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ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of Oct. 1, 2018

From the most disturbing trend file — or the stupid kids file, depending on your perspective — Florida students continue to make social media threats against their schools, despite widespread reminders that such actions are a felony. There’s been a spate of arrests in recent days, particularly in south Florida, where schools remain edgy about safety months after the Parkland high school shooting that left 17 dead. Officials continue to seek an effective way to tell kids ‘Cut that out!’, as even watching classmates go to jail doesn’t seem to register.  Read on for that and more news. • Don’t miss our weekly highlights of the news, views, reports and more. You can keep up daily with our conversation on Facebook, hear our podcast, and follow our blog to get all the latest Florida education news. All tips, comments and ideas welcome. Know anyone else who’d like to get this weekly roundup or other email updates? Have them send a note to

Top of the Times

Off state’s watch list, West Zephyrhills Elementary aims to stay off, Jeffrey S. Solochek
“A year ago, West Zephyrhills faced the possibility of closure or takeover if it didn’t improve on its student test performance. Long a highly rated school, it began slipping on the state grading chart in 2013, becoming Pasco County’s lone D-rated school in 2016-17. Principal Scott Atkins transferred in from A-rated Sand Pine Elementary for the following year. He made big changes in planning and instruction, not to mention climate and culture, that helped lift the school barely into C range — and out of state oversight — for the current academic year. ‘But we’re still fragile,’ Atkins said. ‘If we don’t continue to work on the right type of work this year, we could drop back into that DA (differentiated accountability) status.’”

Ron DeSantis and others want to put the Constitution ‘back’ in Florida schools. It’s already there., Jeffrey S. Solochek
“Civics education has been required in Florida law since adoption of the 2010 Sandra Day O’Connor Civics Education Act. State lawmakers extended the civics mandate into colleges and universities in 2017. A key expectation of that college-level civic literacy: ‘An understanding of the United States Constitution and its application.’ Still, some politicians — primarily from the Republican side — have spent the current campaign cycle arguing that Florida schools need more Constitution.”

Lessons from Sandy Hook: Pinellas schools show their ‘human side’ to prevent tragedy, Megan Reeves
“While others debate gun control, school security and the many logistics of keeping schools safe after this year’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, Pinellas County is coming at the problem from a different angle. The district is working to improve the emotional climate in schools with the help of Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit founded by family members of those who died in the 2012 elementary school shooting in Connecticut. The strategy, put simply, is to encourage students to care more about each other, and to be aware enough to recognize when a classmate is troubled.”

Visit for more education news from the Times staff.

Around the State

Kids’ threats toward schools an ‘alarming trend’ Runcie says, Sun-Sentinel, Linda Trischitta and Doug Phillips
“Ever since the passing of a state law prompted by the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, Florida students have faced arrest for making threats of violence, whether real or not. After four children were arrested in Broward County this week, it seems some kids may not be getting the message, or understanding the consequences of their actions.”

School district bars health department from campuses, Panama City News Herald, Eryn Dion
“A feud between Bay District Schools and the Florida Health Department of Bay County (FDOH-Bay) boiled over Thursday as Superintendent Bill Husfelt issued a letter barring health department nurses from coming on school campuses. The letter comes after four health department RNs showed up at Merritt Brown Middle School on Monday and stayed on campus from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. auditing student records, according to Husfelt, before informing staff they would need to be back the next day to complete the audit.”

Opting for virtual learning, St. Augustine Record, Travis Gibson
“Florida has long been a pioneer in virtual education. Florida Virtual School was founded in 1997 and was the first statewide internet-based public high school in the nation. Last year, FLVS had more than 6,400 full-time students and enrollment has grown by more than 20 percent since the 2013-14 school year.”

Firms sell school ‘hardening’ as mass shooting solution, Associated Press
“Security companies spent years pushing schools to buy more products — from ‘ballistic attack-resistant’ doors to smoke cannons that spew haze from ceilings to confuse a shooter. But sales were slow, and industry’s campaign to free up taxpayer money for upgrades had stalled. That changed last February, when a former student shot and killed 17 people at a Florida high school.”

School board, district explore retention rates, Ocala Star-Banner, Joe Callahan
“Data shows that Marion County’s retention rate in grades K-2 is more than 40 times lower than the state average. The Marion retention rate is less than one-tenth of 1 percent. Marion retains 1 out of every 1,369 students. The state rate is about 3 percent, or 3 out of every 100.”

