April 09, 2015

Florida testing bill headed to Gov. Rick Scott

A proposal that would reduce the testing requirements for Florida schoolchildren -- and delay the release of school grades until the new state exams are deemed valid -- is headed to Gov. Rick Scott's desk.

The Florida House passed the high-profile bill (HB 7069) in a 105-6 vote Thursday.

Observers had questioned whether the conservative House would go along with the latest version of the bill, given Speaker Steve Crisafulli's reluctance to even temporarily suspend school grades. But House Education Committee Chairwoman Marlene O'Toole, R-Lady Lake, said the proposal maintained Florida's commitment to education accountability.

"It looks really good," O'Toole she said. "I would not sign on if it was not."

The bill eliminates an 11th grade English test, makes the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test optional, and prohibits students from spending more than 5 percent of their total classroom hours on state-mandated exams.

In addition, the proposal:

* Allows school to start as early as Aug. 10,

* Removes a requirement that school systems give final exams in every subject not covered by state tests, and

* Reduces the amount student test scores must count toward teacher evaluations. 

To address concerns about last month's testing meltdown, the Senate added a provision requiring an independent review of the new Florida Standards Assessments. Until then, the results cannot be used for high-stakes decisions, including whether third-grade students can be promoted to the fourth grade.

Still, several House Democrats said the bill needed to go further.

"I don't think this is a panacea," said Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg. "I'm afraid we are going to hear a lot from educators."

U.S. Rep. Wilson: Do away with FSA

WilsonU.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, vowed to create a Twitter storm Thursday with a new hashtag: #doawaywithFSA.

It refers, of course, to the new Florida Standards Assessments, which are being given in schools across Florida this month. Students who took the first round of tests in March experienced a variety of technical troubles, the result of both server problems and alleged cyber attacks.

Lawmakers are considering a proposal (HB 7069) to temporarily suspend school grades and teacher evaluations if an independent agency deems the tests invalid. But Wilson, a longtime critic of the state's testing program, said the bill doest not go far enough. 

"Think about what happened this year," she said. "The computers crashed. The tests were not field tested for Florida's students."

Wilson urged state lawmakers to disregard this year's results.

"If we demand accountability, the last we can be is fair," she said.

Wilson isn't the only person raising the point. Parent groups, teachers and the state superintendents association have already asked the legislature to use 2015-16 as a baseline only. But the Republican-led lawmakers House and Senate have thus far refused.

Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami, pointed out that there are still three full weeks of session.

"We still have some opportunity," he said.

On Wednesday, the Orange County Council of PTA/PTSA demanded state officials stop this year's Florida Standards Assessments.

April 07, 2015

Rubio: Teachers in my family say we test too much

Rubio Tallahassee-Breakfast-Invite-4-7-15-2_Page_1 (1)U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, the soon-to-be presidential candidate, flew in and out of Tallahassee Tuesday for a modest fundraiser attended by about two dozen of his Tallahassee acolytes. 

Rubio spent about two hours at the $1,000 per person event hosted by a handful of lobbyists and former Reps. Adam Hasner and Ellyn Bogdanoff at the Governor's Club. After the event, Rubio visited with members of the Florida Insurance Council and a handful of legislators,  including freshman Rep. Mike Miller of Orlando, who worked was a fundraiser and consultant for Rubio's 2010 U.S. Senate campaign. 

The Florida Republican was not too eager to answer reporters' questions, directing them to his expected campaign announcement scheduled for April 13 at Miami's Freedom Tower.

Does Florida test students too much? "I have a lot of teachers in my family. They think so,'' Rubio replied,  addressing what may be one of the most vulnerable issues facing likely rival and former Gov. Jeb Bush. "But I do believe it's important that we have a standard that we measure student gains by."

Rubio is all but ready to say he's jumping into the presidential ring. He was asked what impact will your decision have on your family?

"If we move forward with this it's going to be difficult,'' he answered. "If we move forward it's because our family has made the decision that we have a unique opportunity to serve the country." 

Rubio reportedly raised bigger bucks Monday evening, at a fundraiser at the Panama City home of a Florida shipbuilder Brian D’Isernia, who is competing for a multi-billion dollar contract from the Coast Guard, according to Politico. 

Students advocate for charter schools

CharterschoolsIf the Florida Capitol seems busier than usual today, there's a reason: About 300 charter school students are making the rounds.

Eighteen groups of students have meetings with lawmakers Tuesday.

Their goal: to build support for charter schools. 

"We're here because we love our charter schools and we're trying to get some changes," said Hampton Toole, 15, a sophomore at North Bay Haven Charter Academy in Panama City.

Specifically, charter school advocates are hoping lawmakers will designate a steady stream of revenue for construction and maintenance. The House included a funding mechanism in its charter school bill (HB 7037), but the Senate has yet to take up the issue. 

Hampton said students are also encouraging lawmakers to scale back standardized testing.

They had a successful meeting with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach.

"He told us that believes in the vision of charter schools, and that he's advocating for some of the changes that are important to us," Hampton said.

April 06, 2015

WaPo: Black enrollment drops at UF, FSU after Jeb Bush affirmative-action order

From the Washington Post:

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As he courts Republicans across the country, Jeb Bush boasts that an executive order he signed that ended race-based college admissions in Florida upheld conservative principles while helping minorities.

“We ended up having a system where there were more African American and Hispanic kids attending our university system than prior to the system that was discriminatory,” the former governor and likely presidential contender said recently at a conference of conservative activists.

