“You’ve probably heard the uproar over this year’s much tougher FCAT and hugely ambitious yet untested scoring scale that initially flunked most of the state. As education officials clear the political wreckage and recalibrate the scale to something useful, I couldn’t help but wonder where the money comes from for all this high-stakes testing. Turns out, as reformers in Tallahassee have pushed more testing in more subjects with ever-higher stakes, they haven’t provided any money for it. It is an unfunded mandate that requires local school boards to tap your property taxes. A coalition of 10 Central Florida school boards, including Brevard, has released a report on the fiscal impact on districts, and where the money comes from. Among the many costs, the typical Florida high school pays $15,000 just for the substitute teachers to help proctor exams on test days. And because some tests now must be administered online, schools must create computer stations or labs where that can be done, costing individual schools anywhere from $18,000 to $37,000. Other costs are harder to compute but no less real. Time lost from instruction has become enormous, says the report by the Central Florida School Board Coalition. ‘In a single year, as many as 62 tests may be administered by the district to its students,’ it says. ‘Students will spend at minimum nine weeks in kindergarten and up to 21 weeks of the school year in 10th- grade testing.’”
-- Florida Today columnist Matt Reed.
FEA challenge of rule implementing merit-pay law goes to judge
The state's largest teachers union argued before an administrative law judge Wednesday that the state Department of Education has exceeded its authority with the rule it set for how school districts should evaluate teachers for merit pay. The Florida Education Association and two teachers, Okaloosa County fifth-grade teacher Karen Peek and Indian River County eighth-grade teacher Beth Weatherstone, filed the challenge alleging that the department's proposal "unlawfully sets a few DOE bureaucrats up to interpret, interpolate and extrapolate the meaning of the extensive jargon it includes." Their complaint also contends the proposal is vague and arbitrary. State education officials defended the proposal as "not arbitrary or capricious." They also said the proposed rule is written in the common language of the education community and does not violate the law created by the 2011 legislation, SB 736. The hearing concluded Wednesday, but Administrative Law Judge John Vanlaningham said he doesn't expect to decide the case before July. The proposed rule was designed to implement the law passed last year. It includes teacher evaluation requirements based heavily on student testing including the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT. Besides merit pay, the evaluations would be used to impose sanctions, possibly including dismissal, on low-rated teachers. The measure was the first bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, who had been opposed by the FEA in his 2010 campaign against Democrat Alex Sink. Scott said the new law would help improve student and teacher performance and make Florida more attractive to businesses. Besides challenging the proposed rule, the FEA last September sued to have the new law thrown out as an unconstitutional restriction on the union's right to collective bargaining. That case could go to trial this summer before Leon County Circuit Judge James Shelfer.
Tony Demma, an attorney for the Florida Education Association and two teachers, said the proposed rule includes such thing as an "elaborate 13-page checklist" that school districts would have to use to get state approval of their evaluation systems. He said the rule goes beyond requirements in state law and includes "vague and arcane phrases and clauses" that districts would be forced to meet.
Broward School Board passes anti-FCAT resolution
Broward County school leaders are speaking out against what they see as a nasty four-letter word: FCAT. The School Board unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday opposing standardized testing as the primary means for evaluating schools, students and teachers. They say there is so much focus on students doing well on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test that it's thwarting teacher creativity and hindering students' ability to learn. They say many students are being poorly educated on subjects not directly tested on the FCAT, including history, art and music. At the same time, the tests have become so stressful that kids are staying home sick, skipping school and dropping out, they said. "This is destroying public education, destroying the teaching profession and destroying children," School Board member Robin Bartleman said. "The classroom should be fun. Kids should be excited about learning and not be afraid they're going to be punished for one test." The resolution asks Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Department of Education and state and federal lawmakers to revamp state and federal accountability systems so that they include a variety of measures to determine how students perform. The resolution claims standardized testing is "an inadequate and often unreliable measure of both student learning and educator effectiveness." The effort is part of a national movement, where parent groups and school boards are signing petitions and resolutions opposing high stakes testing. The Palm Beach County School District passed a similar resolution in April, and Martin and St. Lucie counties have also joined the fight. Florida will soon tie teacher pay to how well students' perform on the test. Schools are graded based on the scores and can receive extra funding if they score well. If a school receives an F grade from the state or fails to meet federal Adequate Yearly Progress standards, its students can transfer to another school. Anti-FCAT sentiment has intensified in recent weeks, as this year's test scores have proved disappointing. Third-grade reading and math scores dropped slightly, while writing scores for several grades were so abysmal that the state Board of Education voted in an emergency meeting to loosen the school grading criteria so there wouldn't be large numbers of failing schools. Officials from the Department of Education and Gov. Scott's office couldn't be reached for comment Thursday, despite attempts by phone and email.
