Today's news -- September 19, 2017




State must fix bonus program *

The Florida Education Association’s lawsuit to stop the state’s teacher bonus program is the right opposition for the wrong reasons. The teachers union has filed a potential class-action lawsuit alleging that the “Best and Brightest” program discriminates against older and non-white teachers because it uses college entrance exams — the SAT or ACT — as one of the criteria for awarding bonuses. The lawsuit, filed last week, alleges that the SAT/ACT score requirement violates state and federal civil rights laws because it “has an illegal disparate impact on teachers based on their age and on teachers based on their black and Hispanic race.” Why limit the argument to certain groups of teachers? Best and Brightest violates common sense and is an affront to all educators. Indeed, it’s so laughably misguided that it shouldn’t take a lawsuit to change it. A simple act of the Legislature will suffice. Best and Brightest was created in 2015 to address a real problem: help attract and retain quality teachers. Some 40 percent of Florida teachers leave the profession within five years after starting. Many of those who hang in there longer earn salaries that aren’t commensurate with their experience or expertise, especially when compared to other states. However, you don’t show teachers respect by evaluating them in part on a test that some took decades ago, and which has absolutely no bearing on how effective they are doing their jobs today. The SAT and ACT are supposed to measure a student’s readiness for college. Period. Once he gets in, the rest is up to him. Entrance exam scores don’t necessarily translate into future success in life. People with high numbers flunk out all the time, and those with mediocre scores seize the opportunity and rise to the occasion. It would be just as silly to reward today’s teachers according to the grades they received in college coursework. They might have earned an A in educational theory, but struggled to apply that knowledge in practice in an actual classroom. In the 2016-17 school year, about 7,200 Florida teachers, including 106 Volusia County and 58 in Flagler County, earned Best and Brightest bonuses of about $6,800 each. That’s only about 4 percent of all teachers in the state. That number likely would be higher if the SAT and ACT standard were eliminated because some teachers either didn’t score high enough (which should be irrelevant) or couldn’t provide their scores. The only thing that matters is how the teachers are doing now. All bonus criteria should be tied to their latest performance evaluations. That’s the fairest and most accurate way of rewarding them. There remains much debate how to quantify classroom performance, but all can agree that SAT and ACT scores should not be part of the criteria. Well, all but the legislators who keep voting for the silly provision. In this year’s session, the Legislature expanded Best and Brightest to get more money to more teachers. Yet, despite facing widespread criticism, they maintained the SAT/ACT component. They charitably lowered the score requirements for 2021, which does nothing to mitigate the absurdity of rewarding teachers based on something many did in between getting their high school graduation photos shot and securing a date for the senior prom. The state can end this lawsuit by making Best and Brightest focus solely on the pertinent present, not the immaterial past.


Feds extend deadline for plan shrouded in secrecy *

Federal education officials are giving the state more time to submit its plan to meet the requirements of a new federal education law — a move that will give state officials a few extra weeks to wrap up some last-minute changes under consideration that have been shrouded in secrecy. Citing the “devastation” of Hurricane Irma, the U.S. Department of Education offered the state until Oct. 13 to submit the plan for how Florida's districts and schools will comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, a broad rewrite of No Child Left Behind passed during the Obama administration. "The Department is ready to provide flexibility, support and assistance as needed, given the profound devastation in the federally-declared disaster area,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wrote to Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart in an email last week. Stewart accepted the offer Monday. Texas has also received an extension until Sept. 25, and South Carolina's deadline is extended to Oct. 13. The state Department of Education began soliciting public comment over the summer on its 67-page draft plan, but the agency has also been gathering feedback on its application for waivers from certain aspects of the law, including new requirements that would overhaul the A-to-F school grading system.


