Florida schools roundup: 3rd-grade reading scores down, housing and more

Reading test results: The state’s 3rd-graders posted slightly lower scores on the Florida Standards Assessments reading tests this year, according to results released by the Florida Department of Education. Twenty percent of the state’s 3rd-graders – more than 44,000 students – post a Level 1 score, which puts them at risk of repeating the grade. Last year it was 19 percent. About half of the affected students are promoted using the state’s retention law exemptions or by attending summer reading camps. Fifty-seven percent of the 3rd-graders posted a Level 3 score, which is considered at or above grade level, down from 58 percent last year but up from the 53 percent in 2015. The test scores also factor into the formula for school grades, which come out later this summer. Orlando SentinelGradebook. Ocala Star-Banner.

Housing for teachers: Suggestions in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties that affordable housing for teachers be built on school campuses is getting a chilly reaction from teachers. “I mean, who wants to live where they work?” asks Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of the United Teachers of Dade. Other teachers union officials agree, and suggest a better solution would be to pay teachers more so they could afford mortgages or rents in south Florida. WLRN.

Special session vote: The final vote on a call by two Democratic representatives for a special session on education funding falls along party lines, according to the Department of State. In the House, 64 Republican representatives voted against holding the session, and 15 others didn’t vote at all, while all 41 Democrats voted for it. In the Senate, all 16 Democrats voted for having the session, while 14 Republicans voted against it and 10 Republicans didn’t vote at all. The request needed support from three-fifths of the members in each chamber to be approved. News Service of FloridaGradebook. Politico Florida.

Mental health services: Providing security for schools isn’t the only mandate Florida districts are facing before schools reopen in August. They also must make mental health services available to every student. Florida districts are working on their plans now. The Legislature provided $69 million – ranging from about $100,000 to the smallest district, Jefferson County, to nearly $8 million for the largest district, Miami-Dade County. WLRN.

School security: The Leon County School District joins several other districts around the state in banning student backpacks for the rest of the school year. “There are many obvious security benefits to this action and we are hopeful to also keep out mischievous items that tend to show up this time of year,” says John Hunkiar, chief of safety, security and professional practices. A Leon County sheriff’s deputy will also be stationed at every school in a move the sheriff’s office is calling “purely precautionary.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Troubled schools: Officials at three troubled Duval County schools say they’ve done everything they can to improve their students’ academic performance and they’re confident an outside operator won’t be needed to assume control of the schools. Matthew Gilbert and Northwestern middle schools and Lake Forest Elementary all have received D or F grades from the state in recent years, forcing the school district into a decision to turn the schools over to an outside company if they don’t improve to a C grade this year. All have improved, according to district testing. But will it be enough? Florida Times-Union.

STEM reality check: Studies show the conventional wisdom that STEM education is a path to a better job is generally correct, but that is not the case for all STEM-related jobs and fields. “The takeaway for me is that K-12 should provide broad-based expertise and knowledge across the many sciences and technologies, rather than focus students narrowly upon math, or biology, or physics,” says Michael Teitelbaum, a senior research associate at Harvard Law School. “It would also help if K-12 gave equal weight to the applied sciences and engineering fields, as it has long done to the basic sciences.” Education Week.

Union retrenchment: The largest teachers union in the United States, the National Education Association, is cutting its budget by $50 million in anticipation that the U.S. Supreme Court will eliminate the collection of mandatory fees from workers who aren’t members but are covered by union agreements. If the court does rule as expected in Janus v. AFSCME, the NEA is projecting it will lose 307,000 of its 3 million-plus members. The 74.

Education podcasts: Researcher Celeste Carruthers discusses her recent study that questions the premise that ending teacher tenure would lead to better student performance. Gradebook. Vanessa Skipper, of the Brevard County teachers union, talks about the district’s discipline policy. Florida Today.

Clean audit for district: A financial audit of the Leon County School District shows no problems, with the district increasing its reserves and paying down its capital debt. It’s the first time in three decades that a financial audit of the district found no issues. Tallahassee Democrat.

PETA: Remove animals: The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sends a letter urging Ocala’s Forest High School to remove all the animals in its Future Farmers of America program. Last week, an agri-science teacher at the school retired after he drowned two raccoons and an opossum during class. Ocala Star-Banner.

Notable deaths: Gail McKinzie, the first female superintendent of the Polk County School District, dies at the age of 71. She was also Polk’s first appointed superintendent, and held the job from November 2004 until her retirement in 2010. Lakeland Ledger. Beth Bailey, a 6th-grade science teacher at Surfside Middle School in Panama City Beach and twice a top-five finalist for the Bay County School District’s teacher of the year, has died. WJHG.

Personnel moves: Rayann Mitchell, an assistant principal at West Zephyrhills Elementary School, is named principal at James Marlowe Elementary. She replaces Hilda Martin, who was named to head the Pasco County district’s new conflict resolution department. Gradebook. Billy Peebles is named interim head of school of the Palm Beach Day Academy. Palm Beach Daily News.

Abduction attempt: A 27-year-old man is arrested shortly after he allegedly tried to abduct four children as they were being dropped off at Park Ridge Elementary School in Deerfield Beach on Wednesday. Broward deputies say Milor Michel had one child in his grasp when a student notified a teacher, who confronted him. Michel was arrested a few minutes later. WSVN. Orlando Sentinel.

Suicidal students: Duval County students attempt suicide more than students from other districts, and about twice as often as the state average, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study. WJCT.

Teacher under investigation: A West Boca High School teacher is under investigation for allegedly striking a student. The incident was reportedly caught on video. District officials would not release the name of the teacher or any other details. Palm Beach Post.

School threats: A student at the Lanier-James Education Center in Hallandale Beach is arrested after threatening to kill everyone at the school, according to police. WPLG. Sun-Sentinel. School officials say threats from students seem to increase as a school year nears an end. WSVN.

Opinions on schools: The flaws and challenges of keeping schools safe warrant re-examination that only the Legislature — which is required by the state constitution to make “adequate provision” for “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education” — can provide, in a special session. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. It made no sense for the Legislature to create two programs for school safety where one would have sufficed, and it’s ridiculous to say these dollars can only be spent on this and those must be spent on that, rather than putting all the dollars into a single pot districts can utilize to fund their security needs. TCPalm. Schools, statistically anyway, have never been safer. But statistics can’t stand up to the visceral reactions generated by spectacular, gut wrenching tragedies. Fred Grimm, Sun-Sentinel. The lesson we should all learn from the failed Student Success Act experiment of ending teacher tenure is this: Dramatic changes in the workings of organizations that affect people’s lives in profound ways should only be performed when the changes are underpinned by a strong research base. No change like that made with the Student Success Act should be made purely on the basis of ideology alone. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: The Marion County School District honors the 5,000 school volunteers who worked more than 142,000 hours in the district’s 51 schools this year. Ocala Star-Banner.