Today's news -- February 29, 2012



State approves new grading formula for schools — with revisions

After a week of controversy gave way to an emotional public meeting, the state Board of Education on Tuesday softened plans to revamp the school grading formula. Superintendents, teachers and parent groups had slammed several proposed changes to the formula, including the so-called proficiency trigger, which would have slapped schools with an automatic F if fewer than 25 percent of students were reading at grade level. State Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson backed off that part of the plan Tuesday. Under the revised plan, schools that don't hit the 25 percent mark will instead be docked one letter grade. What's more, the trigger will not kick in until the 2012-13 school year starts. The board did approve one of the most divisive provisions of the new formula: a plan to more fully incorporate students with disabilities and those who are learning English into the grade calculation. In years past, the formula has considered only whether those students were making improvements, and not whether they were at grade level. But there was a caveat: Board members directed Robinson to convene a task force of educators, experts and parents to draw up details of the plan -- and ensure it is both necessary and sound. The board approved the new grading formula in a unanimous vote. They will now move toward implementing it. It was not clear how the formula as adopted would impact school grades. Under the original proposal, hundreds of Florida schools would have dipped into the failing range, according to state estimates. Robinson said the revised formula could also make a difference: "I don't pretend this won't have an impact on the grades." Dozens of parents, teachers, superintendents and education experts made the trek to Tallahassee on Tuesday to speak at the board meeting. Vice chairman Roberto Martinez urged his colleagues to slow the process by a month and collect more input from stakeholders. But other members of the board insisted on voting.,0,7275788.story

Report: New standards would crash school grades


Evaluating teacher evaluation

There is a growing consensus that evidence of teachers’ contributions to student learning should be a component of teacher evaluation systems, along with evidence about the quality of teachers’ practice. Value-added models (VAMs), designed to evaluate student test score gains from one year to the next are often promoted as tools to accomplish this goal. However, current research suggests that VAM ratings are not sufficiently reliable or valid to support high-stakes, individual-level decisions about teachers. Other tools for teacher evaluation have shown greater success in measuring and improving teaching, especially those that examine teachers’ practices in relation to professional standards. Value-added models enable researchers to use statistical methods to measure changes in student scores over time while considering student characteristics and other factors often found to influence achievement. In large-scale studies, these methods have proved valuable for looking at factors affecting achievement and measuring the effects of programs or interventions.  Using VAMs for individual teacher evaluation is based on the belief that measured achievement gains for a specific teacher’s students reflect that teacher’s “effectiveness.” This attribution, however, assumes that student learning is measured well by a given test, is influenced by the teacher alone, and is independent from the growth of classmates and other aspects of the classroom context. None of these assumptions is well supported by current evidence.


Botched vote silences critics of “parent empowerment” bill

A state Senate panel botched voting rules and shut down public input on a bill Tuesday that would give parents more say in school district decisions. The committee chairman says the "parent empowerment" bill will get another hearing. The panel hastily approved a strike-all amendment but did not immediately pass the bill itself, missing the self-imposed "time certain" deadline on the vote. Democratic lawmakers quickly raised red flags. Normally, if the deadline passes without a vote, the bill dies. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, would let parents of children at failing schools recommend ways to fix it, including transforming them into charter schools or replacing much of the faculty and administration. "I plan on having another meeting," said Education Subcommittee Chair David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, who initially appeared flustered by the mistake. "I'm going to ask (Senate President Mike Haridopolos) to permit me to have another meeting so this can be fully, fully discussed and fully debated." Several people, including Naples mother and retired teacher Linda McDonald, traveled to speak against the bill. Most never got a chance. "I went up and talked to the chair," said McDonald, 64, a former special education teacher at Golden Gate Middle School. "I said, 'This bill very much involves teachers and parents, and very few teachers and parents got to speak.'" Haridopolos is a supporter of the bill, modeled on legislation pushed by national organizations in other states, where it's known as a "parent trigger." Although perhaps a dozen audience members had come to testify on the bill, most could only waive their time in support or opposition. The panel spent less than 20 minutes asking questions and hearing testimony about the 12-page bill. "That's a tactic they employ all the time," said Michael Monroe, a lobbyist for the Florida Education Association, which opposes the bill. "They run the ball down to the goal line and then run out the clock." The Board of Education is considering stricter school performance standards. Monroe said new rules would result in 268 F-rated schools, seven times the current number, putting more schools in position to qualify. Other opponents have said the legislation would break down trust between parents and teachers, divide communities and expose neighborhoods to intense marketing from charter school organizations. A companion bill in the House of Representatives has already reached the full chamber and could receive an up or down vote this week.


