Blended Learning: A Paradigm Shift?

by Krista Sobel

Krista argues that Florida was the first to launch into online learning in any significant way with the Florida Virtual School (FLVS).  This is true.  It is also true that Florida had significant growing pains. In 2013, enrollment in the virtual school dropped 32 percent and funding reductions caused serious layoffs.  It seems that FLVS was allowing students enrolled full time in public schools to take multiple online courses at the same time.  They made a lot of money using that policy.  The legislature stepped in.  There must have been a quality gap somewhere.

Quality gaps of other online companies reached national attention as well. 

FLVS filed a 2014 lawsuit and won against K12 Inc., the mega online course management company, over copyright infringement.  The State of Florida filed a suit against K12 Inc. for falsifying teachers who were assigned to courses.  Many local districts countered the practice by negotiating their own online academies taught by local teachers.  The districts also kept the records of student progress.  They might purchase rights to online course content, or they may develop their own courses, but they control the process.

Problems with for-profit online companies are everywhere.  Politico published a series on the academic failure and profiteering of the online charter schools.   They may advertise blended learning experiences, but the reality is too often a computer or two in a corner.  What is clear is that citizens have a duty to be wary but an obligation to recognize the opportunities new technologies can bring.   Read Krista’s vision for change.  This is her view; it does not represent LWV positions.

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League Forum on Schools of the Future


The League of Women Voters invites you to join us in Gainesville on March 4th. We are celebrating the Schools of the Future with Peggy Brookins, CEO of the National Professional Teachers Certification organization.  She is on the President’s Commission on Education.  Peggy was a teacher and innovator in Florida for many years before joining the National Board.

Following her presentation will be a panel of educators who will respond to audience questions.  Panelists include the Deputy Superintendent, Teacher of the Year, elementary and secondary curriculum specialists and the head of the Alachua County Council of PTAs.

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DeVos Confirmed: Split Vote in Florida

The telephone lines to D.C. were jammed with protest votes over the DeVos nomination for U.S. Secretary of Education.  In Florida, Senator Rubio voted yes and Senator Nelson voted no.  The U.S. Senate was tied and VP Pence broke the tie.

I saw a note about a one sentence bill to abolish the Department of Education.  It was filed by Rep. Thomas Massie RKY.  He thinks local parents and communities should control schools.  He may be right.

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Annual teacher contract renewals threatened?

Legislation

Rep. Grant filed a bill HB373 that would not allow districts to grant annual contract renewals, as some districts do, for teachers who receive an evaluation of ‘effective’ or ‘highly effective’.  The bill has a long way to go in the legislative process and what the bill accomplishes is not clear.  Teachers rated ‘ineffective’ may already be terminated.    Tenure is gone, and teachers are regularly dismissed.

Reasons for dismissing a teacher are specified in law according to the Florida Education Association which does not support more legislative interference in teacher contracts.  Currently, teachers are on annual contracts which must be reviewed each year.  Some districts automatically renew these contracts if there are no performance issues.

 

In 2011, Governor Scott signed SB 736 that altered the entire teacher evaluation system:

  • Teachers hired after 2011 have a one-year probation and be subject to immediate dismissal. After the first year, they have annual contracts and annual reviews.
  • Teachers hired prior to 2011 continue to have professional service contracts with automatic renewal, but they would be subject to immediate dismissal for just cause.  All teachers, however, must renew their teacher certificates every five years, and those teachers with two sequential unsatisfactory ratings would be dismissed.
  • Teachers receiving marginal ratings must undergo training.  (Whether or not principals are willing to arrange for the appropriate remediation is a concern.  It is suggested that it may be simply easier to give a low rating and dismiss the teacher).
  • Workforce reduction must be based on program needs and performance evaluations, not last hired, first fired policies.
  • Two salary plans performance (merit) or the years of teaching pay schedules are used.  Teachers hired before 2011 are able to transfer to the merit plan, if they wish.

 

The Suspension Gap

“Fixing” struggling schools with a load of good intentions only goes so far.  Strong leaders have to figure out ways to get children to show up for school and find time, teachers, and learning strategies to help them.  School success is measured by student learning gains.  Achievement gaps between white and black, rich and poor students must be narrowed.  This is only one of the gaps leaders must close.

 

 

 

 

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Talk to Little Children: Don’t dehumanize them

by Susan Bowles

This article was written in response to a Gainesville Sun commentary about pushing math skills on preschoolers to raise U.S. PISA scores.  Bowles is a kindergarten teacher who calls attention to the need for age appropriate teaching and learning strategies.  Simply pushing the mastery of high level skills on younger and younger children is ineffective and unfair.

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School Turnaround: Caught Between the Crosshairs

In a news report on President Obama’s legacy, one commentator stated that is focus on eliminating failing schools would survive.  These are the ‘turn around’ schools where most students do not meet state proficiency levels.  Some say that the goal to have all students be proficient is like assuming all students must be ‘above average’.  Proficiency standards, however, are set at levels most but not all students are expected to reach.  The expectations are an ever increasing target.  As achievement goes up, standards go up.

It is a trap, however, to excuse low performance because students have not been expected or even required to do better.  Is there an escape hatch?

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New ‘Best and Brightest’ Bonus Plan Proposed

According to the Tallahassee News Service of Florida, Governor Scott will support $43 million dollars in 2017 teacher bonuses.  Details of the plan are not yet available, but the Governor said that the plan will target new teachers who show great potential and veteran teachers who show the highest student academic growth among their peers.  The current method of qualifying based on test scores will change.

 

 

 

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Making Good Choices: Equitable Public Schools Do Better

Researchers at Stanford University have published a new study comparing public school vs. school choice privatization systems.  Public schools that focus on equity win hands down.

The data suggest that the education sector is better served by a public investment approach that serves each and every child than by a market-based competition approach that creates winners…..and losers.

It is worth taking a minute to see how and why.

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A Serious Look at Testing or at School Culture?

Rep. David Simmons, the chair of the Florida Senate Appropriations sub committee on Education wants a serious look at way to reduce over testing.  What is over testing?  Is it all the prep testing that goes on prior to the state tests?  On the other hand, is it too many redundant state or national tests e.g. requiring students to sit the FSA and the SAT if they are going to college?  Or, is it requiring students to take a state test like the FSA every year?  There is another way to look at over testing.  Perhaps it is a way to avoid looking for solutions.

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