HB 7069 includes a new academic requirement for Florida’s public colleges and universities – a civics literacy course

If Governor Scott signs the mammoth education policy bill HB 7069 into law, it will impose a new academic requirement to take a civics literacy course on students at Florida’s public colleges and universities.

The bill language offers the possibility of circumventing the course requirement by passing a test on civics knowledge.

Other than the civics requirement, HB 7069 is focused on the K-12 system.  A separate bill, SB 374, includes significant reforms for Florida’s postsecondary system.

The civics literacy bill language from HB 7069 is shown below.

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Teacher and principal bonuses in HB 7069: Here’s the bill language, in all of its gory detailed glory

The debate over HB 7069, the massive education policy bill passed at the last minute by the Florida Legislature, has come to this:  the bill’s advocates have released a cartoon to make the argument that Governor Scott should sign the bill.  It’s an extraordinary moment for education reform in our state.

I wanted to make my own contribution to this discussion that speaks directly to my regular readers (both of them, and one is Adam LaMee – I still don’t know who the other is).  My readership (such as it is) enjoys drowning in authentic detail.  So for the benefit of my regular readers, I here post the entire section of the bill having to do with Best and Brightest teacher and principal bonuses.  And I didn’t even transcribe it – just cut and paste images from the enrolled version of the bill.  That makes it truly authentic, right?

So enjoy the bill language in all of its gory detailed glory.  And then perhaps take a peek at the cartoon to see what our political discourse has come to.

My brief take on this language is here.

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Under HB 7069, a new broad program of modest teacher bonuses would dwarf ACT/SAT-driven Best and Brightest program

For the last two years, Florida’s largest teacher incentive program – the controversial Best and Brightest bonus program – has been driven in part by teachers’ own scores on the ACT and SAT college entrance examinations.

This will change dramatically if Governor Scott signs into law HB 7069, the Legislature’s massive K-12 policy bill.

Under HB 7069, Florida’s new primary teacher incentive program will consist of modest bonuses for teachers who earn evaluations of “effective” ($800) and “highly effective” ($1,200) and will not have any further eligibility requirements.  But while the bonuses are modest, the scope of this new program is not.  Almost half of Florida’s teachers (45.9% or 75,821) earned a “highly effective” evaluation in 2015-16.  Nearly all of the rest (52.0% or 85,929 teachers) earned an evaluation of “effective”.

If the numbers of teachers earning “highly effective” and “effective” evaluations this year is the same, then the state will spend about $160 million on this new bonus program.

The amount spent on the new bonus program will dwarf the amount spent on the ACT/SAT-driven Best and Brightest teacher bonus program despite the larger $6,000 bonuses awarded for the latter.  The new Principals’ Best and Brightest bonus program that is authorized under HB 7069 will also be considerably smaller than the new teacher bonus program.

But the new broad program of modest bonuses and the continuing Best and Brightest teacher bonus program have one important component in common – the state’s teacher evaluation system, under which the percentages of teachers rated “highly effective” and “effective” vary wildly from district to district.  Only teachers rated “highly effective” are eligible for the larger Best and Brightest bonuses, even if they have the high ACT/SAT scores required.

As shown below, the percentages of teachers rated “highly effective” vary from a high of 97.6% in Okaloosa County to 10.3% in Pinellas County and even smaller percentages in rural Dixie, Jackson and Putnam Counties.  (Report from the Florida Department of Education)

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“Flavor of the Week” in STEM education: Trying to get your students interested in robotics or computer science or medical fields by offering specialty courses in those fields in your middle or high school? Perhaps you should keep in mind that…

…to become engineers who work in the robotics field, your students should take chemistry, physics and calculus in high school (according to the American Society for Engineering Education).

…to earn bachelor of science degrees in computer science, your students will have to take lots of science (including physics) and math (including calculus) in college.  And it’s best to be introduced to those subjects in high school.

…to gain admission to professional school in medicine, dentistry or physical therapy, your students will have to do well in college courses in chemistry, physics and calculus.  That means being introduced to those subjects in high school.

Don’t let Flavor of the Week STEM courses get in the way of your students’ STEM career preparation.  If high school courses in robotics, coding or “medicine” get your students excited enough to prepare well for college programs in those fields, all the better.  But remember that it’s irresponsible to get a student excited about a career in robotics and then neglect to mention the importance of chemistry, physics and mathematics in preparing for such a career.

