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Florida schools roundup: Recess, charters, alternative schools and more

Recess bill advances: A bill requiring mandatory daily recess of at least 20 minutes for all Florida K-5 students passes the state Senate Education Committee. Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said the bill showed “the power of advocacy, of parents” who pushed legislators to act when local school boards would not. The bill now goes to the Senate PreK-12 Appropriations Committee for consideration. Miami HeraldAssociated PressFlorida Politics.

Charter facilities funding: The Senate Education Committee approves a bill that would send a proportional share of a district’s property tax revenue to charter schools based on enrollment, with more money attached for those schools that have large low-income or special needs populations. But a second bill that would have increase districts’ local tax authority is delayed. Supporters say the measures need to move forward together to allow districts to catch up on construction that’s been backlogged since the recession. redefinED. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida.

Hidden dropouts: Alternative schools increasingly are being used by public schools as places to hide struggling, problem students who might otherwise drag down a school’s graduation rate, test scores and grade, according to an investigation by ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism website. The Orange County School District is one of 83 U.S. school districts that bumped its graduate rate by at least a percentage point between 2010 and 2014 by sending an increasing number of students into alternative schools. ProPublica.

Florida 4th in AP: Florida ranks fourth in the nation in the percentage of students taking and passing at least one Advanced Placement course, according to the College Board, the organization that runs the AP program. In Florida’s class of 2016, 29.5 percent passed at least one AP exam. That’s over the national average of 21.9 percent and 11 percentage points better than 10 years ago. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Evaluations, recess, discipline, LGBT sign and more

Teacher evaluations: About 98 percent of the teachers evaluated in Florida during the 2015-2016 school year were rated either “highly effective” or “effective,” according to the Department of Education. Less than 1 percent of the state’s teachers got an “unsatisfactory” rating, and only 1.2 percent were rated “needs improvement.” The numbers have shown little change over the past few years. Evaluations are used by districts for raises and contract renewals, and by the state for determining eligibility for teacher bonuses. Okaloosa County was tops in the state with 97.6 percent of its teachers graded as highly effective, while Putnam County was lowest with just 1 percent. Gradebook.

Daily recess: A survey by the Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability reveals significant differences in how school districts offer recess, how often and for how long. Only 11 districts have some recess policy, and only eight of those made daily recess a requirement. Supporters of legislation to make daily recess mandatory in all Florida elementary schools argue the results show the need for statewide legislation, instead of allowing individual districts, schools or even teachers decide. Miami Herald.

Discipline disparity: Black students are twice as likely to be expelled as other children, four times more likely to be suspended and almost three times more likely to be arrested, according to recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Education. And children with disabilities, especially black students with disabilities, are more likely to be disciplined than those without disabilities. Florida is below the national average in arrests and expulsions, higher in referrals and about the same on suspensions. WTVJ.

LGBT sign stays: A Milton High School junior will be allowed to keep a “So gay I can’t even drive straight” sticker in her car window. Rachel Campbell was cited by a school police officer for the sign, calling it a violation of a school policy prohibiting “offensive or obscene” tags or stickers. Campbell said she wouldn’t remove it, and now principal Tim Short says it can stay. Northwest Florida Daily News. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Testing reform, funding, incentives and more

Testing reforms: Under the proposed “Fewer, Better Tests” bills filed Wednesday in the Legislature, all K-12 assessment testing would take place in the final three weeks of the school year, starting in the 2017-2018. S.B. 926 and H.B. 773 would also require results be returned to teachers within a week of testing, and that an understandable report be sent to parents. It also directs the education commissioner to study the feasibility of replacing the Florida Standards Assessments with the SAT or ACT. If the changes are approved, the state would also have to renegotiate its contract with testing vendor American Institutes for Research. Bill sponsors Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami; Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah; and Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, say the goal of the bills is to reduce stress and anxiety among students, parents and teachers. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of Florida.

Per-student funding: Florida’s spending per student ranks well below the U.S. average among states, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics. In the 2013-2014 school year, Florida spent $8,714 per student. The U.S. average was $10,936. Miami-Dade County spent the most per student among districts, $9,106. Gradebook.

