Educators criticize latest Florida school rankings
Florida's more than 3,000 public schools have been ranked from best to worst in a new database released this morning by the state. The school rankings come a week after the state released its first-ever ranking of its 67 school districts. The latest ranking lists schools by the points they earned in Florida's school grading formula, which grades schools A to F. So all the top ranked schools are A's, but the new list shows the best of the A's -- and also the worst of the F's. Like the ranking of districts, the ranking of schools worries and upsets some educators, who say it does not take into account how factors such as poverty can impact students' academic performance. "If there's going to be rankings, we'd like to be ranked at the high end," said Connie Collins, principal of Crooms Academy of Information Technology in Seminole County, which was ranked 40th out of the state's more than 400 high schools. But Collins said the rankings don't paint a full picture of any school, even if they make her campus look good. "It's just not that simple," she said. "Nor should it be, because our students are far more complex than that." The rankings are divided into five broad categories: elementary, middle, high, combination elementary/middle and combination middle/high. They are based on the school grading formulas. So for elementary and middle schools, the rankings are based on student performance and improvement on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. For high schools, they are based half on FCAT scores and half on other factors such as high school graduation rates and student success in advanced classes. The new rankings were an idea promoted by Gov. Rick Scott and Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson. "Floridians care about education and it is critical that our students have access to world-class schools that will give them a pathway to a successful career," Scott said in a prepared statement. "Measuring each school's performance helps gauge our progress toward that goal." The Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union, called the rankings "misguided" and said they mostly measured family income. "It's not that standardized test results don't tell us anything. They're very accurate measures of the size of the houses near a given school and the income levels of the people who live in those houses," said Andy Ford, the union's president, in a statement. Ford said the state should be working to improve public schools, not pitting one against another in rankings. "Any attempt to reduce learning to merely numbers is misguided," he added. "Schools just can't be rated like shampoos. Worst of all is using these scores not just to rate but to rank, so that the emphasis is on who's beating whom."
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Teacher pay report is based on bad stats, groundless assumptions
A recent report from the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute, Assessing the Compensation of Public School Teachers, claims public school teachers are paid 52 percent more than fair market rates. While attention-grabbing, this contention is based on a faulty assessment that relies on "an aggregation of spurious claims" to make its case, according to a new Think Twice review. The Heritage/AEI report pits the wages and benefits of teachers against those of similarly educated and experienced private-sector workers and concludes that teachers are overpaid. But in his review of the report, Professor Jeffrey H. Keefe of Rutgers University's School of Management and Labor Relations, finds that it rests on a series of flawed and one-sided assumptions and sloppy statistical analyses. Using these assumptions, the authors stand normal conclusions on their head. While the straightforward evidence suggests that teachers are undercompensated by about 19 percent compared with their non-teacher peers in the workforce, the report concludes that they are instead overpaid by more than twice that percentage. Central to the original report's argument is the claim that teachers are less intelligent than other workers of comparable education and experience. The report bases this claim on the lower scores of teachers on the Armed Forces Qualifications Test (AFQT). Yet the AFQT is simply not an intelligence test. Further, the authors claim that AFQT scores alone can be used to compare teacher and non-teacher populations. But that conclusion relies on a data sample that's too small to provide any meaningful long-term analyses or conclusions, Keefe points out. Other statistical missteps in the report include its erroneous calculations for benefits costs, both during employment and after retirement, which leads the authors to contend that benefit costs for teachers amount to more than their salary costs, thus more than doubling teachers' overall costs. Keefe warns that the study isn't merely useless, but that it will lead to "headline-grabbing claims of dramatic overpayment of teachers" that, in turn, will result in ill-informed and harmful policy decisions that further undercut support for public education.
Jeffrey H. Keefe's review: http://www.greatlakescenter.org.
Find Assessing the Compensation of Public School Teachers at: http://thf_media.s3.amazonaws.com/2011/pdf/CDA11-03.pdf.
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Colorado lawsuit challenges wisdom of ballot box
Few elected officials would ever dare say, at least within earshot of a microphone, that voters making public policy decisions through ballot-box referendums are less capable or wise than legislators deliberating under a capitol dome. But now a federal lawsuit challenging Colorado’s 20-year-old taxpayer-controlled state budgeting process, known by its acronym, TABOR, is speaking truth to power, plaintiffs say, and challenging the assumption that voters always know best. “For a long time people have been tweaking TABOR around the edges and avoiding a direct assault,” said Michael Feeley, an attorney who is representing the group of 33 plaintiffs -- mostly current and former state legislators, local county and municipal officials and educators. “But now there’s political will, political courage and enough legal firepower to say, ‘enough’s enough -- we’ve got to fix this.’ ” On the surface, the suit seems technical, arguing that Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, generally considered the tightest cap on spending and taxation in the nation, blocks the ability and jurisdiction of the state Legislature to properly do its job. The deeper intellectual wellspring, though, harks back to the definitions of what a representative democracy is supposed to be, as articulated by the nation’s founding framers, especially James Madison, the fourth president. In the Federalist Papers, a series of essays written in part by Madison in support of the Constitution, he pushed strongly for a barrier between the passions of the popular will and sober governance of the nation through a legislative branch. The lawsuit, filed last year, will have its first major hearing in federal District Court in Denver on Feb. 15. “A legislature unable to raise and appropriate funds cannot meet its primary constitutional obligations,” the Colorado lawsuit reads. “Since the passage of TABOR in 1992, the State of Colorado has experienced a slow, inexorable slide into fiscal dysfunction.” Some historians and legal scholars said the suit tilts at windmills, pushing an argument -- the constitutional defense of representative government -- that federal courts have rarely recognized and that broad segments of society, in the age of Twitter, WikiLeaks and disdain for Congress, do not see as worth breaking a sweat to defend. “When you start arguing against these initiatives and referendum, you’re actually on strong historical grounds with the founding fathers,” said Kevin Wagner, an assistant professor of political science at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. But we are not in raw frontier America anymore, Wagner said, and the literate, educated and plugged-in electorate of today fully expects to make its voice heard. “There’s no evidence that we’re going to go back,” Wagner said. “Participation in the system and ability to do so has increased and will continue to increase.”
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