Getting to a 98 percent passing rate

Guest post by DOE Director of Faith and Community Outreach Joyce Hobson

You always hear a lot about how parents should be involved with their children’s education, but how do you measure the effectiveness of involvement?

Tired of sitting in formal, tense parent-teacher conferences, Ms. Donna Harla of Landmark Middle School in Duval County has figured out one way.

Through the Parent Collaboration Program she created, teachers designate 30 minutes every Friday for parents to stop by the classroom. The initiative avoids lengthy scheduling processes between parents, teachers and administrators and increases parents’ access to their child’s education, which allows relationships to build.

Since the initiation of the program in 2008, she has seen a 98 percent passing rate amongst her students.

This is just one of the many efforts going on around the state to increase the communication between parents and teachers. It is the little things – knowing what is going on at the schools, talking about homework policies and lesson plans, meeting other students and teachers in the school, becoming a familiar face – that break down communication barriers.

Does your student’s school have any parental involvement programs? Do you volunteer in your child’s class or attend events? How do you show your support for your student? Please feel free to share!

Students’ Return on Investment

The Department of Education serves as a data repository for a variety of information allowing us to track student performance across time and in varying education sectors. Starting this month, the Department will embark upon a joint project with the Florida Council of 100 to determine the state’s return on investment for students attending various postsecondary educational institutions. The goal of this project is to track graduates of Florida’s public schools as they transition from colleges and universities into the workforce. The data analysis will examine the various jobs and wages these students obtain and compare them with the state’s costs of providing those same students with the postsecondary training and education they received within our education system. This unique opportunity will pull from existing data sources including the Department’s Education Data Warehouse as well as the Florida Education and Training Placement Information Program (FETPIP).

Defining Expectations

On Monday, Nov. 14, the State Board of Education hosted a workshop to discuss the recommended achievement level scores for the FCAT 2.0 Reading and Mathematics and Algebra I End-of-Course Assessment. The proposed “cut” scores were an outcome of input from approximately 300 teachers, and a reactor panel consisting of 12 superintendents, three leaders representing the business and parent communities, four community members, and two members from higher education. The public also had an opportunity to weigh in on this topic through three separate rule-making workshops and web-based feedback. Our state has not gone through this type of “standard setting” process for reading and mathematics in a decade, so the information shared resulted in a very healthy discussion among board members, business and community leaders and many others who participated in the process.

What is significant about this dialog is that it will set the tone for the accountability system in our state. The strengths and challenges echoed by both our K-12 system and the higher education arena on this topic will help us provide an educational system that is aligned and singularly focused on doing what is best for our students, our economy and Florida’s future. By defining the expectations for our students today, and equipping them with the necessary skills to achieve these measures, we will continue to help our students pursue their dreams.

To follow this process as it unfolds, be sure to tune into the webcasts of the board meetings, and follow hashtag #fldoe on Twitter. We live tweet from

Giving Florida students an edge in the global economy

Guest post by DOE Educational Policy Development Director Lydia Southwell

In today’s marketplace, we are not just working with and competing with the person next to us, we are a part of a global economy and need to ensure our students are prepared for the challenge.

As we celebrate International Education Week this year, it is a good opportunity to reflect and promote the importance of “Inspiring Students Locally to Succeed Globally,” the theme for this year’s celebration.

So what is Florida doing to prepare its students?

Many Florida school districts offer dual language programs, which means part of the school day is taught in another language.

Some districts also offer special exchange programs, such as Palm Beach County’s relationship with the Ministry of Education and Science of the Kingdom of Spain. The effort allows some Florida teachers to teach in Spain and some Spanish teachers to teach in Florida. The experience is beneficial for both the students and the teachers. The district’s students also have the opportunity to hold live online chat sessions with Spanish students.

Colleges and universities throughout the state also offer study abroad programs that are extremely beneficial in two ways:

  1. When American students study in other nations they learn more than what is in their syllabi, they learn the culture, something that cannot be taught in a classroom.
  2. International education is a vital service industry, bringing more than $20 billion into our country in 2009-10. According to Open Doors, 260,327 U.S. students studied abroad in 2008-09, and 690,923 international students from more than 200 countries studied in the U.S. in 2009-10.

