Today's news -- January 17, 2017




Senators should look at Florida's school “reform” mess *

This week, Congress began vetting Donald Trump's Cabinet nominations. Fireworks flew as members vetted nominees such as Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State. I don't know Tillerson from Adam. So I'll leave the fighting over him to the D.C. politicians. But I'm very familiar with the school "reform" movement championing Betsy DeVos as Trump's pick for education secretary -- because Florida has been Ground Zero on that front. And here in Florida, that so-called "reform" has been a disaster. Don't take it from me. Take it from a bipartisan coalition of legislators who have admitted that Florida's testing-obsessed brand of "reform" has spiraled out of control and ultimately hurt both students and teachers. Just last week, Republican legislators vowed to roll back some of the testing overkill started by Jeb Bush — the man leading the charge to put DeVos in charge of schools nationwide. The problems are evident. Under Florida's so-called "reform" and "accountability" movement…

• Testing mandates have been so intense that some schools reported that test-related activities interrupted more than 60, 70 and even 90 of the 180 school days each year.

• Three years ago, Orange County had to create 1,000 new standardized tests — for everything from P.E. to band — to keep up with mandates.

• Science and art classes have been cut — sometimes entire courses, sometimes nine full weeks of curriculum, just so students could run more testing drills.

• Teachers have fled the state's public schools — so much that the state's own research show 40 percent of new teachers leave within five years after they start.

This is why Republican legislators have already begun repealing some of the very "reform" measures they used to champion. But here's the real problem with the "accountability" movement: It is bogus. Reformers bog down public schools with mandates that parents and teachers hate -- but then offer vouchers to schools that don't have to meet the same standards. Think about that. It's an obvious double standard with a goal of driving people away from traditional schools and to the private ones. It's like offering someone two plates of barbecue ribs. You're free to choose whichever plate you want ... oh, but first we're going to place a big steaming pile of dog poop on top of one of them. Now choose! Of course you're going to choose the poo-free platter. If these folks were honest, they'd require every school that takes one nickel of public money or tax credits to meet the same standards. Some. None. Just be consistent. But they don't. Because that would be a fair fight. A few years ago, legislators actually talked about requiring private schools that receive vouchers to meet the same "accountability" standards -- and the private schools went bonkers. One pro-voucher group even penned a column in the Sentinel saying that forcing them to play by the same burdensome rules would "threaten private-school appeal." Well, no kidding. The private schools basically said: What you are doing to public schools is so bad that, if you do it to us as well, people wouldn't choose us anymore. It was basically an admission that the "reform" movement -- with "accountability" for some, but not for all -- is a fraud. And DeVos -- the woman who wants to run America's public-school system, despite never attending public schools herself nor sending her own kids there -- is the queen of the vouchers and "reform," helping lead several groups on that front. Listen, as a parent of two public-school students, I want some standardized testing. I want to know how my kids are doing on nationally respected tests. I also want accountability. Not just for my kids but for underprivileged kids, some of whom have traditionally been left behind and are intended beneficiaries of reform efforts. I also deviate from some in the teachers' unions in that I believe there's a place for charter schools, especially those that serve special needs, cater to gifted students and target specific topics. And I think teacher raises should be set by supervisors who are best positioned to see what they are doing — just like most professions do. But I also believe that teachers are experts at teaching. Not politicians. And definitely not people whose real goal is to funnel money to private and for-profit schools. Great things still happen in Florida's public schools. But they happen in spite of Florida's top-down "reform" efforts, not because of them. So before the U.S. Senate tries to take "reform" nationwide, they should look at Florida. Look at all the specific problems I cited at the top of the column -- and listen to all the former "reformers" here who now have buyer's regret.


DeVos omitted $125,000 anti-union political donation from Senate disclosure form


DeVos wants “school choice.” Chile tried that already.


Is government a “force for good,” or does it “really suck”?


