Today's news -- March 5, 2012



“Like most teachers, I’m good some days, bad others. The same goes for my students. Last May, my assistant principal at the time observed me teaching in our school’s “self-contained” classroom. A self-contained room is a separate classroom for students with extremely severe learning disabilities. In that room, I taught a writing class for students ages 14 to 17, whose reading levels ranged from third through seventh grades. When the assistant principal walked in, one of these students, a freshman girl classified with an emotional disturbance, began cursing. When the assistant principal ignored her, she started cursing at me. Then she began lobbing pencils across the room. Was this because I was a bad teacher? I don’t know. I know that after she began throwing things, I sent her to the dean’s office. I know that a few days later, I received notice that my lesson had been rated unsatisfactory because, among other things, I had sent this student to the dean instead of following our school’s ‘guided discipline’ procedure. I was confused. Earlier last year, this same assistant principal observed me and instructed me to prioritize improving my ‘assertive voice’ in the classroom. But about a month later, my principal observed me and told me to focus entirely on lesson planning, since she had no concerns about my classroom management. A few weeks earlier, she had written on my behalf for a citywide award for ‘classroom excellence.’ Was I really a bad teacher? In my three years with the city schools, I’ve seen a teacher with 10 years of experience become convinced, after just a few observations, that he was a terrible teacher. A few months later, he quit teaching altogether. I collaborated with another teacher who sought psychiatric care for insomnia after a particularly intense round of observations. I myself transferred to a new school after being rated ‘unsatisfactory.’ Behind all of this is the reality that teachers care a great deal about our work. At the school where I work today, my ‘bad’ teaching has mostly been very successful. Even so, I leave work most days replaying lessons in my mind, wishing I’d done something differently. This isn’t because my lessons are bad, but because I want to get better at my job.”

-- New York City teacher William Johnson.


Hard-working teachers, sabotaged when student test scores slip


“But one significant factor in our continuing economic weakness is the fact that government in America is doing exactly what both theory and history say it shouldn’t: slashing spending in the face of a depressed economy. In fact, if it weren’t for this destructive fiscal austerity, our unemployment rate would almost certainly be lower now than it was at a comparable stage of the ‘Morning in America’ recovery during the Reagan era. Notice that I said ‘government in America,’ not ‘the federal government.’ The federal government has been pursuing what amount to contractionary policies as the last vestiges of the Obama stimulus fade out, but the big cuts have come at the state and local level. These state and local cuts have led to a sharp fall in both government employment and government spending on goods and services, exerting a powerful drag on the economy as a whole.”

-- New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman.






Parent trigger bill heads to Senate floor after rhetorical shootout

A controversial "parent trigger" measure giving parents the ability to determine the fate of chronically failing schools is headed to the Senate floor after a heated, hastily called Senate budget committee meeting Saturday morning. The proposal, sponsored by Republican Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers, would allow parents to choose among four turnaround options for low-performing schools and is based on a process now in place in three other states, including first-in-the-nation California, where a judge is now considering an investigation into the takeover of a Mojave Desert school. Florida is one of 20 states considering "Parent Empowerment" legislation pushed by California-based Parent Revolution, whose representatives appeared at the rare Saturday morning meeting. The proposal, opposed by a coalition of parent-led groups in Florida including the PTA, allows parents to tell school boards how to handle failing schools if 51 percent of parents sign a petition. The petition-gathering process, at the heart of the dispute over the California school, is rife for fraud and other problems, critics argue. But Michael Trujillo, national advocacy director of Parent Empowerment, told the committee that the just having the parent-trigger in place pushes school boards to do more for failing schools. The measure would also require schools to inform parents about instructors who are teaching out of their field of expertise or who have received unsatisfactory performance reviews and tell parents that virtual school classes are available with more qualified teachers. That's a problem, said Palm Beach County school district lobbyist Vern Pickup-Crawford, because schools have no way of knowing what the qualifications are of online instructors. And the trigger process "usurps the locally elected school board's authority," Pickup-Crawford said. The "parent-trigger" push in an election year is politically motivated, critics also said, pitting teachers' unions against conservative Republican lawmakers and their constituents. "Certainly, in an election year, everything has to do with how does it fly with the voters. Whether it's a good thing or bad thing, if they think this will get them votes, that's what happens. And that's not always a good reason to pass legislation," said Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, the sole Republican to vote against the bill (SB 1718) which passed 13-7. Teachers also contend that the process opens public school parents to coercion by for-profit charter schools and private management companies, who would be able to take over the schools if the school districts agree to the parents recommendations. If the school board rejects the parents' option, parents could appeal to the state Board of Education, which would make the final decision. "This simply allows a private management company to own your school for a time period," said Jeff Wright, public advocacy director for the Florida Education Association. "Once they get whatever they get out of it, like profit for example, then they leave and the public school is held accountable, again.",0,6106392.story


There's no mystery to improving schools


House passes bill to expand charter schools

Advocates for charter schools enjoyed mixed progress Friday as the House passed a bill to expand the schools. On an 86-30 vote, HB 903, which allows high-performing charter schools to create three new schools each year instead of one, cleared the House. The vote came down largely along party lines, with Democrats decrying the measure as undermining public schools and Republicans touting the extra choice of schools afforded to parents. The Senate companion bill, SB 1852, still requires a floor vote in that chamber before moving to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.