Are more teacher layoffs coming to Broward schools? (George Segna quoted)
More pay cuts should be last resort for Pasco school district
State cuts funding for acclaimed Pasco alternative school
County, school officials gear up for Penny for Pasco campaign
Highlands School Board must demand facts
Record number of high-school students graduating with college credits
Bunkum Awards spotlight shoddy education research
The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) has announced the winners of the 2011 Bunkum Awards – presented for the most compellingly lousy educational research for the past year. The video is now available for viewing at http://nepc.colorado.edu/think-tank/bunkum-awards/2011. The 2011 Bunkum Grand Prize goes to the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), which received the “Cancer is Under-Rated Award” for Going Exponential: Growing the Charter School Sector’s Best. In its report, which advocated the rapid expansion of preferred charter schools, PPI compared those charters to viruses and cancers. PPI says that it “conducted research about when and how exponential growth occurs in the natural world, specifically examining mold, algae, cancer, crystals and viruses. We used these findings … to fuel our thinking about fresh directions for the charter sector.” “The Progressive Policy Institute deserves our top award for combining a weak analysis, agenda-driven recommendations, and the most bizarre analogy we’ve seen in a long time,” stated Kevin Welner, director of NEPC. “This report spoke to us in ways matched by no other publication.” Welner and the NEPC recognized the report for its almost complete lack of acceptable scientific evidence or original research supporting the policy suggestions, as well as its failure to make the case that its suggestions are relevant to school improvement. To view the NEPC review of this report, and for a link to the report itself, visit http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-going-exponential. The NEPC also awarded its “Get a Life(time) Achievement Award” to Matthew Ladner, senior adviser of policy and research for Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. This is the first time NEPC bestowed an individual with a Bunkum Award. “We’ve never before found someone with an individual record of Bunkum-worthy accomplishments that just cries out for recognition,” stated Welner. “Ladner’s body of Bunk-work is focused on his shameless hawking of what he and the governor call the ‘Florida Formula’ for educational success.” Specifically, Ladner argues that because Florida’s test scores had increased during a time period when Florida policy included things like school choice and grade retention, these policies must be responsible for the scores. Yet decades of evidence link grade retention practices to increased dropout rates, not to improved achievement. Moreover, Florida’s recent test score results are notably unimpressive, but Ladner continues to promote his favored policies, blaming the scores on a slide in home prices and other factors he says are “impossible” to determine. Learn more at http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/learning-from-florida.
AFT vice president to head black school educators group
Florida higher education task force holds first meeting
The leader of a new task force to examine higher education said at the panel's first meeting that it shouldn't try to "reinvent the wheel" amid a multi-pronged attempted to overhaul the network of state universities. But a topic that has dominated earlier discussions, particularly a measure that moved through the Legislature earlier this year, re-emerged: The state funding of universities and how well they are able to supplement that spending with tuition. "The big question is, is the current economic condition expected to continue?" asked Dale Brill, president of the Florida Chamber Foundation and chairman of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on State Higher Education Reform. Gov. Rick Scott created the task force with an executive order in the wake of his veto of a measure that would have allowed the University of Florida and Florida State University to raise tuition by virtually unlimited amounts. The chief author of that legislation, outgoing House Education Chairman Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, is on the task force.
USF paying bills for Lakeland campus
Nearly 40 apply to help oversee new university
More Floridians on food stamps despite increase in jobs
Scott administration vows to accelerate voter purge: “There will be more names”
Florida GOP chair compares disenfranchising voters to stopping drunk drivers
Hillsborough ends its voter purge
The GOP and gaming the votes
Is Florida the national champion in public corruption? Study to say yes
|The Prize Patrol Finds the Winner: Who knew a few computer clicks and a membership card activation could lead to a free vacation. Ashley VanHolten is the winner of the FEA/ ACCESS membership card activation contest. Watch the FEA Prize Patrol visit.|