GOP moving forward with several bills to increase state funding for charter schools


Charters taking from public schools


Manatee teachers won't see retroactive pay cut (Pat Barber quoted)

Putnam school union rejects contract (Sharon Hughes quoted)


Seminole teacher association asks for 3 percent raise (Tony Gentile quoted)


State Education Board backs charter school rejected by Duval School Board

State overturns Orange, Seminole charter-school rejections,0,806135.story


Pinellas school district officials sour on new charter for Scientology school


Cheaters would prosper with sports rule change,0,3789480.story


Republican education legislation is a step backward (Dennis Van Roekel quoted) (Randi Weingarten quoted)

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel on the tragic shootings at Chardon High School


Measures to allow UF, FSU to raise tuition move on


USF president, Alexander differ on accreditation time line for USF Poly


Redistricting is creating rifts in the state’s high court

As the Florida Supreme Court opens redistricting arguments today over the Legislature’s proposed redistricting maps, recent deliberations of the normally subdued court have signaled an internal feud over how to handle the issue. Two of the court’s conservative justices, Charles Canady and Ricky Polston, appear to want to limit the courts review while the court’s two liberals, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince, appear to want them to dig deeper. In the middle are the swing votes, Justices Fred Lewis, Jorge Labarga and James Perry. In the last two weeks, Pariente and Quince have teamed up with two of the moderate judges to demand that legislators turn over their addresses as the non-partisan court is weighing into the once-a-decade partisan battle. Meanwhile, Canady and Polston have also aligned themselves with moderates to block a request from a coalition of voters groups who asked to submit a new version of their proposed map and stopped the Florida Democratic Party from admitting testimony from an expert witness. The court will hear oral arguments in the case today and, if the last two weeks are any indication, the panel could be prepared with some feisty questions. The Florida Constitution requires the court to review the maps for the House and Senate districts drawn by lawmakers every 10 years as part of the redistricting process but, in the past, the review has been limited. This time, the court must determine how well the maps comply with the anti-gerrymandering Fair District standards approved by voters in 2010. The Florida Democratic Party, along with the League of Women Voters, The National Council of La Raza and Florida Common Cause, have asked the court to reject the maps drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature and order lawmakers to start over. Instead, they said, legislators should create maps more reflective of the voter split in the state -- in which Democrats outnumber Republicans by 580,000 voters.


New districts need court's scrutiny


No crony courts for Florida


Blocking the vote


Judge Jackie Fulford, of retirement system case, sidelined by injuries (FEA mentioned)


House, Senate reach agreement and budget conference begins

After a morning of tense announcements and warnings that budget negotiations had reached a standstill, House and Senate leaders announced Tuesday afternoon that they had agreed on a framework that will allow the chambers to begin a formal budget conference. The budget conference committees met Tuesday evening and got set for the first full round of House offers to begin thsi morning. The ice broke Tuesday after the House agreed to accept most of the Senate's plan for higher education, asking the universities to dip into nearly $300 million of their unallocated cash balances instead of the recurring cuts proposed by the House. "It wasn't a bargaining position," Senate Budget Chairman J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said of the upper chamber's refusal to accept a recurring general revenue reduction in favor of tapping the reserves. "It was just not something the Senate would support." Alexander said that generally speaking, many of the proposals split the difference between the two chambers. The Senate would meet the House more than halfway on funding for health care, meaning they have more than $100 million in additional general revenue to work with. Earlier in the day, the House Appropriations Chairman Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring said talks had stalled between the two chambers. The agreement on allocations came a few hours after senators warned that the session could be forced into overtime if a deal could not reached. The chambers have about a week to agree on the full budget, allowing for a three-day "cooling-off period" before they can vote on the state spending plan in time for the end of session. Alexander said he planned to be working out final budget issues over the coming weekend.


Legislature set to pass $124 million in tax cuts


Lawmakers have a better health care plan, and vote to keep it that way


Although court decision is pending, lawmakers push ahead with state worker drug tests


Florida consumers remain mildly optimistic


The mauling of Florida's environment


Growth bills moving in House, Senate as opposition fades


Ranks of moderate Republicans shrink with Sen. Dennis Jones leaving after 32 years

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