Senators to scrutinize DeVos, Trump’s pick for education secretary


How DeVos used God and Amway to take over Michigan politics


Trump's pick for education secretary could put school vouchers back on the map


Scott praises DeVos as school choice advocate


Lawmakers look to cull school testing *

Key Florida senators will push sweeping legislation this spring that aims to cut the number of standardized exams students take and lessen the impact testing has on public schools. These members want a "return to sanity," said Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, who is spearheading the effort. "I think it's time for us to do a very serious, serious look at the amount of testing we do," Simmons said, because it leads to "tremendous, tremendous collateral damage." The bill they are drafting, Simmons said, likely will call for scrapping some state tests, allowing schools to give paper-and-pencil exams instead of online ones that takes weeks longer to administer, and letting students with good scores on college admission exams skip state tests. Simmons, chairman of the Senate's pre-K-12 budget committee, said the legislation could also end rules that make some tests a "gatekeeper" that can keep students from earning a diploma. That would be a significant change for Florida, which has had a high school exit exam required for graduation since 1979. Testing has been a hot-button issue in Florida for years. In 2015, in the face of public outrage over technology glitches that disrupted the roll out of the new online Florida Standards Assessments, the Florida Legislature made some changes to testing rules. But those did not get to the crux of many testing complaints. Seminole County Superintendent Walt Griffin summed them up this way: "We are spending way too much time testing," he said, and that wastes time that students would better spend in class. Florida's so-called testing season starts this year in late February and runs through mid-May. The testing system includes FSA language arts and math exams for students in grades 3 through high school, plus science and social studies tests for students in certain grades and courses. The state gave about 3.6 million exams last year, the bulk taken online, with students in some grades taking up to four each. Superintendents are helping Simmons' committee devise its legislative proposal and several spoke at a meeting in the Capitol last week, including Griffin. Superintendents suggested the state ax its standardized, end-of-course exams in algebra 2, civics, geometry and U.S. history. Those exams are not required by federal school testing rules, which demand some testing in certain grades and subjects. Online exams take weeks longer to administer than paper ones because students have to be cycled through a limited number of computer labs. In high schools that process can take up to a month and disrupts classes as students leave to take their exams. So superintendents said schools could benefit by a return to paper-and-pencil exams, which would mean fewer days devoted to testing since everyone in a certain course or grade could take them at once.


Duval debates how to best cope with district’s teacher shortage (Terrie Brady quoted)


Escambia teachers fight for better pay, end standardized testing (Bill Vincent and Richard Loiselle quoted)


Flagler superintendent named state vice chancellor for K-12 education


Palm Beach charter school threatens to expel student over dad’s Facebook post


Education deans support public education and democracy

As the nation watches this month’s transition to a new administration and a new Congress, a growing alliance of deans of colleges and schools of education across the country is urging a fundamental reconsideration of the problems and possibilities that surround America’s public schools. In a Declaration of Principles released last week, 175 deans sounded the alarm: “Our children suffer when we deny that educational inequities exist and when we refuse to invest sufficient time, resources, and effort toward holistic and systemic solutions. The U.S. educational system is plagued with oversimplified policies and reform initiatives that were developed and imposed without support of a compelling body of rigorous research, or even with a track record of failure.” The deans called upon federal leaders to forge a new path forward by:

  • Upholding the role of public schools as a central institution in the strengthening of our democracy.
  • Protecting the human and civil rights of all children and youth, especially those from historically marginalized communities.
  • Developing and implementing policies, laws, and reform initiatives by building on a democratic vision for public education and on sound educational research.
  • Supporting and partnering with colleges and schools of education to advance these goals.

Signing the statement are current and former deans of colleges and schools of education from across the United States, as well as chairs of education departments in institutions with no separate school of education. The entire Declaration of Principles by Education Deans for Justice and Equity on Public Education, Democracy, and the Role of the Federal Government, as well as an online form for additional education deans to sign on, can be found on the NEPC website at


