John O'Connor

Reporter

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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StateImpact Florida
6:34 pm
Fri February 27, 2015

Ready Or Not, Students, The New Florida Exam Is Here

The new Florida Standards Assessments begin today. Most students will take the exam online, though some students will take a paper and pencil version of the writing exam.
Credit Extra Ketchup

At Miami's iPrep Academy, getting ready for the state's new standardized test includes rapping.

Two students are recording the daily announcements, telling classmates when and where they need to be starting today.

"Monday is ninth graders, with last name A to G," one student raps, in a rhyme that's no threat to Miami's Rick Ross.



"On Tuesday, it’s ninth graders with last name H through Z," his partner continues.

"All testing is in room 2 - 0 - 4!" they conclude together, Beastie Boys-style.

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Unemployment
4:27 pm
Tue February 24, 2015

Job Market Improving For Recent College Grads, But Pay Is Not

Recent college graduates are more likely to find work since the end of the Great Recession, but pay is not yet increasing.
Credit dsb nola / Flickr

New college graduates are finding it easier to land their first jobs -- and unemployment rates are dropping for most degree holders.

But paychecks are still getting smaller for most recent grads, according to a study from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce.

The study shows that unemployment was down for nearly every category of majors in 2012, the only exception being communications and journalism.

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Testing
6:59 pm
Wed February 18, 2015

Florida Education Commissioner Recommends Eliminating Some Tests

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.
Credit Florida Department of Education / Flickr

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart has recommended eliminating a high school exam, making another optional and asking state lawmakers and local school districts to cut back on the amount of testing.

Stewart's recommendations are the conclusion of a statewide review of standardized testing requested by Gov. Rick Scott.

"There is, without a doubt, an excess of testing in Florida schools," Stewart said in a statement, saying she'll work with Scott, lawmakers and school districts to "strike the appropriate balance between accountability and instruction."

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StateImpact Florida
2:00 am
Mon February 16, 2015

Why Elementary Math Lessons Are Changing In Florida Schools

Frances S. Tucker fifth grade math teacher Yaliesperanza Salazar leads her class through an exercise to group data on a line graph.
Credit John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

At dinner tables across Florida, parents and their elementary school children are trying to solve a math problem: What’s going on with my kid’s homework?

Florida is one of dozens of states that has switched to new math standards based on Common Core. The standards outline what students should know in every grade.

Experts say it means big changes to how math is taught. More focus on understanding concepts and solving problems multiple ways. Less memorization of formulas and grinding out worksheets full of similar problems.

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Education
5:59 pm
Wed February 11, 2015

Proposed Testing-Time Limit Might Not Reduce Testing Time

Florida lawmakers want to limit the amount of time students spend testing.
Credit StephenMitchell / Flickr

A proposal to limit students to 45 hours of testing a year is unlikely to reduce the amount of time spent on exams, according to a survey of Florida's largest school districts.

Districts say they don't currently track the time individual students spend on testing.

Calculating the number is complicated. The amount of testing varies by a student's grade, the classes he or she is taking and other factors, such as whether the student is learning English or receives extra time to accommodate a disability.

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Jeb
6:01 pm
Tue February 10, 2015

Jeb Bush Defends Education Record At Tallahassee Summit

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush answered questions at a Tallahassee education summit Tuesday.
Credit Miami Herald

Former Gov. Jeb Bush defended his record on education at a Tallahassee education summit Tuesday, taking on testing, unions and school choice.

But Bush didn't mention Common Core -- the politically caustic multi-state math and language arts standards for which he has been a chief cheerleader. Bush is a possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate, and many conservatives worry the standards will mean a loss of local control over what's taught in schools.

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Education
5:08 pm
Fri February 6, 2015

Bill Could Give Out-Of-State Charter Schools A Florida Foothold

A Rocketship Education advertisement, posted on Twitter, for a Washington, D.C. school choice event.
Credit Rocketship Education

Florida charter schools that consistently earn good grades on the state’s public school report card get special privileges.

Soon, out-of-state charter schools could, too.

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Measles
3:19 pm
Wed February 4, 2015

Miami-Dade Superintendent: Get Your Shots (Even Flu)

Superintedent Alberto Carvalho says he's concerned about measles cases spreading across the country and is tracking vaccination rates.
Credit John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Miami-Dade County school leaders say they are concerned about a measles outbreak spreading across the country, and they urge parents to vaccinate their children.

Superintendent Alberto Carvalho says vaccinations work, and the district is tracking whether students get their required shots. Carvalho says 98 percent of Miami-Dade students have been vaccinated or are getting the shots now.

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StateImpact Florida
5:26 pm
Sun February 1, 2015

Why Paperwork Is Worth Millions To Florida College Students

Miami Beach Senior High college adviser Maria Sahwell helps Anahi Hurtado, left, and her mother fill out the FAFSA.
Credit John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

It’s a midweek school night at Miami Beach Senior High School.

Students, their parents and siblings -- roughly 80 people in all -- are waiting in the school’s library to get on a computer and answer a lot of questions.

Miami Beach Senior High college adviser Maria Sahwell and experienced counselors will walk families through filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

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Testing
8:58 pm
Tue January 27, 2015

Opting Out Of State Tests Isn't An Option, Education Commissioner Tells Lawmakers

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart told lawmakers that nothing in state law allows students to refuse state-required exams.
Credit John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says students cannot skip state-required tests, and teachers and schools can be punished for refusing to administer required exams.

Stewart’s letter is a response to questions from senators as they prepare for the upcoming legislative session. Senators wanted to know if students could opt out of state-required exams and how doing so might affect their progress in school.

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Education
9:31 pm
Mon January 26, 2015

Study: Florida Schools Should End Corporal Punishment

A paddle used to spank students at a Florida school.
Credit Sarah Gonzalez / StateImpact Florida
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StateImpact Florida
1:31 am
Mon January 26, 2015

New Book Looks At The History And Future Of Testing In U.S. Schools

Anya Kamenetz is an education reporter for NPR and author of a new book on testing in U.S. schools.
Credit 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.

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Finances
5:12 pm
Fri January 16, 2015

State Lawmakers Want To Add Financial Education

Credit 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.

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STEM
5:33 pm
Thu January 15, 2015

Amateur Radio Club Connects Miami Students With Space Station

A student asks a question of European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoferretti while Dade Radio Club of Miami president Miguel Garate looks on.
Credit 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.

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StateImpact Florida
5:42 pm
Mon January 12, 2015

Fewer And Better: How Lawmakers Want To Change State Testing

Most students will take the Florida Standards Assessments online.
Credit 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.

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