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Florida schools roundup: Testing bills, recess, graduation rates and more

School testing: State senators will consider competing school testing bills this week. SB 926 would push testing back to the final three weeks of the school year, and the test results would have to be returned to teachers within a week. It’s sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami. The second bill, SB 964, also delays tests until the final month of the school year, but eliminates specific tests, allows districts to give pencil-and-paper tests, and gives principals wider discretion on teacher evaluations. It’s sponsored by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee. Tallahassee Democrat. Montford is confident his bill will be given consideration, even though it was left off the Senate Education Committee’s next meeting agenda while SB 926 was included. Gradebook. An amendment added to the Senate’s school testing bill would specify that any school board member could visit any school in his or her district at any day and any time. No school could require advance notice, and a campus escort would not be required. The amendment was proposed by Flores. Gradebook.

School recess: The House has finally scheduled a hearing for a bill that would require recess for elementary school students. But the bill, HB 67, has several significant differences from the Senate bill, which has moved through committees and is headed to the Senate floor. The House bill calls for daily recess time, but allows schools to count recess time toward physical education class requirements, allows P.E. classes to count for recess time, and removes fourth- and fifth-graders from the requirement. Miami Herald.

Graduation rates: A bill drafted late last week in the House would count students who move from traditional high schools to alternative charter or private schools in the graduation rate of the school the student left. The bill surfaced just after the Florida Department of Education announced it would investigate whether traditional high schools were pushing struggling students into alternative charter schools in order to boost their graduation rates. That investigation was sparked by a report in ProPublica in February. redefinED. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Teacher tests, minorities in AP classes and more

Teacher tests: The Florida Department of Education says a historically high percentage of people who want to be teachers are failing the Florida Teacher Certification Exam, which was recently toughened by the state. And now fewer people are taking the test, as many as 10 percent fewer for some subject areas. “We have a real crisis,” said Dr. Gloria Pelaez, St. Thomas University dean of the school of arts. “This is turning people, good intelligent people away,” said Wendy Mungillo of the Manatee County School District. Melissa Smith, for example. She’s taken and failed the test seven times, and has decided to leave the state and get a master’s degree. Department of Education officials defend the tougher exams, saying they’re in line with more rigorous tests students now take. WFTS.

Minorities and AP classes: A Palm Beach County School District analysis shows an “implicit bias” is in part responsible for lower minority participation in Advanced Placement classes. Minority students with comparable scores to white students are excluded from AP classes at a much higher rate than whites. That so-called “opportunity gap” also favors girls over boys, according to the analysis. “Students who have potential, why are they not in the courses?” Deputy Superintendent David Christiansen said. “There’s a significant gap there that we want to start to close.” Palm Beach Post.

Days lost to testing: Orange County teacher Peggy Dominguez tells a Senate committee meeting this week that she loses 37 days of her 180-day school year to preparing her students for the Florida Standards Assessments tests. Dominguez teaches English at Timber Creek High School. She and others testified about the downsides of the testing process. The Senate is considering a bill that would, among other things, push all testing to the final three weeks of the school year and authorize a study to see if the ACT or SAT tests can be used as a replacement for the FSA. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Class sizes, schools of excellence and more

Class sizes: A bill that would allow schools to comply with the 2002 class size amendment by using schoolwide averages instead of specific classroom counts passes the Florida House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. Schools would be expected to try to get math, reading, science and social studies class sizes to levels required by the constitutional amendment. But there would be no penalties if school averages complied with the law, even if some classrooms did not. Orlando Sentinel. WFSU.

Schools of excellence: A bill that would give top-performing public schools more freedom from state and district regulations passes the Florida House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. Public schools with an academic performance among the state’s top 20 percent in their grade range at least two out of three consecutive years would become “Schools of Excellence.” At those schools, principals would have greater freedom to make budget and staffing decisions, teachers would get credit toward continuing-education requirements for their certifications, and the schools would be free from mandates on reading time and have flexibility on class sizes. The bill sponsor, Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, says “it would encourage innovation.” redefinED.