This teacher’s favorite textbooks were taken from her classroom. Her principal did it, Miami Herald, Colleen Wright
“Audrey Silverman arrived at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High last week ready to finish ‘The Necklace,’ the English class staple short story about the deceptiveness of appearances and the dangers of martyrdom with her gifted, honors ninth-grade students. But when the literature teacher entered her classroom Thursday morning, 50 textbooks, including the teacher’s edition with years of annotations Silverman said she personally purchased, were missing from the baskets beneath the students’ desks. A student told Silverman she saw the books carted away the prior evening.”

Other Views

Florida must do better by its teachers, Citrus County Chronicle editorial
“Article IX of the Florida Constitution declares that the education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the state of Florida and that it is a paramount duty of the state to adequately provide for the education of all children residing within its borders. However, if a recent comparative analysis of education in the 50 states and the District of Columbia by the financial site WalletHub is any indicator, Florida should be doing more to fulfill its constitutional duty of providing students a high quality education.”

Is the ‘Underpaid Teacher’ Mostly a Myth?, Sunshine State News columnist Nancy Smith
“Not all experts in the field actually believe teachers have been swindled. In spite of the union propaganda, the average teacher in America — Florida included — already enjoys market-level wages plus retirement benefits vastly exceeding those of private-sector workers, according to a pair of think-tank researchers, one in New York, the other in Washington, D.C.”

When it comes to school, more choice doesn’t always equal more opportunity, Hechinger Report guest column, SchoolMint cofounder Jinal Jhaveri
“In language, we usually understand that choice and opportunity are different things. They, quite literally, have distinct meanings — a distinction that can mean a great deal to families who need both choices and opportunities. It’s ironic, then, that in schools — the very places where language is taught — we blur the lines of meaning between those words, often using them interchangeably. Florida’s limited school choice program, for example, is called an “’opportunity scholarship.’”

Florida voucher schools fail, stiff teachers — and get more money to try again, Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell
“Florida education officials and politicians didn’t seem to care. They seem content to send your money — and children’s futures — down a black hole. They scream about ‘accountability’ for public schools, but have few checks and balances on the private schools that take public money to supposedly better serve low-income and special-needs students.”
Related story: After troubled Orlando private school Beta Prep closes, director opens new campus in DeLand, Orlando Sentinel, Annie Martin

Reports of Note

DO-OVER OR DOUBLE DOWN? Working Toward a New K–12 Education Accountability Ecosystem, EdChoice
“The big questions of accountability (Who should be accountable? Accountable to whom? Accountable for what?) remain unanswered. The tensions between what taxpayers (and politicians) might want from schools and what parents might want from schools remain unresolved. And we are losing confidence in our measurements, risking a debate that is based in anecdote and hearsay.”

Strategic Retention: Principal Effectiveness and Teacher Turnover in Multiple-Measure Teacher Evaluation Systems,  American Educational Research Journal, Jason A. Grissom and Brendan Bartanen
“Strategic retention also requires that principals have the capacity to move ineffective teachers out of their schools when they identify them. Principals can induce low-performing teachers to turn over through formal or informal means. Formal means are administrative processes by which a teacher can be removed from a school or district. Typically, schools have more discretion to dismiss low-performing early-career teachers who are untenured or on probationary status, while the administrative processes surrounding dismissal of a tenured or non-probationary teacher often make (or are perceived to make) forced removal of a more veteran teacher too difficult or costly except in extreme cases. Recent reforms in several states, including Tennessee and Florida, have sought to make formal teacher dismissal procedures more accessible to school and district leaders by lengthening probationary periods, conditioning tenure on performance, and eliminating some due process rights associated with tenure, among other changes.”

Exploratory Study on the Identification of English Learners for Gifted and Talented Programs, National Center for Research on Gifted Education
“To make more than incremental progress toward these goals for ELs, educators must examine underlying philosophical beliefs about predominantly monolingual approaches to education and the existence of gifts and talents across all populations in creating professional development and hiring practices to build cultural competence. Recognizing that students’ cultural and linguistic identities are inseparable from their academic identities, it is essential to provide a welcoming and inclusive school climate for all students and their families.”

Coming Up

Oct. 25: Florida Board of Education, Crystal River

Nov. 6: General election

Nov. 7-8: Florida Board of Governors, Florida Atlantic University

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