But at Florida’s two premier universities, black enrollment is shrinking. At the University of Florida in Gainesville and at Florida State University in Tallahassee, administrators say they worry that the trend risks diminishing their standing as world-class universities and hurts the college experience.

The black share of the UF freshman class, for instance, plunged to 6 percent in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available. That is down from 9 percent in 2011.

More here.

PolitiFact Florida: Have schoolchildren died in fires?

via @AmySherman1

State Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, a sponsor of a bill to allow K-12 employees to carry concealed firearms, said the measure makes a lot of sense considering school shootings of recent years. Here's what he said during a Florida House judiciary committee hearing April 2:

"Right now our schools are required to do two or three fire drills a year. You know how many children in the history of the United States have died in a fire? Zero. You know how many have died because of a school shooting? Quite a few, but the state doesn't require them to do any type of training."

Actually, Steube is wrong that no children have died in fires in the United States; some have. He said he meant to add the important qualifier "in Florida." Read our full report.

April 02, 2015

Senators pass testing bill -- and tell us how they really feel about the system

The Florida Senate passed a proposal to scale back testing in public schools Thursday, but not before some of its most powerful members blasted the education accountability system created by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

"There's too much damn testing going on in this state," said Senate Budget Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon.

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, described the system as both a "monster" and a "train wreck."

Other lawmakers defended the system and, in subtle ways, Bush himself.

Sen. Kelli Stargel, the Lakeland Republican who chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee, agreed that testing had "gotten out of control," but stressed the importance of having some assessments.

"It's said you can't manage what you don't measure," Stargel said, repeating a Jeb Bush talking point. "You have to measure. You have to know."

Senate Rules Chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, urged his colleges not to forget the success Florida had already attained.

"Success is never final," he said, sounding a lot like Bush.

Even the bill's sponsor, Sen. John Legg, in a moment of impassioned debate, said students "deserve the right to rise," which happens to be the name of Bush's new PAC.

The bill, which aims to eliminate some testing requirements, underwent serious changes Thursday. 

Among the provisions added in the Senate: language suspending school grades until the new Florida Standards Assessments are deemed valid. 

Lee suggested an amendment to prevent students who take Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams from having to take similar state assessments. But he withdrew the suggestion after learning it would cause the bill to stall in the House, he said.

Lee had some words for Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future, which he said opposed the amendment: "I'm over you."

"The reason you've lost my confidence is because I've got emails from you last night that said that you're so married to this system that you don't have a shred of common sense left," he said.

The overall bill passed out of the Senate by 32-4 vote.

The dissenters -- Sens. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami; Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth; Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami; and Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando -- said the bill didn't go far enough to ease the burden on schoolchildren.

After the vote, the Foundation for Florida's Future released a statement praising Florida's past success and the bill's passage.

"This bill makes good adjustments while keeping Florida on its student-centered path," Executive Director Patricia Levesque said. "We’re pleased the Senate has prioritized our state’s children in the process of achieving fewer, better tests."

Charter school bill in advances in Senate with some changes

Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, wasn't able to stop the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee from moving forward with a proposed Institute for Charter School Innovation.

He couldn't convince them to create an Institute for Public School Innovation, either.

But he was able to remove a provision from the Senate's charter school bill (SB 1552) that would have allowed certain out-of-state operators to be deemed high-performing charter school systems -- and pay smaller administrative fees to their schools districts.

"It seems irresponsible to give out-of-state charter school provides a free pass based on their track records in other states," he said.

His amendment passed 4-2, with the support of Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg and Senate Rules Committee Chairman David Simmons.

Legg, who helped draft the language about high-performing charter school systems, said the designation was meant to be a "reward for existing charter schools."

"It was not designed to entice charter to come to the state," he said.

The broader bill moved out of the committee by a 5-2 vote.

In addition to creating the charter school institute, SB 1552 allows parents to send their children to any school in the state that has space. Parents would have to pay for transportation.

"This is definitely a parent-driven bill," said Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland.

The two Democrats on the panel voted against the proposal. Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, said senators should consider trying to fund the transportation so families would have more options regardless of their income level.

Do school uniforms improve safety? PolitiFact Florida checks the research

More Florida school districts may soon have millions of reasons to start requiring students to wear uniforms, thanks to a bill that just passed the House.

Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, sponsored a bill that would give districts $10 per child to adopt standard attire policies in kindergarten through eighth grade. The state would set aside $10 million in all from the general revenue fund. Similar provisions have been amended to a school bill in the Senate, although without the cash incentive.

Adkins said that school uniforms help create a positive learning environment, because it removes distractions. She cited testimony from officials from five Florida school districts that raved about their uniform policies.

"They were all saying the same thing, and that is when they implemented a school uniform policy in their schools, the climate, the culture at their schools improved,"Adkins said. "It's an issue of school safety, helps with school truancy."

The House passed the bill 102-8 on March 27, but we were curious whether requiring students to dress the same really did improve school safety and truancy records. Turns out the research is anything but uniform. See what Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact Florida found.

Senate moves to temporarily suspend school grades

The Florida Senate took a critical step Wednesday toward temporarily suspending school grades in response to the outcry statewide among parents, teachers and superintendents who want a smoother transition as the state shifts to new standards and tests.

The Senate added a provision to its sweeping testing bill (SB 616) that would require an independent review of the new Florida Standards Assessments. The proposal says the results of this year’s tests cannot be used for school grades or teacher evaluations until the review is complete.

"We will rely upon this year’s assessments if and only if they have been deemed valid and reliable," former Senate President Don Gaetz said.

That wasn't the only change the Senate made to the testing bill. Senators also added a provision allowing school districts to start classes as early as Aug. 10.

More here.