Archive | Education reporting

Florida schools roundup: Cold again closing schools, pensions and more

Cold closing schools: A cold front is expected to bring freezing temperatures and icy conditions into north Florida today. The Walton, Escambia, Jackson, Holmes, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa school districts have closed all schools, and Bay County is limiting after-school activities. Northwest Florida Daily News. WMBB. WEAR. Pensacola News Journal. Destin Log. Panama City News Herald. The Leon County School District won’t be closing schools because of the weather today. Earlier this month the district closed for two days when cold weather, snow and ice moved into the area. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL.

Pension payments: Florida school districts will have to contribute an additional $54.4 million into the state pension fund this year, if a bill before the Legislature is approved. The state is forecasting a lower rate of return on the $160 billion pension fund, which would require school districts, colleges, universities, county governments and state agencies to pay a collective $178.5 million to ensure that there’s enough money to pay retirement benefits. News Service of Florida.

Computer coding bill: A bill promoting computer coding in schools, by allowing students to use it to satisfy foreign language requirements, is amended to include a requirement that a set percentage of schools in each district offer computer science courses, and providing financial incentives for teachers to become certified in the field. The amended bill is approved by the Senate Education Committee and now moves to the appropriations committee. Gradebook.

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Florida schools roundup: ESSA, active shooter training, bonuses and more

ESSA plan: After federal education officials recently raised questions about Florida’s plan to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, the state asks for an extension beyond the Jan. 4 deadline to rework the plan. State officials say they are still reviewing the letter federal officials sent that questions the state’s plans to measure how individual groups of students perform and to consider progress made by English-language learners when holding schools accountable for student learning and progress. “We acknowledge that USED may not be able to provide a final determination within the 120-day period in the law,” Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart wrote in her request for an extension. “Our focus is the successful completion of the 2017-18 school year as school districts continue to recover from Hurricane Irma and embrace the nearly 9,000 students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as a result of Hurricane Maria.” Politico Florida.

Active shooter training: The University of Central Florida is using video game technology to help train teachers on how to react to an active shooter scenario. The $5.6 million technology was developed by the Homeland Security Department and the U.S. Army, and is similar to the program used to train soldiers in combat tactics. “With teachers, they did not self-select into a role where they expect to have bullets flying near them. Unfortunately, it’s becoming a reality,” says chief project engineer Tamara Griffith. “We want to teach teachers how to respond as first responders.” Associated Press.

Bonuses mistakenly paid: Twenty-seven Leon County School District employees wrongly received about $180,000 from the state’s Best and Brightest teacher bonuses program, according to a recent report from the Florida auditor general. The audit showed that 21 teachers who received $143,155 in bonuses were not rated as “highly effective,” a requirement to be eligible for the payments. Another six who received $40,902 weren’t eligible because they didn’t meet the state’s definition of a classroom teacher. All must repay the district, which in turn will send the money to the state Department of Education. The audit also raised concerns about a lack of competitive bidding to select health insurance companies and the security of personal information for students. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. WCTV.

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Students gain STEAM in Jacksonville charter school

From left, River City Science Academy Innovation students  Y’hara Lawrence, Jeremiah Graham,  Lilly Leatherbarrow, and Bella Rose help make snow in an elementary class.

Seventh-grade student Jeremiah Graham thrives on the challenge of solving a math problem.

He enjoys turning numbers in his head and solving a mathematical problem backward by reversing each mathematical operation to get back to the beginning of the problem. That way, he says, he can understand the process much clearer.

Another student, Y’hara Lawrence, spoke fondly of the time her class made slime with Tide and glue.

Students also participated in an experiment in making snow. They constructed their own version of the Mayflower after learning how boats stay afloat when they are filled with cargo. Thye students took part in a competition this past November to gauge which ship could carry the most cargo.

River City Science Academy Innovation in Jacksonville is part of a growing network of schools that cater to students who delight in things like science experiments and robotics competitions.

The Innovation school was the fourth installment of River City Science Academy, a network of four charter schools that caters to students who thrive on lab experiments and robotics competitions. Its network includes the first high-performing charter school in Duval County. The Innovation school adds the arts to the schools’ characteristic emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: ESSA plan needs revisions, grad rates and more

Feds order ESSA revise: The U.S. Department of Education says Florida is among 10 states that will have to revise their plans on implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act. The department’s letter to Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says the state’s plan does not fulfill ESSA requirements in three areas: identifying schools with large achievement gaps between student subgroups, including English-language learners’ proficiency scores in the state’s accountability system, and providing the state’s tests in students’ native language. The letter informs the state it has no choice but to change its plan to comply with ESSA. Education Week. Politico Florida.

Graduation rates: Florida school districts are expecting graduation rates for the class of 2017 to fall because the state’s new education law, H.B. 7069, won’t allow them to count students who left for private schools. Legislators fashioned the bill to stop districts that were suspected of funneling students who couldn’t pass the state’s test to alternative schools, where they could graduate without passing the tests. But many educators think the law unfairly penalizes schools that try to help students who struggle with the traditional graduation path. TCPalm.

Personalized learning: A pilot program on personalized learning would be opened to any school district in the state under bills filed by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, and Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. A 2016 law created the pilot program for school districts in Pinellas, Palm Beach, Lake Seminole counties, and the P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, to experiment with “competency-based learning” that allows students to progress at their own pace. The bills would also change the words “competency-based” to “mastery-based.” redefinED.

