Gov. Rick Scott pulls Florida out of Common Core (via Tampa Bay Times)

Scott announced yesterday that he is ordering Florida’s Department of Education to pull out of the multi-state consortium that is developing programs and testing around the new Common Core Standards. 

Common Core is being implemented in 45 states through the national organization PARCC, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. PARCC is not a federal government entity - it is managed by leaders from various participating states. 

Meanwhile, Governor Scott made this statement in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan:

Unfortunately, PARCC has become a primary entry point for the involvement of the federal government into many of these state and local decisions. […] The federal government, however, has no constitutional authority to involve itself in the state-level decisions on academic standards and assessments.

In an editorial published last Friday, Charlie Crist voiced his support for education reform in Florida:

[O]ver the last few years, management of Florida’s public schools has been an unmitigated disaster. In addition to cutting school funds during the current governor’s tenure, Florida has had four different education commissioners in less than three years, and countless missteps, including once having to redo school grades because so many schools were rated poorly.

We need to right the course of public education. Here’s a start.

First, Gov. Rick Scott needs to get off the fence and lead Florida’s embrace of the national Common Core Education Standards. These standards have been adopted by 45 states and will allow our children to be equal to their peers nationally. Further, these standards — which cover language arts and math — are much more in depth than the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test and our own Sunshine State Standards. That is why as governor I supported the movement to Common Core.

I’ll leave it to you to assess who is prioritizing education policy in the Sunshine State. Scott’s decision to pull out of PARCC shows that he continues to cater his policies and decisions for the Tea Party base. Note that the Governor has not completely shut down Common Core implementation - because even he recognizes the need to do something about FCAT.

Florida Bright Futures: Not looking too bright (more than half of Black and Hispanic students would no longer be eligible)

In 1997, the Florida Legislature created the Bright Futures scholarship program in an effort to prevent brain drain. Florida’s best and brightest high school students were leaving the state for better options, and the goal of Bright Futures was to give them a reason to stay: college, for free.

Eligibility is based on GPA and SAT/ACT scores, with a three-tier award system: Florida Academic Scholars, Florida Medallion Scholars and Florida Gold Seal Vocational Scholars.

The program was hugely popular, growing significantly each year:

The problem was, it became too successful. Bright Futures is funded by the Florida Lottery, and revenues weren’t keeping up with costs. Furthermore, Florida’s universities wanted to raise tuition in order to compete nationally in the rankings for academics, research, etc.

I attended University of Florida from 2008-2012. My high school GPA and SAT score qualified me for the Florida Academic Scholars, the top tier BF scholarship. This was described to me as a “100% tuition scholarship” by my high school guidance counselor. However, the scholarship only covered 100% for my first year of college. For my other three years at UF, my tuition costs steadily rose each semester - I paid over $1,000 each of my senior year semesters, which is a lot considering I was told I received a scholarship that would cover all of my college tuition.

Check out the other half of the chart - the incredible rising costs:

Two major shifts have occurred for BF: (1) the Florida Legislature has raised eligibility requirements (2) college tuition costs have increased, while Bright Futures award amounts have decreased.

This year, new eligibility standards have been approved and are slated to go into effect on July 1st. Currently, to qualify for the lowest tier scholarship, students need a 1020 SAT or 22 ACT and 3.0 GPA. The new standards would require an 1170 SAT or 26 ACT and 3.0 GPA. Students also have to complete 30, 75 or 100 community service hours for the respective scholarship tier.

A University of South Florida analysis found that the new standards would make Bright Futures scholarships significantly less available to minority students. From State Impact Florida:

According to the analysis, 87 percent of Hispanic freshmen met the current standards. About one-third would qualify under the new standards.

About half of black freshmen qualified for scholarship in 2012. Just one in eight would qualify under the new standards.

Less than one-quarter of the freshmen enrolling at Florida Atlantic University, Florida International University, Florida A&M University, Florida Gulf Coast University and the University of West Florida would be eligible under the new standards.

No question about it, these changes would make Florida colleges and universities less affordable for minority students, and therefore less accessible. That is bad - but can we blame Bright Futures? BF was never about diversity. (Other programs, such as Florida Opportunity Scholars, are focused on low-income and minority students. And those programs probably need way more funding than current levels.)

I absolutely think Florida needs to focus on getting qualified low-income high school students into our colleges and universities, but let’s not turn Bright Futures into something it’s not.

The best part of Bright Futures is it’s incredible appeal. I could have gone to better-ranked, more prestigious schools in other states, but I ultimately couldn’t pass up that “100% tuition covered” scholarship offer. Now the offers have become so diluted, I don’t think they have the same effect for high-achieving high school seniors. If we want a real merit scholarship that retains the best and brightest, I think the eligibility standards (and the award amounts) should go up even more.