How charters are hurting a traditional school district

Charter schools have become a central feature of the school “choice” movement, itself a key part of corporate school reform, which seeks to operate public schools as if they were businesses rather than civic institutions. There are now thousands of charters — which are publicly funded but independently operated, sometimes by for-profit companies — enrolling a few million students in 43 states and the District of Columbia who make up about 6 percent of public school students across the country. While they are a small minority of the public school student population, outsized controversy surrounds charter schools in many communities, especially in states where lax oversight has resulted in financial irregularities and traditional public schools are negatively affected. There are so many issues surrounding charter schools that in October 2016, leaders of the NAACP, the oldest civil rights organization in the United States, bucked intense pressure from charter supporters and ratified a resolution calling for a moratorium on the expansion of charters and for stronger oversight of these schools. [Why charter schools get public education advocates so angry]  Here’s a cautionary post about the impact of charter schools in one school district in Pennsylvania, one of a number of states with extremely lax charter school laws. It was written by Carol Burris, a former New York high school principal who is executive director of the nonprofit Network for Public Education. She was named the 2010 Educator of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State, and in 2013, the same organization named her the New York State High School Principal of the Year. She has been chronicling problems with corporate school reform for years, including with a series about troubled charter schools in California. [How messed up is California’s charter school sector? You won’t believe how much.] The Senate education confirmation will hold confirmation hearings on Betsy DeVos, the Michigan billionaire selected by President-elect Donald Trump to be the next U.S. education secretary. She is an unabashed supporter of charter schools and has worked in the past against strong oversight of the schools. Senators asking her questions may want to ask her about charter oversight and the dynamic around charters in Pennsylvania and the Bethlehem Area School District, as described by Burris.


School district, teachers union settle lawsuit over poor building conditions in Detroit


Don't limit student costs by starving colleges

Sending kids to college should be affordable for Florida families and should not require assuming a mountain of debt. But there are ways to help students without starving universities' budgets and cheapening the value of a degree. Gov. Rick Scott is intent on controlling costs without significant state investment, while Senate leaders are offering more balanced solutions. The governor has outlined his plan to save students money and help them graduate in four years, which saves both students and the state money. But to do it he wants to freeze tuition at state colleges -- university tuition is already frozen -- and cap fees at both colleges and universities. It's a skimpy fix that fails to address the broader picture. Average in-state tuition at Florida universities runs about $6,000 a year, less than a third of the total $21,000 cost of attendance that includes technology, books, room and board. What's more, Florida tuition is well below the national average of $9,650. Scott, who frequently preaches the gospel of keeping Florida competitive, is essentially telling universities to make do, which is no way to run a world-class university system that turns out career-ready graduates.


Colleges gear up for legislative battles

Florida state colleges are preparing for a renewed legislative fight this spring over how the 28-college system is governed and the number of bachelor's degrees they can award. The colleges' lobbyists told the college system's Council of Presidents, which met in Tallahassee last week, that the Senate is working on a major bill that is expected to contain those elements and will be filed shortly. The proposal will follow other Senate legislation filed this week that would create new performance standards for the colleges, requiring students to earn their degrees more quickly. And it follows Gov. Rick Scott's call to freeze tuition and fees for the college system as well as the state universities. The college presidents, who are seeking a $100 million boost for their system, were also told they could expect an initial budget proposal from lawmakers for the 2017-18 fiscal year that could reduce the current $82 billion state budget by up to $1.9 billion. “It's too early to get upset,” said Ed Meadows, president of Pensacola State College and chairman of the presidents' council. “Every session every year there are always challenges. I would say that this year poses a complexity that we have not seen in a while.”


Why pragmatic liberal education matters more than ever

Margaret Sullivan, media columnist for The Washington Post, recently wrote this, under the headline, “The post-truth world of the Trump administration is scarier than you think: You may think you are prepared for a post-truth world, in which political appeals to emotion count for more than statements of verifiable fact.

But now it’s time to cross another bridge — into a world without facts. Or, more precisely, where facts do not matter a whit. This is where we are, and this is part of the reason why, according to Michael S. Roth, president of Wesleyan University, a private liberal arts college in Middletown, Connecticut, liberal education matters more than it ever has, as he explains in the post below. His most recent books are “Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters,” and “Memory, Trauma and History: Essays on Living With the Past.”