Religious expression: A bill that would ban school districts “from discriminating against students, parents, and school personnel on basis of religious viewpoints or expression” is passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and is now ready for a full Senate vote. The Florida House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee passes a slightly different version of the bill. Florida PoliticsMiami Herald. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. Sunshine State News.

Testing rollback: A bill that would put limits on the state’s standardized testing passes the Florida House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. The bill cuts the window of testing to three weeks nearer to the end of the school year, authorizes a study to see if the SAT and ACT tests could replace the Florida Standards Assessments, and require results to be returned to teachers in a “timely manner.” Sunshine State News. News Service of Florida. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Bright Futures, budget cuts, guns, AP tests and more

Bright Futures: The Senate passes a higher education bill that would allocate $151 million to restore Bright Futures funding to 100 percent and allow recipients to use the scholarships for summer classes. Also in the bill are a scholarship program for migrant workers and their children and an expansion of benefits to National Merit Scholars. Miami Herald. Sunshine State News. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. The bill is a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, but he somehow missed the vote even though he was present in the chamber. He said he intended to vote after the roll call, but it was locked down before he could. Miami Herald.

Education budget cuts: Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr., R-Hialeah, says he will release details next week on a pair of House education budget-cutting exercises. One of the plans trims higher education and K-12 spending by $232.7 million, while the other cuts $485 million. Diaz says specific cuts under the plans may or may not be part of the House’s final education budget. Politico Florida.

Guns in schools: Two Republican senators from Miami-Dade can control gun bill votes on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and one of them has publicly stated she opposes the guns in school zones proposal. Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, also opposes several other gun-related bills, but says that doesn’t mean she would oppose any gun bill. Sen. René García, R-Hialeah, says he can’t support any gun bill that doesn’t include a mental health component. Miami Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

AP test improvements: Florida is fourth among U.S. states in the percentage of graduating seniors who passed at least one Advanced Placement exam, and more than half the growth came from low-income students, according to the Florida Department of Education. The percentage of low-income graduating seniors in Florida who passed an AP exam went up 500 percent from 2006 to 2016. redefinED. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Trump and choice, testing, vouchers and more

Trump and choice: President Donald Trump called education “the civil rights issue of our time” during his speech to Congress Tuesday. He urged legislators to “pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children. These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious, or home school that is right for them.” Education Week. Los Angeles Times. Florida’s Denisha Merriweather is cited during Trump’s speech as someone whose life was turned around because of school choice. redefinED. The 74. President Trump will visit Saint Andrew Catholic School in Orlando Friday, where he is expected to talk about school choice. Saint Andrew has 295 students who use the tax credit scholarship. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarship. Orlando Sentinel.

Testing debate: Standardized testing will again be a focus of the legislative session that begins Tuesday. Critics want to cut back on the exams, or give students the option of taking different tests. Others think the testing system in place is necessary and needs to be preserved in some form. News Service of Florida.

Voucher study: A new study finds little evidence that school voucher programs significantly improve student achievement or school district performance. The study, written by Martin Carnoy, a Stanford University professor and research associate at the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute, included evaluations of Florida programs. He wrote that the lack of evidence “suggests that an ideological preference for education markets over equity and public accountability is what is driving the push to expand voucher programs.” Washington Post.

Teachers honored: Evangeline Aguirre, who teaches in the English for Speakers of Other Languages program at Palm Beach Central High in Wellington, is named the Palm Beach County School District’s teacher of the year. Palm Beach PostSun-Sentinel. Maria Torres-Crosby, a sixth-grade English teacher at Memorial Middle School. is named the Hillsborough County School District’s teacher of the year. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Charters, recess, bathrooms, food truck and more

Gambling and charters: Under a gambling bill filed in the Florida House, a third of the estimated $400 million revenue from the state’s agreement would go to charter schools, a third to K-12 teacher bonuses, recruitment and training, and a third to recruiting and retaining higher education faculty. The House bill would protect the status quo for gambling in the state, while the Florida Senate’s bill would greatly expand slot machines and Indian gaming. Miami Herald. Politico Florida.

