February 15, 2017

Florida lawmakers to unveil school testing reforms

Bileca Diaz JMI 012617


Instead of scattering K-12 assessment tests throughout the spring months and disrupting teaching time, a reform proposal being unveiled Wednesday morning in the Florida Legislature would require all such exams to take place only in the final three weeks of the school year, starting next year.

Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores, Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., and Palm Harbor Republican Rep. Chris Sprowls call their plan the “Fewer, Better Tests” bill — with the goal of reducing the stress and anxiety that teachers, parents and students grapple with during testing time.

The lawmakers are formally announcing their proposal at an 11 a.m. press conference at the Capitol. Their legislation (SB 926/HB 773) was filed within the past week.

“Seeing firsthand the angst and all the scrambling, the biggest impact that can be had is pushing back the calendar,” Diaz told the Herald/Times.

Full details here.

Photo credit: Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, addresses a luncheon audience at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, Fla. on Jan. 26, 2017 with Miami Republican Rep. Michael Bileca, left. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

Should teachers punish students with no recess? Lawmakers aren't weighing in this year.

Recess Bill 01 EKM


An elementary student acts up in class. No recess for him.

Another student didn’t turn in her homework. Five fewer minutes of recess for her.

While some school districts, like Miami-Dade, Hillsborough or Pinellas, ban such practices, no state law prohibits public school teachers from dangling recess time before their students — a carrot to keep them in check and, if necessary, revoke as a tool to discipline them.

Florida lawmakers in 2016 considered prohibiting teachers from using the threat of limited or no recess as a punishment, but that detail isn’t in the conversation at all this year as the Legislature again contemplates making daily recess mandatory in public elementary schools.

The provision was stripped from this year’s legislation (SB 78/HB 67) — at the request of two, now powerful Republican House members who were the only ones who voted to oppose the recess bill last year.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Kindergarteners Trenevia Desiree and Jenny Farias, right, get some push-ups in during the 20-minute daily recess at Miami Gardens Elementary School on Feb. 3. The school is part of a pilot program in Miami-Dade County that allows students recess time five days a week. Florida lawmakers are again considering a statewide mandate for daily recess in public elementary schools. Emily Michot / Miami Herald

February 12, 2017

'We started this because of our kids,' Florida 'recess moms' say

Recess moms1 0207@ByKristenMClark

Last Tuesday, five mothers from Pinellas, Orange and Polk counties were on the road before dawn for their second, round-trip trek to Tallahassee this year, so they could persuade Florida lawmakers to support 20 minutes of recess a day in Florida's public elementary schools.

They're a passionate and dedicated group of "recess moms" -- a few of just many in Florida -- who have been fighting for several years to get mandatory daily recess, not only for their own young children but for all Florida elementary students.

IN-DEPTH: "Quest for daily recess: Moms renew fight for more free play in Florida Legislature"

Two of the moms -- Angela Browning and Amy Narvaez, both of Orlando -- have already seen victory in their local school district. Orange County adopted a 20-minutes-a-day policy in December with language that mirrors what lawmakers in Tallahassee are considering again in the upcoming 2017 session (SB 78/HB 67).

And while some school districts, like Miami-Dade, have made strides toward daily recess, there's still great disparities in Florida schools in which schoolchildren actually get traditional recess and how often. District administrators say there are logistical obstacles -- such as time in the day or space at the school -- that might make it difficult to implement recess in the daily routine.

Many moms -- like Christie Bruner and Stephanie Cox of St. Petersburg, and Mandy Lipham, of Lakeland -- are still fighting to get guaranteed daily recess for their children. And Browning and Narvaez continue to fight with them.

"Of course, we started this because of our kids, but is it fair for those moms who have worked alongside us all these years, and their kids still don’t have recess?" said Browning, a founder of the group Recess for All Florida Students.

Here's what Bruner had to say about why recess is so important for her three daughters, and click here to read our in-depth report on the political complexities of passing a statewide mandate for daily recess.

Herald writer Kyra Gurney contributed to this report.

Photo credit: Orlando Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia, right, meets with a group of “recess moms” on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017 in the Florida Capitol. The mothers -- from left: Amy Narvaez of Orlando, Stephanie Cox of St. Petersburg (not pictured), Angela Browning of Orlando, Christie Bruner of St. Petersburg, and Mandy Lipham of Lakeland -- were joined by Florida PTA legislation chair Angie Gallo (not pictured) in petitioning lawmakers to pass a state law for mandatory, daily recess in public elementary schools. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau.

February 10, 2017

VIDEO: Miami Gardens kindergarteners explain why they love recess

@ByKristenMClark @KyraGurney

As Florida parents and school administrators debate over whether lawmakers should require daily recess in public schools, here's what some kindergartners at Miami Gardens Elementary have to say about why they love recess.