But we are not stopping there.

Before full implementation of the Common Core State Standards, Florida is gathering information about how our students compare internationally in reading, mathematics and science. We are participating in Trends in the International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).  Adjustments to Florida standards will be made based on the results of these studies.

Do your children participate in dual language or study abroad programs? What has their experience been?

Giving students a voice

They are our future, so shouldn’t they have a say in how their futures are built? Children’s Week, an annual celebration taking place this year from Jan. 29 – Feb. 3, supported by more than 100 organizations, is giving students a voice in everything from early childhood education to substance abuse treatment through its “Teens Only” Town Hall Meeting.

The meeting gives teens the opportunity to ask questions of government officials, policy makers, children’s developmental professionals and advocacy experts that are a part of the 20-member Florida Children and Youth Cabinet.

But there’s more! The students’ voice doesn’t end there.

As of last year, students selected for the “Teens Only” Town Hall Meeting are official members of the 12-student Youth Commission for the state of Florida! This Commission represents youth across the state and act as an advisory body to the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet. A Commission representative attends all Cabinet meetings and provides updates to the Cabinet on current issues facing Florida’s youth.

We encourage ALL students across the state from ages 13-18 to apply to be a part of this great opportunity. The nomination deadline is quickly approaching, so please be sure to get your application in by Nov. 18!

Serving those who served us

Guest post by Joyce Hildreth, DOE Division of Blind Services Director

There are so many ways United States military veterans have given their time, energy and resources for the country and our freedoms. The Florida Department of Education Division of Blind Services (DBS) is honored to be able to offer assistance to these veterans through a variety of our programs. 

Here are a few of their stories: 

Ernest Creech is a visually impaired Army veteran who has received Independent Living assistance, including mobility training, and a specially outfitted computer from DBS. He currently is an undergraduate at Atlantic Technical Institute in Ft. Lauderdale, where he is pursuing a bachelor’s degree as a Biomedical Maintenance Tech. Upon graduation, he hopes to find employment in a hospital setting. Currently, he is doing very well academically.


Video about DBS Independent Living services

Llars Copeland, also a visually impaired Army veteran, was injured in the line of service. The Department of Management Services has provided him with a computer and adaptive equipment. In addition, he has participated in the Independent Living Assistance program and Employer Services program. A law enforcement dog trainer for more than 20 years, he has returned to college and is majoring in family counseling, as he wishes to assist troubled youth and their families. He is active in his community and teaches music, keyboard and guitar to children in lower-income neighborhoods.

Video about DBS Vocational Rehabilitation services, including employment

Daniel Archer, a visually impaired Air Force veteran, participates in the DBS Business Enterprise Services program. The program recently helped him set up his own business servicing vending machines by providing a computer for his inventory operations, training on best management practices and guidance on how to repair machines. His company, Daniel Archer Enterprises, was licensed at the end of August and is thriving.

Video about DBS Business Enterprise Program

These veterans are lively, highly contributing members of their communities.

For more information about what DBS offers, visit You’ll find details about everything from a talking book library to transition services.

Are you or someone you know a current or previous client of DBS’s resources? If so, how was your experience? If you or someone you know is visually impaired and have not accessed our services, do you think we could provide you with any help?


Commissioner talks teacher evaluations, charter schools and more with Orlando Sentinel

Commissioner Robinson sat down with members of the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board to discuss education issues, including teacher evaluations, charter schools and a variety of other topics. Check out the video for footage of the meeting.

Making it easy for military families

Guest post by Michael Kooi, executive director of Florida’s Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice

Florida is one of the states that adopted the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children (MIC3), which helps children of active-duty members with eligibility, enrollment, placement and graduation requirements.

With Florida’s numerous education options, we are happy to be able to provide many educational choices to meet military families’ needs – all covered under the Compact.

For example, say an active duty family relocates to another base and their two teenage children were taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes at their local public high school. In their new location, the students will have preference enrolling in the same AP classes at their new school, pending availability.

