Florida schools roundup: School choice, education bill, test scores and more

School choice: In a speech Monday night, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says President Trump will offer the “most ambitious expansion of education choice in our nation’s history.” DeVos did not offer details, other than saying states would not be forced to participate. “Our cause is both right and just,” DeVos said. “You and I know the fight will not be easy. The opponents of modernizing our education system will pull out all the stops. They will not go quietly into the night.” Washington Post. Education Week.

Education bill: Broward County teachers join other school officials and education leaders in urging Gov. Rick Scott to veto the education bill, saying the bill will hurt the district’s ability to recruit and retain quality teachers. Sun Sentinel. News Service of Florida.

Reading test scores: Third-graders in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties show improvement on the Florida Standards Assessments reading tests. In Santa Rosa, 74 percent scored at Level 3 or high, an increase from 70 percent last year. In Escambia, 59 percent were at Level 3 or higher, up from 50 percent last year. Pensacola News Journal. Fifty-three percent of Polk County’s third-graders scored at Level 3 or higher in the state reading test, up from 51 percent last year. Lakeland Ledger. Martin, Indian River and St. Lucie counties all had more third-graders reading at grade level or above than they did a year ago. TCPalm. Marion County third-graders improve their reading scores by 5 percentage points over last year. Ocala Star Banner.

Muslim school security: Studies show that Muslim students are increasingly being bullied in public schools. A 2016 Council on American-Islamic Relations report identifies “209 incidents of anti-Muslim bias, including harassment, intimidation, and violence targeting students,” and a 2015 report concluded that “55 percent of Muslim students aged (11 to 18) reported being subject to some form of bullying because of their faith.” For many parents, the solution is sending their children to Islamic schools. redefinED.

Homeschooling on Gardiner: Florida is one of a few states that allows vouchers, such as the Gardiner scholarship, to be used to pay expenses for homeschooling. Accepting that scholarship also means those students lose their federal rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, but many parents say the tradeoff is worth the sacrifice. And now the Gardiner scholarship could be expanded. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the program. NPR.

School bans book: An Orlando elementary school principal has forbidden students from carrying the book 13 Reasons Why on campus. Stone Lakes Elementary School principal Bryan Dolfi says the book, which centers on two teenagers’ suicides, is banned because of the “somewhat graphic nature [and] frequent use of profanity, alcohol, and sexually explicit material.” National Coalition Against Censorship.

Personnel changes: The appointment of Robert Gagnon as principal at St. Petersburg High School is put on hold “in light of new information” regarding Gagnon’s experience in Lake County, according to Pinellas County School Superintendent Michael Grego. Gagnon was principal at the Lake County Boys Ranch school in 2000 when it was indicted on charges of Medicare fraud and grand theft of $3 million, according to a 2013 report in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Gagnon was not charged. Gradebook.

Notable deaths: Eddie Jordan, a Miami-Dade science teacher for 40 years and county teacher of the year in 1982, has died at the age of 76. Miami Herald.

Student killed: Counselors are on hand at Markham Woods Middle School in Orlando to help students cope with the death of a popular classmate. Marcees Kilpatrick, 13, was hit by a train as he prepared to try to cross the tracks. Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher being investigated: A Walton County teacher is under investigation for leaving a 6-year-old boy unattended and sleeping in a locked classroom for about an hour during a kindergarten graduation ceremony. The Maude Sanders Elementary School teacher will remain on duty during the investigation. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Opinions on schools: The K-12 budget of nearly $24 billion accounts for nearly one-third of the Legislature’s $82.4 billion budget. So if Gov. Scott is willing to veto it, why not go all the way and veto the whole budget? Steve Bousquet, Tampa Bay Times. If we have prayer in school, then our schools won’t have a prayer and future generations will be ill-equipped to use reason to fight against radical ideologies that threaten our world as we know it. Rabbi Barry Silver, Jewish Journal. Students are the stars at the annual “state of the schools” event in Lee County. Fort Myers News-Press. Talking about religion in a school setting does not necessarily impose it on students. Lakeland Ledger. Conservatives believe the makeup of Collier County school textbook committees defies the odds. Brent Batten, Naples Daily News.

Student enrichment: Students at Lake Worth’s South Grade Elementary School have high tea with Guatemala’s new diplomat to Palm Beach County. Sun Sentinel. Students from Rochelle School of the Arts and Harrison School of the Arts create street art at a busy Lakeland intersection that was closed for the event. Lakeland Ledger. Haile Middle School students hear about the Nazi death camps from Holocaust survivor Rifka Glatz. Bradenton Herald. A team of students from Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School is competing at the National Academic Quiz Tournaments’ for high schools this weekend in Atlanta. Bradenton Herald. Twenty-three Community Christian High School students, faculty, and chaperones are at Arizona’s Navajo Nation on a mission trip. Tallahassee Democrat. Teacher-turned-artist Don Kennedy is donating his artwork to Volusia County schools. Daytona Beach News-Journal.