Today's news -- June 18, 2013



Governor signs “partial fix” for evaluations but union still suing

Florida teachers will no longer be evaluated – and have their pay based on – the performance of students they don’t teach. Gov. Rick Scott has signed a bill passed by the Florida Legislature that should allay some of their concerns. The law, SB 1664, says teachers must be judged only on the performance of students they’ve taught, but it’s less clear what will happen for teachers of subjects that don’t include standardized tests. The Florida Education Association (FEA) is suing over the evaluation system but calls the new law “a partial fix.” In a news release, the group said “it remains unclear what measures will be used to evaluate teachers whose students do not take the FCATs. And the law does not require that teachers be evaluated on the basis of the subjects they teach, leaving the door open for art, music, science, health, and other teachers to be evaluated using arbitrary and unfair measures unrelated to their work.” The evaluation system considers performance of students, instructional practice or leadership, and professional responsibilities. At least half of a teacher’s evaluation is based on the performance for students assigned to them over a three-year period. There are concessions for teachers with less than three years’ experience. “While we’re happy this measure passed the Legislature,” FEA President Andy Ford said, “there is much work to be done to fix the mess created by SB 736.” The evaluations stem from passage of a law in 2011, SB 736, that bases a portion of teacher salaries on how well students perform on standardized assessments. Paychecks haven’t been impacted yet, but that will change starting next month. The FEA wants the first two years of evaluations thrown out because teachers were judged on students in other classes and even in other schools. (Andy Ford quoted) (Mark Pudlow quoted)


Why poverty is not included in the equation for teacher merit pay

Florida teachers will soon be judged on how much they improve student scores on a standardized test. Part of their pay is going to be based on a new formula created by the state. But the formula doesn’t take into account what researchers say is one of the strongest indicators of student success: poverty. The equation predicts what students should score on the state’s standardized exam, the FCAT, and then grades teachers if their students score above or below that predicted test score. By 2014, all Florida schools will have to use the formula to evaluate teacher performance. Miami-Dade County Superintendent Alberto Carvalho says leaving out poverty is a problem. He says poverty isn’t an excuse for low student performance, but it also can’t be ignored. “To completely eliminate it off the table of discussion I think is quite frankly, reckless, disingenuous and insulting to poor people,” Carvalho said. The formula takes into account 10 factors Florida officials say impact how well a student does in school, like class size, attendance, and the previous scores students get on the FCAT. But nothing related to poverty is in the equation. Not whether a student has food to eat, or a place to sleep at night. And those circumstances do affect how well a student does in school, according to Lisa Maxwell, executive director of the Broward Principals and Assistant Principals Association. “It’s hard for a student to do well on a test when they haven’t had breakfast, lunch or dinner for a day or so because their levels of concentration are different.” Maxwell was part of the team that created the teacher pay formula. The team was well aware that many studies link poverty to student success. But their hands were tied. Florida lawmakers made it illegal to include poverty in the equation. “The theory is that whether you come from a very poor and low socioeconomic background or a very high socioeconomic background, the abilities to learn and have student achievement are the same,” Maxwell said.


Board of Education to discuss Common Core

Education Commissioner Tony Bennett will provide an update on the implementation of Common Core Standards when the Florida Board of Education meets today in Tampa. The new education standards that Florida and 46 other states intend to adopt in the 2014 school year are sparking division. Opponents have created websites that warn about the nationalization of education. Supporters say the standards were created at the state level and set benchmarks for what students should know at the completion of each grade level. “(Forty-five states) came together to set foundational common standards,” wrote state Sen. John Legg, R-Pasco, in a commentary published in The Tampa Tribune on Friday addressing complaints of the nationalization of school curriculum. “Florida, as an education reform leader, has adopted its own rigorous standards beyond the minimum Common Core State Standards, and local districts have the authority to increase expectations for their students even further.” Among the items Bennett is expected to review is work toward “aligning” support for educators in the transition to new standards, addressing technological needs such as district bandwidth capability for computer-based testing, and developing the new tests to measure student learning. The backlash against Common Core is a growing bipartisanship opposition with a range of concerns including the standards’ focus -- emphasizing math over literature -- and the erosion of parental rights and costs. This month, the Michigan Legislature approved a budget that prohibits spending any state money to implement Common Core. At today’s BOE meeting at Hillsborough Community College, members will begin work on the board’s 2014 budget request. Among the guidelines provided by the Florida Department of Education is support of the implementation of Common Core Standards.


