Today's news -- July 18, 2013


Florida House, Senate leaders oppose new curriculum tests

Florida's two top lawmakers have serious reservations about the assessments being created to test the new curriculum standards for hundreds of thousands of public school students. The concerns are so grave that Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford want Florida to back out of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the national consortium crafting the exams, and develop its own program for testing students across the state. "We cannot jeopardize fifteen years of education accountability reform by relying on PARCC to define a fundamental component of our accountability system," they wrote in a letter Wednesday. "Our schools, teachers and families have worked too hard for too long for our system to collapse under the weight of an assessment system that is not yet developed, designed nor tested." State Education Commissioner Tony Bennett, to whom the letter was addressed, would not say if he planned to act on the proposal. He did, however, say Gaetz and Weatherford had raised "critical issues that deserve serious consideration." Florida had been planning to adopt the PARCC exams in 2015. The assessments are being developed to test the Common Core Standards, a new national curriculum set to fully replace Florida's state curriculum beginning in 2014. Until now, most Florida leaders had been supportive of the national standards and accompanying tests. "The goal of this new testing system is to eliminate 'teaching to the test' and instead… accurately measure whether our students are learning the skills they need to succeed in college and their careers," Gov. Rick Scott wrote in an April 2012 statement. But Wednesday, seemingly out of the blue, Gaetz and Weatherford outlined "serious" concerns with the exams. Among their gripes:

• The PARCC assessments require 20 days of testing for elementary, middle and high school students. That's more time than it takes for students to complete the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests (FCAT).

• The PARCC assessments are performed on computers, and require schools to have at least one device for every two students. No school district in the state meets that requirement. There are also concerns about the minimum bandwidth requirements.

• The final cost of adopting the new tests has not been determined.

• The consortium has not yet released its final test security policies, leaving lingering concerns about the safety of student data.

"It would be unacceptable to participate in national efforts that may take us backward and erode confidence in our accountability system and our trajectory of continued success," Gaetz and Weatherford wrote in the letter. Instead, they proposed the creation of a "Florida Plan" for assessments that could include the existing end-of-course exams or tests that have been established in other states.  The letter didn't provide many additional details, but asked Bennett to take a position as soon as possible. Politics are likely at play. For months, the tea party has been blasting Florida Republicans for moving toward the Common Core and PARCC exams. The right-leaning Americans for Prosperity called the pitch from Gaetz and Weatherford "a victory for those who believe education should be controlled at a local level." The praise lavished on the letter from Gaetz and Weatherford wasn't limited to Republicans. Democrats were also supportive of the idea, albeit for different reasons. "This gives us a good opportunity to look at all of the testing that's going and really determine if it makes sense, or if it is too much," said Sen. Dwight Bullard, a Miami Democrat. Mark Pudlow, a spokesman for the state teachers' union, the Florida Education Association, said he would reserve judgment until he saw more details. "But this provides leaders an opportunity to do what they haven't done before, and that is have teachers involved in figuring out what this new Florida Plan will look like," he said. Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said hitting "the pause button" was a step in the right direction. "There's so much that's not ready that folks are really coalescing around this idea that … maybe the state is not ready to bring in a new assessment for Common Core," he said.


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Polk superintendent says she’ll find out what’s working (PEA mentioned)


Liberty County Schools superintendent arrested


Miami Springs charter school principal denies FCAT cheating allegations


Bay schools prepare for new standards


Teach For America under fire from educators and former members

Teach for America, a program which places high-achieving college graduates as teachers in low-income schools around the country, is coming under heavy criticism by educators who allege its training for teachers is insufficient and that it destabilizes schools and communities.  About 100 of those critics assembled in Chicago last weekend at the Free Minds Free People education conference to discuss "organizing resistance against Teach for America", which is one of the most well-known efforts to improve the nation's flagging educational system. Its educators represent less than 1 percent of teachers in the US. TFA alumni, parents, community activists and veteran teachers gathered to discuss concerns over the role the program plays in the privatization of education. Their criticisms fall in line with those mounted against the program in the past: that the seven-week training program is insufficient, that it destabilizes schools with short-term teachers, and that it disenfranchises communities. In 2009, USA Today reported on concerns that the program's teachers were displacing older educators. "In the end, I felt the way I was teaching brought me and my students and their communities pain, and that's why I'm part of this movement now," said Hannah Price, a TFA alumna and current teacher who attended the meeting in Chicago. "It doesn't have to be like that."


AFT launches ad campaign targeting education bill (Randi Weingarten quoted)


Scott declares false victory in FAU controversy


Door may be opening for Robinson to be permanent president at FAMU


Senate reaches deal to end fight over student loan interest rates


Where's the hue and cry from Florida leaders about real vote fraud?


Sit-in outside the governor's office continues


Stand Your Ground applies to school bus fight, appeals court rules,0,5851116.story


Castor Dentel objects to Scott’s teacher ad


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