Education

Anya Kamenetz

Lots of people think there’s too much testing going on in schools right now. It’s one of the most contentious issues in education.

Lawmakers want to scale back the amount of time Florida students spend taking tests.

But at the same time, Florida is rolling out a new test tied to new math and language arts standards -- known as Common Core.

NPR education reporter Anya Kamenetz researched the history and use of standardized exams for her book, “The Test.”

Read an edited version of our interview with Kamenetz below.

Miran_Rijavec / Flickr

Lawmakers want Florida students to be smarter about their money.

They’ve introduced a bill to make a financial literacy course a high school graduation requirement.

Students would have to take lessons on taxes, compound interest, insurance, and how to weigh the cost and benefits of decisions.

The bill was introduced by Fort Myers Republican Representative Heather Fitzenhagen and Miami GOP Representative Manny Diaz.

The bill says the Florida Department of Education would choose a non-profit group to create the lessons.

Rick Stone

President Obama's America's College Promise would provide free community college tuition for two years to students who keep their grades up, stay in school and show progress toward graduation.

As he introduced it this month, the president presented it as a logical extension of the nation's free public school system, updated for the education requirements of the modern economy.

John O'Connor / WLRN

At first, the kids in the auditorium at Richmond Heights Middle School weren’t sure a they'd hear a voice above the ear-burning static.

Dade Radio Club of Miami president Miguel Garate kept signaling the space station.  

“NA1SS, NA1SS, this is Richmond Heights. Over,” Garate said repeatedly, trying to hail the space station.

They had just minutes before astronaut Samantha Cristoferretti would be out of range.

A voice cut through the white noise.

“This is November Alpha One, I-S-S. I read you three by five,” Cristoferretti said.

UnitedOptOut.com

Across Florida, parents and teachers are pushing back against standardized testing in public schools. One way is simply “opting out” – or keeping their children from taking the test.

And now a national organization opposed to public education's reliance on standardized tests is bringing its message to Fort Lauderdale.

Extra Ketchup

When lawmakers return to Tallahassee in March for the annual legislative session, they have a lot of questions they need to answer about public school testing.

Senators laid out their concerns about the state testing system last week at a series of meetings.

They don’t know how many tests the state requires or how long it takes to complete those exams.

They don’t know how much the state and school districts spend on testing.

And they’re not convinced they can depend on all the results of those exams.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

The leaders of two of the nation’s largest community colleges say they support President Barack Obama's proposal to give students two years of college for free.

Obama proposed the idea in Tennessee Friday.

In a written statement, Broward College president J. David Armstrong says the proposal could mean more training for teachers, nurses, paramedics, firefighters and police. That's good for the economy, he says.

Dondu.Small/flickr

Beginning teachers would earn a minimum $50,000 salary starting next school year under a bill proposed this week in Tallahassee.

Sen. Darren Soto (D-Orlando) filed the bill, which cites a need for the state to attract and retain teachers. It seeks to increase their pay without affecting other personnel and programs.

lwr / Flickr

Florida's earned a C grade and ranked 28th overall on this year's Education Week Quality Counts ratings.

Education Week gave the state strong scores for equity in student achievement. Test results show minority students generally perform better in Florida than other states, and the gap between white and minority students scores is smaller in Florida than other states.

State Senator Bill Montford, leader of the Florida's school superintendents association, said he's not sure schools will have the technology in place for new online exams this spring.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart told the Senate Education Appropriations committee that Florida's new statewide tests, the Florida Standards Assessments, are on track for use beginning in March. The tests are tied to new Common Core-based math, reading and writing standards.

Gina Jordan/StateImpact Florida

The School of Arts and Sciences (SAS) in Tallahassee has just over 300 students, and the waiting list to get in is much longer.

Maureen Yoder is one of the founders of the 15-year-old K-8 charter school.

“We started this school with the intent of keeping it small because we want to create a school family,” Yoder says. “We believe that the relationship between the teacher and the students is the primary reason students succeed – besides a good home base.”

This is sixth grader Mary Stafford’s first year.

Thomas O'Donnell's kindergarten kids are all hopped up to read about Twiggle the anthropomorphic Turtle.

"Who can tell me why Twiggle here is sad," O'Donnell asks his class at Matthew Henson Elementary School in Baltimore.

"Because he doesn't have no friends," a student pipes up.

And how do people look when they're sad?

"They look down!" the whole class screams out.

Yeah, Twiggle is lonely. But, eventually, he befriends a hedgehog, a duck and a dog. And along the way, he learns how to play, help and share.

Al Diaz / Miami Herald

During the time Robert McCabe was president of Miami Dade College, no school in the country awarded as many associate of arts degrees.

McCabe, 86, died of cancer Tuesday night.

His widow, Arva Moore Parks, says her husband had a simple philosophy for education.

“That everybody could achieve if you help them along," she said. "He really, truly believed that – and he proved it.”

John O'Connor / WLRN

2014 was a big year for education in Florida.

Activists in Lee County convinced the school board to ditch state testing -- before the board reversed the decision a couple of days later.

Florida schools pushed ahead with new Common Core-based math and language arts standards in every grade, despite rising opposition to Common Core across the country.

And education was a top issue during the governor’s race.

Ryan McGilchrist/flickr

Teacher and parent groups say Florida public school students are spending too much time taking – and getting ready for - assessments.

Now, Senate President Andy Gardiner says lawmakers will likely hold hearings to review the amount of testing being done.

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