Parent trigger, teacher organization bills pass House
Two bills that are drawing the ire of the Florida Education Association, the largest teachers’ union in the state, passed through the House on Thursday along largely party line votes. Republicans pushed HB 1191 as a way for parents to get involved in a failing public schools by allowing them to convert the failing school, through a majority vote, into a charter school. The bill also prohibits students from being assigned to a teacher deemed “unsatisfactory” or “needs improvement” by annual evaluations for two years in a row. “What this bill does is give that person, that parent, who is so vested in the success of their child a stronger voice,” said. Rep. Michael Bileca, R-West Miami, who sponsored the bill. But Democrats, as well as the FEA, see the bill as using the guise of school “choice” to allow private charter school companies to coax and cajole parents into transforming public schools into charters. “This is nothing more than an attempt by the big charter school companies to be able to take over public schools,” said FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow. Another bill, HB 1115, which allows access to teachers for “professional teacher organizations,” also cleared the House. The measure stems in part from a Duval County case in which the Professional Educator’s Network of Florida was barred from school-grounds access to teachers by a decision from the Public Employee Relations Commission. The decision declared that PEN could not engage in on-campus recruiting because it engaged in union activities such as offering legal counsel and liability insurance to teachers, even though the group also offers teacher training and doesn’t engage in collective bargaining. Rep. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said his bill simply allows teachers to choose a non-union organization to represent them. “Teachers that don’t want to join a union, shouldn’t have to join a union,” Brandes said. Pudlow said the FEA will continue to evaluate Brandes’ bill and will wait to see whether it passes the Senate and is signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott before considering a possible legal challenge. “It is distressing to us because this is a group that wants all of the rights of a union without any of the responsibilities of a union,” Pudlow said. The parent trigger bill, HB 1191, also awaits a vote in the Senate.
Charters may be exempt from Florida's merit-pay law
Charter schools would be exempt from some sections of Florida's sweeping teacher merit-pay law under a bill the Florida House is considering. Critics call the proposal hypocritical. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, said Thursday that her intent was not to "lessen standards" for charter schools and that she would submit an amendment today to clarify that. Her initial proposal is included in an amendment to her multi-purpose bill, HB 903, that expands the law on charter schools -- public schools run by private groups and freed from many school rules. That amendment would exempt charter schools from having to submit new teacher evaluation plans to the Florida Department of Education for approval, as the state's 67 school districts must. It would also mean charters would not have to follow some new pay restrictions placed on traditional schools. The Legislature last year passed the merit-pay law, SB 736, that overhauled how public school teachers are evaluated and paid. It was the first piece of legislation Gov. Rick Scott signed last spring. The Florida Education Association, the teachers union, has sued over the law and finds it "objectionable" that lawmakers would try to exempt charter schools, said Kevin Watson, a union lobbyist. "It's advantaging charters," he said, while leaving traditional schools to "slog on" trying to comply. "It seems as though the charter schools don't have to be compliant with 736," said Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, when the House discussed the bill Thursday. His question prompted Adkins to say she would submit an amendment.
As charter funding idea dies, task force floated by House budget writers
$1 billion boost for schools settled; university spending is not
Florida school funding is set -- with per-pupil cash expected to rise 2.34 percent next year -- but higher education dollars remain up-in-the-air as House and Senate budget negotiators worked Thursday night on dozens of details separating the two sides. The agreed-on school cash represents a $1 billion increase -- complying with Gov. Rick Scott’s demand for a big boost to partially offset last year’s $1.3 billion reduction. That brought classroom spending to its lowest level in six years. The increase settled by Simmons and his House counterpart, Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, amounts to a $145.48 per-pupil hike, bringing average spending to $6,370 for each of Florida’s 2.7 million school kids. (report fails to point out it was $7,128 per student in 2007-08 and $6,877 in 2010-11) The fate of university dollars, though, remains unsettled. The House and Senate have agreed to cut universities by $300 million, but how to apply the cuts has stumped negotiators. The final deal-cutting, involving scores of issues, was turned over Thursday night to Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, and House Appropriations Chair Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, to settle.
