Today's news -- May 6, 2014



Floridians need to fight the privatization of public schools

Call me a defiant “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” parent of a Florida public school student. And I’m looking for a few -- a few million -- good men and women to join me in battle. We’re decades into a war waged by shadowy business interests and religious groups, working through “cooperative” (co-opted) legislators and governors. They “won” the latest skirmish after the Republican Party of Florida (and some Blue Dog Democrats) engineered passage of an unpopular voucher expansion bill in the final minutes of the final day of the 2014 legislative session. This is another attack in a very well-funded, well-organized and well-executed campaign. That’s why it succeeds so often. The goal is to gradually undermine most of the state’s public schools and ultimately privatize them. For all of us who believe tax dollars earmarked for education should be almost entirely dedicated to improving public schools, the time has come to implement our own new strategy for success. We need to reach out and join forces in our local communities statewide, sharing information, brainstorming, consensus-reaching and coalition-building.


“There are common hypocrites. There are spectacular hypocrites. And then there are Florida legislators.” (Joanne McCall quoted)


Let’s determine if Bush-brand education reforms are working


School tax increase equals Scott’s other tax cuts

Gov. Rick Scott will bring his re-election campaign to Tampa today to tout a new state budget with $574 million in increased education spending along with $500 million in tax cuts. What Scott isn’t mentioning is that while the new budget cuts some taxes, it includes an increase of almost as much, $400 million, in the property taxes the state requires local governments to impose to help fund public schools. Responding to those numbers, Scott’s likely Democratic opponent, former Gov. Charlie Crist, on Monday accused Scott of a fraud against taxpayers. “He did it by raising property taxes $400 million,” Crist told reporters in Miami. “That’s unbelievable. That’s the last thing we need to be doing.”


State spending on public schools source of shame, not pride

Passing a record amount of public-school spending in the new state budget may be laudable, but Florida lawmakers shouldn’t go crazy patting themselves on the back. More appropriately, they should be hanging their heads for not doing more. Of the $547.8 million in additional K-12 spending contained in the $77.1 billion budget passed Friday (the largest in state history), about $400 million is coming from local property taxes, thanks to an increase in property values. That means our chest-thumping legislative leaders managed to squeeze just $175 million in new money for public schools out of the $1.5 billion windfall of new state revenue. Last year, state lawmakers gave public schools an average increase of $448 per student. This budget’s average 2.6 percent, or $176 per pupil, spending boost is millions of dollars below the initial amounts proposed by both the House and Senate. “I hope you’re as proud about this budget as I am,” Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla told his colleagues on the floor of the upper chamber. “I’m going to go home and brag about what we’ve done.” We don’t believe there’s a whole lot to brag about when you consider the struggles of local public school districts -- particularly when it comes to capital improvements. The roughly $80 million earmarked for districts’ capital budgets statewide is even less than what’s needed just to fill the roughly $87 million hole forecast for the Palm Beach County School District. As we’ve said before, lawmakers could have found some extra money by not approving a $400 million cut in vehicle license fees that will put a whopping $20 to $25 in the pocket of Florida motorists. They also could have given local school districts back the authority to levy an additional 50-cents-per-$1,000 property tax for capital improvements. That would have meant about $66 million more toward closing the county schools’ construction-money gap. “There’s an opportunity to be great,” House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston said of the woeful increase in education dollars. “This doesn’t do it.” We agree. Our kids deserved better.


Public school teachers say new evaluation process badly flawed

Many of Florida’s public school teachers see little value in the value-added-model (VAM) teacher evaluation process that’s being used this year. Also labeled “value added analysis” or “value added assessment,” the evaluation tool is tied to student testing results. VAM assesses how one student’s scores compare to others and tracks how each student is performing year over year. It tries to determine what a particular teacher contributes to a tested student’s progress.  This hair-splitting design evolved from a think tank in 1971.  It wasn’t a good idea then and it’s a terrible tool now. As with most tainted tools, this kind of evaluation does not take into account a student’s home environment, intelligence, family income, natural abilities, or parental involvement.  It also ignores school resources such as clubs, tutoring, and after-school activities. It targets the teacher and that is wrong.  Teachers are best viewed as guides.  They cannot be held fully responsible for failure or lack of progress. Critics of VAM contend that student success or failure depends on a variety of factors, many of them complex.  VAM, they say, is too simplistic. It can hurt a good teacher’s career and it has no bearing on a student’s progress. One teacher called it “Kafka-teach.” She complained that her evaluation was based on students she had never taught.  She was a new first-grade teacher and somehow found herself responsible for 4th and 5th graders she had never seen. Another Florida teacher said VAM is a farce and it has no bearing on her classroom teaching skills.  She claimed her scores did not relate to students she had taught. Is something missing here?  How can anybody be held accountable for students they have not taught?


Florida's new standardized tests: Sample questions due out next month,0,


Review: Lake teachers asked to sign inaccurate reports


In Lake, you get what you pay for (NEA mentioned),0,1875269.column


Student arrest underscores hacking threat, but Miami-Dade says grading system is secure


Group charging schools with religious discrimination picks Broward as latest target


State to study high school start times


$100 million in taxpayer $$ wasted or stolen by deregulated charter industry


Walton-funded group says charter schools underfunded


Most students completely clueless about major changes happening in education


Global school tests under attack as OECD accused of killing “joy of learning”


Organizing resistance to Teach for America


Alabama teen suspended after opting out of Common Core testing


New four-year programs on hold at state colleges as lawmakers study “mission creep”


New tuition policy expected to benefit South Florida,0,7083694.story


Gaetz still unhappy about it


Edison State leaders offer to take pay cuts|mostpopular|img|FRONTPAGE


Warren: Allow student loan borrowers to refinance


Inaction tarnished 2014 session,0,6297338.story


Fewest bills passed in more than a decade


Scott asks for federal assistance for Panhandle


White House climate assessment puts South Florida at high risk


Lost chance for springs cleanup


Reliance on 401(k) retirement accounts drops, poll shows


Mortality drop seen to follow ’06 health law in Massachusetts


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