Charter school dangers on display in Scientology case


Palm Beach district has doubts about seven-period option for middle schools (Tony Hernandez quoted)


Manatee County school board attorney clarifies legal issues (mentions MEA)


Consultant tells Sarasota schools to cut $23 million


Budget cuts will cost Escambia schools 66 health workers|topnews|text|FRONTPAGE


There’s money for raises in Volusia


House backs changes to eligibility rules for high school athletes


State lawmakers struggle to make budget deal as session clock ticks

Racing against the clock, legislators labored Sunday to settle spending differences and agree on a $70 billion budget with five days left in the session. They made progress in all-day talks that ended at 8 p.m., but today will be another marathon day as lawmakers left some of the most contentious issues to the final hours. They include how much money to spend on public schools, whether to take $300 million from universities' reserves and whether the House will go along with the Senate in making Florida Polytechnic in Lakeland the state's 12th university. For the 60-day session to end on time Friday, a final budget must be agreed upon and printed by Tuesday. To balance the budget, lawmakers are considering taking $300 million from universities' reserve accounts. "The reserve issue is problematic," said Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, a Florida State graduate who is protective of FSU in the budget. "A lot of schools thought they were doing the right thing by saving money, but they can be hit the hardest." Budget negotiators did agree on the size of cuts to hospitals, nursing homes and mental health programs.


Business tax cuts clear House, fast-tracked in Senate


In late budget talks, Senate finds cash for Cannon’s projects


Lawmakers must decide host of controversial issues this week,0,4708327.story


Slow pace in Florida Senate making even senators wonder what's going on


The Lorax stars kick off NEA's 15th annual Read Across America Day


Florida college graduation requirements could change


House grants more tuition power to UF, FSU


Austere, probing trustees in firm control at State College of Florida


DOJ opposes Florida laws on voter registration groups, early voting

The Justice Department objected late Friday to new provisions of Florida election law that place strict regulations on third-party voter registration groups and cut down on the early voting period. DOJ alleged in a court filing that Florida was unable to prove the new provisions were not discriminatory under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. “As to the third-party voter registration and early voting changes enacted … respectively, the United States’ position is that the State has not met its burden, on behalf of its covered counties, that the two sets of proposed voting changes are entitled to preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act,” according to a court filing. Florida had begun the preclearance process with DOJ but subsequently sued the government after federal lawyers asked for additional information about how some provisions of the state’s new election law would be enforced. Non-partisan groups like the League of Women Voters have ended their voter registration efforts in the state because of the law, which forces individuals conducting voter registration drives to get permission from the state and turn in voter registration cards within 48 hours of a voter filling them out. The League of Women Voters, the Brennan Center, and Rock The Vote are also fighting that provision of the law in court and an initial hearing was held earlier this week. Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote, said this week that the law would “prevent organizations like Rock the Vote from educating and engaging young people in our political process and go against the very principles our country was founded on.” Attorney General Eric Holder singled out Florida’s law during a major speech on voting rights in December. The Colbert Report featured a sketch this week about a Florida teacher who is already facing a stiff penalty from the state for not turning in voter registration cards she collected from her students within 48 hours. Check it out below:


Study: Counties that didn’t implement new elections law had greater early voting turnout


ACLU, policy and religious groups ask Florida lawmakers not to privatize state prisons


Miami-Dade social justice advocates call for income equality, defend wage theft program


Lawmakers protect sweet deal on health insurance


House lawmakers approve drug testing for all state employees, but exempt themselves


Scott is having a break-out legislative session,0,169995.column


Still fighting for a penny per pound


Alexander is the face of what's wrong with Florida


What happened to Florida Democrats?


Ranking Florida's most influential Democrats


Occupy Palm Beach protesters aren't budging


Occupy Tampa demonstrators to march against war


Miami-Dade County cleans up after Occupy Miami


Beyond the weekend: How unions boost us all
Union bashing may the popular sport for Republican presidential candidates (click here for more). But a new report looks at some of the real stories about how unions and union members are having positive impacts on jobs, health care, education and their communities. Beyond the Weekend by American Rights at Work (ARAW) reveals that when employees come together in the workplace, the benefits of their collective action extend far beyond themselves. The reports key findings show that:

  • Frontline union health care workers are collaborating with hospital administrators to find real solutions that improve patient care and control costs.
  • Partnerships between union-represented teachers and school administrators are boosting student achievement in schools that serve disadvantaged families.
  • Union members’ pensions funds are financing public and private projects that create good American jobs.
  • Building trades unions are partnering with community groups to create new career paths for veterans, workers of color, and women.
  • Child care providers are gaining new skills and resources through their unions to improve how they care for children of low-income families.

Beyond the Weekend points out that: In an era where employees’ basic rights to come together in the workplace are increasingly at risk Americans need to understand what is at stake if these rights and resulting opportunities are lost.

Click here for the full report.


What those NLRB And CFPB recess appointments mean to you


Judge: Government can require union posters at work


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