Florida schools roundup: Retention decision, choice ratings and more

florida-roundup-logoRetention decision: A judge says the state erred in automatically holding back third-graders who do poorly on the state Florida Standards Assessments tests or opt out from taking them. Leon County Judge Karen Gievers says the state and six districts that were sued must provide students the option to present a portfolio of work that demonstrates their readiness for fourth grade. Gievers stopped short of ordering the state and districts to promote 14 students who were held back. Another hearing will be held today for students from Hernando County who were not given the option to present a portfolio. News Service of Florida. Associated PressOrlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay TimesWFTV. WFSUSunshine State News. Politico Florida. The retention lawsuit has rekindled an old argument: Should third-graders who struggle with reading be held back? “The overwhelming majority of the research concludes that the practice does not help most students and ends up harming many,” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest, a nonprofit that works to prevent the misuse of standardized testing. Tampa Bay Times. States with high opt-out rates could face penalties from the U.S. Department of Education. Education Week.

Florida tops in choice: The American Federation for Children ranks Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship program as the top school choice program in the United States. The national advocacy group cites Florida’s accountability, its wide availability, its inclusion of disabled students, its limits on administrative expenses and the dollar-for-dollar tax credits for companies. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the programs. redefinED. The Lake County School District has 1,462 students getting tax credit scholarships, a 24 percent increase over last year, and some school board members worry about how the district could absorb those students if opponents of the program successfully appeal a recent court ruling. Daily Commercial.

Recess movement: The parent-driven movement to provide students more time for free play at school is spreading across the United States. Several Florida districts have changed recess policies after lobbying from parents, and Rhode Island just initiated a law requiring 20 minutes of recess a day. Independent Journal Review.

School enrollment: Enrollment in Pinellas County’s public schools is down slightly from last year. The 10-day count showed 100,680 students in K-12, slightly below the 101,043 last year. Gradebook. Marion County is starting to move teachers around to meet class-size requirements. The 10-day count showed 42,511 students, which is 189 short of the official projection. Ocala Star Banner.

Turnaround plan: Polk County school officials will present a revised plan to the state Wednesday for turning around five struggling middle schools. The original plan was rejected by the Florida Board of Education because it left too many school leaders and teachers at the five schools in place, and it didn’t put aside enough money to make the plan work. Lakeland Ledger.

Discipline plan: Bay County school officials say the district’s “discipline matrix” to bring consistency to disciplinary actions through the system is working. The matrix, which began in the 2014-2015 school year, is a flow chart detailing how students are disciplined. Panama City News Herald.

Program continues: The Monroe County School Board is sticking with a three-year, $1.8 million math and science program, despite less-than-expected results. The National Math and Science Initiative College Readiness program is designed to reverse the downward trend in math, science and technology achievement. Keynoter.

School spending: The U.S. public school education system has not been included in the economic recovery. Public funding is down, there are fewer teachers and they make less money, according to data. fivethirtyeight.com.

Leader cleared: Kevin Plummer has been cleared to resume his job as the head of school at Tampa Bay Preparatory School. An investigation by the school into allegations of improprieties from more than 25 years ago found “nothing of concern,” according to a school spokesman. Tampa Bay Times.

Inquiry lingers: An investigation into the Eagles Arts Academy charter school’s financial dealings is still going on a year after it started. Officials at the Wellington school are accused of steering tens of thousands of dollars to a pair of companies operated by founder and chairman Gregory James Blount. Palm Beach Post.

Contract negotiations: The Manatee County School District and the teachers union are dickering over how much teachers will have to pay for health insurance premiums before moving on to raises. Bradenton Herald. The Highlands County School District and the teachers union remain at odds on several contract issues, including annual-contract protection for teachers rated effective or better. Highlands Today.

AT&T to fight: AT&T says it will fight the FCC over a $170,000 fine for allegedly overcharging the Orange and Dixie county school districts by 400 percent for phone service. The FCC says the districts should have been charged under a subsidized rate for schools. AT&T says the rate didn’t apply in these cases because the districts were buying service month-to-month instead of annually. ARS Technica.

School elections: Advocacy groups are pouring money into state and local elections this year. The Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, has spent $894,000 already, and the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition and the Florida Federation for Children are also heavily involved. News Service of Florida. The threatened opposition to two of the four Hillsborough County School Board members who voted to fire former School Superintendent MaryEllen Elia in January 2015 has not materialized. Tampa Bay Times. Monroe County’s only school board race will be decided Tuesday. Keynoter.

Gifted criteria: Students nominated for gifted classes in Florida schools go through a careful screening process. Only about 3 percent of the state’s students qualify for the designation, which provides once-a-week exposure to enrichment curriculum. Pensacola News Journal.

Substitute accused: Police say there is no evidence to support a claim that a male substitute teacher in Sebring choked a 5-year-old girl in class, and no charges will be filed. The Department of Children and Families will continue to investigate. WFTS.

Killer sentenced: The killer of a popular Palm Beach County school bus driver is sentenced to life in prison. Willie L. Smith Jr. murdered. Gloria Riley because she had broken up with him after 15 years and was dating another man. Palm Beach Post.

Opinions on schools: Just imagine what the economic boost would be if the state was as good at teaching math to middle and high school students as it is at college football. Paul Cottle, Tallahassee Democrat. Charter schools are prospering at the expense of public schools in Florida. Diane Schrier, Ocala Star Banner. Racist comments posted on social media by First Academy students were the most concrete proof I’d ever seen of a deep and underlying issue in some Christian schools — unchecked privilege. Toxic, palpable privilege. Maddie Scott, Orlando Sentinel. Later school start times could produce better educational results. Fort Myers News-Press. Here are some things you should consider before voting for the referendum seeking approval for a special tax of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value for the Indian River County School District. Laurence Reisman, TCPalm. If we truly value freedom in America, the freedom to proudly stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and the freedom to not stand and recite, must be respected by all. Roy Speckhardt, Tallahassee Democrat.

Student enrichment: Boston Whaler donates more than 150 backpacks that are loaded with supplies and given to needy students at three schools in Edgewater. Trade Only Today. Avalon Elementary School staff visit students in their homes to give them supplies and information about going back to school. Naples Daily News. Five high school students in Dunedin work as interns for various city government departments. Tampa Bay Times. Students at Heritage Middle School in Deltona and Hoover Middle School in Indialantic are learning about the weather with the help of a weather station donated by WeatherSTEM. West Volusia Beacon. Florida Today. Annunciation Catholic School in Middleburg and Holy Family Catholic School in Jacksonville are chosen to be part of the nationwide University of Notre Dame STEM program. Florida Times-Union.