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Florida schools roundup: Schools of Hope rules, grade pressure and more

Schools of Hope rules: Rules have been proposed to implement the “Schools of Hope” part of the education bill passed in the Legislature earlier this year. The rules define what companies can be “hope operators,” who can then open a charter school within 5 miles of a persistently low-performing public school. The law outlined three criteria for becoming a “hope operators” – that student achievement exceeds district and state averages in the states in which they have schools; that college attendance rates have to exceed 80 percent; and that at least 7 in 10 students at their schools are eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch. But the proposed rules would allow the state to choose operators that meet just one of the criteria, at least for the time being. Politico Florida.

Performance pressure: The pressure is on at Hawthorne Middle/High School in Alachua County. When the school got a D grade from the state in the spring, state officials gave school official three choices if the school’s grade isn’t a C or better next spring – close, transition to a charter school, or find an outside provider to run the school. School officials chose to close, which is reflected in the #AllIn slogan plastered on the walls of the school. The school is the heart of this rural community, and residents have rallied around the improvement plan. WUFT.

Tax bill and education: The final version of the federal tax bill retains the $250 deduction teachers can take for spending their own money on supplies for their classrooms, allows 529 college savings plans to be used for up to $10,000 in annual K-12 expenses, including private school tuition, and ends qualified school construction bonds, among other things. It also limits to $10,000 what taxpayers can deduct in either a combination of property and income taxes, or property and sales taxes. Some educators say that could pressure local government officials to lower property taxes, which would potentially lower revenue for schools. Education Week.

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Florida schools roundup: Funding suit rejected, charter schools and more

School funding suit rejected: The First District Court of Appeal rejects a challenge to the state’s public school funding, saying the issue raises political questions that can’t be answered by judges. Several education groups and some parents contend that the state discriminates against minorities and low-income students, which they call a violation of the state’s constitutional duty to provide a “high quality system of free public schools.” The argument was rejected by a circuit court judge last year, leading to this appeal. The groups suing the state say they don’t know if they’ll take the issue to the Florida Supreme Court. The appeal court also ruled that the McKay scholarship, which provides state money to about 30,000 disabled children, is constitutional. Associated Press. News Service of FloridaOrlando SentinelGradebook. Sunshine State NewsPolitico FloridaredefinED.

Charters are public: The Florida Commission on Ethics has decided that charter schools are public agencies, not private ones. In October, the commission deadlocked on an opinion in a conflict of interest case. The opinion concluded that charter schools are not public agencies, but it was not adopted because of the tie vote. Last week, commissioner Matthew Carson cast the deciding vote and said, “Charter schools are public schools in operation, in function and by statute. Seems to me that what would be good for any other public agency under this statute would also be good for a charter school.” Politico Florida.

Charter school accused: A former Broward County charter school once accused of falsifying enrollment numbers to get more money from the state now faces allegations of fraud. New Horizons, now a private school that used to be the Pathway Academy charter school, allegedly falsified records when applying for tax credit scholarship money, and an administrative judge says the school should be cut off from scholarship funds. School officials deny the charges, and plan to file a response to the Department of Education. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit scholarship program. Sun-Sentinel.

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Florida schools roundup: Testing extension, ESSA plan reviewed and more

Testing extension: The Florida Department of Education has agreed to extend the window for the Florida Standards Assessments testing and all state end-of-course exams. School districts had asked for a delay in the testing because of a busy hurricane season that caused many districts to miss days of school. Instead, K-12 Chancellor Herschel Lyons extended the testing time-frame by a week. The decision gives districts the option of delaying the tests, or using the full two weeks to complete them. Gradebook.

ESSA plans: A group of 45 bipartisan reviewers gives Florida’s plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act mixed reviews, with no one awarding the state the highest rating in any of the nine categories studied. The strengths of the plan include a clear, student-focused vision of high standards, an easy-to-understand grading system, inclusion of science and social studies assessments, and the identification of struggling schools. The highest marks came in academic progress, for measuring learning gains, and in continuous improvement for identifying struggling schools and helping them improve. The weaknesses: incorporating subgroups into the accountability system, and in marking progress toward English language proficiency. The 74.

Dangerous school zones: Miami-Dade County has the most dangerous school zones in Florida, according to an analysis of vehicle crash data from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles by San Diego company 1Point21Interactive. Eight schools in the county are in the state’s top 10 most dangerous school zones. Miami Herald.

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Florida schools roundup: Scholarship fund, Scientology, sales tax and more

Scholarship fund empty: The state’s Gardiner scholarship, which is awarded to students with special needs, has exhausted all its available funding for the first time since it began in 2014. About 10,500 students are receiving the scholarship this year, and another 1,270 have been approved but are on a waiting list. “We have definitely exhausted every last dollar, every last penny,” says Gina Lynch, vice president of operations for Step Up For Students, which helps administer the program and hosts this blog. “There is healthy demand for the program.The program allows families to pay for a wide range of education-related expenses, from therapy and homeschool curriculum to public school courses and private school tuition, for qualifying children with special needs.” redefinED.

Schools and Scientology: Several Florida private schools participating in school choice scholarship programs use learning concepts developed by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, reports the Huffington Post.

Sales tax squabble: Members of the Manatee County School Board still can’t agree on a date for an election asking voters to increase property taxes for schools, how to sell the referendum or even how much to assess voters. The squabbling has led board member Dave Miner to call for the removal of Scott Hopes as board chairman. Miner says Hopes misled the board about his support for the special election when he was chosen as chairman just two weeks ago. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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