Today's news -- September 18, 2017





Teachers sue to end their own bonus pay program *

A state program that awards bonuses to top-rated teachers based on their own SAT and ACT scores from high school violates federal and state civil rights laws against employment discrimination, argues a potential class-action lawsuit filed last week by Florida’s largest teachers union and seven classroom teachers from South Florida. The Best and Brightest program — first enacted in 2015 and now in its third year — continues to be envisioned by House Republicans as an innovative means to recruit and retain the best teachers in the state’s public schools. But it’s been a subject of ongoing controversy because the program relies on teachers’ own test scores — sometimes decades old and unavailable — which has no proven correlation to teacher effectiveness. The Florida Education Association is now asking a federal judge to step in and declare the program illegal and discriminatory against teachers who are older and who are non-white. The FEA first made the accusation two years ago through a complaint to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — an avenue the union said Friday that it had to exhaust before it was recently given federal authorization to file a lawsuit. “The SAT/ACT score requirement has an illegal disparate impact on teachers based on their age and on teachers based on their black and Hispanic race,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys, John Davis and Kent Spriggs, argued in the 58-page lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee. “The SAT/ACT score requirement is not required by business necessity and is not related to job performance.” Targeted by the lawsuit are the Florida Department of Education and all 67 county school boards, which play a role in implementing the state law by reporting which teachers in their districts qualify each year for the bonus. “The defendants have engaged in system-wide and continuing pattern and practice in violation [of state and federal civil rights laws],” the lawsuit alleges. Florida DOE spokeswoman Meghan Collins said the agency does not comment on litigation. A court summons issued Thursday said the department had 21 days to respond to the complaint. Like the FEA, several school district superintendents have criticized the Legislature’s bonus plan, but the districts are nonetheless all named as defendants in the lawsuit because they employ teachers. Daisy Gonzalez-Diego, a spokeswoman for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, said the lawsuit was “a matter for the courts to decide.” “However, there is the general consensus amongst educators that there are better ways to incentivize meritorious teacher performance,” she said in a statement. In Palm Beach County, “the district’s stance remains that the focus should be on giving teachers sustainable raises that they can count on to plan their lives, build their families and purchase homes in their communities,” spokeswoman Amity Schuyler said in a statement. “Bonuses are a distraction from the real issue of teacher pay and teacher shortages.” FEA is seeking class-action status for its lawsuit. It estimates there are potentially 30,000 “highly effective” teachers statewide who could be part of the class based on their age being 40 or older — as well as 4,000 top-rated black teachers and 7,000 top-rated Hispanic teachers based on their race. The FEA says it has 140,000 members and represents more than 250,000 teachers and education staff statewide. The lawsuit seeks to have members of the class action “recover the amount of the bonus they did not receive because of the defendants’ illegal practices,” plus a to-be-determined amount in financial damages for the plaintiffs. When the lawsuit was filed Wednesday, many Floridians remained focused on recovering from Hurricane Irma. Several school districts, including Miami-Dade and Broward, won’t resume normal operations until at least this week. FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow called the timing of the lawsuit just after the hurricane a “coincidence.” He said the lawsuit had to be filed within 90 days after the union got its authorization from the EEOC and the U.S. Department of Justice. “The 90-day period was about to expire,” he said. (Andrew Spar quoted)


Some question measurement of teacher effectiveness *

Days before the school year started, state education officials forced Duval County Schools to remove 35 teachers from eight high-need schools. Those teachers’ so-called “VAM” scores were too low, the state said, and they shouldn’t teach at schools trying to turn around persistently low grades. The controversial move cast light on the main way Florida measures a teacher’s effectiveness, VAM scores. VAM stands for value-added measure or value-added model. It features a complicated formula based on student academic growth, as measured on state tests, to judge teacher effectiveness. But experts disagree on how accurately VAM measures teacher effectiveness, including some critics who say the system can be biased against teachers who serve large numbers of poor students. Recent VAM data for Northeast Florida appears to back up the notion that it’s easier to earn a high VAM score if you teach at a school with few poor students. In some states principals are forced to give negative reviews to teachers or fire teachers who have low VAM scores, making it even riskier to teach classrooms full of struggling students. A teacher’s experience level also plays a role, said Cathy Boehme, legislative specialist for the Florida Education Association, a teacher’s union that opposes VAM. High-poverty schools tend to employ more novice teachers than more advantaged schools, she said. In addition, when high-scoring teachers volunteer to work at high-poverty schools, their VAM scores often fall over time, Boehme said. There is a “chicken-and-egg” problem with VAM, agreed Bruce Baker, who teaches economics and education finance at Rutgers University. “There is some inequitable sorting of teachers across higher- and lower-poverty schools. The problem is that we have no way to sort out what’s what,” he said. Only a “relatively small piece” of VAM signals true teacher influence on student test scores, he said. The rest is a “false signal or bias” or “random noise” in the numbers causing unexplained shifts in VAM scores year to year.


