John O'Connor


John O’Connor is a reporter for StateImpact Florida, a project of WLRN and WUSF covering education. John writes for the StateImpact Florida blog and produces stories for air on Florida public radio stations.

John is a former political reporter for The (Columbia, S.C.) State and the Daily Record in Baltimore. He has a bachelor’s degree from Allegheny College and a master’s degree from the University of Maryland. He was chosen as the South Carolina Press Association 2009 Journalist of the Year.

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John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

As soon as the fourth and fifth graders at Natural Bridge Elementary were handed the lyrics to "Amazing Grace," they were ready to sing out.

But first, they needed a lesson in the four voice types of a choir – bass, tenor, alto and soprano.

One by one members of the group added their part while the students waited to sing the melody. Finally, it was time to add soprano Sara Guttenberg

“I really hope she sings the melody,” tenor Patrick Muehleise told the kids.

The students are ready. They join in before the conductor gives them their cue.

It’s game day in the eighth grade International Baccalaureate design class at Ada Merritt K-8 Center in Little Havana in Miami.

The games the students are playing are designed by their classmates. And they’re based on books the students read for class.

Four eighth graders prepare to set off on a board game based on the book “Everlost” – set in a fantasy world between life and death inhabited by “afterlights.”

Assignments like this are one reason International Baccalaureate programs are growing in popularity.

John O'Connor / WLRN

Last spring, Miami-Dade students at 10 schools planted new food forests -- large gardens filled with kale, tomatoes, passion fruit and more.

Some of those crops are ready now, and giving away what’s grown in the garden has become a big weekly event.

At Twin Lakes Elementary School  in Hialeah, students listen as their teacher tells them how to find a sweet potato.

“So this is the leaf we’re looking for," she tells them. "You follow the vine to the root. And then you harvest your sweet potato. OK?”

Right now, school districts in Florida are pretty simple. One county; one school district.

But Florida lawmakers have proposed a constitutional amendment that could reshape school districts across the state.

The bill from Pinellas County Sen. Jeff Brandes and Lee County Representative Matt Caldwell could make things more complicated.

The proposal would allow the legislature to disband some school districts, while allowing cities, counties and others to create new school districts.

Susan Walsh / AP

Recently, President Barack Obama admitted he’d made a mistake when it came to public schools.

Like most people with big news to share – he posted it on Facebook.

"I also hear from parents who, rightly, worry about too much testing,” Obama said in a video posted to the White House's Facebook page.

Screen shot / CREDO

A new study finds students learn less at online charter schools than they do at traditional schools -- and the problem is even worse for Florida students.

John O'Connor / WLRN

Miami-Dade students improved their scores on two of four national reading and math exams, even as scores dropped nationally.

The results are from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP -- also known as the "nation's report card." The test is given every two years in math and reading to fourth and eighth grade students.

The U.S. average scores dropped on each of the four exams -- with the greatest declines in eighth grade reading and math.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Eighth grade is the worst.

That’s when students spend the most time on standardized tests -- more than four full school days.

That's according to a new, nationwide school district survey of testing from the Council of Great City Schools, a nonprofit education research and advocacy group. The survey found that most students spend between 20 and 25 hours a year on standardized tests.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Most of the students at Royal Palm Elementary in Miami have Spanish-speaking families.

But those families also want their kids to speak – and read and write – more Spanish in school.

So teacher Alexandra Martin is leading her first grade class through “Vamos Papa,” with each child reading a passage from the Spanish language story. Martin helps students through proper pronunciation and words they stumble on.

This is the Miami-Dade public schools’ extended foreign language program, or EFL

Hector Gabino / El Neuvo Herald

Miami-Dade school leaders are interested in joining a land deal to build a pro soccer stadium in Little Havana next to Marlins Park that the school district could also use.

The school board told Superintendent Alberto Carvalho Thursday he could join talks between the city of Miami and the team, whose ownership includes former soccer star David Beckham.