John O'Connor

Reporter, StateImpact Florida

John O’Connor is a reporter for StateImpact Florida, a project of WUSF, WLRN and NPR covering education. John writes for the StateImpact Florida blog and produces stories for air on Florida public radio stations.

John is a former political reporter for The (Columbia, S.C.) State and the Daily Record in Baltimore. He has a bachelor’s degree from Allegheny College and a master’s degree from the University of Maryland. He was chosen as the South Carolina Press Association 2009 Journalist of the Year.

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Education
5:13 pm
Mon June 15, 2015

How Jeb Bush's Education Record Will Change The 2016 Republican Primary

Former Governor Jeb Bush of Florida speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.

Originally published on Tue June 16, 2015 10:14 am

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush became a Republican presidential candidate Monday.

Education has been a signature issue for Bush. He helped start Florida’s first charter school. He says schools and teachers should be judged on student performance. He pushed for vouchers for private schools.

And he spent most of his time since leaving the Florida governor’s office advocating for his brand of school reform.

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Education
3:21 pm
Tue June 9, 2015

Florida Lawmakers Closing In On School Funding Agreement

The Senate has proposed a 3 percent increase in school spending, but will the House accept?

Originally published on Tue June 9, 2015 6:26 am

Florida lawmakers are getting closer to a budget deal that will add more money for schools.

Florida schools would get $207 more per student if the Florida House agrees to a Senate education budget, or $7,097 per pupil.

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Education
6:56 pm
Mon June 1, 2015

How The Internet Is Helping FL Students Pay For Their Education

Ashley Jean has enrolled in a global studies program at Long Island University. Now she's trying to raise money to help pay for travel costs.
Credit John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Ashley Jean is graduating from Miami’s iPrep Academy this week. And then she’s planning to travel the world.

Jean will start a global studies program through Long Island University that will eventually take her to places like Costa Rica, Australia, Bali and Spain.

That’s a lot of plane tickets.

“I don’t want money to be a reason why I can’t change my life,” Jean says, “so I have to work hard to do what I can to get this program.”

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StateImpact Florida
10:53 am
Mon May 11, 2015

As Florida Reduces Testing, Teacher Evaluation Questions Remain

Broward Teachers Union president Sharon Glickman, with Broward County schools superintendent Robert Runcie, calling for changes to the teacher evaluation system in October.
Credit John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Several large Florida schools districts say they will use state test scores to evaluate those teachers. That means some art, music or gym teachers will be judged based on their students’ scores on the state reading test.

“In some cases teachers are definitely not happy with it,” said Sharon Glickman, president of Broward Teachers Union. “And to a certain extent we’re not either. But it’s the best of, I hate to say it, two evils.”

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Education
11:07 am
Mon May 4, 2015

It Takes A 'Forest' To Feed An Elementary School

The young crops in Kelsey Pharr Elementary School's 'food forest."
Credit John O'Connor / WLRN

Rain is terrible when you’re trying to give tours of your new garden.

But it’s great for the spinach, sweet potato and purple passion fruit rapidly taking root.

On a very rainy day, Kelsey Pharr Elementary third graders Ronnield Luna and Jeffrey Arroyo are showing grownups around what used to be a grass field.

Now the school in Miami’s Brownsville neighborhood has several thousand square feet of all kinds of fruit and vegetables.

Some you can find at your supermarket.

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Education
3:17 pm
Mon April 20, 2015

New College Program Wants To Train Young Artists And Designers

A storyboard created by a student in Broward College's Visual Arts and Design Academy.
Credit John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

A new program at Broward College has just eight students and seeks to train the next generation of South Florida artists and designers.

The school hopes to earn a national certification for the Visual Arts and Design Academy this spring – becoming the first community college in the South to have that.

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StateImpact Florida
9:49 am
Mon April 6, 2015

A Q & A With The University Of Florida's New President

W. Kent Fuchs is the new president of the University of Florida. During his time at Cornell University, he helped establish a New York City campus.
Credit Cornell University

Three months ago W. Kent Fuchs became president of the University of Florida, leaving New York’s Cornell University.

Fuchs says Florida universities are adding new faculty, but opposition to higher tuition means more pressure to find private donations.

The University of Florida is also expanding a new online program, with a goal of eventually enrolling 24,000 students.

Fuchs sat down with WLRN’s StateImpact Florida reporter John O’Connor to talk about the issues in higher education.

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Education
7:47 pm
Mon March 30, 2015

Despite Problems, Experts Say Computerized Testing Is The Answer For Florida Schools

Despite problems with Florida's new exam, testing experts say the state's emphasis on digital lessons mean schools should use computerized testing.

