Today's news -- January 9, 2017


Florida teachers deserve a raise *

Florida's boneheaded bonus program for teachers should be scrapped in favor of a plan that gives educators the raises that they deserve. The state's Best and Brightest program has given K-12 teachers up to $10,000 bonuses if they are highly rated and scored in the top fifth of the results for the ACT or SAT tests. Teachers typically took these tests as high school students, sometimes decades ago. The program has drawn well-deserved criticism for penalizing older teachers who didn't have easy access to their scores. The scores also don't necessarily correlate to their current success in the classroom or reward teachers who take difficult jobs. The author of the $49 million program has now left the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott has signaled he will propose a different way to attract and retain high-quality teachers, the News Service of Florida reported. Members of the state House and Senate have indicated they are open to changes, but may have differences in their approaches. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, has suggested his chamber would only agree to performance-based raises. But state Sen. David Simmons, an Altamonte Springs Republican who heads the Senate's education budget subcommittee, has hinted at broader changes that raise compensation for more teachers. "It breaks my heart when I see teachers having to work in the evening just to make ends meet," he told reporters. "We've got to improve teacher compensation." Salaries for Florida teachers rank 43rd in the U.S., according to the most recent figures from the National Education Association. Teachers salaries were even lower in Alachua County: The average teacher salary here was $42,233 in 2015-16, nearly $6,000 below the Florida average, according to the state education department.


Fix Florida's silly teacher-bonus plan *

Florida's teacher-bonus program, known as the "Best and the Brightest," merits neither superlative. A better title might have been "The Arbitrary, the Useless and the Downright Ridiculous." State officials say changes are coming. Good. The current situation is untenable, pushing a lot of money (up to $10,000 per teacher, for a total of nearly $50 million statewide) into a premise riddled with flaws. For example, the Miami Herald reported that many South Florida teachers saw their evaluations (one of two key criteria for the bonuses) drop this year, often for bizarre reasons. Some social studies and science teachers reported missing out on the required "highly effective" ranking because some of their students tested poorly in reading, a subject they didn't teach. Meanwhile, an Orlando Sentinel analysis found that teachers at affluent schools were more than twice as likely to qualify for the bonuses. New Volusia County School Board member Carl Persis can list numerous ways the criteria stack the deck against the teachers who take the most difficult assignments. And what about that bizarre requirement that Best and Brightest teachers have high scores on the ACT and SAT, two standardized tests normally administered to high-school seniors preparing for college? The idiocy of that pretty much speaks for itself, but it gets worse: Andrew Spar, head of the Volusia County teachers union, says some teachers re-took the exams as adults, in hopes of scoring high enough. Because both exams measure test-takers' performance against everyone else taking the test, he says, it put teachers in the bizarre position of competing against students to be in the top 20 percent. Spar suggests that Scott and lawmakers look first at reviving incentives for teachers who seek national certification. That's a great idea. Under Gov. Jeb Bush, that incentive program helped defray the cost (at the time, about $2,500) of going through the rigorous, year-long certification process, which requires teachers to submit portfolios of their students' work, demonstrate mastery of the subjects they teach and document an intense self-evaluation process. Teachers who won certification were promised a bump in their annual salaries (a promise since broken) and those who spent time mentoring other teachers were also rewarded. The effort was working. Florida's certified teachers outperformed their colleagues, even as they boosted them. In 2008, certified teachers logged 15,000 hours of peer mentoring in Volusia schools and 3,240 hours in Flagler - and that year, Florida had the most nationally certified teachers in the nation. But that was also the year lawmakers, squeezed by the Great Recession, began to choke off incentives for teachers to go through the grueling process. Within a few years, the program was nearly dead.


About 7,200 teachers win 'best and brightest' bonuses this year (FEA mentioned) (Pat Barber quoted)


