Florida schools roundup: Effects of ending tenure, special session and more

Tenure and achievement: When Florida legislators eliminated teacher tenure in 2011, they argued that making it easier to get rid of bad teachers could lead to better student academic results. Seven years later, a study finds that achievement by students in vulnerable schools has improved only slightly, and that there’s no conclusive way to tell if the elimination of tenure played a role in that modest success. “The intent (of the statute) was to raise student achievement by improving the quality of instructional, administrative and supervisory services in the public schools,” write researchers Celeste Carruthers, David Figlio and Tim Sass. “Whether (the law) or policies like it succeed in attracting and retaining high quality teachers remains an open question.” Brookings Institution. Gradebook.

Special session request: Democrats in the Legislature resort to an obscure rule to force a poll of all lawmakers on the idea of calling a special session to deal with educational funding. Ordinarily, Senate and House leaders decide if a special session is needed. But when they resisted, 35 Democratic members filed petitions with the secretary of state to conduct the poll; 32 are required to force the polling. They don’t expect to be successful, but say it will put legislators on the record in an election year. Answers to the poll are due May 24. Gradebook.

Budget concerns: The Duval County School District faces a deficit of $62 million in next year’s budget, and officials have begun telling dozens of teachers that they may have to change schools or grade levels to keep their jobs. For the first time, veteran teachers could get moved because seniority will no longer count as much as the state’s value-added-model scores, which are based on student performances on standardized tests. District officials don’t expect layoffs, because most years they have to hire about 1,500 new teachers due to retirements and resignations. Florida Times-Union.

Charter tensions: Recent tensions between school districts and charter schools in what had generally been two charter-friendly counties has district and charter school officials around the state worried. The conflict centers on increasingly tight budgets and continuation of state policies that limit districts’ authority over charter schools. redefinED.

Teachers’ testing troubles: People taking the state’s certification exam to become teachers continue to fail at a high rate, according to the Florida Department of Education. The tests were toughened in 2015, and passing rates plummeted 20 to 30 percent. The 2017 results almost identically mirror 2016’s: the pass rate for those taking the elementary math test for the first time was 61 percent, and it’s 57 percent on general knowledge math and 54 percent on elementary language arts. WFTS.

Superintendent searches: The Brevard County School Board says it will replace Superintendent Desmond Blackburn with an internal candidate. If the board sets the same criteria as it did when it hired Blackburn in 2015, it will probably chose a candidate from Blackburn’s 10-member cabinet, and most likely one of these four: chief operating officer Mark Mullins; human resources director Carol Tolx; assistant superintendent of student services Beth Thedy; or assistant superintendent of secondary schools Stephanie Soliven. Florida Today. If Manatee Superintendent Diana Greene lands the Duval County School District superintendent’s job, the school board will begin the planning to replace her at Tuesday’s meeting. Bradenton Herald. Greene’s interview for the Duval job was Thursday, and part of her pitch centered on her home-court advantage: She’s the only candidate from Florida, so she’s familiar with the issues and the people. The school board is expected to make its selection today. Florida Times-Union.

Superintendent’s contract: The new contract being negotiated for Lee County Superintendent Greg Adkins contains a clause that would require five of the seven school board members to approve firing him without cause. Under his current contract, only four votes for termination are required. Adkins, who was named superintendent in 2015, is paid $185,000 a year on a contract that ends Oct. 6. Fort Myers News-Press.

Disaster assistance: Florida schools will receive $84.5 million from the federal government to help pay for costs incurred when Hurricane Irma swept through the state last year. Orlando Sentinel.

Immigrants supported: The Southern Poverty Law Center is demanding that the Miami-Dade County School District end what it called the “pervasive practice” of pushing immigrant teenagers who speak limited or no English away from public schools and into adult education programs. “Exclusion of these children from public school violates state and federal law and conflicts with the welcoming messages you have sent to immigrant children in Miami-Dade County,” the group wrote to Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. Miami Herald.

Student activists press on: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who became gun control activists after 17 people were murdered at their school on Feb. 14 are keeping their movement going by setting up community conversations and voter registration drives at high schools throughout the country. Politico Florida.