Teaching incentives: Senators on the Florida PreK-12 education budget committee react coolly to Gov. Rick Scott’s $58 million proposal for incentives to recruit and retain teachers. Specifically, senators criticized Scott’s proposal for $10 million in hiring bonuses for new teachers who score in the top 10 percent in their subject-area exam. “It concerns me that we continue to look for the best performers in college — and not the best teachers,” said Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze. Miami Herald.

Gun-free zones: Bills filed in the Legislature this week are aimed at ending gun-free zones in Florida – including at K-12 schools. Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, and Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, R-Villages, filed S.B. 908 and H.B. 803 to eliminate all restrictions on where people with concealed-carry permits can take their guns. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Merit pay, education funding, club policy and more

Merit pay study: A study nationally and in Orange County concludes that tying teacher pay to students’ performance on standardized testing has not produced the results expected. The study, shared with the Central Florida Public School Boards Coalition, indicates there has been no “significant or stable improvements” in student achievement since Florida adopted a merit pay law in 2006. Orange County School Board members say they will share the study with Florida legislators. Orlando Sentinel.

Education funding: Two influential Democratic state representatives say they are encouraged by House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s weekend pledge to boost education spending for the 2017-2018 school year. State Reps. Larry Lee Jr., D-Port St. Lucie, and Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, said in a statement: “Now that the speaker has made this commitment, we are hopeful that our committees will move away from looking at ways to cut education funding and instead begin to focus on giving our hardworking teachers a raise, and increasing per-pupil funding to actually historic levels that take into account inflation.” Sunshine State News. Florida Politics.

Club policy: The Lake County School Board will consider a proposed policy change that would allow a Gay-Straight Alliance at Carver Middle School in Leesburg. The district proposed the change after a federal appeals court ruled that denying the group’s application for the club was a violation of the Equal Access Act. Several school board members say they support the change, as long as students get parental consent. Daily Commercial. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Retention suit, school bells, demographics and more

Retention challenge: Parents who challenged the state’s third-grade retention policy – and won – are back in court this week. A circuit court judge ruled in August that the state and some districts were not offering a portfolio option for promotion of students who didn’t take the state assessment tests or didn’t pass them. The state appealed, and the case moves to the First District Court of Appeal Tuesday. Gradebook.

No bell tolls for them: Seminole High School in Pinellas County has ended the tradition of ringing a bell to change classes. School officials say it’s an effort to put more responsibility on students to manage their schedules. “It’s changed the tenor of the school because kids like being treated like adults,” said principal Tom Brittain. “How many colleges ring a bell?” Tampa Bay Times.

District demographics: There are now more Hispanic students in Palm Beach County public schools than whites or blacks. Of the 190,240 students in the district, 33 percent are Hispanic, 32 percent are white and 28 percent are black. The demographic shift has Superintendent Robert Avossa proposing to expand dual language programs, where subjects are taught in both English and Spanish. Sun-Sentinel.

Charter schools: More than 3 million American students are now enrolled in 6,900 charter schools, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. That’s up almost threefold in 10 years, but is still just 5 percent of total U.S. school enrollment. Education Week. Pembroke Pines’ charter school system, which opened in 1998, now has eight schools, 6,000 students and requires no subsidy from the city. It was the model by which the Cape Coral Municipal School Authority was started in 2004. Fort Myers Beach Observer. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Education budget, charters, civics, DeVos and more

florida-roundup-logoEducation budget: Gov. Rick Scott’s $83.5 billion budget includes an expansion of the Bright Futures scholarship program to cover summer classes and a program that recruits, retains and rewards teachers. Scott’s $58 million plan would replace the existing teacher bonuses program. The $24 billion education budget would boost PreK-12 per-student spending to $7,421, up about $216 from this year. Sunshine State NewsMiami Herald. Orlando SentinelFlorida Times-Union. Gradebook. Associated PressPolitico FloridaBradenton Herald. Florida Trend. Tallahassee Democrat. News Service of Florida.

Charter schools: Florida needs to create more charter schools for low-income students, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, says during a media briefing. He said having only two – the collection of KIPP schools in Jacksonville and a public charter boarding school, SEED Miami – is unacceptable for the state. He has pledged to support funding changes that would encourage more nationally recognized charters to set up in low-income areas. redefinED. A report from a school choice advocacy group alleges that eight Florida school districts are shortchanging poor children in charter schools by spending less of federal Title I funding on them than they do in public schools. The districts are Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough, Orange, Palm Beach, Duval, Polk and Osceola. Representatives from several of the districts deny the charge and say the data was manipulated in a way to support a pro-charter view. Politico Florida.