Pinellas should join charter school lawsuit


After the hurricane: Time to “focus on the good things” at school


Sarasota, Charlotte residents grateful as schools reopen today (Bryan Bouton quoted)


Irma’s unsung heroes: school staff


It's back to school, again, for students across South Florida after hurricane closures


Nassau reopens schools; Jacksonville, other districts resume today


Leon schools stepped up to the challenge of Irma


Students return in most Central Florida districts, some makeup days announced


Keys schools to reopen next week


Most charter schools don't serve as hurricane shelters


Supplemental pay hike a contentious issue for Leon district, union (Scott Mazur quoted)


Class size matters in every grade *

Here we go again. Someone dug up a study that purports to show that smaller classes after about the third grade don't make any difference and, besides, smaller classes cost more and we we can't afford them, and yadda yadda yadda. We've been through all this before. Studied it. Argued about it. Voted on it. Decided it. But nothing is ever decided. Now the Florida Council of 100 is recommending that the Florida Constitution be changed and says "it's vital that we all get behind it." Vital, they say. Well, they have their study and I have mine and I say class size matters at every grade. Even if I couldn't point to a scholarly study, common sense tells me small classes are better. The logic sort of overwhelms you. If it were not so, why would Maclay School boast of a student/teacher ratio of 9 to 1? Or the FSU school and its ratio of 15 to 1? Or consider the parents who hire a tutor to help their child pass algebra. That's the smallest class size possible: one to one. It works, too. We can't afford the class sizes now mandated by the Florida Constitution? Oh, please. Before the election the politicians use feel-good rhetoric like "investing in the future" but when the Legislature convenes we hear talk about not "throwing money at a problem. What we really must do, they assure us, is cut taxes on our "hard-working taxpayers." Not only do they not throw money at a problem, they cut the amount of money available to throw. They come up with gimmicks like tax-free holidays, on which the sales tax is waived on — wait for it — school supplies. We are told that the tax-free holidays "save Florida families $37.9 million." So let's take another look at the class size amendment we put in the Florida constitution. Opponents are pushing for the issue to be on the ballot in 2018 because, they argue, "the taxpayers of Florida deserve nothing less." What about the students? What do they deserve? A tax-free holiday?


Should there be a constitutional right to a high-quality public education?


Of course algebra is important. It’s also a huge problem.


DeVos visits a school with trans-friendly bathrooms and farm-to-table lunches


Auditor uncovers likely fraud, embezzlement at New Mexico charter school


Nashville charter schools to pay $2.2 million to settle lawsuit over text messages


Pennsylvania: How charters make money in states where for-profits are not allowed


Illinois: DeVos can't stick to script on vouchers


Public school closures are an attack on Arkansans of color


UF has little choice but to let white nationalist speak, experts say


USF St. Petersburg leader abruptly ousted


DeVos is helping education profiteers rip off students


When affirmative action isn’t enough


Tempers flare as the wait for power stretches on — and on


Hurricane will have powerful impact on state revenue


Hurricane’s damage a reminder of state economy’s vulnerability's-damage-a-reminder-of-Florida-economy's-vulnerability


Many ways we'll end up paying for hurricane


Major flooding along Withlacoochee, officials urge evacuation


Report: Before deaths, nursing home called Scott's emergency number three times


Before eight died at nursing home, inspectors found deplorable conditions


Owner of nursing home where eight died linked to Medicare fraud case


First lawsuit filed against Hollywood nursing home


After Hollywood nursing home horror, legislators want new law


Scott imposes new rules after nursing home deaths


Nursing home industry plans summit in wake of governor’s generator rule


In Irma’s wake, searching for normal in the Florida Keys

Hurricane Irma takes toll on already limited affordable housing in Florida Keys


Keys homes, battered but standing, may be a model for reducing damage in Florida


A week after storm, Immokalee residents' future uncertain


After a death in Everglades City, rising concerns of a public health crisis


In Hastings, residents say hurricane passed and hours later came the water


Deluge of flooding has residents trapped in large Bonita Springs community


Remember normal? It's back, along with electricity, in some parts of Tampa Bay


With most lights back on, Central Florida seeks a return to normalcy


Extensive damage to Jacksonville’s Wells Fargo Center sends tenants scrambling


Reemployment assistance available for workers out of jobs due to hurricane


Small business owners struggle to bounce back after hurricanes


FEMA continues adding workers to storm cleanup


Hurricane evacuation nightmare: Next time some may not leave


After hurricane, dead seagrass “as far as the eye can see” in Florida Bay


Hurricane caused “extensive damage” to Collier beaches


After hurricane, nobody asking for less government


Florida AFL-CIO passing the digital hat for hurricane victims (Mike Williams mentioned and Rich Templin quoted)