The school is one of 11 in Miami-Dade County that are testing out daily recess. The rest of the district's elementary schools have recess at least two or three days a week, with the option of having it four days.

Speaking with Miami Herald photographer Emily Michot, the children offered a variety of explanations on why they enjoy the daily playtime outdoors -- because they "like to run" or play hide-and-seek or tag, and because they "all have fun together and play together as friends."

Kindergartner Mariam Mompremier even offered this adorably emphatic explanation: "We would not have air... We're gonna die!"

"And if you don't breathe, you die!" chimed in her classmate, Jenny Farias.

Watch the cuteness overload below, and read our full in-depth report here on the politics of playtime.

Video credit: Emily Michot / Miami Herald

Moms want 20 minutes of school recess a day. Will Florida Legislature act?

RECESS 0212 c epf

@ByKristenMClark @KyraGurney

On a recent Friday afternoon, a troop of kindergarteners walked outside in a single-file line to their daily 20-minute recess break at Miami Gardens Elementary School.

Once the children reached the edge of a grassy field, they broke into a run. Two girls held hands and twirled in circles in the middle of the field, while the other kids split into groups to play tag.

“We get to have fun with our friends and play whatever we want,” said Raven Hightower, one of the kindergarteners. “We run around. We can find insects.” Her classmates chimed in — they enjoy playing tag and chasing butterflies, too.

Hightower and her classmates are lucky. Most Florida public schoolchildren don’t get outdoor playtime every school day — and getting it even several days a week isn’t a guarantee in many school districts.

In Miami-Dade County, elementary children are supposed to get it at least two to three days a week, with a few schools testing out the five-day model. Since December, Orange County public schools have required recess five days a week.

But in Pinellas County, students might have recess only twice a week. And in Polk County, one kindergarten class in Lakeland last year got recess for a short time only on Fridays.

Across Florida, how much unstructured playtime public elementary schoolchildren get each day varies greatly from school to school. Some of the state’s 67 county school districts don’t have a formal policy, and in those that do, administrators often give principals and teachers a lot of discretion.

It’s that inconsistency that’s leading passionate “recess moms” to once again lobby lawmakers this spring to pass a statewide, mandatory requirement that elementary schoolchildren get 20 minutes of recess each day.

“One day, we may not need this mandate for our children, but we need it now,” said Angela Browning, a mom from Orlando who helped found the group Recess for All Florida Students.

More here.

Photo credit: Kindergarten students head out to the playground for recess at Citrus Grove Elementary School in Miami on Thursday, February 9, 2017. Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

February 07, 2017

Florida Senate’s state college reform plan 'has got big problems,' Sen. Tom Lee says

Galvano and negron


A comprehensive plan by Florida Senate leaders to refocus the state college system back to its original purpose of offering two-year degrees and of being a pipeline for the State University System stumbled through its first hearing this week.

The proposal (SB 374) is among a package of bills that are a priority for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, in his push to improve Florida’s higher education system this year.

Senate leaders have dubbed SB 374 the “College Competitiveness Act,” which Sen. Bill Galvano — a Bradenton Republican and top lieutenant of Negron in executing the higher ed reforms — says will “provide independence and greater opportunity for advocacy and oversight” of Florida’s 28 state colleges, which include Miami Dade College.

But some aspects of the bill arguably would have the opposite effect — namely by reining in the colleges’ freedom to add four-year degree programs and, in some cases, requiring legislative action to approve new four-year degrees.

Other reforms in the 254-page proposal include removing the state colleges from the purview of the State Board of Education — which oversees public education in grades K-20 — and, instead, putting the colleges under a new State Board of Community Colleges.

The measure advanced out of the Senate Education Committee on a unanimous vote Monday, with some senators — although vocally disapproving of the plan — resisting a “no” vote mainly as a show of good faith to Senate leadership.

“I just think it’s not ready for prime-time,” said Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican and former Senate president who asked a series of probing questions critical of the proposal. “I’m going to support it today out of deference to my Senate president, Sen. Galvano and Sen. [Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, the bill sponsor], but this bill has got big problems.”


More here.

Photo credit: Bradenton Republican state Sen. Bill Galvano, left, speaks with current Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, during the 2016 session. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

Plan to count computer coding as foreign language earns easy win in 1st Senate committee

Brandes coding 020617


A revived proposal to let Florida high school students count computer coding as a foreign language looks to be on an easy path to pass the state Senate again this year.

Members of the Florida Senate Education Committee offered no questions or commentary on the proposal before voting unanimously to advance the measure out of its first committee on Monday, after hearing strong support from the business community and personal testimony from a Broward County middle-schooler and his mother.

