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
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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Education
11:57 am
Mon January 26, 2015

New Book Looks At The History And Future Of Testing In U.S. Schools

Anya Kamenetz is an education reporter for NPR and author of a new book on testing in U.S. schools.

Originally published on Wed January 28, 2015 6:57 am

Lots of people think there’s too much testing going on in schools right now. It’s one of the most contentious issues in education.

Lawmakers want to scale back the amount of time Florida students spend taking tests.

But at the same time, Florida is rolling out a new test tied to new math and language arts standards -- known as Common Core.

NPR education reporter Anya Kamenetz researched the history and use of standardized exams for her book, “The Test.”

Read an edited version of our interview with Kamenetz below.

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Education
10:00 am
Mon January 19, 2015

State Lawmakers Want To Add Financial Education

Originally published on Mon January 19, 2015 10:49 am

Lawmakers want Florida students to be smarter about their money.

They’ve introduced a bill to make a financial literacy course a high school graduation requirement.

Students would have to take lessons on taxes, compound interest, insurance, and how to weigh the cost and benefits of decisions.

The bill was introduced by Fort Myers Republican Representative Heather Fitzenhagen and Miami GOP Representative Manny Diaz.

The bill says the Florida Department of Education would choose a non-profit group to create the lessons.

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Education
9:25 pm
Thu January 15, 2015

Amateur Radio Club Connects Miami Students With Space Station

A student asks a question of European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoferretti while Dade Radio Club of Miami president Miguel Garate looks on.

Originally published on Wed January 21, 2015 7:47 pm

At first, the kids in the auditorium at Richmond Heights Middle School weren’t sure a they'd hear a voice above the ear-burning static.

Dade Radio Club of Miami president Miguel Garate kept signaling the space station.  

“NA1SS, NA1SS, this is Richmond Heights. Over,” Garate said repeatedly, trying to hail the space station.

They had just minutes before astronaut Samantha Cristoferretti would be out of range.

A voice cut through the white noise.

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Education
7:02 am
Tue January 13, 2015

Fewer And Better: How Lawmakers Want To Change State Testing

Most students will take the Florida Standards Assessments online.

Originally published on Fri January 16, 2015 4:06 pm

When lawmakers return to Tallahassee in March for the annual legislative session, they have a lot of questions they need to answer about public school testing.

Senators laid out their concerns about the state testing system last week at a series of meetings.

They don’t know how many tests the state requires or how long it takes to complete those exams.

They don’t know how much the state and school districts spend on testing.

And they’re not convinced they can depend on all the results of those exams.

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StateImpact Florida
10:34 am
Mon December 22, 2014

The Education Year In Review -- And What To Expect In 2015

Barry University's Sean Foreman thinks Gov. Rick Scott will deliver on a promise for record per-student education funding.
Credit Photo courtesy of FLGOVSCOTT

2014 was a big year for education in Florida.

Activists in Lee County convinced the school board to ditch state testing -- before the board reversed the decision a couple of days later.

Florida schools pushed ahead with new Common Core-based math and language arts standards in every grade, despite rising opposition to Common Core across the country.

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StateImpact Florida
11:53 am
Mon December 15, 2014

Why Miami-Dade High School Students Are Teaching Their Classmates About Health

Diamante Sharpe leads an practice session for student health educators in the HIP program.
Credit John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Abuse. Drugs. Mental health issues.

It’s tough enough for anyone to talk about those problems. It can be even harder for teens facing them for the first time.

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StateImpact Florida
11:53 am
Mon December 8, 2014

Why First Generation Students Find It Tougher To Earn A College Degree

Husband and wife filmmakers Adam and Jaye Fenderson are showing their documentary, "First Generation," in Miami this week.
Credit Courtesy Adam and Jaye Fenderson

Students who are the first in their family to attend college often have a more difficult time finishing their degree.

Research shows those students know less about how to get into and pay for college. And first generation college students are less likely to take tough high school courses needed to be prepared for college.

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Education
10:12 am
Tue November 25, 2014

Your Guide To The Florida Standards Assessments

We're taking this week to help parents and students understand the new Florida Standards Assessments, which students will take for the first time beginning in March.

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StateImpact Florida
10:23 am
Mon November 24, 2014

Meet Florida's New Statewide Test

Florida students will take a new test starting this spring.
Credit freedigitalphotos.net

This spring, Florida students will take a brand new test tied to the state’s new math, reading and writing standards.

This is the test that replaces the FCAT. It's known as the Florida Standards Assessment, and it’ll be online.

What’s on the test won’t be the only thing different about the exam. Students will also find new types of questions.

We gathered your questions about the new exam from our Public Insight Network. Here’s what you you wanted to know -- and what it’ll mean for students and schools.

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StateImpact Florida
10:55 am
Mon November 17, 2014

Florida Teachers Consider 'Civil Disobedience' To Say No To Testing

Miramar High School teacher David Ross says testing has taken more and more time away from teaching. He refused to administer an FCAT make-up exam in protest.
Credit John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

In September, Alachua County kindergarten teacher Susan Bowles refused to give a state reading test.

She told the parents of her students it was an act of civil disobedience. The Florida Department of Education later suspended the exam for this year.

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Education
4:05 pm
Thu November 13, 2014

Three Questions With State Sen. John Legg About His Technology Summit

State Sen. John Legg is gathering experts from schools, the technology industry, business and universities to talk about helping Florida schools integrate more technology.

Originally published on Thu November 13, 2014 12:07 pm

Today in Tampa, lawmakers, superintendents, businesspeople and state university staff will gather to talk about using technology in Florida classrooms. The summit was the idea of Senate Education chairman John Legg, R-Trinity. We asked him what he wanted to accomplish:

You are gathering some school and education leaders together… to talk about school technology. Why are you doing this and what do you hope to learn?

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StateImpact Florida
11:05 am
Mon November 10, 2014

To Make High Schoolers Want To Read, Miami Teacher Makes It A Competition

Miami Northwestern Senior High writing teacher Daniel Dickey says you have to be a good reader to be a good writer. He's challenged his student to read one million words this year.
Credit John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Miami Northwestern High School English teacher Daniel Dickey has found a way to make his tenth graders brag about their reading skills.

Mischael Saint-Sume and Ciji Wright tease each other about who's going to read one million words first -- a contest Dickey created.

“Did you put him in his place?" Dickey asked Wright. "Because Mischael, he’s popping in my classroom every day with a new book."

“Oh don’t worry about it because I’ve got plenty of books for him,” Wright replied.

“But it ends today, by the way," Saint-Sume said. “I’m going to hit a million.”

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