Pinellas votes today on whether to join lawsuit against controversial education bill


Time to get “back to routine” as much as possible in state schools


Florida students affected by hurricane to get free school meals


State revises fall testing schedule for storm-impacted students


Failing charter schools have a reincarnation plan *

This past June, Florida’s top education agency delivered a failing grade to the Orange Park Performing Arts Academy in suburban Jacksonville for the second year in a row. It designated the charter school for kindergarten through fifth grade as the worst public school in Clay County, and one of the lowest performing in the state. Two-thirds of the academy’s students failed the state exams last year, and only a third of them were making any academic progress at all. The school had had four principals in three years, and teacher turnover was high, too. “My fourth grader was learning stuff that my second grader was learning — it shouldn't be that way,” said Tanya Bullard, who moved her three daughters from the arts academy this past summer to a traditional public school. “The school has completely failed me and my children.” The district terminated the academy’s charter contract. Surprisingly, Orange Park didn’t shut down — and even found a way to stay on the public dime. It reopened last month as a private school charging $5,000 a year, below the $5,886 maximum that low-income students receive to attend the school of their choice under a state voucher program. Academy officials expect all of its students to pay tuition with the publicly backed coupons. The Rev. Alesia Ford-Burse, an African Methodist Episcopal pastor who founded the academy, said the school deserves a second chance, because families love its dance and art lessons, which they otherwise couldn’t afford. “Kids are saying, ‘F or not, we’re staying,’” she said. While it’s widely known that private schools convert to charter status to take advantage of public dollars, more schools are now heading in the opposite direction. As voucher programs across the country proliferate, shuttered charter schools, like the Orange Park Performing Arts Academy, have begun to privatize in order to stay open with state assistance. A ProPublica nationwide review found that at least 16 failing or struggling charter schools in five states — Florida, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Georgia — have gone private with the help of publicly funded voucher programs, including 13 since 2010. “The voucher just is a pass through in order to provide additional funding for private schools to thrive and to continue to work,” said Addison Davis, superintendent of schools in Clay County. Changing a school’s status “isn’t going to stop the process where we continue to see kids who are declining academically and not being able to demonstrate mastery and proficiency.” Across the Florida Panhandle from Orange Park, another troubled charter school for the arts has reinvented itself as a voucher-funded private school.

Founded in 2010, the A.A. Dixon Charter School of Excellence had the worst academic record in Escambia County, and the school board raised questions about its financial accounting. After Dixon received two failing grades from the state — which triggers termination of a school’s charter under Florida rules — the Rev. Lutimothy May, a Baptist pastor who chaired its board, appealed to state education authorities. They allowed the school to operate for at least one more year, but he began to seek other options. Around the same time, a local beverage distributor, David Bear of the Lewis Bear Company, told May that he was considering contributing to the state tax-credit program. If the Dixon school privatized, Bear told May, donations could help save it. In 2013, May turned the charter, which had recently been renamed the Dixon School of the Arts, into a private Christian arts academy located inside his church. Nearly all current students at Dixon receive the tax-credit vouchers, bringing the school more than $500,000 a year, according to the most recent data from the state’s department of education. “Our goal is still the same,” but the conversion has “untied some of the strings on education,” May said. Some of the untied “strings” to which May referred were state educational requirements. By converting from a charter to private status, Dixon and other schools largely shield themselves from accountability. For instance, while Florida requires all private schools to test students who receive vouchers, the schools face no consequences for weak academic performance. The University of Florida publishes an annual report analyzing the test scores of students that receive vouchers, but data from only a small fraction of the schools is made public. The report excludes many schools that don’t have test results for enough students in consecutive years. The latest report released the academic performance of only 198 schools in 2014-15, out of the more than 1,500 schools that enrolled voucher-funded students that year. Most Florida families that receive vouchers do not have access to test data on their schools. The Dixon data was not published. Dixon’s principal, Donna Curry, maintained that the school has improved since its conversion from charter status, but declined to provide exam results to ProPublica, saying they were “for internal use.” Curry added that state test results are not necessarily reflective of student success. “I will not accept the fact that our children are not learning because they are not normalized on the state test,” she said. Her staff “knows more than what the test evaluates.” The state also has little control over how private, voucher-funded schools foster learning. There are no requirements on curriculum or teacher certification, other than the criminal background checks that are required for personnel at all private schools.