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“Flavor of the Week Syndrome”: One more way to hold back progress in STEM career preparation

The author of this guest post, Adam LaMee, is the Teacher-in-Residence for the University of Central Florida’s PhysTEC physics teacher preparation program.  Last week, Adam made a presentation at the Spring Meeting of the Florida Association of Science Supervisors titled “Coding in K-12 Science”.  The presentation may not have been what the audience expected from the title, and after hearing about the talk from a member of the audience I asked Adam to write about his presentation for posting here.

As a high school physics teacher, Adam deserves a great deal of credit for the steep rise in high school physics enrollments at Leon County’s Rickards High School and throughout the county that took place from 2013 to 2015.  His departure in 2015 is one of the reasons district physics enrollments have dropped in the last two years as quickly as they rose in the two years before that.  That’s the impact great teacher-leaders have.  

Adam claims to be one of the two regular readers of this blog.  The identity of the other remains a mystery.

There are plenty of challenges in the science education biz. One of the most salient is “flavor of the week” syndrome. You’ve probably heard of them over the years: robotics, reading in the content area, writing in the content area, engineering, academies, industry certification. This latest is “coding.” These are all great ideas, but our failing is to singularly invest in the flavor of the week at the expense of the what we already know is important. So our challenge is twofold — how to incorporate coding into grade school science while continuing to reinforce the core principles of inquiry, rigor, and student-centered learning for every student.

The other regular reader of this blog may not be aware that I spoke last week at the Florida Association of Science Supervisors semi-annual conference. It’s a friendlier and more entertaining event than its title might suggest. Most of Florida’s 67 school districts were represented and each attendee has been feeling increased pressure to “do coding” in their district. What does that mean? They and everyone else are trying to figure that out. I’ve been working with teachers in Seminole County on what we think that might look like. And I think we’re on to something.

I taught Physics for 10 years in Tallahassee after graduating from FSU Physics Department, hence my contact with Paul. I’m now the Teacher-in-Residence in the UCF Physics Department. It’s a unique position (there are two of us in the State) that’s tasked with creating high school Physics teachers from STEM undergraduates. One of the go-to techniques for recruiting future teachers is to put them in the same room with practicing teachers and let them learn from each other. About two dozen UCF undergrads developed computer programs over the past year that each do something simple, but useful. They grab cool data from the web and make a plot of it. Middle school science teachers in Seminole County then take those programs and turn them into classroom lessons. The main theme is that computer programs are useful tools in science. Students are prompted to change some small part of a line of code that’s pretty obvious and make the program do something a little different, like change the graph’s title or axis range. It’s like reading a paragraph about dolphins and changing it to be about porpoises … or cuttlefish, by replacing a few words. That wouldn’t help you learn Spanish or Latin, but that’s exactly how you start learning Python or Java. Learning to program is so vastly different from learning a foreign language, the word “language” is about the only similarity (legislators, I’m speaking to you).

We aren’t teaching kids to code from scratch. Codecademy already does a great job of that for free and schools looking to start their own coding elective should begin and end their search there. You see, teachers already feel the academic year is stretched awfully thin by mandated testing, pre-testing, post-testing, interim assessments, and end-of-year exams. If we want students to learn about computer science, one thing we can’t do is ask teachers to add extra activities to their year plan. That’s exactly what we did with so many other flavors of the week and why so few persisted after the initial surge of interest. We also can’t ask teachers to teach computer programming that they don’t know (hint: 99% don’t know any programming). What we can do is offer them an accessible way to introduce their students to coding in a way that also allows them to teach the topics they already have planned.

A bonus is that we don’t need to ask students to sacrifice another course to learn about computer science. That “flavor of the week” thing? The absolutely most critical thing by far for every student with plans of trade school or college is to take Chemistry, Physics, and pre-Calculus in high school. Every student. The future welders, history majors, engineers, and computer scientists. All of them. And Florida isn’t great about making that happen (see nearly every other post on this blog). Students also need to study a foreign language. Adding a computer science course is a zero-sum game. To take it, a student won’t take some other class and there’s way less room in a high schooler’s schedule than when you, the reader, was in school. Integrating it into existing Science courses (or Math or English, for that matter) lets us add a new piece of career preparation while respecting what we already know students need out of their K-12 experience. My gloomy prediction is we’ll soon see high schools create “Computer Science Academies” which don’t require foreign language, Chemistry, Physics, and pre-Calculus. I couldn’t imagine a less well-prepared graduate for the CS industry, but I’m often wrong. Hopefully this is one of those times.