Faculty union grows as professors fear policies *

Florida’s statewide union representing college and university faculty experienced explosive growth last year, which leaders say is a reaction to the increasing politicization of higher education administration. The United Faculty of Florida gained three new chapters in 2016: Florida Polytechnic University, State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota and Tallahassee Community College. Also, professors at St. Petersburg College have taken the initial steps to organize and are waiting for an official vote.  The union, affiliated with the Florida Education Association, now represents faculty at all 12 state universities, 11 of 28 state colleges and the private St. Leo University, as well as graduate assistants at four universities. Other state colleges have also expressed interest in forming new chapters, as have graduate assistants at public universities and faculty from private institutions, UFF President Jennifer Proffitt said. Last year’s new chapters were the first to form since 2010. The union now has 7,237 members, almost twice as many as in 2005. Florida is a right-to-work state, so union membership is voluntary. State and local union leaders say faculty members have been inspired to form unions, in part, because they see Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP-controlled Legislature as anti-public education, particularly anti-teacher. For one, the first bill Scott signed after taking office in 2011 abolished tenure at the K-12 level. Scott appointed Carlos Beruff, who later ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate, to State College of Florida’s board, where he championed an end to continuing contracts for new faculty. Also, Scott and lawmakers have overhauled how public higher education is funded in recent years, basing support on performance and creating a system of winners and losers among colleges and universities. Professors see forming unions as a way of elevating their voices and attempting to have a greater impact on policymaking. “Probably the primary factor is how political higher education in Florida has become, the idea that political appointees are making decisions for our institutions based on business or other ideologies,” Proffitt said of why there was such a surge in new chapters last year. “Rather than seeing higher education as a public good that educates critical thinkers and problem solvers and citizens, they see higher education as widget making, and these decisions are having big effects on faculty and students.” Community colleges’ boards of trustees are appointed by the governor. Some trustees at public universities are selected by the governor, while others are tapped by the State University System’s board of governors, which is made up of gubernatorial appointees. Scott has appointed donors, former staffers and friends to the boards. Faculty members argue many board members are beholden to Scott’s conservative agenda rather than what they personally believe is best for the institutions. “Our governor has the political agenda of assassinating education,” said Courtney Ruffner, who teaches humanities and is the new union president at State College of Florida. “A lot of the professors are paying attention to what’s going on in Tallahassee. It just seems that the political climate is swinging and teachers are on the chopping block.” Scott hosted a summit last year focusing on how colleges and universities could better connect graduates with jobs. Faculty members were not invited, which UFF publicly denounced. The event featured a panel discussion on how college and university leaders can eliminate tenure and prevail in battles with unions. In late 2015, then-State College of Florida board member Beruff, a donor and friend to Scott, led a controversial decision at the school to abolish continuing contracts for new faculty. The move prompted professors to unionize. They say they’re concerned the board’s next move will be to get rid of tenure for professors who already have it. “You can’t have faculty coming in not knowing whether they’re going to have a job next year. They can’t buy a house. They can’t buy a car. They can’t put down roots in the community,” Ruffner said. “It’s impossible to recruit faculty who are going to become community members when there’s no guarantee they’re going to have security in any way.” Jeffery Grieneisen, an English professor and union senator, said teachers’ morale and quality of life has deteriorated in recent years. “People come to work, and they’re not happy,” he said. “They don’t feel appreciated. They don’t feel valued.” “That issue isn’t going to go away. We’re all worried about that,” said Jen Robinson, president of the new union at TCC. “Each individual college is waiting for the hammer to drop. They’re also being proactive by unionizing.” Faculty members’ resounding message is that they want to be heard, and they don’t feel like that's happening in this political climate. “We’re in the classroom and having interactions with students, and we’re not being asked to help shape a better higher education system, and that’s really problematic,” Proffitt said. “It’s hard to do that as an individual, but … through the union, you have a bigger voice.”


Senate looking for ways to streamline school testing

Two years have passed since Florida lawmakers acknowledged, under mounting pressure from parents and teachers, that public school children might be overtested. The Legislature took steps to limit testing hours and eliminate some exams, amid criticism over a botched spring computerized assessment cycle. The technical problems largely dissipated in 2016. But the underlying concerns did not. Now, an influential state lawmaker aims to revisit the issue, with an eye toward further refining the system. State Sen. David Simmons, who chairs the Education Appropriations Committee, has scheduled his panel's first session of the new year Wednesday to explore ways to reduce the scope and cost of Florida testing.  "I've heard the horror stories," said Simmons, a Longwood Republican. "We're looking for solutions." He plans to address:

• Testing methods. Simmons suggested a return to paper-pencil testing, noting many superintendents say their schools lack sufficient computers to administer exams efficiently.

• The number of tests. Simmons stressed he does not want to eliminate all tests, but said educators and others have pointed out that many are redundant. In some instances, he added, nationally accepted alternatives could suffice.

• Time spent on testing. Teachers need to be teaching, Simmons said, not preparing students for tests and delaying lessons during testing.

"We are being confronted with a solvable problem," Simmons said. "We want to hear it all." His House counterparts did not respond to calls seeking comment. They have indicated, however, that they back an "honest conversation" about making testing less onerous and expensive. They have not placed the issue at the top of their lists, though. Their upcoming committee meeting agendas focus on school choice, a leadership priority. Some observers wondered whether the chambers' differing approaches would prevent significant action. "It will be interesting to see how their priorities either become a part of each others' or remain separate," said Andrea Messina, Florida School Boards Association executive director.