(Sources: State Impact, FSFA)

Editorial: Gov. Scott’s stunt won’t fix higher ed

From a Tampa Bay Times editorial:

CHEAP Gimmicks are no way to improve Florida’s higher education system and better prepare students for the work force. That is exactly what Gov. Rick Scott proposed Monday, borrowing a simplistic idea from Texas by challenging the state college system to offer $10,000 bachelor’s degrees. How this blue-light special fits with Scott’s supposed commitment to building a quality higher education system that produces more science, math and technology degrees is anyone’s guess.

Even with recent tuition increases, Florida colleges and universities are underpriced and underfunded. If Scott wants to reduce tuition for Florida families and provide the quality higher education they should expect, the state needs to find more money to invest.

This stunt is part of the Governor’s ongoing attempt to show that he cares about education. It’s not hard to understand why - Scott is up for reelection in 2014, and education polls as one of the most important issues to Florida voters.

During Scott’s first legislative session, in 2011, he approved a budget that cut $1.3 billion from public education funding. This year, Republicans “increased” funding by $1 billion to get positive press coverage, but of course they were only restoring part of the cuts from 2011. Then, a few months ago, Scott did a listening tour where he traveled to several school districts across the state to hear the concerns of teachers, parents and administrators. A Palm Beach Post editorial concluded that Scott “heard nothing” on his listening tour, which was just another publicity stunt.

Hopefully Florida voters can remember all of the bad policies Rick Scott has implemented as governor, and not get distracted by his publicity stunts when they go to the voting booth in 2014.

Recent read: Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol.
This book provides a detailed and honest look at the worst (and best) of America’s public schools. Kozol’s point is simple: poor and minority children in our country receive a subpar education. When black kids fail to receive the same educational opportunities as their wealthy white neighbors, they are disadvantaged from the first day of kindergarten onwards. Once trapped in a failing public school, it is that much harder to break the cycle of poverty.
The author doesn’t just talk about these problems as broad ideas - he shows the reader just how bad it is, up close. Kozol visited schools in Chicago, New York, and more. For example, a school in Brooklyn:

At P.S. 94 in District 10, where 1,300 children study in a building suitable for 700, the gym has been transformed into four noisy, makeshift classrooms. The gym teacher improvises with no gym. A reading teacher, in whose room “huge pieces of a ceiling” have collapsed, according to the Times, “covering the floor, the desks and the books,” describes the rain that spills in through the roof. “If society gave a damn about these children,” says the teacher, “they wouldn’t let this happen.”

This book is also a discussion about how we can improve our school systems and make public education the level playing field it is supposed to be.
Of course, it all comes down to money. Most school districts are primarily funded by local property taxes. Richer neighborhoods have higher property values, thusly higher property tax revenues, and thusly more money for public schools. State and federal funding programs that are intended to boost the poorer school districts often provide similar funds to the rich districts, failing to equalize the system. At the end of the day, poor (and therefore, minority) children go to school at Brooklyn’s P.S. 94 and other failing institutions.
It is worth pointing out that Savage Inequalities was published in 1992, and some of the schools Kozol visited could have improved in the last 20 years. However, I think the problems the author describes have not gone away. The fundamental issues with public education in America still exist, and this book is a helpful introduction to what is going on.

Recent read: Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol.

This book provides a detailed and honest look at the worst (and best) of America’s public schools. Kozol’s point is simple: poor and minority children in our country receive a subpar education. When black kids fail to receive the same educational opportunities as their wealthy white neighbors, they are disadvantaged from the first day of kindergarten onwards. Once trapped in a failing public school, it is that much harder to break the cycle of poverty.

The author doesn’t just talk about these problems as broad ideas - he shows the reader just how bad it is, up close. Kozol visited schools in Chicago, New York, and more. For example, a school in Brooklyn:

At P.S. 94 in District 10, where 1,300 children study in a building suitable for 700, the gym has been transformed into four noisy, makeshift classrooms. The gym teacher improvises with no gym. A reading teacher, in whose room “huge pieces of a ceiling” have collapsed, according to the Times, “covering the floor, the desks and the books,” describes the rain that spills in through the roof. “If society gave a damn about these children,” says the teacher, “they wouldn’t let this happen.”

This book is also a discussion about how we can improve our school systems and make public education the level playing field it is supposed to be.

Of course, it all comes down to money. Most school districts are primarily funded by local property taxes. Richer neighborhoods have higher property values, thusly higher property tax revenues, and thusly more money for public schools. State and federal funding programs that are intended to boost the poorer school districts often provide similar funds to the rich districts, failing to equalize the system. At the end of the day, poor (and therefore, minority) children go to school at Brooklyn’s P.S. 94 and other failing institutions.