Recess movement: While some educators and legislators say they’re concerned that mandating daily recess for all the state’s elementary schools could hurt classtime flexibility for teachers, there does not appear to be an organized movement to block the measure. State Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, said, “there’s no one that’s actively lobbying against” the effort. Miami Herald.

Bathroom access: School leaders around Florida say they will continue to protect the rights of transgender children despite President Trump’s decision to rescind a directive that urged schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of the gender they identify with. But districts without specific policies are looking for direction on ways to accommodate transgender students within the law. Orlando Sentinel. Miami Herald. Sun-SentinelTampa Bay Times. WPLG. WFTV.

District’s food truck: The Alachua County School Board has bought a food truck for $154,000, and will move it around between schools to try to get students interested in eating healthier food. The truck is expected to be ready for service by mid-April. Gainesville Sun. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Online education, PreK, charters and more

florida-roundup-logoMore on budget: An item in Gov. Rick Scott’s budget would eliminate restrictions on students’ eligibility for online classes. Right now, students in grades 2-5 cannot take virtual courses part-time, and students in middle and high schools can take select virtual courses only if they were in a public schools the year before. redefinED. Scott’s budget also includes $50 per student more for Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program, boosting it to an average of $2,487. That’s still below the 2005 total of $2,500, and is far below the national average of $4,520. Orlando Sentinel.

Money for charters: Senate Education Appropriations chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, files a pair of bills that would create a consistent revenue stream to charter schools for construction and maintenance. S.B. 604 would allow districts to boost the property tax rate from a maximum of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value to $1.70. And S.B. 376 would funnel some of that money to qualifying charter schools. Gradebook.

Trafficking education: A bill is filed in the Legislature that would include instruction on the dangers of human trafficking in Florida schools’ health education curriculum. Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, says he got the idea for the bill, S.B. 286, from a high school student. WFSU.

School leasing: Palm Beach County School Board members express reservations about leasing a high school rather than building one and owning it, and decide to schedule a workshop to discuss the proposal further. Board members are open to the idea of a private-public partnership to get a high school built in Boynton Beach, but would want the district to eventually own it. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Extra pay, middle school marriage and more

florida-roundup-logoPayment questioned: A Broward County School District audit reveals that the district paid a former district police employee about $23,000 over her approved salary in 2015. Jillian Haring was a special assistant to the district police chief, making $60,664. But she was also being paid for other duties that the district did not need, according to the audit. Haring now works in the district’s special education department. Sun-Sentinel.

Middle school marriage: The Bonita Middle School student had an arranged marriage at 13 and was a mother at 14. Now she’s 20, and her 31-year-old husband has been arrested and faces charges of lewd and lascivious behavior. And Lee County school officials are left to wonder how the situation could have gone unnoticed for so long. Fort Myers News-Press.

School choice: At its quarterly meeting, the Florida NAACP debates the role of charter schools. The national NAACP recently passed a resolution calling for “a moratorium on charter school expansion and for the strengthening of oversight in governance and practice.” But there is dissent in the ranks about the issue. WOFL. redefinED.

Magnet programs: While Alachua County’s magnet school programs offer great opportunities for high-achieving students, critics say there are too many barriers for entry for students of different academic backgrounds. School officials say they are working hard to identify and encourage students of all backgrounds to apply. Gainesville Sun.

Legislative priorities: Common Ground, a group of organizations that has called for the end of Common Core standards, now says it wants the Legislature to end the Common Core-aligned Florida Standards Assessments in both English and math. Sunshine State News.

Religion in schools: State Rep. Kim Daniels, D-Jacksonville, writes on her Facebook page that the motivation for filing a bill to protect religious expression in schools is to get prayer back in schools. Daniels is a minister and founder of Kimberly Daniels Ministries International. Florida Politics. Continue Reading →