Civics lessons: House Education Committee chairman Michael Bileca, R-Miami, says the House is looking closely at changing the way Florida students learn about American government, history and the democratic system. The state already requires civics classes in middle and high schools, but Bileca says he wants to “inculcate a sense of civic understanding, appreciation for our institutions and what a republic stands for and have a fully informed and fully educated citizenry that’s able to participate in the democratic process.” Miami Herald.

DeVos approved: A Senate committee approves the nomination of Betsy DeVos to become U.S. education secretary on a 12-11, straight party vote. The nomination now goes to the full Senate. Orlando Sentinel. School choice in the United States under the leadership of Betsy DeVos could resemble what Florida has done by using tax credit scholarships to help students pay to go to private schools. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer that program. NPR. In 2014, Betsy DeVos donated $1,000 to a school choice supporter in a Volusia County School Board campaign. Melody Johnson, who raised just $5,000 more than the DeVos donation, won and is now the board chairwoman. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Bonuses, achievement gap, arrests and more

florida-roundup-logoTeacher bonuses program: The chairman of the Florida Senate K-12 education appropriations subcommittee says he wants to rewrite the bill authorizing teacher bonuses. Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, would remove the use of teachers’ SAT or ACT scores from the formula for granting bonuses and replace it with a different measure of performance. He also said principals could get more authority in parceling out bonuses, and bonuses could be used to get better teachers to work in poorer schools. Officials hope these and other reforms will help recruit and retain teachers. Orlando Sentinel. Sun-SentinelGradebook. Politico Florida. WFSU.

Achievement gap: Two Polk County legislators file bills that would approve a study to find out why the state’s middle schools are performing significantly worse than elementary schools in reading and math. The bills are S.B. 360, filed by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, and H.B. 293, filed by Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland. Bridge to Tomorrow.

School arrests: Nearly 70,000 U.S. students were arrested in the 2013-2014 school year, and in 43 states and the District of Columbia black students were arrested at disproportionately high levels, according to an Education Week analysis of federal data. Florida was 11th in the number of arrests, with 1,768. About 39 percent of the arrests were of black students, who made up just under 23 percent of the student population. Education Week.

Unequal treatment? An assistant principal who was demoted when she became pregnant in 2010, then won a $350,000 settlement against the Palm Beach County School District, questions why the man who demoted her was never disciplined, reprimanded or even investigated by the school district. Anne Williams Dorsey says the continued employment of Darren Edgecomb, now principal of Palm Beach Central High School in Wellington, “raises eyebrows, to put it politely.” Palm Beach Post. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Bonuses, testing, bullying, fitness, loans and more

florida-roundup-logoTeacher bonuses: Almost 7,200 Florida teachers will receive bonuses of about $6,800 under the state’s Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program, the Department of Education announces. That’s 1,800 more than the number who got the bonuses last year, and represents 4 percent of the state’s teachers. First-year teachers can qualify if their SAT or ACT scores were in the top 20 percent, and experienced teachers need a highly effective evaluation too. The formula for qualifying has been criticized, and may be revised in the legislative session that starts in March. Orlando Sentinel. Bradenton Herald.

Testing targeted: Methods, times spent on assessment tests and the number of tests are all on the agenda as the Senate Education Appropriations Committee meets for the first time in 2017. House leaders say they’re open to an “honest conversation” about streamlining testing, but they’re focused more on school choice. Tampa Bay Times.

Bullying decline? An analysis of reports of bullying in Florida schools indicates just 0.1 percent of students were bullied in 2015, compared to 22 percent nationally. Just 3,000 incidents were reported, down from 6,200 in 2010. Experts and even some local school officials say the numbers are greatly underreported. In south Florida, for instance, almost 600 schools reported no incidences of bullying, Sun-Sentinel.

Fitness test bill: State Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto, files a bill that would end a personal fitness test as a substitute for the required Health Opportunities through Physical Education (HOPE) class. Instead, students could fulfill the requirement by being on a varsity or junior varsity team for two full seasons. Gradebook. Continue Reading →