Do-overs reinforce need to do over FCAT-based education system
Despite rising graduation rates, lots of kids are graduating from Florida high schools without the math, reading or English skills to do college-level work. It’s a good thing that state education officials know about the problem and require remediation. But it’s also one more example of how the FCAT-based “accountability” system is failing. As The Post reported Monday, placement tests given to high school graduates going on to Florida’s public colleges and universities show that 37.6 percent of students statewide needed remediation in English, reading or math. In Palm Beach County, 37.8 percent of graduates needed remediation. Figures are from 2010, the latest available. There always has been a steep, inexplicable drop-off in FCAT scores -- and particularly in reading scores -- from elementary school to high school. Since former Gov. Jeb Bush started misusing FCAT scores to assign school grades in 1999, reading scores generally have risen in elementary schools. But they’ve barely budged for high schools, where about half of 10th-graders still flunk the reading portion. Now comes the news that even for students who have graduated from high school -- which means that they have fulfilled the reading and math requirements -- nearly 38 percent heading to public higher education in Florida still need help before they can move up to college classes. All the do-or-die emphasis on the FCAT, in other words, hasn’t sufficiently paid off where it counts most. Remediation is expensive, both for the students who have to pay the extra tuition -- and take longer to get their college degrees -- and for the state’s higher education system. One recent study found that remediation cost $127 million in 2007-2008. Also, those who need remediation are less likely to get a degree. Florida gradually is replacing the FCAT with end-of-course tests. In another good move, the state is helping high school students get remediation before they graduate. But the state still is hung up on giving out school grades. And it foolishly will begin evaluating teachers based on the old testing regime even as it gropes its way toward a new system. Florida’s accountability system still needs remediation.
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Online-U doesn't fit with state's math, science goal
Paul Cottle's physics classes at Florida State University include just the type of student the state wants to produce more of: high-level, science-focused scholars capable of competing for jobs on the world's stage. The way Cottle teaches them is no accident. "Right now, the very best classroom environment for physics is one in which you have people working together in groups on physical experiments, things they've got in their hands," he said. "We do very, very little lecturing, maybe five minutes of lecturing at the beginning of a three-hour period." It's intense, hands-on and face-to-face. And it's the exact opposite of Florida leaders' push to figure out a way to make the state the latest competitor in the e-degree business. Incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford is behind a push for the state to create its 13th university, one that would exist exclusively online. No 90,000-seat monuments to fall Saturdays, or libraries with rare 15th-century collections, or eateries open until 2 a.m. at the student union. If Web-U sounds cheap to operate, that's because it is, so the board that runs the state's university system is getting right on it. It's hired a consultant to evaluate the possibility. Weatherford pitched the idea in a letter to the Board of Governors earlier this year. "You can watch on YouTube a multivariable calculus class taught by a professor at UC Berkeley," he wrote. "Through technology that is available now, we have the power to deliver a high quality education to students anywhere in Florida." I'm no expert in multivariable calculus, but I know that watching it on YouTube is a lot different than learning it in a way that would make me employable in the field. Some courses lend themselves to online learning. And some don't. It doesn't take a Ph.D. to figure out that an increased emphasis on virtual classes is a straight shot to more liberal-arts degrees -- not the science, technology, engineering and math diplomas that we expect to need to make Florida's workforce globally competitive. "Learning science and math is just more expensive than learning other subjects," said Cottle. You need special lab equipment. You need the experience that comes with doing instead of watching.
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Scott omits email account from state website
Gov. Rick Scott said he was championing transparency in May when he gave the public access to his emails by posting them online for anyone to see. But what he failed to say at his May 3 news conference launching Project Sunburst was that the emails he made public were not the emails of his official state account. The emails the public read online were from a different account used almost exclusively by conservative supporters. On Monday, after the Herald/Times questioned what appeared to be an unrealistically high percentage of favorable emails on the public database, the Scott administration issued a statement acknowledging the two separate e-mail accounts. It also announced that it would phase out RLS@eog.myflorida.com, which Scott solely used to respond to email. That email address -- which was not on any official state website -- appears on many Tea Party websites across the state, under the heading “Governor Rick Scott’s email.” “Effective this week, emails sent or received using the official website contact form will also be added to the Sunburst system,” said Scott spokesman Brian Burgess, who emphasized that the governor’s emails are always available through a public records request. Scott was not available for comment. A full list of emails sent to both of Scott’s accounts, going back to May 1, will now be uploaded to the system. Scott’s official state email account is firstname.lastname@example.org, but this account is only used to receive emails and not correspond with the public. The vast majority of the emails displayed on the public database — called “Project Sunburst”— included glowing praise for Scott and his policies, while those appearing on his official state account have been kept out of database. Under Project Sunburst, the emails of Scott, Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, and several of their staff members were to be posted on a public website within 24 hours. Scott said it would give the public and the media a more transparent view of Florida’s government at work. The Sunburst system was supposed to eventually be rolled out to various state agencies. Scott called it an “open and transparent window into how state government works” and directed people to the Sunburst site to access “my emails.” That Scott was referring to an unpublished account was not clear to many who have used and tracked the Sunburst system for the last three months. “It was always my understanding that all of the governor’s email accounts were going to be listed,” said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation. “I find it very odd and misleading that we’re only getting the [positive] stuff.”
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