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ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week ending Aug. 16, 2019

A collection of news and views from the past week.
CHRIS URSO | Times Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran speaks at Tampa Bay Academy Monday, April 15, 2019 in Tampa. Corcoran and Florida Gov. DeSantis made a stop at Tampa Bay Christian Academy to urge lawmakers to pass his voucher plan.
Published Aug. 17

It’s been a busy week in Florida education news. In addition to students returning back to school, we’ve seen a State Board of Education seeking to flex its authority, a school district transferring teachers out of classes over their state VAM scores, and principals accused of falsifying records to make their schools look better. Not enough for you? How about a school district getting its first new textbooks in five years, and a teacher being reprimanded for scolding students who didn’t stand for the Pledge? That, and more from the past 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

Getting tough: Florida’s education chief Richard Corcoran tells school districts to fall in line, Jeffrey S. Solochek

“In past years, such a late-adopted rule would have caused a few heads to turn, but wouldn’t have caused much panic. The state trusted districts to implement the many requirements passed down from lawmakers without too much interference. But Florida’s new education commissioner, Richard Corcoran, is taking a more aggressive stance. And he’s guiding the State Board to flex authority it rarely wielded in the past, sometimes threatening consequences if school districts don’t comply.”

A Florida mom battles through back-to-school shopping as Americans spend more than ever on supplies, Jack Evans

“American parents pay more than ever for their children’s school supplies, which for some means stretching a tight budget even thinner. Many feel those strains in Hernando County, where more than half of public school students meet the state’s definition of ‘economically disadvantaged.’ Despite a proliferation of back-to-school events that aim to get supplies into the hands of kids whose families can’t afford them, the need remains.”

Pinellas schools are disciplining far fewer students. Is that a good thing?, Megan Reeves

“Pinellas has seen a dramatic drop in disciplinary referrals, a decades-old tool that allows teachers to get backup from the principal’s office when students misbehave. But many front-line educators say the program, though well-intended, has tilted the classroom dynamic toward leniency, making it harder for teachers to keep order.”

Spoto High School investigation suggests multiple abuses by the former principal, Marlene Sokol

“The former principal of Spoto High School was so adept at chasing away students with a poor chance of graduating, she had a name for the practice: Selling the dream. She compiled a ‘dream packet’ of information about charter schools and adult education. She said she was doing what was best for the students. Critics said she was trying to get struggling students off the books to make the school look more successful.”

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

Around the State

Florida reveals how much each public school spends per student — and there are stark differences, Florida Phoenix, Diane Rado

“In the Little Haiti neighborhood, Miami Edison Senior High School spends $12,348 per pupil on its mostly low-income black students. Three miles away, Miami Jackson Senior High School spends $8,578 at the majority Hispanic school, which has a larger enrollment and more students who are poor. The difference in spending at the two Miami schools isn’t an anomaly — it’s already showing up in public schools across Florida, state data show.”

Officials: State rule forcing good teachers to leave turnaround schools in Polk, Ledger, Kimberly C. Moore

“At the end of her second day of school this week, a local elementary teacher was told she’d no longer be teaching at that school. Why? Because at the end of the 2017-2018 school year, at a different school, she was given a ‘needs improvement’ score based on a state evaluation known as the Value Added Model — or VAM. And although both schools received D ratings under the state’s school-grading system, she received a ‘highly effective’ rating from the Polk County Public Schools district this school year.”

First Coast High teacher removed after scolding students who don’t stand for pledge, Florida Times-Union, Emily Bloch

“A high school science teacher was removed from his classroom on the third day of school in Duval County after he wrote a statement on his whiteboard reprimanding anyone who refused to stand for either the Pledge of Allegiance or ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’”

Broward school repair program soars to $436 million over budget, Sun-Sentinel, Scott Travis

“A long-delayed Broward school renovation program is now expected to cost an extra $436 million, leading School Board members to demand a plan for how the work will get done. Five years after voters approved an $800 million bond referendum to repair dilapidated schools, only seven of the 234 schools are complete, with 55 under construction. Many projects have been stuck with architects for two or three years and have had to be redesigned because of flaws that led to failed inspections.”

Volusia County students, teachers excited to start year with new textbooks for 1st time in years, Daytona Beach News-Journal, Cassidy Alexander"As students walked into their classrooms at the Daytona Beach elementary school, they had one more thing to be excited about: new math and reading textbooks for the first time in five years. For fourth-graders like Carmela, it’s the first time they’ve had textbooks to work with since they started going to school."

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

Other Views

While still mastering English, students have a right to take achievement tests in their first language, Orlando Sentinel guest columnist Miguel A. Perez Vargas, consultant for the Multicultural, Education, Training & Advocacy, Inc.

“It is the legal responsibility of the state to guarantee that English learners receive and participate in all educational programs on an equal basis as the rest of the school population; this includes acquiring command of the English language as well as acquiring mastery in all academic subjects. How can the state of Florida know what degree of knowledge and skills an English Learner possesses in any academic subject matter if it is assessing these students in English and not in their native language?”

The weekly war against Jacksonville public education​​​​​​​, Florida Times-Union columnist Nate Monroe

“Is state Rep. Jason Fischer the most useless Florida legislator, or simply its most inept one? In fairness, Fischer is actually pretty useful — useful at least to his friend and political benefactor, Mayor Lenny Curry, who seems furious with the Duval County School Board and needs a little dirty work done in Tallahassee.”