If you’re interested in trying out some of these coding activities for yourself or viewing my presentation slides, go to CODINGinK12.org.

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Florida’s Middle Grades Study: What states should Florida really look to for lessons about how to improve math and reading achievement?

I’m thrilled that the Florida Legislature has sent the bill on studying the state’s problems in middle school to Governor Scott’s desk.  What’s most encouraging about this is that Florida will have to stop pretending that everything is going great at all levels and take a look in the mirror.

But now that the middle grades study is on its way to becoming law, I’ll allow myself to look at the fine structure of the study.  The bill language implies that the states Florida should emulate in math are Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Washington.  In reading, the bill points to Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, and New Jersey.

Especially given Florida’s socioeconomic challenges, I’d pick target states a little differently.  I’d start with the plots of 2015 NAEP 8th grade results (% proficient in math and reading) against percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (an imperfect measure of socioeconomic challenges – but what else do we really have?) shown below.

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To start with, ignore the distinctions between “Non-model states” and “Model states”.  The plots give very nice illustrations of the strong correlation between student achievement and socioeconomic metrics.

Now it’s worth noting that all of the states named in the Middle Grades Study bill are low FRL states – Connecticut (37.1%), Massachusetts (38.3%), Minnesota (38.4%), New Hampshire (27.8%), New Jersey (38.0%), Vermont (39.4%) and Washington State (46.3%).  In contrast, there are not many states with higher FRL rates than Florida (58.4%).

So let’s take a little different approach to picking out target states for Florida.  Instead of just picking the states that have high proficiency rates on the 8th grade assessments, let’s pick states from throughout the FRL spectrum that beat their FRL peers.  My picks are shown in the plots in red as “Model States”.

In math, I still include four low FRL states, led by Massachusetts (38.3% FRL, 51% proficient).  The other three low FRL states I would include are Minnesota (38.4% FRL, 48% proficient), New Hampshire (27.8% FRL, 46% proficient) and New Jersey (38.0% FRL, 46% proficient).  All look much stronger than Florida (58.4% FRL, 26% proficient).  But is it possible to have stronger proficiency numbers than Florida even with more low income students than the top states?  Three states say “yes”, including Arizona (53.4% FRL, 35% proficient), Indiana (49.2% FRL, 39% proficient) and Florida’s usual rival, Texas (60.1% FRL, 32% proficient).  If it were up to me, I’d include those three high-FRL states in the study.

I would do a similar selection in reading, in which Florida’s proficiency rate is a sorry 30%.  I would look at four low-FRL states – Connecticut (37.1% FRL, 43% proficient), Massachusetts (38.3% FRL, 46% proficient), New Hampshire (27.8% FRL, 45% proficient) and Vermont (39.4% FRL, 44% proficient).  And I’d include two high-FRL states – Kentucky (54.8% FRL, 43% proficient) and Tennessee (58.8% FRL, 33% proficient).

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A win on Best and Brightest: New teachers entering profession outside of the traditional pipeline remain eligible for signing bonuses

Under final eligibility language released by legislative leaders late this afternoon, new teachers who have high ACT or SAT scores will qualify for Best and Brightest signing bonuses, even if they have not graduated from one of Florida’s teacher education programs.  The Senate had sought language to exclude new teachers from signing bonus eligibility unless they had already graduated from a teacher education program like FSU-Teach.

The eligibility language proposed by the Senate might have hurt efforts to recruit new teachers for math and science subjects.  Many who enter the teaching profession in those subjects are individuals who have bachelors’ degrees in math and science but who have not had any formal coursework in education.  A recent FLDOE document reported that while there were 237 vacancies for chemistry and physics teachers in 2014-15, only 17 teachers in these fields graduated from Florida teacher education programs in 2013-14.

The agreement by legislative leaders will maintain the present eligibility requirements (an ACT or SAT score at the 80th percentile or higher, plus a “highly effective” evaluation for continuing teachers) through the 2019-20 school year.  However, the bonus amount is being reduced to $6,000.  After 2019-20, the test score requirement will be modified somewhat.

The legislature is also implementing a new program to provides $1,200 bonuses to all teachers who earn “highly effective” evaluations and $800 bonuses to all evaluated as “effective”.

The amount budgeted for all of these bonuses in the next fiscal year is $233 million.

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