Because the Compact is nationwide, it accommodates active military families moving from Texas to Florida just the same as it applies to a family moving from Tampa to Jacksonville.

Have questions about this option? On November 16, families will have a chance to talk to state and district school choice experts in a one-on-one setting at the Florida School Choice Expo “Carousel of Choice.” If you can’t make the event, you can also find more information at

Have you ever taken advantage of the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children? If so, what school option did you choose? Share with us your transition experience.

Green Schools are Like Good Homes

Guest post by Greg Ira, director of the Florida Deptartment of Environmental Protection Office of Environmental Education

As a parent of three school-aged boys, I expect my children to learn family values at home and most of everything else at school. Schools are where my children spend most of their time when they aren’t at home. My expectations for a safe and healthy home are essentially the same expectations I would hope for in a school. Similarly, just as I manage my home to use resources efficiently and keep costs down, I would expect the same to hold for a school. In the end, a green school is not much different than a healthy home: both should provide a safe, healthy, and productive learning environment.

This past school year, 2010-2011, more than 42,000 students, teachers and administrators participated in green school initiatives in both private and public schools alike. Many projects included recycling programs, green service learning projects, environmental education, teacher professional development projects and efforts to make school buildings and facilities more sustainable.

Many times, these projects go unnoticed; so to recognize such environmental stewardship, DEP’s Office of Environmental Education began the Florida Green School Awards program. At the end of every fiscal year, students, teachers and schools are encouraged to enter their environmental projects. This year we received 103 applications, which is the highest number of eligible applicants yet. After evaluating which projects demonstrated significant ways to learn green, save green, and protect green, we selected 16 finalists in five categories: students, classrooms, teachers, schools and school districts.

The finalists selected have been invited to attend the Florida Green School Awards Ceremony and Banquet to be held on Nov. 10, 2011, in West Palm Beach, our annual event that promotes and rewards conservation efforts by students, teachers and school administrators.

We appreciate the dedication and contribution of each participant, because through these green school initiatives, they have not only made schools healthy and productive places to learn, but they’ve generated $10.8 million in gross cost savings. So next time you send your child off to school or go to work in a school – a combination of close to 16 percent of Florida’s total population – think about the similarities between green schools and healthy homes and learn about opportunities to make both healthy and productive learning environments.

Finalists for the 2011 Florida Green School Award program include Celeste Norup, Madeline Cowen and Larissa Weinstein, Monica Dyches, Deb Wagner’s class, Ray Cruze’s class, Peter Jordan’s class, Deborah Pate, Josh Clearman, Wendy Doromal, David Lawrence Jr. K-8 Center, Lawton Chiles Elementary School, Learning Gate Community School, Pine Jog Elementary School, Charlotte County School District, Duval County School District and Pinellas County School District.

Challenging, customized education for Florida students

Guest post by Michael Kooi, executive director of Florida’s Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice

One of the priorities of the Department is to provide a challenging, yet customized education for Florida’s students and families. To deliver this type of education system for our individual students, the Department is able to showcase a variety of school choice options offered statewide.

Florida’s public schools offer a wide variety of curriculum options. Some of these aim to strengthen the availability, accessibility, and equity of educational options for parents including Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, dual enrollment and Advanced International Certification of Education, just to name a few.

While many gifted students may enroll in these options, I want to stress that any qualified student can take advantage of these options. These school choice options have demanding, personalized curriculum. I have heard many stories about students who struggled in traditional classes but excelled when they entered a more challenging program that focused on their needs and strengths.

These programs not only offer challenging school work, but also provide excellent support structures and tutoring. Many are actually a part of our traditional schools, so students don’t even need to change their school of choice to take full advantage of these opportunities.

Florida has numerous education options for students and later this month, families will have a chance to see many of them during a one-on-one setting, at the Florida School Choice Expo  “Carousel of Choice” on Nov. 16. If you can’t make the event, you can also find information at

How did you decide what kind of school to send your child to? Do you think any of the options listed above might be a good complement to your child’s current education?