Dreamers: Repeal of immigration order would be “life changing”


Hollingsworth appointment could be blip on Scott’s legacy (John White mentioned)


Legislators begin study budget, unveiling priorities ahead of session


Health care uncertainty looms over state budget talks


Scant evidence that housing vouchers reduce poverty


Hate incidents spike in state and across the nation after election


NRA’s influence with Florida lawmakers is powerful


House clears path for repeal of health law


The biggest changes Obamacare made, and those that may disappear


Without Obamacare, I will get sicker, faster, until I die


Democrats rally across the country to save and expand Obamacare


Crist calls GOP Obamacare repeal without replacement “unacceptable”


Know where Obamacare repeal will be felt the most? Miami


Republican states still face big health care costs as Obamacare is unwound


The Obamacare danger ahead for Republicans


Repealing ACA without a replacement is irresponsible


“Repeal and replace”: Words still hanging over GOP’s health care strategy


The GOP’s health care death spiral


Trump vows “insurance for everybody” in Obamacare replacement plan


Here are the lies Ryan told about Obamacare during his town hall meeting


Republicans move to spend billions on Obamacare -- before they kill it


Ryan and Trump set for Medicare showdown


The assault on health and safety begins


The economy under Trump: Plan for the worst


Global report sees rise in inequality in U.S.


World’s eight richest have as much wealth as bottom half of global population


Labor unions: What's their future under Trump?


Trump’s accidental creation: A new women’s movement


Thousands of women will go on strike to protest Trump’s inauguration


Floridians join Women's March, in D.C., throughout Florida


How much will the inauguration cost, and who’s paying?


Corporations open the cash spigot for Trump’s inauguration


More than 40 Democratic lawmakers now skipping Trump’s inauguration


Infrastructure delusions


In exchange with undocumented mom, Ryan exposes cruelty of Trumpism


Advocates call on Rubio to protect immigrant families as Trump era begins


Justices will hear challenges to mandatory employee arbitration


The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the conscience of the nation


King was a labor leader


In speeches and interviews, Obama holds on to the spotlight for last days


The Obama era


The optimism of Obama


A president who inspired big dreams, and big smiles, in a young generation


The most successful democrat since FDR


Jolted by deaths, Obama found his voice on race


How black America saw Obama


Obama ushers in dozens of policies. But will they stay seated?


We’re better off because of Obama, but so divided


Warren embraces her role as a top Democratic foil to Trump


Democrats mull how to confront Trump


The investigation of Comey is exactly what the country needs


Wasserman Schultz confronted Comey about Russian hacking


Americans will get the Trump they elected as president


Trump said he’d do a lot -- fast. Expectations, meet reality.


Trump waits in his tower -- accessible yet isolated


Trump gets no respect. That’s because he hasn’t earned it.


Poll: Trump draws low marks for transition, response to Russian hacking


Trump adviser had five calls with Russian envoy on day of sanctions, sources say


Pence deflects questions about contacts with Russia during campaign


Intelligence Committee will investigate possible Russia-Trump links


Trump is a legitimate president. But we need to know how he won.


Obama warns Trump must improve relations with intel community


To prove he’s “no puppet,” Trump should renounce Putin


Don’t obsess over “secrets” about Trump and Russia. What we know is bad enough.


How Russian “kompromat” destroys political opponents, no facts required


Trump slams NATO, floats Russia nuke deal in European interview


Trump prepares to give Russia what it wants: unlimited cash and a broken NATO


For Trump, three decades of chasing deals in Russia


Trump administration will regulate Trump businesses, raising prospect of conflicts


It “falls short in every respect”: Ethics experts pan Trump’s conflicts plan


Just when you thought the Trump ethics disaster couldn’t get worse, it did


Separating Trump's public duties, private profits


House Republicans try to bully ethics office


Priebus warns ethics chief to “be careful”


House arms itself for witch hunts


“All talk, no action,” says Trump, in Twitter attack on a civil rights icon


In Trump’s feud with John Lewis, blacks perceive a callous rival


With Blacks alarmed by his tone, Trump meets with King’s son

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