School security: The standoff over school resource officers continues between the Citrus County School District and the sheriff. The district offered the sheriff $945,000 — everything it gets from the state’s Safe Schools fund and other state money — to help cover the costs for SROs. Sheriff Mike Prendergast’s response this week was that money would almost cover six deputies, but “will not adequately cover the eight deputies and one sergeant” that both sides agreed were needed, or startup and recurring costs. He suggests the district use its reserves. Citrus County Chronicle.

Teacher honored: Jennifer Jaso, a teacher at Sarasota Middle School, is nominated by the Museum of Florida History for a Harris History Teacher Award that goes annually to one U.S. high school teacher and one middle school teacher. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

A school’s renovation: A $35 million facelift of Rickards High School in Tallahassee begins this summer and continues through 2020. The school will get new classrooms, upgrades to some athletic fields and courtyard with amphitheater seating. “It’s going to totally transform this entire campus,” said Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna as the plans were unveiled at a community meeting. Tallahassee Democrat.

Education podcasts: The Collier County School District is dealing with a citizen challenge to its science textbooks. Keith Flaugh of the Florida Citizens Alliance and Eric Otto, an associate professor of humanities at Florida Gulf Coast University, talk about the debate. Gradebook.

Man, 87, to graduate: An 87-year-old Korean War veteran will walk tonight as part of Frostproof High School’s graduating class. Arthur Cotton left the school after his sophomore year in 1948 to join the U.S. Marine Corps. He earned a GED in 1965, but decided a year ago to go back and get his diploma. Lakeland Ledger. WFLA.

New superintendent: A three-year contract is approved for Jesus Lara, the deputy superintendent for Orange County School District, to take the superintendent’s job in Clark County, Nevada. Lara will start the job June 19. Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Contest fizzles: Tampa Bay Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston staged a Twitter contest among high schools with the winner getting him as a speaker at graduation. Wiregrass Ranch High School in Pasco County was the winner, but Winston can’t attend after all. The 4 p.m. May 24 ceremony didn’t fit with his schedule. His representatives are trying to find a time when Winston can visit the campus. Gradebook.

Teacher firing recommended: A Brevard County teacher whose school-issued laptop contained pornography should be fired, Superintendent Desmond Blackburn tells the school board. Jonathan Goosey, a teacher at Columbia Elementary School in Palm Bay, had three photos, four GIFs and six pirated movies and TV shows on his laptop, according to district records. Brevard Times.

Teacher’s aide arrested: A teacher’s aide from Marathon Middle High School is arrested and accused of dealing prescription pain-killers from her home. Alyssa Perry, 24, has been suspended, say school officials. Keynoter.

Students arrested: Six students and a parent are arrested during a fight Thursday at the Ascend Academy Charter School in Margate. One of the students was Tasered by a police officer. WPLG. Sun-Sentinel. Three teenagers are arrested and accused of stealing a Holmes County School District van and setting it on fire. The boys, 16 and 17 years old, are charged with grand theft, arson and multiple counts of burglary. Panama City News Herald.

Bus driver arrested: An Okaloosa County school bus driver who dropped an 8-year-old disabled student a mile from her Crestview home on a cold February day and told her to walk the rest of the way has been arrested. Anthony Wayne Campbell, 44, is accused of felony child neglect. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Opinions on schools: We in the South have to stop rewarding the buffoonish anti-intellectualism embraced by many of our lawmakers and power brokers to justify starving educational systems of needed money. Florida Times-Union. When it comes to education funding, Florida lawmakers are dumb. Grant Miller, Miami’s Community Newspapers. If the Hillsborough County School Board proceeds with a tax referendum, there will be a lot of skeptics out there, and understandably so. The district will have to be ready for that with a compelling argument that its financial problems are real and there is no other choice. Joe Henderson, Tampa Bay Times. Here’s why Lee County wants a sales tax increase to help pay for schools while Collier County does not. Naples Daily News.

Student enrichment: Thirty-two state school districts are recognized with Florida Healthy School District Awards from the Florida Healthy Kids Corporation. The gold medal winners are Broward, Duval, Leon, Manatee, Nassau, Pasco and Sarasota counties. Tallahassee Democrat. Students with autism and other related disabilities learn computer coding skills and more at the first iRISE2 ECL Code Camp in Boca Raton. Palm Beach Post.