How state measures teacher's performance unfair *

Highly Effective. That was what it said last school year when I received my VAM score. To me, these words were powerful because it meant that my principal valued my work as a Special Education teacher. The moment I read my VAM score I never once thought about the other side of the evaluation system – my student’s test scores. The state of Florida calculates a teacher’s effectiveness as an educator based off of the student’s test scores on the state standardized assessment. As an ESE teacher, I service my students in a self-contained classroom and their exceptionalities vary from Autism to Intellectual Learning Disabled with lots of “in-between”. There were often significant delays in their learning abilities as well as a good scattering of behavior issues that need to be handled throughout the school year. These behaviors varied from toileting issues to running out of the classroom to throwing desks. Of most importance to me, as their ESE (Exceptional Student Education) teacher, was the Individual Education Plans (IEPs) that relayed goals that were seen as deficits in their learning and behaviors within the school setting. These IEPs were written annually with a team of family members, educators, and other stakeholders in their education (Speech and Language pathologists, Occupational Therapists, etc.). The goals that were identified were an additional focus during the school day – and most often – they were the goals that were truly attainable for my students. You see, my students are still required to take standardized assessments such as the FSA and the district-mandated tests.  These standardized tests really told me nothing about my students that I did not already know - they were failing in their grade-level. But they were not failing in school. My students flourished in the “all-in”, inclusive environment that our school maintained. They were mainstreamed into general education classrooms in order to access additional grade-level materials and, most importantly, to socialize with other peers.  They were in charge of various roles in the school – from assisting the IT department and serving as safety patrol members to recording videos that were broadcast for the morning news. They also made steady progress in behavior issues and gains in their academic areas, identified in their quarterly progress notes. Although the students continued to score low on their grade-level assessments, they knew that they were special and valued and loved. As their teacher, I never placed a heavy emphasis on these standardized tests that were created without the thought of special needs students in mind. Needs Improvement. That was what it said this year when I received my VAM score for the student progress section. The state changed the way in which it computes test scores for VAM back in March and the students whom I have the privilege of serving did not score well on their standardized tests, which somehow indicated that I lack something as an educator; something that the state wants me to be aware that I need to improve. This assumption is based off the test scores of my special education students. Not only does this label result in a loss of monetary value to me, but of most importance, it is a blow to the ESE educator community. A community already struggling with a lack of educators. How dare “they” tell me – tell us – that the basis of my teaching expertise is one standardized test taken in the third quarter of the school year with the results not seen until summer. The test is NEVER used as an instrument of guidance for teaching practice, but rather as a measure of how students compare with each other.  “Standardized tests,” are given to students as if there is such a thing as a “standardized student.” There definitely will never be a “standard” student in my classroom. Each year, I have a new set of students with unique and interesting “quirks” that I must quickly decipher in order to best serve them as their teacher. Each year, I take on additional training in order to grow as an educator and best serve my students. Each year, I am a better teacher than the year before. I do not accept the label that is being placed on teachers by the state of Florida with their VAM. The rate at which teachers are leaving the field is alarming. The powers that be need to realize the negative impact this evaluation system is having in our field. This is one story – my story. I hope that the community; parents, teachers, administrators and political leaders, can come together and insist on a change to this evaluation system. It is what truly “needs improvement/”


How testing practices have to change in public schools

There has been some testing reform progress made in the last year or so as state and federal officials finally began to acknowledge a grassroots movement by parents, educators, students and activists, who have protested the excessive and harmful use of high-stakes standardized tests. As part of that movement, hundreds of thousands of students “opted out” of mandated high-stakes standardized tests, with more than 20 percent of students in New York State doing so in each of the last two years. “Accountability” systems used to evaluate students, teachers and even schools have been based on student standardized test scores, which were wrongly seen as the most important measure of how much a student learned, how well a teacher taught, and how effective schools were in closing the achievement gap. Now it’s a new year and a new opportunity for states to construct new assessment policies and tests that are fair and effective. How to do it? This post offers one path, by Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, known as FairTest, a non-profit dedicated to ending the abuse and misuse of standardized tests.


