StateImpact Florida

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

As soon as the fourth and fifth graders at Natural Bridge Elementary were handed the lyrics to "Amazing Grace," they were ready to sing out.

But first, they needed a lesson in the four voice types of a choir – bass, tenor, alto and soprano.

One by one members of the group added their part while the students waited to sing the melody. Finally, it was time to add soprano Sara Guttenberg.

“I really hope she sings the melody,” tenor Patrick Muehleise kids.

The students are ready. They join in before the conductor gives them their cue.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

It’s game day in the 8th grade International Baccalaureate design class at Ada Merritt K-8 Center in Little Havana in Miami.

The games the students are playing are designed by their classmates. And they’re based on books the students read for class.

Four eighth graders prepare to set off on a board game based on the book “Everlost” – set in a fantasy world between life and death inhabited by “afterlights.”

Theo Urquiza reads the rules and introduces the characters.

It sounded like a story guaranteed to irritate taxpayers: a national study out of Rutgers university says more and more public high school students are taking longer than four years to graduate.

Instead, they're in school for five or six -- or more --  years!

But Florida school officials say that's not a problem here. And experts say, they both may be right -- the difference may lie in some good news from the last several years.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

In Brigette Kinney’s design class at Ada Merritt K-8 center in Miami, one of the key concepts is editing and revising ideas after getting feedback.

Her 8th graders create role-playing games based on books they read. And then adjust the games, after watching their classmates play.

Kinney hopes Florida lawmakers will be as open to change as her students.

“I feel that legislators are out of touch with what it means to be a good teacher,” she said.

stanfordtech / Flickr

Last week the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development released the results of a global study looking at the effect of technology on 15-year-olds test scores.

The group oversees one of the most important international exams, so their research matters.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

For weeks now, Palm Beach County schools have struggled to get students to classes on time.

Bus routes have been redrawn. And the district sent up flares, looking to hire anyone who wants to drive a bus.

'Community School' Concept Takes Root in Florida

Aug 10, 2015
Photo courtesy Evans High School

Evans High School in Orange County used to be known as a dropout factory. But since 2007, it's gone from a double-F to a B school - in one of Orlando's most troubled neighborhoods. Now, the "community school" concept is spreading to other Florida cities.

M.S. Butler

Not every high school student wants to or even needs to go to college, but graduating students without a college degree may have a hard time gaining entry or experience at companies hiring for high paying, high skilled jobs. A local program is trying to bring that experience to graduating students.

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.

Mary Shedden/WUSF

It’s just a few dozen yards from the charter busses to the stately columns of the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts entrance.

Dozens of energetic 12- and 13-years olds jump off the bus after a 25-minute ride from their Clearwater’s Oak Grove Middle School.

Volunteer docents scramble to sort out small groups by color, and hand out clipboards and pencils.

“Purple, nice straight line!” one docent yells from the top of the steps.

“Green group over here,” another barks.

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.

Trianons Oficial/flickr

Bills filed in the Florida House and Senate would require high school students to take a one-semester financial literacy course. But with just three weeks left in the legislative session, the proposals (House bill 29 and Senate bill 92)  haven’t been discussed by committees.

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.

M.S Butler

A college education is generally considered a student's best shot at getting a good job these days, and it's often assumed most high schoolers are prepared to attend college.

But there's one group that has been quietly excluded from that process.

A program at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg  is giving these students college experience that while it's not a traditional degree, it's giving them a head start on their career goals.

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.

Class Size Versus School Size

Jan 6, 2015
National Education Association

It’s been 12 years since Florida voters passed the class size amendment, limiting the number of students in certain classes to between 18 and 25, depending on the grade.

Now, a new report suggests focusing on smaller schools - instead of classes - might be more effective.

The School of Arts and Sciences in Tallahassee (SAS) has just over 300 students. The waiting list to get into this K-8 charter school is much longer. This is 6th grader Mary Stafford’s first year.

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.

“Opt Out” groups are pushing back against what they say is too much standardized testing in Florida. The tests are changing as the state transitions to Florida Standards - an offshoot of the Common Core standards being implemented around the country.

Gina Jordan/StateImpact Florida

A 10th grader born in Haiti struggles to read in his class at Godby High School in Tallahassee. The student is more comfortable with Haitian Creole than English. Teacher Althea Valle has students of various nationalities trying to master the language.

“It’s a challenge,” Valle says. “There’s a lot of gesturing, and you know sometimes I feel like I’m onstage and sometimes I have to be onstage to make myself understood.”

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Last week, StateImpact Florida told you how a middle school in Miami has added speech and debate courses this year to improve reading, writing and speaking.

The school’s principal, Bridget McKinney, majored in debate and thought the requirements for Florida’s new Common Core-based standards sounded a lot like her college classes. She needed a writing teacher for new speech and debate courses she wanted to create.