John O'Connor

Reporter, StateImpact Florida

John O’Connor is a reporter for StateImpact Florida, a project of WUSF, WLRN, WJCT 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.


StateImpact Florida
10:22 am
Mon April 21, 2014

Why Florida Parents Want To Opt Their Kids Out Of State Tests

Gov. Rick Scott greets students at West Tampa's Graham Elementary School last week.
Credit John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Last week Gov. Rick Scott delivered an $8.5 million check to Hillsborough County schools earning good marks on the state’s grading formula.

Those grades depend a lot on student FCAT scores. So Hillsborough Superintendent MaryEllen Elia took a moment pump up students at West Tampa’s Graham Elementary School before this week's testing.

"Next week you’re going to have an opportunity to do great again, right?" Elia asked.

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StateImpact Florida
4:13 pm
Mon April 14, 2014

Florida Polytechnic University Selects First President

Randy Avent, left, shakes hands with Florida Polytechnic Board of Trustees Chair Rob Gidel.
Credit Courtesy of Florida Polytechnic

Randy Avent has a career of turning research into new defense, computer science and life science projects.

Florida Polytechnic's Board of Trustees said they want Avent to inspire future entrepreneurs at the Polk County campus.

Avent was the board's unanimous choice for the university's first president.

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StateImpact Florida
9:43 am
Mon April 7, 2014

Checking In On Education Bills As Florida Legislature Reaches Halfway Point

The 2014 Florida legislative session has reached the halfway point.
Credit StevenM_61 / Flickr

The 2014 Florida legislative session reached the halfway point last week, so we thought we'd check in on some of the big education bills.

The Budget

The House, Senate and Gov. Rick Scott mostly agree on education spending based on their proposed budgets.

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9:26 am
Mon April 7, 2014

Florida Watches New York Parents Organize Against Common Core Tests

Parents at a Brooklyn school opt out of state tests earlier this week.

Originally published on Mon April 7, 2014 6:02 am

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11:27 am
Mon March 31, 2014

Why Computer-Scored Essays Could Eliminate The Need For Writing Tests

A classroom chart explaining the differences between claims, claim evidence and commentary. Hillsborough County schools are teaching the Three Cs as the building blocks of student writing.
Credit John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Florida’s plans to add computerized grading of its new statewide writing test could eventually eliminate the need for a writing test, advocates for the technology said.

Essays on Florida’s new writing test will be scored by a human and a computer, but the computer score will only matter if the score is significantly different from that of the human reviewer. If that happens, bid documents indicate the essay will be scored by another human reviewer.

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StateImpact Florida
2:29 pm
Fri March 21, 2014

New Florida Writing Test Will Use Computers To Grade Student Essays

Florida writing tests will be graded by a human and a computer program, according to bid documents for the new test. And just 2 percent of students will take a pencil and paper exam in 2015.
Credit jeffrey james pacres / Flickr

A computer program will grade student essays on the writing portion of the standardized test set to replace the FCAT, according to bid documents released by the Florida Department of Education.

The essays will be scored by a human and a computer, but the computer score will only matter if the score is significantly different from that of the human reviewer. If that happens, the documents indicate the essay will be scored by another human reviewer.

Florida writing tests are currently graded by two human scorers and the state has never used computerized grading on the exam.

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StateImpact Florida
10:46 am
Mon March 17, 2014

Explaining The Push For 'Pay It Forward' Tuition Plans

A Florida lawmaker has introduced a bill which would make college tuition free, but students would repay the cost over time.
Credit thisisbossi / Flickr

A Florida lawmaker has proposed allowing students to attend college tuition-free, and then repay the cost with a percentage of their salary after graduating.

The proposal has been nicknamed "Pay It Forward" tuition because students making their payments keep tuition free for future generations of college students. Students might pay their Alma mater between 2 percent and 6 percent of their annual salary for as long as 25 years, depending on the terms of the program.

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StateImpact Florida
12:02 pm
Tue March 11, 2014

Florida Matters: Choosing The Next FCAT

A new test will soon replace most of the FCAT.
Credit biologycorner / Flickr

Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart is expected to recommend a test to (mostly) replace the FCAT later this month.

A new test is needed because Florida is finishing the switch to new K-12 math, language arts and literacy standards this fall. The standards are largely based on Common Core standards fully adopted by 44 other states and the District of Columbia.