I can’t answer these standardized test questions about my own poems


No such thing as a stupid question? You’ve never looked at a standardized test


Florida again debates guns on college campuses

As Florida lawmakers prepare to grapple again — for the third year in a row — with whether to allow concealed guns on public college and university campuses, another state has recent experience with this polarizing debate. Conservative lawmakers in Texas also took several years before ultimately approving guns on their state’s campuses two years ago. They, too, faced resistance from many university presidents and attracted both praise and outrage from residents, as Florida lawmakers are starting to experience again this year. Texas’ law took effect only five months ago on Aug. 1, making the state the eighth — and most recent — to allow concealed guns on public higher ed campuses. Twenty-three other states leave the policy up to individual colleges and universities, while 19 states, including Florida, have essentially a full ban. When Texas’ law was implemented this summer, “the reaction was varied,” said David Daniel, deputy chancellor of the University of Texas System, which has 14 institutions including U-T Dallas where Daniel was president until 2015. “On some campuses, there was a very high level of angst, tension and it was a distraction from the core work of the university,” Daniel said, whereas in “a small area with predominantly ranching communities where people are comfortable carrying firearms in a routine manner, it could be not a big deal.” Texas has around 40 public universities, while Florida has 12. Florida has more active concealed weapons permits: 1.7 million compared to Texas’ nearly 1.2 million, as of Dec. 31. After five months under the law, “we have been fortunate that there hasn’t been any major issues that have ratcheted up the level of concern,” said Chris Meyer, associate vice president for safety and security at Texas A&M University. “Campus has relaxed from the very tense state it was in. We’re much closer to being back to normal.” While controversy has tempered in Texas, it’s escalating again in Florida as the legislative session approaches in March. But it’s unclear if renewed guns-on-campus proposals have enough support to pass a Republican-led Legislature that has several dozen new members in 2017.


Guns only add to danger

The lives of Florida's children and teens are at risk if SB 140 passes. It is a dangerous, extreme bill that will lead to open carry on school and college campuses. It is sponsored by Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota. Polls show that students, faculty and campus law enforcement overwhelmingly oppose guns on campus. When guns on campus was considered last session, the Florida State University police chief noted that it would make his officers' job considerably more challenging by forcing them to differentiate between "good guys" and "bad guys."

College life is all about young people under high pressure, and many take risks with drug and alcohol use. Easy access to guns only heightens these safety risks. There is no evidence to support gun lobby claims that guns protect students from crime. To the contrary, alcohol directly impairs judgment on whether to fire a gun.

We should be strengthening laws to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people — and stop school shootings before they happen. The only people carrying guns in our schools should be trained law enforcement and trained security guards.


Polk district reaches impasse with unions (Marianne Capoziello quoted)


Teacher shortages plague Citrus, nation as educators seek solutions (Vicki Smith quoted)


Schools say bullying is down, but are kids afraid to report it?


Lawmaker proposes ending P.E. test for high school athletes

White House to appoint Orange school superintendent to national post


Trump’s nominee for secretary of education spells bad news for students


Are Pence and DeVos a one-two knock out for education policy?


DeVos and family are major donors to senators who will vote on her confirmation


Michigan senator rejects DeVos as education secretary


A teacher’s nine wishes for 2017


Trump’s voucher plan would strip funding from 1,200 schools in New York City


Who’s really placing limits on free speech?


Don't pack constitution panel with political hacks

For Florida legislators, putting amendments to the state constitution on the ballot isn't very hard. The bar is only a little higher than usual: at least 60 percent support in the House and the Senate, compared with a simple majority in both chambers to pass legislation. Outside of the state Capitol, the process for proposing constitutional amendments is considerably more difficult. Gathering the hundreds of thousands of necessary signatures from voters just to reach the ballot can cost millions of dollars. And the ballot language must be approved by the state Supreme Court. But Florida's governing document also calls for the appointment, every 20 years, of a 37-member commission to review the constitution and propose amendments for voters to consider in the next election. It's a short cut to the ballot. No legislative approval and no voter signatures are needed; nor is Supreme Court approval of the ballot language. Once an amendment reaches the ballot, history says it is more likely to pass than fail. Given the unusual power and potentially long-lasting impact of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, we agree with Florida Bar President William Schifino, who recently told the Pensacola News Journal, "We hope the commission is composed of 37 very thoughtful, diverse, forward-thinking individuals that have the interest of all Floridians at heart." Only one politician — Florida's attorney general — automatically gets a seat on the commission. The other 36 members are appointed by the governor, who gets 15, including the chair; the Senate president and House speaker, nine each; and the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, with three. Ideally the appointees, due to be announced next month, will be open-minded Floridians who reflect the rich cultural and socioeconomic diversity of the Sunshine State. After all, the preamble to the Florida Constitution includes the same key phrase as the preamble to the U.S. Constitution: "We, the people." Politicians who have other avenues to amend the constitution and lobbyists who already wield an outsized influence in Tallahassee would be poor choices for a commission to revise it. So would members who would only be there to do the bidding of the politicians who pick them rather than think for themselves. Unfortunately, House Speaker Richard Corcoran has said he plans to appoint members who would back amendments to reverse state Supreme Court decisions that overturned legislative actions. These members would be mere proxy warriors in the speaker's assault on the independence of Florida's judiciary. If that's not bad enough, Corcoran also indicated he expects his commission appointees to support a rewrite or repeal of the Fair Districts amendments that voters passed in 2010 to ban partisan gerrymandering. This could undermine the will of the people — an even worse subversion of the process.