The bill has only one other committee, Rules, to clear before it would reach the Senate floor for a final vote after the 2017 session begins March 7. House committees have yet to consider their version of the bill (HB 265).

Full story here.

Photo credit: Ethan Greenberg, a sixth-grader at Silver Trail Middle School in Pembroke Pines, poses for a photo with state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, while his mom, Ryann, looks on after a Senate Education Committee meeting Monday in Tallahassee. Ethan and Ryann Greenberg spoke in favor of Brandes’ proposal to make computer coding count as a foreign language for Florida high school students. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau


February 06, 2017

Debate rages again over whether coding should be a 'foreign language' in Florida schools


Miami businesswoman Elizabeth De Zulueta speaks English and Spanish. She knows some Italian and Russian, too.

She’s also a robotics engineer who knows how to code using technical training in computer science and electrical and mechanical engineering.

Having studied languages and coding, De Zulueta knows the value of both skills, and she can attest from her personal experience — while there are striking similarities in the mechanics of how each is learned — computer coding and foreign language are not the same.

“There are some essential parts of learning a foreign language that you’re not going to get from coding,” which derives from mathematics, said De Zulueta, who founded her own start-up robotics company, called Zulubots, in Miami-Dade’s Kendall area.

Yet some Florida lawmakers are again proposing an innovative, but contentious, plan that would put coding and foreign language on equal footing in a public high school student’s education.

More here.

Photo credit: Lourdes Masis

January 27, 2017

Florida House education chairman: Better civics lessons needed in schools

Bileca Diaz JMI_2 012617


Florida lawmakers could propose some changes this year in how public schools educate students about American government, history and the democratic system.

Miami Republican Rep. Michael Bileca, the House Education Committee chairman, says the issue is "near and dear" to him, and his primary goal is to streamline civics education so it runs from elementary school through college.

"It's a conversation you'll hear a lot in the House," he said while speaking at a luncheon at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee on Thursday.

No specific policy has been presented yet, but Bileca said: "It's something that we're really looking at -- our civics, our history -- all the way from K-12 to our college system, on how do we really 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."

Florida already requires civics classes for middle- and high-schoolers.

High school students need three credits in social studies in order to graduate. Those include mandatory courses in U.S. and world history, economics and U.S. government.

And in order to advance to high school, students in middle school need to complete "at least a one-semester civics education course that includes the roles and responsibilities of federal, state, and local governments; the structures and functions of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government; and the meaning and significance of historic documents, such as the Articles of Confederation, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the United States." That requirement was enacted just a few years ago.

But Bileca said he's looking for more "continuity of the importance of civics and understanding of history" across all grades.

"Something to look at there is the focus on history and civics and the foundational documents -- the Declaration of Independence, understanding the Constitution, the importance of separation of powers," he said. "These are good, basic frameworks and pillars of democracy that we want our kids by college and high school to be able to critically think about. ... Right now we're asking them to critically think about these systems of government that they know nothing about."

Photo credit: Miami Republican and Florida House education committee chairman Michael Bileca -- joined by state Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah -- speaks during a luncheon at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, Fla. on Jan. 26, 2017, in honor of National School Choice Week. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

January 26, 2017

2017 is chance 'for us to really blow open school choice opportunities,' GOP lawmakers say

Bileca Diaz JMI 012617


Ardent school choice supporters who are in charge of K-12 education policy and spending in the Florida House say 2017 is their year and they don't aim to waste it.

"It's a wonderful foundation that we've created in Florida" for school choice, House education committee chairman Michael Bileca, R-Miami, said Thursday. "That foundation, we can't take for granted; that foundation is an envy of the rest of the country, where they point to us. It's incumbent upon us to understand and appreciate this platform but not be satisfied with it -- not be satisfied with incremental opportunities for our kids but really be focused on transformational opportunities."

House Pre-K-12 education budget chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, agreed: "What you're seeing right now is an opportunity for us to really blow open some of those school choice opportunities, blow open some of those opportunities that may be outside the box that everyone is always trying to block."

Bileca and Diaz were both featured speakers Thursday at a luncheon in honor of National School Choice Week put on by the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, a public policy research organization that advocates for school choice education policies.

Diaz joked that it's not often he gets to speak to such an amenable crowd, since school choice remains such a polarizing issue in Florida. And he predicted "large opposition" ahead for future changes Florida House Republicans want to implement under the leadership of Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O'Lakes Republican who himself is a passionate supporter of school choice.

"It always bothers somebody in the status quo and they always want to protect it and give you excuses why you can't do it," Diaz said. "But guess what? Those excuses are always about the institutions and the organizations and never about the kids and never about freedom and never about opportunity."

Continue reading "2017 is chance 'for us to really blow open school choice opportunities,' GOP lawmakers say" »