ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of April 15, 2019

A collection of news and views from the past week.
Hernando County Sheriff's deputy Cory Zarcone, 28, talks to Aleigha Dziedzic, 5, right, during breakfast time in the cafeteria of Brooksville Elementary School on March 7, 2018. Hernando County leaders approved a spending plan to add 10 school resource officers to area schools. ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Times
Hernando County Sheriff's deputy Cory Zarcone, 28, talks to Aleigha Dziedzic, 5, right, during breakfast time in the cafeteria of Brooksville Elementary School on March 7, 2018. Hernando County leaders approved a spending plan to add 10 school resource officers to area schools. ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Times
Published April 20

Florida lawmakers continue to surge forward with some controversial education policies as they barrel toward the end of their two-month session. Questions relating to arming teachers, expanding vouchers, sharing tax revenue with charter schools and more remain unfinished. Read on for all that, plus other top Florida education stories of the week. • 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. Send a note to jsolochek@tampabay.com.

Top of the Times

School districts, charters, sheriffs. Who decides if teachers can be armed?, Emily L. Mahoney

“The Florida Senate didn’t have a formal vote on the bill that would allow classroom teachers to be armed on Wednesday, but they did adopt a major amendment that could settle one of the biggest lingering questions of the debate: who gets to decide if teachers in a school can be armed?”

READ IT: SB 7030

A reading riddle: Struggling students are everywhere, but why does Hillsborough County have so many of them?, Marlene Sokol

“Tens of thousands of Hillsborough school kids struggle to read, according to state testing data. Despite mountains of research and years of trial and error. Despite well-intentioned programs and millions of dollars spent. Only half the Hillsborough students who took the state’s reading test last spring passed it. Nearly a fourth scored in the lowest possible range, Level 1. That might mean they read too slowly to work their way through a long exam. Or, in the most extreme cases, they cannot read the word R-E-A-D.”

RELATED: Hillsborough students say their love for reading waned over time. ‘I’d rather go outside.’

Pasco teen spoke up to the school superintendent, and it made a difference, Jeffrey S. Solochek

“This is the story of a 17-year-old girl who fired off an email to school district headquarters and the 60-year-old superintendent who actually read it.”

DeSantis: Let’s clear scholarship backlog, Marlene Sokol

“Gov. Ron DeSantis made a morning stop at a private Christian school in Tampa to make it absolutely clear that he favors legislation that would expand state-supported scholarships. Addressing a sanctuary filled with children at Tampa Bay Christian Academy, DeSantis declared that ‘parents should be in the driver’s seat’ when it comes to their children’s education. To the students, teachers and community supporters who sang three spirited hymns before he took the stage, DeSantis said, ‘Just know that as governor, I’ve got your back.’

Should Florida school boards have term limits? Lawmakers aren’t so sure., Jeffrey S. Solochek

“A proposal to put the question on the general election ballot was sailing through the state House with some bipartisan support. An identical bill made it through two Senate committees with more narrow backing, but favorable results nonetheless. Less than a year after the Florida Supreme Court removed the idea from the 2018 ballot, backers felt certain that the push was on its way. They still do. But on Wednesday, the initiative hit a wall.”

Visit tampabay.com for more education news from the Times staff.

Around the State

School choice advocates face off even as vouchers win support, Politico Florida, Gary Fineout

“As Florida school-choice advocates gain ground in a long-running ideological battle over vouchers, they’re quietly waging war with each other over rules governing a state student scholarship program.”

Teachers and allies “Walk-In” to support Florida public schools, Sean Kinane, WMNF

“At hundreds of public schools across Florida Wednesday morning teachers gathered before school started with students, staff and parents to draw attention to how the Florida Legislature is under-funding public education. It was organized by the Florida Education Association.”

PBC school board opposes bill that would require sharing more tax dollars with charters, Palm Beach Post, Andrew Marra

“Palm Beach County public school leaders are asking residents to oppose a proposed law that would require the school district to share the $200 million annual windfall from a new property tax increase with the county’s charter schools.”

READ IT: HB 7123

Broward schools grapple with dwindling enrollment, Sun-Sentinel, Scott Travis

“Parents cite a lack of individual instruction, safety and bullying concerns, mediocre school grades and poor discipline for pulling their kids out of traditional public schools, according to surveys conducted by the district. The quality of schools is also a factor for many parents who move away from Broward County. Other factors include new job opportunities and housing costs.”