Hurricane Maria expected to become major storm by Tuesday


Insurers begin taking stock of hurricane 's damage


Congress may need to throw a lifeline to flood insurance program


Hurricanes offer sobering lessons in the power of nature


Hurricanes have put more energy into impact of global warming


Harvey and Irma are the new normal. It’s time to move away from the coasts.


Coastal growth continues despite lessons of past storms


Florida's hurricanes and how they altered history


In hurricane-devastated Virgin Islands, resolve blends with worry of being forgotten


Stand your ground delays justice


Scott should give Ayala's death-penalty panel a chance to work


Workman named to Public Service Commission


Bump in U.S. incomes doesn’t erase 50 years of pain


Trump’s voter fraud commission proves a magnet for controversy


Trump's “election integrity” group is waging war on the right to vote


The tangled story behind Trump’s false claims of voter fraud


Manafort spokesman testifies to Russia grand jury for more than two hours


Judiciary chairman considers subpoenas in Trump investigation


The curious rise of the Russian lawyer who met Team Trump


Trump lawyers clash over how much to cooperate with Russia inquiry


Trump-Russia investigators probe Kushner-run digital operation


Some Trump lawyers proposed removing Kushner over the Russia investigation


The White House’s new way to defend Trump: Smear Comey


Facebook handed Russia-linked ads over to Mueller under search warrant


Facebook knows more about Russia’s election meddling. Shouldn’t we?


D.C. eyes tighter regulations on Facebook and Google as concern grows


Trump in Moscow: What happened at Miss Universe in 2013


Another prosecutor joins Trump-Russia probe


Trump’s efforts to crack down on sanctuary cities dealt a major blow


In message of defiance, lawmakers vote to make California a sanctuary state


Trump is still angry about the travel ban he undermined himself


As Trump considers bipartisan immigration deal, some set their MAGA hats on fire


Trump once again rushes to use an overseas terrorist attack as leverage on Twitter


DACA immigrants are teaching U.S. children. What happens after they’re gone?


Mexican teacher barred from traveling to U.S. to collect Internet Society award


Fast track to citizenship is cut off for some military recruits


Morality is negotiable for Trump


Senator says he's close to having the votes to pass Obamacare repeal


Now Trumpcare will let insurers jack up premiums as soon as you get sick


Florida’s uninsured rate has plunged under Obamacare


Last-ditch GOP health care effort could reduce federal funding by nearly $300 billion


Complacency could kill health care


Under Trump, Obamacare outreach groups face budget cuts as high as 98 percent


Before tackling single-payer, save Obamacare


Amid opioid crisis, insurers restrict pricey, less addictive painkillers


U.S. needs tax reform, not tax cuts for the wealthy


To make their tax plan work, Republicans eye a favorite blue-state break


Ryan’s fuzzy math on the nation’s “terrible tax system”


Holding federal institutions accountable becoming harder


Governments turn tables by suing public records requesters


State legislators champion transparency, then restrict it


House goes to court to protect secrecy of records


Feds rolls back program intended to identify problems in police departments


New report offers proof of hate crime rise


House just passed a bill that could politicize churches


Cake is his “art.” So can he deny one to a gay couple?


Shrink at least four national monuments and modify others, Zinke tells Trump


House passes spending bill “full of giveaways to polluters” and big cuts to EPA


Using the EPA to prop up Big Coal


Next EPA science advisers could include those who question climate change


Public records sought on EPA, beef lobby collusion to weaken water protections


There’s now a real congressional push to block the transgender military ban


McCain joins effort to challenge Trump’s transgender troops ban


U.S. warns that time is running out for peaceful solution with North Korea


Digging in for next decade, U.S. expands Kabul security zone


CIA wants authority to conduct drone strikes in Afghanistan for the first time


White House denies backtracking on Paris pact withdrawal


For Trump and his team, a “time to be serious” at United Nations debut


Tillerson heads to U.N. gathering with Haley waiting in the wings


With cost-cutting zeal, Tillerson whittles U.N. delegation, too


Senators demand Cuba stop reported “health attacks” on U.S. diplomats


Trump considering closing embassy in Cuba, Tillerson says

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