Ideal attributes for members We hope Corcoran will reconsider his plans, though we realize that's a long shot. The speaker is notoriously stubborn in his views. Regardless, we hope the others making appointments — Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron and Chief Justice Jorge Labarga — will be more balanced in their choices. If they're looking for ideas, we'd refer them to a guest column we published in November from Susan Schaidt Averill, a former member of the Sentinel's Editorial Advisory Board. A retired educator, Averill expressed her interest in serving on the commission. Among other ideal attributes, she cited her middle-of-the-road orientation, her knowledge of civics and her love of the state she's called home for more than a half-century. The convening of the commission is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Florida to perfect its governing document. There are many highly qualified candidates like Averill — if leaders will only tap Florida's rich talent pool.


Airport shooter had mental health problems, no apparent ties to terrorism


Obama says he's “heartbroken” over deadly airport shooting in Florida


Scott plays politics with Trump, Obama after airport shooting


Fort Lauderdale airport reopens; some flights cancelled, delayed


Before Florida shooting, guns in checked bags raised few concerns


Plans underway to allow guns in airport terminals


Florida lawmaker: Allowing firearms on planes a “glaring problem”


In letter to Congress, Scott asks feds to increase Medicaid funding


The never-ending plans to hobble Florida’s high court


Court rules on workers’ compensation rate hike


How Florida Republicans sided on attempt to gut ethics office


Elections spur record turnout — at South Florida's lifelong learning programs


Legislature should standardize civil citations for juveniles


Hate crime reports up in Florida


How dwindling union power helped usher in Trump


Deficits matter again


GOP resistance grows to Obamacare repeal without replacement


Floridians have much to lose if Obamacare is repealed


Obamacare repeal's doomsday scenario


Republicans don’t want to hurt “real America.” By repealing Obamacare, they will.


A rush to smash Obamacare, without thinking of the wreckage


Republicans once again rely on a misleading Obamacare factoid


Putin led a complex cyberattack scheme to aid Trump, report finds


Trump says focus on Russian hacking is a “political witch hunt”


Trump, Putin, and the big hack


Russian intervention in American election was no one-off


Nelson says U.S. must strike back hard on cyber attacks


“What’s the big deal?” ask Trump voters on Russia hacking report


Russian hackers find ready bullhorns in the media


Republican leaders cast doubt on Trump improving relations with Russia


Trump and the tainted presidency


Trump to give Cabinet secretaries a long leash


Ready or not, Republicans say Cabinet hearings will begin Tuesday


Ethics official warns against confirmations before reviews are complete


Ethics czar mulls reining in officials' off-the-books trusts


Giving Trump’s nominees a pass


Trump’s Cabinet picks undergo grueling prep for hearings


Sessions’ actions alone are disqualifying


What are you hiding, Jeff Sessions?


Sessions, the grim reaper of Alabama


Sessions, a lifelong outsider, finds the inside track


Energy executives, secretive nonprofit raise money to back Pruitt


McConnell: Democrats need to “grow up” and let Trump nominees get confirmed


NAACP chief promises more civil disobedience against Trump nominees


My three maddening, futile years inside the broken Senate confirmation process


Women and their march on Washington


Trump confidants serving as advisers could face tangle of potential conflicts


Trump waters down campaign pledge, signals taxpayers will pay for border fence


Mexicans make it clear once again how they feel about paying for Trump’s wall


Kim Jong Un isn’t the first tyrant to play Trump, and he won’t be the last


Against China’s objections, Cruz and Texas governor meet with Taiwan’s president


Trump finds that attack-dog strategy has its limits


A resurrected House rule lets Congress go open season on civil servants


As Trump denies climate change, these kids die of it


Trump has taken few steps to disentangle from private empire


Kushner, a Trump in-law and adviser, chases a Chinese deal


Kushner is more like his father-in-law than anyone imagines


Third lien on Trump hotel brings alleged unpaid bills to more than $5 million


Trump insiders head for big K Street paydays


Members of Congress are learning to play Trump’s ethical blame game


Trump says he’s not surprised by Streep’s Golden Globes speech

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