Today's news -- December 16, 2013



Brevard teachers gear up for classroom evaluations

For two years, a yellowed piece of newspaper showing a cartoon by Jeff Parker has been hanging at my desk. The serious teacher stands near a disinterested student, slumped in his seat with earphones. He says “…I sleep through class, I don’t study and never do my homework. Wait’ll the teacher merit pay bill passes, then we’ll see whose ‘F’ that is.” Jeff Parker got it so right. The end of the first semester is closing in, and teachers are busy evaluating their students to calculate final grades. But students aren’t the only ones being evaluated. Recently many teachers received an email instructing us to select a day and time for our first informal observation. While the administrators have been performing classroom “walkthroughs,” the more formal process is about to begin. Because of the “Race to the Top” initiative, the district adopted a VAM, value-added model, whereby teacher quality is measured by the rise or fall of student test scores. Today’s over-complicated evaluation process is a confusing point system of teacher effectiveness, self-evaluation rubrics and value-added scores based on student test results from last year. Other than those instructing Advanced Placement courses, most teachers have no choice about which students sit in their classrooms. Despite ongoing attempts to motivate the lowest-achieving learners, their lack of effort now diminishes the teacher’s ratings. Few educators are happy about VAM calculations and many continue debating its merits.


Teacher evaluations are “pseudo science” (by Dan Bennett)

Anyone confused by the teacher evaluation system? For decades, school reformers have mined FCAT data in different ways to get different results. To figure school grades, the state looks at a percentage of students on grade level or making learning gains. But then to figure AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) the feds splice out the same data by ethnicity to make sure every subgroup of students is passing.  Yes, there were instances where the state system assigned an A, while the national system labeled the same school as failing. Now we have teacher evaluations where the state assigns a projection for each student’s FCAT score. Factors like special education status, scheduling, and attendance adjust the individualized projection and a teacher gets either credit or blame for the student meeting or missing the projection. The creation of the projection is the basis of the VAM (Value Added Model). At best, VAM is hard to verify. At worst, it is a pseudo-science. It certainly has nothing to do with the school grade. All of this leads to public confusion about what is going on in schools. Just know that teachers are always there for the kids, not for the FCAT, VAM or other acronyms.


Teacher development and evaluation (Randi Weingarten quoted)


New school standards tough for non-English speakers


Palm Beach district, union reach pay agreement (Lynn Cavall quoted),0,7392944.story


Hernando teacher raises hit gridlock before winter break (Jo Ann Hartge, John Imhof, Lynne Webb and Jean Clements quoted)


Teachers union president Lynne Webb steps down after 15 years


Teachers or tutors? (Kim Black quoted)


Positive behavior support in Escambia, Santa Rosa County schools on rise (Bill Vincent quoted)


Local teachers concerned after Colorado shooting (Ellen Baker quoted)


Hernando schools to tackle state funding levels


Two-thirds would support Duval tax increase for education, poll finds


Fewer students held back in third grade


Ten obvious truths that we shouldn’t be ignoring

The field of education bubbles over with controversies. It’s not unusual for intelligent people of good will to disagree passionately about what should happen in schools. But there are certain precepts that aren’t debatable, that just about anyone would have to acknowledge are true. While many such statements are banal, some are worth noticing because in our school practices and policies we tend to ignore the implications that follow from them. It’s both intellectually interesting and practically important to explore such contradictions: If we all agree that a given principle is true, then why in the world do our schools still function as if it weren’t? Here are 10 examples.


Study: Test-score gains don’t mean cognitive gains

In a finding that should give pause to backers of standardized test-based school reform, a new study by neuroscientists at three major universities shows that students who achieved the highest gains on standardized tests did not show the same gains in the ability to analyze material and think logically. The research, conducted by scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University and Brown University and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, says that strategies that schools use to boost scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams did nothing to help students improve in the development of what is called “fluid intelligence” skills, or cognitive gains. Modern school reform has been wrapped around the notion that “accountability” of students, schools and teachers can be achieved by monitoring the scores students receive on high-stakes multiple-choice standardized tests. Assessment experts have long said that most of the standardized tests that have been in use for many years do a poor job of evaluating the range of things students learn (and for that and other reasons, should not be used for high stakes decisions). This study goes beyond those findings, seeming to “narrow down the possibilities of what educational interventions are achieving,” Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia who was not part of the research team, was quoted as saying by a report on study published on the MIT website.


The dangerous rise of for-profit public education


Will the Common Core be the Rosetta Stone for corporate reform?


Five myths about the Common Core (Randi Weingarten quoted)


Did Shanghai cheat on PISA?


Why Florida educators want to change arts accountability in schools


Thousands come together to support public education (Randi Weingarten in video)


What happens when educators make their own documentary?


What happens to kids who don’t graduate?


Failing our children by starting them out wrong


When private firms run schools, financial secrecy is allowed


Indiana: Public schools show stronger performance than charter schools or voucher schools


North Carolina: Home schools may qualify for vouchers


Florida colleges become more selective,0,6059190.story


More Florida college graduates are drowning in debt,0,5129085.story


What’s right -- and very wrong -- with the teacher education debate


Pay for U.S. college presidents continues to grow


Unemployed Floridians to lose benefits as state, nation cut weeks paid


Florida unemployment benefits still tied up as website problems persist


Many promises, few jobs


Florida Supreme Court rejects Republican leaders’ bid for shield in redistricting cases


Failure at the top on Medicaid


In Miami, Sebelius sticks to message, touting retooled Obamacare website


Homestead absentee-ballot case under investigation by Miami-Dade police, prosecutors


Dream Defenders gear up for more activism


We are not all in this together


Why inequality matters


Lawmakers pass blame, but not bills


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