Florida schools roundup: Failure Factories, civil rights, testing and more

florida-roundup-logoFailure Factories: The Tampa Bay Times has won a Pulitzer Prize for local reporting for its stories on five failing St. Petersburg elementary schools. The series, labeled Failure Factories, detailed how the Pinellas County School District abandoned integration efforts in 2007 and then failed to provide adequate resources for the schools, which became predominantly poor, black and failing. Tampa Bay TimesFlorida Politics.

Civil rights query: The Escambia County School District is being investigated by the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education for allegations related to a hazing incident on a school bus involving the West Florida High School junior varsity football team. The parent of one of the students punished alleges her son was treated differently because he’s black; that he and his mother, a teacher, were retaliated against after complaining; and that the district treats black students differently than nonblacks in the administration of discipline. Pensacola News Journal.

Science testing change: Next year, the state’s annual state science test for fifth- and eighth-graders is tentatively scheduled for late March, a full month earlier than this year. But science teachers oppose the change, saying their students need the extra month to prepare. The Department of Education says it will consider those concerns before making a final decision. Gradebook.

Budget shortfall: Broward County school officials are projecting a $4 million budget deficit for the 2016-2017 school year. They cite inflation, a change in school schedules and an increase in the cost of fringe benefits. Sun-Sentinel.

Teacher evaluations: Members of the  Lake County School Board think the district’s teacher evaluation system is flawed, and that’s why so few of its teachers earned a highly effective rating. Fifty percent of a teacher’s evaluation is based on student test scores, 40 percent on an administrator’s observations of the teacher’s work, and 10 percent on the teacher’s self-improvement plan. School officials also point to inexperience as a contributing cause, noting that 35 percent of the teachers in the county are new. Daily CommercialOrlando Sentinel.

Referendum tax: Pinellas County School Board members, school officials and community activists all are backing a third renewal of the referendum tax. It’s on the November ballot and if approved, could bring in as much as $34 million a year. The money would be used to supplement teacher salaries and pay for the arts and education in schools. Gradebook.

Superintendent’s review: The Lee County School Board is giving high marks to Superintendent Greg Adkins after about eight months on the job. The five board members praise Adkins for his communication skills, connection with the community and the ability to address problems and build a strong staff. Adkins’ formal review is Tuesday. Fort Myers News-Press.

Bullying discussion: Students, parents and school officials meet at Blake High School in Tampa to talk about ongoing problems with bullying. Some parents complain that school officials doing little to stop the harassment. Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Tribune.

Homeschooling growth: Homeschooling grew more than 60 percent from 2003 to 2012, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The number of U.S. children schooled at home grew from 1.09 million in 2003 to 1.77 million in 2012, and now represents 3.4 percent of the nation’s school population. Sunshine State News.

Tracking social media: The Orange County School District renews its contract with a company that monitors social media postings. The cost for the Snaptrends software is $18,000 a year. School officials say the monitoring led to a dozen police investigations in the past year. Orlando Sentinel.

Chain of command: Parents who don’t like the way things are going in their local school district often turn to the Florida Department of Education for help. They rarely get any. As the DOE recently reminded one parent in a letter: “School districts are not subdivisions of the Department of Education.” School boards are separate constitutional entities. Gradebook.

Students expelled: Two students at Northside Christian High School in St. Petersburg are expelled for distributing drug-laced candy, and seven other students are suspended for consuming it. The incident happened on the way to a baseball game in South Carolina over spring break. WFLA.

Opinions on schools: Florida has led the nation in expanding the quantity of Advanced Placement participation, but the quality of those programs, as measured by the percentage of AP participants that succeed on AP exams, is among the lowest in the nation. Nat Malkus, Orlando Sentinel.

Student enrichment: Three McLane Middle School students are prepping for VEX Worlds, an international robotics competition in Kentucky. Jaylin Rasumoff, Kayla Pagan and Christian Egger have built a robot that can collect orange balls from one area and take them to another. Tampa Bay Times. Hillsborough County students raise at least $65,000 for the American Cancer Society in the 2016 Temple Terrace Relay for Life at Greco Middle School. Tampa Tribune. Christina Jackson, a 15-year-old Mast Academy Homestead junior, is nominated for the National Academy of Future Medical Leaders Academic Award of Excellence from the National Academy of Future Physicians and Medical Scientists. Miami Herald. The Manatee Community Foundation awards the school district more than $8,000 in grants for projects at four school. Bradenton Herald.