, where Hills­borough County ranks third among Florida districts in the number of ELL students....

  10. Florida says it will review standardized testing in schools


    Florida education Commissioner Pam Stewart announced Monday that her department would conduct an examination of standardized testing in public schools, following months of criticism from school boards, teachers and parents across the state.

    In a statement, the Department of Education said Stewart will "work closely with districts to gather complete and accurate information on the tests being administered to meet federal, state and local requirements."...

    Florida education chief Pam Stewart is gathering information from school districts.
  11. 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....

  12. 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....

  13. 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....

  14. 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....

  15. 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:...