Bennett weighs in on principals, charters and “the magic of teaching”


Pembroke Pines charter schools may be privatized under new plan

A nasty contract dispute between the Broward Teachers Union and Pembroke Pines city leaders now threatens to completely dismantle the highly successful Pines charter schools, as the city has unexpectedly released a privatization plan that could lead to hundreds of teachers losing their jobs.  “It would be terrible for them to do this,” said Pines charter parent Linda Lougedo. “I’m, like, in shock.”  Pines leaders have for months been warning that the city’s seven-school charter system -- despite years of “A” ratings from the state --  was struggling financially. In recent weeks, the city asked its teachers, who are represented by BTU, to accept a pay cut that would cause them to be paid slightly less than teachers who work for the much-larger Broward School District. The change would be a reversal of fortune for Pines charter teachers, who in recent years have been paid higher wages than their Broward system counterparts. Pines Mayor Frank Ortis said Monday the pay cuts, if the union agrees, would be short-term, with the hope that higher wages could be restored in a couple of years, when the charters are on stronger financial footing. But leaders of the teachers’ union have refused to go along with the salary reductions. Pines city officials responded with a dramatic (and highly disruptive) plan: partnering with Charter Schools, USA, a Fort Lauderdale firm that is one of the nation’s largest for-profit charter school companies. It’s possible the privatization threat is merely the latest hardball negotiation tactic to force Pines teachers to accept pay cuts.  By bringing in a private operator, the city essentially would be creating a legal way to renege on its promises: Pines charters would be freed from their salary obligations under the existing teachers union contract. Ortis said he is opposed to the loss of control that privatization would mean, and he favors the city declaring “financial urgency” – another legal tactic that would nullify the union contract. Should Pines opt for the more-controversial privatization route, it will force Pines charter school teachers to reapply for their jobs, and there is no guarantee that any of the 300-plus teachers who work there will be retained. For those who are kept on-board, it’s likely that their salaries will keep dropping in future years, as private charter operators tend to pay teachers significantly less than public school districts. Charter Schools, USA did not return a call Monday seeking comment.  Pines City Manager Charles Dodge, who also oversees the city’s charter schools, handpicked the company through a no-bid contract. That fact -- along with the city commission vote being scheduled for a Wednesday afternoon when many parents will be at work -- has fueled criticism that the city is acting without transparency.


Okeechobee School classified employees contract settled

The Okeechobee County School Board settled a near 12-month contract dispute with their classified employee unit in the Okeechobee County Educators Association Unit 1604 by voting to remove automatic step salary hikes for employees after a two-hour hearing last week. The vote was 4-1 with Board Member Malissa Morgan opposed. She stated that current employees have had to absorb more of a work load due to the loss of employees and need to have the incentive to do their jobs well. “They do their job well and we can be fiscally sound and plan for these increases,” she explained. Board member Joe Arnold said the district should remain conservative in tough financial times. He said if the money is available, the district will give it to employees. Union President Candy Walker said steps are not automatic in the classified employees because the employee must get good evaluations first. Union officials pointed out that the step increases range from $190 to $797 per year, depending upon the job classification. “Nobody is getting rich by being paid step. They don’t even keep up with the cost of living,” union representative Dianne Falvo said. She presented in many jobs like food service, paraprofessionals and bookkeepers, Okeechobee schools did not pay competitive salaries with like-size counties or contiguous counties, she contended. She said mechanics in the school district can make considerably more money elsewhere. Bus drivers and custodians were also in the bottom third in this region in salary. She said most classified positions were below the state average. “This is occurring with step being paid each year. What do you think will happen if there is no requirement that you pay it? What do you think will happen to employees in this district?” she asked.

Brevard district: Impasse on teacher salaries (Dan Bennett quoted)


Brevard district, BCC reach agreement to keep dual enrollment


Lake School Board eyes changing school start times, cutting busing to fill $16.3 million shortfall


Big changes at two Escambia schools


New task force on Internet and learning has a controversial name: Jeb Bush


University of Florida offers pay raise to all faculty and staff


UF president says funding is key to push for top 10 status


FAU looks to boost low graduation rate


Review of teacher prep programs needs improvement (Randi Weingarten quoted)


Rush to privatize is all about bucks


Is Florida in a long – and wrong – race to be cheapest for business?


Fight over Internet sales tax continues


State Supreme Court agrees to expedite briefs in redistricting case


Justices block law requiring voters to prove citizenship


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