Keep Common Core school standards, many teachers tell state in survey, Orlando Sentinel, Leslie Postal

“Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to eliminate Common Core from Florida’s public schools, but the academic standards seem to have a sizeable fan base among the state’s teachers.”

For the latest roundup of Florida education news, visit the Gradebook weekday mornings.

Other Views

Bill to lower teacher standards won't solve teacher shortage, Tallahassee Democrat guest column, Leon County teacher Jacob Asbell

“The proposal to eliminate the General Knowledge exam as a requirement for Florida educators will not solve our teacher shortage crisis. Furthermore, it will continue to allow unqualified individuals to fill the most important positions in our society by exempting an assessment designed to measure an individual’s capacity to educate others.”

School vouchers foster segregation, fail to expand opportunities, Sun-Sentinel guest column, Florida NAACP president Adora Obi Nweze

“Racial discrimination in education was the shameful status quo in this country until the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision, which held that separate can never be equal, and called for integration ‘with all deliberate speed.’ Counties in several southern states closed their public schools entirely rather than comply with the decision, and instituted voucher programs to enable white taxpayers to access racially exclusive segregation academies. Sadly, that regrettable history has been resurrected and vouchers are touted today as a mechanism for parents to ‘escape’ public schools labeled as ‘failing.’”

Sliding down a slippery slope toward making Florida schools armed camps, Orlando Sentinel editorial

“This is how the slippery slope works. First, you pass a law that allows certain school staff — but not teachers — to arm themselves on Florida school campuses. The next year, you come back with another law that lets teachers carry guns in classrooms. This is precisely what’s happening in the Florida Legislature. Right now.”

Why attendance matters: When kids miss school, their learning suffers, Bradenton Herald guest column, Hedy Chang of Attendance Works

“Educators and parents alike agree: Keeping kids in school matters. When kids miss school, their learning suffers. Research shows that missing too many days of class leads to lower test scores and lower grades. If it continues through middle school, it’s likely the student won’t last through high school. By the time freshman year rolls around, it becomes a better dropout indicator than test scores.”

School quality rises as school choice expands, Florida Politics guest column, Ron Matus of Step Up for Students

“The tax credit scholarship is worth 59 percent of per-pupil spending in district schools. That’s why every independent fiscal impact analysis of the program — eight to date — has concluded it saves taxpayer money that can be reinvested in public schools. The drain on public schools would come if the program ended.”

Reports of Note

American parents (still) prefer boys—and it’s hurting their daughters’ test scores, Phys.org, Christina LaBeau of UCLA

“The math gender gap may be narrowing, thanks to STEM programs, advocacy and an overdue backlash against inequality. But there’s still a lot we don’t know about why girls historically haven’t achieved better. Norms around women’s rights and roles in society play a part, but when girls are devalued, precisely how does that create gender differences in math performance? That’s the question behind a working paper from London School of Economics’ Gaia Dossi, Northwestern’s David N. Figlio, UCLA Anderson’s Paola Giuliano and Northwestern’s Paola Sapienza. By diving into a pair of data sets with insights into home life and cultural influences, the authors explore one thing in particular: whether parental gender attitudes have an effect on math aptitude. Indeed, they do.”

Link to the National Bureau of Economic Research working paper

The State of Preschool 2018, Rutgers University National Institute for Early Education Research

“Alabama, Michigan, and Rhode Island met all ten of NIEER’s quality standards benchmarks. Six other programs met nine benchmarks (Louisiana NSECD, Maine, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and West Virginia). Twelve programs met less than half of the quality standards benchmarks: Kansas’ two programs, Pennsylvania RTL, and Texas met four; Alaska, Arizona, District of Columbia, Pennsylvania K4/SBPK, and Wisconsin 4K met three; and California TK, Florida, and North Dakota met two.”

Coming Up

April 22-26: Florida Legislature, Week 8 — House schedule, Senate schedule

*Note: The House and Senate primarily will sit in full session and conference committees. The agendas will be fluid.

May 7: Florida Board of Governors, conference call

May 8-9: Education Practices Commission, Tallahassee

May 22: Florida Board of Education, 9 a.m. Mort Elementary School, Tampa

June 11-13: Florida Board of Governors, University of South Florida, Tampa

Gradebook: The Podcast

We’re podcasting, with newsmaker interviews and chats about the latest issues to crop up. Please take a listen, and send any thoughts, tips and ideas to jsolochek@tampabay.com.

The latest: A reading riddle in Hillsborough County schools

Subscribe to the podcast and review it on iTunes or Google Play. You also can find our past episodes on Art19.

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