Originally published on Wed April 1, 2015 6:23 am

Testing experts say so far Florida's problems with its new statewide exam, the Florida Standards Assessments, are likely not serious enough for the state to consider throwing out this year’s test scores.

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Education
10:10 pm
Mon March 16, 2015

Amendment Would Give Charter Schools A Share Of School Construction Money

Sen. Don Gaetz has filed an amendment which would force school districts to share local construction money with charter schools.

Originally published on Tue March 17, 2015 9:55 am

School districts would have to share local school construction and maintenance money with charter schools, according to an amendment filed by an influential state senator.

Sen. Don Gaetz, former Senate president, filed the amendment Tuesday. The amendment would require half of the money raised by an optional local property tax to be split between charter and traditional schools on a per-student basis.

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Education
3:20 pm
Mon March 16, 2015

Testing, School Choice, PE: A Town Hall Conversation About Florida Education

Rashon and Mr. Brown, two people featured in the documentary "180 Days: Hartsville."
Credit Clevis Harrison / PBS

This week, PBS is launching a new documentary series “180 Days."

One of the films focuses on Hartsville, South Carolina, a rural and poor district which has managed to become one of the highest rating school districts according to South Carolina’s ranking.

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StateImpact Florida
1:18 pm
Mon March 9, 2015

Five Questions About Florida's Testing Problems

Florida students had trouble connecting to the state's new online writing exam on Monday and Tuesday. The problems seemed to be fixed by Wednesday afternoon.

Originally published on Mon March 9, 2015 6:17 am

Last week, dozens of Florida school districts had to postpone state testing because of problems with the new Florida Standards Assessments.

Students couldn’t log in to the online writing exam -- and some who did were booted out and temporarily lost their answers.

The problems seem to have been resolved Thursday. By Friday, more than half of students scheduled to take the online writing exam had finished.

Here's five questions about what happened and what's next.

What happened?

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Education
9:16 am
Mon March 2, 2015

Ready Or Not, Students, New Florida Exam Is Here

The new Florida Standards Assessments begin today. Most students will take the exam online, though some students will take a paper and pencil version of the writing exam
Credit Extra Ketchup / Flickr

At Miami’s iPrep Academy, getting ready for the state’s new standardized test includes rapping.

Two students are recording the daily announcements, telling classmates when and where they need to be starting today.

“Monday is ninth graders, with last name A to G,” one student raps, in a rhyme that’s no threat to Miami’s Rick Ross.

“On Tuesday, it’s ninth graders with last name H through Z,” his partner continues.

“All testing is in room 2 – 0 – 4!” they conclude together, Beastie Boys-style.

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Education
11:51 am
Mon February 16, 2015

Why Elementary Math Lessons Are Changing In Florida Schools

Frances S. Tucker fifth grade math teacher Yaliesperanza Salazar leads her class through an exercise to group data on a line graph.

Originally published on Mon February 16, 2015 8:10 am

At dinner tables across Florida, parents and their elementary school children are trying to solve a math problem: What’s going on with my kid’s homework?

Florida is one of dozens of states that has switched to new math standards based on Common Core. The standards outline what students should know in every grade.

Experts say it means big changes to how math is taught. More focus on understanding concepts and solving problems multiple ways. Less memorization of formulas and grinding out worksheets full of similar problems.

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Education
5:00 pm
Mon February 2, 2015

Why Paperwork Is Worth Millions To Florida College Students

Miami Beach Senior High college adviser Maria Sahwell helps Anahi Hurtado, left, and her mother fill out the FAFSA.

Originally published on Fri February 6, 2015 10:46 am

It’s a midweek school night at Miami Beach Senior High School.

Students, their parents and siblings -- roughly 80 people in all -- are waiting in the school’s library to get on a computer and answer a lot of questions.

Miami Beach Senior High college adviser Maria Sahwell and experienced counselors will walk families through filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

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Education
6:15 am
Wed January 28, 2015

Opting Out Of State Tests Isn't An Option, Education Commissioner Tells Lawmakers

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart told lawmakers that nothing in state law allows students to refuse state-required exams.

Originally published on Wed January 28, 2015 2:34 pm

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says students cannot skip state-required tests, and teachers and schools can be punished for refusing to administer required exams.

Stewart’s letter is a response to questions from senators as they prepare for the upcoming legislative session. Senators wanted to know if students could opt out of state-required exams and how doing so might affect their progress in school.

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