Class size, teacher pay matter in student performance, expert says

Despite failed legislative efforts and ballot initiatives, some Florida superintendents continue to seek ways to scale back implementation of the state's class size rules to measure as a school average rather than a classroom count. An expert testifying in the ongoing Texas school funding trial suggests that might be the wrong answer. Clive Belfield, an economist at Queens College in New York, told the court that reducing class sizes has a direct impact on improving graduation rates, according to The Dallas Morning News. "In a class of 15 students, the teacher can spend more time with struggling students. With a class size of 30, a student who is having difficulty is more likely to be left behind," he said, adding that the struggling children are more apt to drop out. "Belfield, an expert witness for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, also said raising teacher salaries has a positive effect on high school graduation rates. His analysis indicated that if Texas raised average teacher pay by 10 percent, it would increase the graduation rate by 5 percent. He cited two immediate benefits — veteran teachers would be more likely to stay in their jobs and the applicant pool of teachers for vacant jobs would be larger, with more graduates from elite colleges."


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Hard science for what was long suspected
New research from several sources confirms that the stress of a dysfunctional or unstable home life can poison a child's cognitive ability for a lifetime. Evidence from cognitive and neuroscientific studies show that stress forms the link between childhood adversity and poor academic achievement. "Toxic stress," which is severe, sustained, and not buffered by supportive relationships -- high mobility and homelessness; hunger and food instability; parents in jail or absent; domestic violence; drug abuse; and other problems -- weaken neural connections in areas like language development and self-control. A recent study in the peer-reviewed journal Child Development found that out of 26,000 students in the Minneapolis public schools, those who moved more than three times a year had significantly lower mathematics achievement and academic growth than students in more stable homes. A separate study from the University of Maryland found that children with six or more adverse experiences before age three were overwhelmingly likely to be identified as needing special education for developmental delay. And the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study found that a boy with six indicators of abuse and home dysfunction was 4,600 percent more likely than a boy with no risk factors to become an intravenous-drug user. Such findings mean that teachers and doctors are left trying to fix late symptoms, like poor reading skills or boredom in school, Sparks says, rather than underlying issues that occur much earlier in life.

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School districts brace for cuts as federal fiscal crisis looms

During the campaign, both President Obama and Mitt Romney repeatedly extolled the value of schools and teachers. Mr. Romney, in their first debate last month, even vowed, “I’m not going to cut education funding.” But if his fellow Republicans in Congress and Obama cannot agree on a resolution for the country’s looming debt crisis, the automatic budget cuts and tax increases that will kick in next year could spawn another round of belt-tightening at public schools already battered by the recession and its aftermath. If the government is unable to come to a resolution, federal education programs for elementary and high schools would lose a little over $2 billion -- or close to 8 percent of the current budget -- starting next fall, according to the Office of Management and Budget and the Education Department. School districts around the country are bracing for cutbacks. In Boston, programs for English language learners and students at risk of failing a grade would be curtailed. In Cleveland, where the district has already lopped 50 minutes off the school day and limited art and music, officials fear they would have to curtail a literary program for struggling fourth and fifth graders, and lay off more classroom teachers. Miami-Dade, which has so far avoided pink slips for teachers, would probably start issuing them. While federal funding generally represents about 10 percent of public school budgets, schools have already lost millions of dollars in state money. According to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning research and advocacy group, 26 states cut funding this school year, and two-thirds of states are providing less money for public education than they did five years ago. It may be several years before state coffers recover enough to restore funding to previous levels. At the same time, schools have been hobbled as another important source of financing -- property tax collections -- has plunged after the housing crisis. While declines in state and local funding affect most public schools, cuts in federal funding would jeopardize services at schools that serve the neediest children. Federal funding for elementary and secondary education is directed primarily at low-income students as well as English language learners and those with special education needs.


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Income gap in Florida holds back poor, middle-class workers

The wealthy in Florida have eight times the household income compared to the poorest households, a widening gap that is seen in nearly a third of the nation, according to an income inequality study released Thursday. In Florida, the richest 5 percent have incomes 13.5 times as large as the bottom 20 percent and 4.5 times as large as the middle 20 percent, according to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute. Most jobs in the state added since the recession are low-wage, part-time jobs such as food servers, home health aides and retail clerks. “We are the ultimate county of the haves and have-nots,” said Patrick Franklin, president and CEO of the Urban League of Palm Beach County. The income gap thwarts efforts to lift the next generation out of poverty through education, because families cannot pay for college even with financial aid, he said. In the long run, that will cost those with higher incomes because they’ll pay more for social services. “If we can’t push this group through the pipeline, then we’re very much going to lose this generation,” Franklin said. Over the past 30 years and during the last economic cycle from the late 1990s to mid-2000s, poor and moderate-income families saw their incomes grow only slightly, if at all, adjusting for inflation. The richest households gained considerably, the report said.


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Labor rights should be valued and protected




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