3,500 teacher vacancies in Florida. This is what happens when you abuse public education, Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell

“If you teach in Florida, pay is low, bureaucratic baloney is high, and the politicians are more likely to demonize you than support you. The state’s new education commissioner been fond of talking about ‘failure factories,’ branding teachers unions as ‘evil’ and generally helping parents get out of the public system he now oversees. That attitude — coupled with a barrage of top-down regulations and pay that ranks 46th in the nation, according to the National Education Association — is helping drive teachers out of the profession.”

Knowledge devolves with this ‘theory’ of science education​​​​​​​, Palm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino

“More bad news for the Florida Citizens for Science. That’s a real group. And its mission is to try to keep Florida’s leaders from corrupting the education of science in the state’s public schools. Talk about a lost cause.”

Parental choice works in education, Northwest Florida Daily News guest columnist Catherine Durkin Robinson of Florida Voices for Choices

”For choice critics, here are inconvenient truths: The scholarship in 2017-18 was worth 59 percent of per-pupil spending in district schools, according to Florida TaxWatch. Ten years of rigorous analysis of test scores shows scholarship students were typically the lowest-performing students in their prior public schools. And yet, those same students are up to 43 percent more likely than their public school peers to enroll in four-year colleges, and up to 20 percent more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees, according to research by the respected Urban Institute. Better outcomes at less cost."

Reports of Note

The Promise of Adolescence: Realizing Opportunity for All Youth, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine

“When young people reach adolescence, they vary widely in their academic skills and needs and in their future career aspirations. The secondary school system of the future must meet teens “where they are” and offer differentiated and responsive academic opportunities, including individualized instruction, tutoring, tracking, and credentialing. Growing recognition of the importance of skills other than reading, writing, and arithmetic for both personal fulfillment and success in modern life requires schools to broaden their mission to incorporate the teaching of nonacademic skills such as decision making, practical knowledge, and adaptability.”

4 new studies bolster the case: More money for schools helps low-income students​​​​​​​, Chalkbeat, Matt Barnum

“Does money matter in education? The answer is increasingly clear. A 2018 overview of the research on education spending found that more money consistently meant better outcomes for students — higher test scores, higher graduation rates, and sometimes even higher wages as adults. It was enough for Northwestern economist Kirabo Jackson to say the question was ‘essentially settled.’ Since then, the research hits have just kept on coming.”

Coming Up

Aug. 21: Florida Board of Education, Broward State College, Fort Lauderdale

Aug. 28-29: Florida University Board of Governors, Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Myers

Sept. 4-6: Florida Education Practices Commission, Altamonte Springs

Sept. 16-20: Florida Legislature interim committee week

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 drop in student referrals is a good thing. Right?

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


ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Florida's VAM formula confuses many teachers, who call it an unfair and invalid measure of their performance. Florida Department of Education
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  2. The exterior of the new Nova Southeast University Tampa Bay Regional Campus, Clearwater can be seen on Friday. September 20, 2019.  SCOTT KEELER  |   Times
    Nova Southeastern University’s new campus off the Courtney Campbell Causeway was funded by Drs. Kiran and Pallavi Patel.
  3. Michelle Brandon, center, was one of four teachers at Pasco County's Hudson Elementary to be removed after two weeks of classes because of her state "VAM score." Here she is seen, before her transfer, on the first day of school this year, reviewing classroom rules with students. Later, when they broke the news to students, “there were a lot of tears,” Brandon recalled. "It was very difficult.” JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times
    It’s a number that is mostly based on test scores. The state says it helps put the best teachers in struggling schools, but many say it’s not valid.
  4. Sandra Gero, a regional search associate at Ray and Associates, hosts a meeting at the Middleton High School auditorium and gathers public comments on what people are looking for for the next Hillsborough County School Superintendent on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019 in Tampa. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    Using public meetings and a survey, they’re painting a picture of the ideal school leader.
  5. Jeff Eakins and MaryEllen Elia, Hillsborough's last two superintendents, were hired from inside the school system. So have all others since 1967. Times staff
    Go to the school district website before 8 a.m. Monday to state your case.
  6. Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, urges the Florida Board of Education to hold schools accountable for teaching the Holocaust and African-American history, as required by lawmakers in 1994. The board was considering a rule on the matter at its Sept. 20, 2019, meeting in Jacksonville. The Florida Channel
    School districts will have to report how they are providing the instruction required in Florida law.
  7. The Pasco County school district would rezone the Seven Oaks subdivision from the Wiregrass Ranch High feeder pattern to the Cypress Creek High feeder pattern, beginning in the 2020-21 school year. Pasco County school district
    The Seven Oaks subdivision is the primary target for rezoning.
  8. Fortify Florida is a new app that allows for anonymous reporting of suspected school threats. Florida Department of Education
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  9. Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning says Fortify Florida, the new state-sponsored app that allows students to report potential threats, is "disrupting the education day" because the callers are anonymous, many of the tips are vague and there's no opportunity to get more information from tipsters. "I have an obligation to provide kids with a great education," Browning said. "I cannot do it with this tool, because kids are hiding behind Fortify Florida." JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |
    Vague and anonymous tips often waste law enforcement’s time and disrupt the school day, says Kurt Browning, president of Florida’s superintendents association.
  10. Rep. Susan Valdes, D-Tampa, during a Feb. 7, 2019, meeting of the House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee. [The Florida Channel]
    ‘One test should not determine the rest of your life,’ Rep. Susan Valdes says.
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