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Joe Henderson: Public schools need to take victories where they can get them

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

Florida’s public schools should go on red alert any time the state Legislature is in session because that usually means the lives of students, teachers and administrators is about to change for the worse.

With that in mind, I’ll cautiously give an approving nod to a vote Monday by the House Education Committee that could – repeat, could – lead to some needed reforms.

Place your bets.

As Scott Powers reported for, a key provision in HB 773 would push some of those high-stakes proficiency math and English tests for some students to the last three weeks of the school year. The argument goes that teachers would have more time to prepare students.

The bill, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah, also would direct the state Department of Education to study if the nationally recognized ACT and SAT college prep tests could take the place of some of Florida’s tests.

The Senate also is considering a bill that might eliminate some of the end-of-course exams that amount to all or nothing for students. Currently, a student could get perfect scores on all of his or her class assignments but would fail the course if they don’t get a passing grade on that pressure-cooker end of the year test.

While educators have been lobbying hard for some of these changes, don’t toss the confetti just yet.

Because the DOE will only study whether the ACT and SAT tests could replace some of what Florida requires, it’s unclear whether lawmakers actually will reduce the number of these exams students are forced to take.

Of course, only someone with a caustic wit would note that the glut of testing is the direct result of the state deciding that “accountability” rather than “education” should be the word of the day.

When confronted with the unholy mess that created, Tallahassee’s answer was to shift public education money to private charter schools. One of the big disputes now is the House push to put $200 million in the budget for so-called schools of hope.

Translation: charter schools.

Maybe giving public schools a break on testing would seem to be the least the House can do under the circumstances. Given the way public education has been treated for years by the Legislature, take your victories where you can get them.

Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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