The right-wing assault on public education is creating a new generation of activists


Students in towns hardest hit by Harvey are still in the eye of the storm


Where have all the teachers gone?


The everyday heroes of the hurricanes (by Randi Weingarten)


DeVos' 163-foot yacht docked in Milwaukee


Arizona: New study finds that three-quarters of charters are financially mismanaged


Charter schools can abuse public money -- and it's all legal


USF St. Petersburg leader forced out for botching Irma evacuation


Student loan companies reach settlement over dubious debt collection lawsuits


A chilling study shows how hostile college students are toward free speech


Irma's death toll up to 50 dead in Florida


10,000 people in Keys left homeless by hurricane, governor says


A week after hurricane, some still without power


Lawsuit seeks money for FPL customers left in dark


Hurricane insurance claims already near $2 billion


Elder facilities scramble to comply with new rule


The Legislature failed to protect seniors


Protect residents of nursing homes


State road tolls stay suspended during recovery


Hurricane ravaged crops, Putnam says


Telecom firms should be more transparent after hurricane


Hurricane spawns select committee in Legislature


Despite rising seas and bigger storms, state’s land rush endures


After hurricane, build a better Florida


Expert: State unemployment numbers nearing historic lows


Gas prices hit a three-year high in Florida


Floridians with mental illness deserve better from lawmakers


Whites have huge wealth edge over blacks (but don’t know it)


Black Americans face discrimination at every stage of the hiring process


Management lawyer joins Labor Department as political hire


With a picked lock and a threatened indictment, Mueller’s inquiry sets tone


Trump lawyer to meet with Senate Intelligence Committee today in Russia probe


Legal defense fund set up for Flynn


Trump Jr. gives up Secret Service protection, seeking privacy


Facebook’s openness on Russia questioned by congressional investigators


How the FEC turned a blind eye to foreign meddling


Woman who warned about Russian election meddling got death threats


A Trump lawyer caught gabbing about Russia at lunch racks up career errors


Obamacare repeal, thought dead in July, may be revived in Senate


Democrats demand full CBO analysis of Obamacare repeal plan


The last GOP health plan left standing, explained


The GOP's last-ditch Obamacare repeal bill may be the worst one yet


The Trumpcare zombie is back from the dead. And here come the same old lies.


The latest health care repeal plan would give states sweeping discretion


Would the House pass Graham-Cassidy? It’s not a slam dunk.


Trump administration rejects study showing positive impact of refugees


Trump’s immigration crackdown hits a speed bump


State Department tightens rules for visas to U.S.


ICE wants to destroy its records of in-custody deaths, sexual assault, other files


Protesters shut down Pelosi news conference on DACA


Twenty-three children are shot every day in America


The big difference in how Ivanka Trump and the Democrats are tackling child care


Equifax suffered hack almost five months earlier than the date it disclosed


Equifax faces criminal probe after execs sold off stocks before disclosing breach


State, federal authorities proposing new rules on Equifax


Environmental, outdoor groups vow to fight national monument reductions


Americans are right not to trust self-driving cars


Senate passes $700 billion pentagon bill, more money than Trump sought


Trump pushes U.N.: “We are not seeing the results”


Trump pays tribute to military, U.N. and Americans by paying tribute to himself


Mattis leaves the door open to military options in North Korea


Trump adviser says U.S. will leave Paris climate accord


Push for NAFTA overhaul may fall short, U.S. negotiator says


Trump says he wants a massive military parade on July Fourth


Trump’s pardon of Arpaio can — and should — be overturned


Trump privately tries to mend fences with Senate Republicans


Why Trump's golf ball retweet wasn't just a joke


Feinstein and Biden slam Trump's golf ball retweet


Why Trump’s tweets are only going to get worse


TV station forced to run pro-Trump programs


How to fight “fake news” (Warning: It isn’t easy)




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