$34.7 million road Alexander fought for tucked into state budget
“Rigor mortis” in teacher evaluation systems
The word “rigor” comes up a lot in teacher evaluation systems. It’s akin to motherhood, apple pie and the American flag. What policymaker is going to take a stand against rigor? But the term is getting distorted almost beyond recognition. In science, a rigorous study is one in which the scientific claims are supported by the evidence. Scientific rigor is primarily determined by the study’s design and data-analysis methods. It has nothing to do with the substance of the scientific claims. A study that concludes that an educational program or intervention is ineffective, for example, is not inherently more rigorous than one that concludes that a program works. In the current discourse on teacher evaluation systems, however, an evaluation system is deemed rigorous based either on how much of the evaluation rests on direct measures of student learning outcomes, or the distribution of teachers into the various rating categories, or both. If an evaluation system relies heavily on No Child Left Behind-style state standardized tests in reading and mathematics -- say, 40 percent of the overall evaluation or more -- its proponents are likely to describe it as rigorous. Similarly, if an evaluation system has four performance categories -- e.g., ineffective, developing, effective and highly effective -- a system that classifies very few teachers as highly effective and many teachers as ineffective may be labeled rigorous. In these instances, the word rigor obscures the subjectivity involved in the final composite rating assigned to teachers. The fraction of the overall evaluation based on student-learning outcomes is wholly a matter of judgment; and if you believe, as I do, that a teacher’s responsibility for advancing student learning extends well beyond the content that appears on standardized tests, you could conceivably argue that increasing the weight given to standardized tests in teacher evaluations makes these evaluations less rigorous. This is, however, a hard sell in the absence of other concrete measures of student learning outcomes that could supplement the standardized test results. Even more importantly, describing a teacher-evaluation system as rigorous hides the fact that the criteria for assigning teachers to performance categories — either for subcomponents or for the overall composite evaluation — are arbitrary. There’s no scientific basis for saying, as New York has, that of the 20 points out of 100 allocated for student “growth” on New York’s state tests, a teacher needs to receive 18 to be rated “highly effective,” or that a teacher receiving 3 to 8 points will be classified as “developing.” In fact, the cut-off separating “developing” from “effective” changed last week as a result of an agreement reached between the New York State Education Department and the state teachers’ union -- not because of science, mind you, but because of politics. And it’s politics, and politics alone, that accounts for the fact that the rules for the overall composite evaluation say that any teacher who scores 0 to 64 points will be classified as ineffective, and that the two subcomponents for student “growth” and local assessments, each of which counts for 20 points, classify teachers who score 0 to 2 points on each component as ineffective. This means, as New York principal Carol Burris and others have pointed out, that if a teacher is classified as ineffective on both of these subcomponents, that teacher is automatically rated ineffective overall, even if that teacher is rated highly effective on the 60 points allocated for measures of a teacher’s professional practices. It certainly seems odd that two components accounting for 40 percent of a teacher’s overall rating can trump the remaining 60 percent – but this isn’t science, it’s politics.
While you're up, raise my child
When America's public schools were established in the 17th century, their chief purpose was to teach basic reading, some writing and arithmetic skills, and cultivate values that served a democratic society. The founders of these schools assumed that families and churches bore the major responsibility for raising a child. At the beginning of the 20th century, however, politicians, academics, members of the clergy, and business leaders saw public schools as a logical site for the assimilation of immigrants and the social engineering of citizens -- and workers -- for the new industrial age. From 1900 to 1910, public schools assumed responsibilities related to nutrition, immunization and health. With each successive decade or so, the brief for public education expanded. In the 1950s, we broadened science and math education, added safety education, driver's education, wider music and art education, stronger foreign language requirements and sex education. In the 1990s, we added conflict resolution and peer mediation, HIV/AIDS education, CPR training, death education, America 2000 initiatives, inclusion, service learning and many, many more. The truth is that we have added these responsibilities without adding a single minute to the school calendar in six decades. No generation of teachers and administrators in the history of the world has been told to fulfill this mandate: not just teach children, but raise them.
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Federal judge hears groups' case against voter sign-up law
The League of Women Voters and other nonprofit organizations that wage voter registration campaigns challenged the state of Florida in a Tallahassee federal court Thursday, in a fight that could determine how many Floridians vote in November. The league and fellow plaintiffs Rock the Vote and the Florida Public Interest Research Group Education Fund are requesting a preliminary injunction against a state law enacted last year (HB 1355) that they say "unconstitutionally and unlawfully" makes it much harder for them to register voters and encourage them to vote. If Thursday's hearing was any indication, the state could have a rough time getting federal permission to enforce the new rules. The law, passed by the GOP-controlled legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott, shrinks from 10 days to 48 hours the time that such organizations have to file completed voter registration applications with the state. It also establishes a schedule of fines for violations -- as high as $1,000. In addition, it requires that each organization sign an affidavit acknowledging the rules and penalties but also that each volunteer sign such an affidavit, acknowledging possible personal liability. Republican legislators say the law will reduce voter fraud. "This is frankly not a serious law," Lee Rowland, an attorney representing the organizations, told U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle. Rowland called the law "a cumulative and unworkable mess" foisted upon the Florida Division of Elections. Hinkle listened to the groups' presentation, inserting an occasional question. But the judge was more aggressive with lawyers for the state, making them address a list of hypothetical situations in which citizens volunteering for voter registration groups could end up violating the law, even though they have no criminal intent. He also repeatedly pushed the lawyers to identify the state's interest in tightening the rules.
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Check out the AFL-CIO's new website and blog