It is worth pointing out that Savage Inequalities was published in 1992, and some of the schools Kozol visited could have improved in the last 20 years. However, I think the problems the author describes have not gone away. The fundamental issues with public education in America still exist, and this book is a helpful introduction to what is going on.

Societies cannot be all generals, no soldiers. But, by our schooling patterns, we assure that soldiers’ children are more likely to be soldiers and that the offspring of the generals will at least have the option to be generals. If this is not so, if it is just a matter of the difficulty of assuring perfect fairness, why does the unfairness never benefit the children of the poor?
Jonathan Kozol, Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools

The Writing Revolution: a fascinating look at how writing is taught, from The Atlantic


For years, nothing seemed capable of turning around New Dorp High School’s dismal performance—not firing bad teachers, not flashy education technology, not after-school programs. So, faced with closure, the school’s principal went all-in on a very specific curriculum reform, placing an overwhelming focus on teaching the basics of analytic writing, every day, in virtually every class. What followed was an extraordinary blossoming of student potential, across nearly every subject—one that has made New Dorp a model for educational reform.

The Writing Revolution by Peg Tye

Tye discusses the shift from structured, step-by-step writing instruction to a focus on creativity that has occurred in recent decades in public schools. This rings true for me - I remember clearly an emphasis on creativity and sometimes a lack of detail in the grammar side during elementary school. Furthermore, I remember later on covering grammar in my AP English class in high school and struggling with it. 

As an avid reader, writing was a joy for me and I loved to write short stories for my parents and teachers. But the article makes a good point: if I hadn’t loved reading, understanding complex sentence structures would not have come easily, and my teachers may not have been much help.

Writing education must find a balance between creativity and structure - the solution is somewhere in the middle.

I saw this collection of commencement speeches assembled by The Atlantic today, which caused me to reflect back on my own recent graduation. 

As much as my graduation was a memorable day, the University of Florida does not go all out for commencement speakers. With ten ceremonies packed into a full weekend of graduations each spring, we get a brief, unemotional discourse from UF’s President and a more lengthy speech from a fellow student. (Trust me, it’s hard to feel inspired by an upbeat forestry major with a Southern twang and no particularly moving insights to share on what is, after all, her own graduation day too).

Feeling a little moody as I reflected on my university’s subpar commencement speeches, I decided to watch Jane Lynch’s address to the Smith College Class of 2012. Although I experienced Lynch’s speech a month after my graduation, via YouTube, it was still a positive, inspirational encounter. 

One of the most satisfying moments for me was towards the end, when she throws in a reminder about an issue affecting us all:

I’m counting on you to ferociously guard the women’s health care rights our sisters won for us years ago. I know you women of Smith will greet that fight with a big “YES AND,” and any one who tries take them away from you with a huge “NO WAY.”

Mitt Romney participated in an education roundtable with teachers in Philadelphia, and he suggested that class size doesn’t make a difference in student performance. Several teachers proceeded to tell Romney he was dead wrong.

Side note: Romney’s education policy advisor, Rob Page, referred to the National Education Association as a “terrorist organization”.

Interesting updates on UF CISE (Computer & Information Science and Engineering Dept)

First, this statement was released yesterday by the UF College of Engineering:

A Forbes article by contributing writer Steven Salzberg falsely claims that the University of Florida is eliminating the Computer Science Department. There have been similar claims made by others on other media platforms.

The Dean of the College of Engineering has put on the table for discussion a budget plan to reorganize the Computer & Information Science and Engineering Department.

Under that proposal, all undergraduate and graduate degree curriculum would remain the same and the college would maintain its brainpower and research capacity. The plan calls for no lay-offs of tenure-track faculty. Faculty lay-offs are expected, however, if across-the-board cuts are made in the College of Engineering.

The proposed budget plan would grow the number of graduates from the CISE department because faculty members would be expected to assume a greater teaching responsibility. About $1.4 million in savings would come primarily from the elimination of graduate teaching assistants.

We are aware faculty and students have expressed serious concern with this plan. The Dean and Provost have been meeting with faculty and student groups for the past two weeks. From the comments and suggestions the Dean has received, we are confident that a solution that maintains the quality of the educational programs in the College can be achieved while making the required budget reductions.

Lastly, shared governance takes some time. We ask for everyone’s patience as we work through this process.

I think UF is overreacting here. The Forbes article attacked the proposal by Dean Abernathy to dismantle CISE as we know by reshuffling the professors, eliminating lots of TA positions, and cutting funding for research. This may not literally end the computer science and engineering majors at UF, but it would certainly harm the prestige and legitimacy of the program (and therefore of its degrees).

Second, the official UF twitter account (@UFlorida) backtracked this morning regarding a statement they tweeted yesterday. I don’t know who runs this twitter, but it has been answering questions and interacting openly with fellow tweeters. 

(If you have no idea what any of this is, background here.)