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StateImpact Florida
1:40 pm
Mon March 10, 2014

What A Florida Middle School Has Learned So Far Teaching Common Core Standards

Monroe Middle School teacher Dawn Norris talks to her students about how to write an essay about fairy tales. Norris has been teaching based on the Common Core standards for two years. Since making the switch, she says her students have taken more control of the lessons.
Credit John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

This story is part of a series from The Hechinger Report and StateImpact Florida looking at how Florida schools are getting ready for Common Core standards. Read — and listen to — the first story here.

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StateImpact Florida
11:07 am
Mon March 3, 2014

Conversation About Florida Standards Changing As Legislative Session Begins

Common Core protestors at February's State Board of Education Meeting in Orlando. They aren't giving up, but lawmakers say the conversation about Common Core is moving on.
Credit John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Sondra Hulette and her granddaughter joined dozens of anti-Common Core protestors as they circled a fountain outside the Orange County school district offices last month.

Inside the building, the State Board of Education was about to rename Common Core as "The Florida Standards." But outside, Hulette and others chanted "Stop Common Core!" "Keep education local!" and "Follow the money!"

Common Core are math and language arts standards adopted by Florida and 44 other states. They outline what students should know at the end of each grade.

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Law & Order
7:53 pm
Thu February 13, 2014

University Says Goodbye To Four Students Killed In Car Crash

Members of the Sigma Beta Rho fraternity arrive Thursday at the memorial for four members killed in a car crash.
Credit John O'Connor / WUSF

Wearing black shirts and green ties, members of Sigma Beta Rho fraternity said goodbye to Imtiyaz "Jim" Ilias, Jobin Kuriakose, Ankeet Patel and Dammie Yesudhas Thursday at the University of South Florida.

The four men were killed in a collision early Sunday morning when their car was struck by a driver going the wrong way on Interstate 275.

Family and several hundred USF students were in attendance, many wearing their own Greek letters.

Patel's sister, Krupa, says his fraternity nickname fit.

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StateImpact Florida
8:01 am
Mon February 10, 2014

Core Questions: How Does Common Core Address Poverty?

Experts say they've seen a positive effect in school using Common Core standards. But critics believe the standards are a distraction from the real issues with schools.

Chris Guerrieri is a Jacksonville art teacher who also blogs about education.

Last month he sent us an email about Florida’s Common Core standards.

"My question was: How does Common Core affect poverty?" he asked.

More than half of all Florida students qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program.

It's a short-hand way to gauge poverty. Florida's rate is about one-sixth higher than the national average.

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StateImpact Florida
7:47 am
Mon February 3, 2014

How Florida Teachers Learned Technology Connects With Students

Staff from CPALMS, a Florida site created to help teachers with standards and curriculum, show off a 3-D printer. CPALMS is creating a pilot program with some Florida districts to let schools and students try out the high-tech printers.
John O'Connor StateImpact Florida

Last week Orlando hosted one of the oldest and largest education technology conferences in the country.

Technology is an important issue in Florida schools because lawmakers have required half of all classroom instruction is delivered digitally when classes begin in 2015.

We spoke to a few teachers presenting at and attending FETC to ask them when they first made the connection about using technology in the classroom.

Here's what they told us -- with some sights and sounds from FETC.

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3:14 pm
Fri January 31, 2014

How Florida Lawmakers Want To Help Schools Get Ready For Digital Lessons

Sarasota County schools partnered with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation to upgrade middle school math and science classrooms.
Credit John O'Connor / Flickr

Florida schools could get more money to upgrade classrooms, purchase new computers, tablets and other technology and train teachers and staff how to use them.

But they’ll have to meet new goals set by the Florida Department of Education, submit annual technology plans and document how they’re spending the money.

That’s according to a bill supported by House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate Education committee chairman John Legg. The two Tampa Bay-area Republicans plan to introduce the bill today.

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StateImpact Florida
3:20 pm
Tue January 28, 2014

Scott, Lawmakers Making School Technology A Budget Priority

Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers agree the state should set aside at least $40 million for school bandwidth and technology.
Credit utnapistim / Flickr

The chairman of the Senate’s Education Committee said Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers want to spend at least $40 million, and likely more, to upgrade school Internet capacity and add new computers, tablets and other digital tools.

Sen. John Legg, R-Port Richey, said education technology is a priority for Scott and both Republican and Democratic legislative leaders.

Legg said $40 million in Scott’s proposed budget — to be released in full tomorrow — is a starting point.

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