Today's news -- March 16. 2012


“I’m glad the Florida Education Association challenged this reprehensible assault on middle-class workers who teach, care for, serve and protect the citizens of our state.”
-- Randall Chambers.




The war on teachers: Why the public is watching it happen

All over the nation, teachers are under attack. Politicians of both parties, in every state, have blamed teachers and their unions for the nation’s low standing on international tests and our nation’s inability to create the educated labor force our economy needs. Mass firings of teachers in so-called failing schools have taken place in municipalities throughout the nation and some states have made a public ritual of humiliating teachers. In Los Angeles and New York, teacher ratings based on student standardized test scores -- said by many to be inaccurate -- have been published by the press. As a result, great teachers have been labeled as incompetent and some are leaving the profession. A new study showed that teachers’ job satisfaction has plummeted in recent years. Big budget films such as Bad Teacher and the documentary Waiting for Superman popularize the idea that public school teachers prevent poor children of color from getting a good education, while corporate funded organizations perpetuate the idea that the only way for children to excel is if their teachers lose their job security and bargaining rights. Why has this campaign attracted such strong bipartisan support and why has the public failed to speak out loudly against it? Attacks on teachers have occurred in the midst of a broad-based attack on the bargaining rights and benefits of all public workers -- but even by that standard, teachers have been singled out. In New York State, where teacher evaluations were just released to the press, the state Legislature just passed -- and the governor signed -- a bill that exempted police and firefighters from having their evaluations released to the public. What better symbolizes the way teachers have become “fair game” for public demonization? There are huge profits to be made in the testing industry, in educational technologies that replace teachers, and in constructing and managing charter schools, so it is not hard to see why some people in the corporate world would benefit from attacking public education and teachers unions. But why are so many parents and the general public buying into this campaign? Certainly politicians wouldn’t be voting to take away teachers’ rights if they didn’t think it would get votes.


Teacher leaders review common core and teacher prep


Revisiting the “5-10 percent solution”

In a post over a year ago, I discussed the common argument that dismissing the “bottom 5-10 percent” of teachers would increase U.S. test scores to the level of high-performing nations. This argument is based on a calculation by economist Eric Hanushek, which suggests that dismissing the lowest-scoring teachers based on their math value-added scores would, over a period of around ten years  (when the first cohort of students would have gone through the schooling system without the “bottom” teachers), increase U.S. math scores dramatically – perhaps to the level of high-performing nations such as Canada or Finland. This argument is, to say the least, controversial, and it invokes the full spectrum of reactions. In my opinion, it’s best seen as a policy-relevant illustration of the wide variation in test-based teacher effects, one that might suggest a potential of a course of action but can’t really tell us how it will turn out in practice. To highlight this point, I want to take a look at one issue mentioned in that previous post – that is, how the instability of value-added scores over time (which Hanushek’s simulation doesn’t address directly) might affect the projected benefits of this type of intervention, and how this is turn might modulate one’s view of the huge projected benefits.


Collier school officials prepared to tap $19 million in reserves

The financial forecast for Collier County Public Schools is grim, to say the least. The district will have to deplete half of its reserve money to cover costs for the upcoming school year, Bob Spencer, the district's financial director said. "We're spending more than we have," he said. "Clearly we have a problem." This will be the second consecutive year the district will have to dip into its reserves. Last year it used $25.1 million in reserves. This year, the district expects to take another $18.6 million out of the pot. If the trend continues, by the 2014-15 school year, Spencer said the reserves will be gone. The district could then be almost $30 million short of making ends meet. District officials expect to continue to make cuts, which could include layoffs, before the final 2012-13 budget is approved in the fall. Almost 75 percent of the district's expenses are in staff.


More than 20,000 California teachers pink-slipped


Texas schools face bigger classes and smaller staff


Supreme Court vs. legislators, again: Tuition case goes to highest court


Tuition bill puts future of Florida Prepaid in question,0,7312591.story


FAU cuts could mean more students, fewer campuses,0,4218548.story


The Senate's multi-dimensional redistricting quandary

It helps to visualize Florida's redistricting process as one of those multi-level board games from 'Star Trek' where some android or Vulcan is sitting in a bar and trying to strategize at different levels simultaneously. You've got the chore of re-drawing new Senate districts, which by itself is a mind-warping exercise. Since districts have to be of roughly equal population, any changes one might make to, say, Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner's invalidated seat in Orange and Lake counties, have a spillover effect on the surrounding districts. "That's just the reality," he said last week. But that's just one reality in an infinite universe of redistricting wormholes. The Supreme Court's 5-2 ruling found the Senate had overplayed its hand when it asserted that any and every jagged line or "appendage" on its map was necessary to protect minority-voting rights. Curbing partisan gamesmanship was also a priority under the new constitutional rules – one lawmakers can't dodge by using race as a "shield," the court said. The court's 30-day review also raises legal questions about the Legislature's congressional maps, which weren't subject to automatic Supreme Court review. Those maps were a product of compromise between the approach the Florida House used to draw its districts – which the court upheld – and the Senate's invalidated strategy. That's why the Florida Democratic Party and the groups that supported Fair Districts are so hell-bent on getting their lawsuit against the congressional maps fast-tracked. And we haven't even mentioned the federal "Section 5" preclearance required from the U.S. Department of Justice before the maps become official. That review will have to restart once new Senate districts are drawn, and it is possible Florida will ask to have that case removed to federal court in Washington – as it did with the preclearance of last year's challenged election-law changes.,0,4691991.column


Fair Districts groups want maps drawn in the Sunshine,0,5252111.story


Senate flubbed its top priority


Justice Department steps in to ensure voting rights


Florida economy a casualty of Republicans' war on middle class,0,2884631.column


Legislature shifts power to Scott's office
Thanks to the Legislature, Gov. Rick Scott has a little more power. More power to supervise agency rulemaking. More power to remove members of local jobs agencies. More power to dish out millions of dollars to help businesses relocate to Florida. In each case, Republicans say they wanted to take big decisions out of the hands of unelected agency bureaucrats and give them to the state's highest-ranking official — the one accountable to voters. Democrats call it part of a disturbing trend. "Why don't we just change the title of governor to king and give him a crown and be done with it?" said Rep. Franklin Sands, D-Weston.


2012 session summary: education


2012 session summary: justice and courts


2012 session summary: gaming


Legislature left lengthy to-do list for next year,0,3688005.story


Alexander's bullying will only hurt Polk County economy in the long run

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