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Monday, February 28, 2011

John Thrasher's anti-union bill, a solution looking for a problem

From the Orlando Sentinel

A battle between labor and lawmakers is raging in Wisconsin. Tens of thousands of workers have converged on the Capitol to protest Republican Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to curtail collective bargaining rights for government employees. Democratic senators have fled the state to try to sink the proposal, shirking their duty to make a point.

Similar struggles are brewing in other states. Is Florida next? We hope not.

In Tallahassee, Republican Gov. Rick Scott has wisely said he has no plans to go after public employees' collective bargaining rights. But he has introduced a package of reforms that would force employees to start contributing to their pensions and would curtail some of their benefits.

We think the reforms are overdue. They would bring public employees' pensions and benefits more in line with those of most other taxpayers, and save money at a time when state government has to close a multibillion-dollar budget deficit. So far, so good.

But another leader with statewide stature, GOP Sen. John Thrasher of Jacksonville, is proposing to hit Florida's public-employee unions in the wallet by making it harder for them to raise and spend money. Unlike Mr. Scott's proposal, Mr. Thrasher's doesn't have fairness or financial justifications behind it.

Mr. Thrasher, a former state GOP chairman, sponsored a bill last year that would have imposed a merit-pay system on teachers. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the bill under heavy pressure from the state's top teachers union. Mr. Thrasher took a thrashing.

Now Mr. Thrasher appears bent on settling scores with a bill that would bar government agencies from deducting union dues from employees' paychecks. It also would prohibit unions from using dues for political activity without members' written consent. Naturally, he denies his legislation is payback. He insists it's about giving public employees "a choice."

But public employees already have that choice. Florida is a right-to-work state, so employees, including government workers, can't be forced to join a union. If they don't, they don't have to worry about getting dues deducted from their paychecks. And members have to authorize the deductions.

Thrasher's bill is a solution in search of a problem.

As for public employees' generous benefits, don't just blame their unions. Blame the government officials who granted those benefits, even though public employees in Florida are barred from going on strike, the most powerful weapon for unions.

Here's what's really going on with the bill: Eliminating paycheck deductions will only make it harder for the unions to raise money to bankroll their operations. Forcing them to jump through another hoop and get written consent for any political spending will reduce their clout even more.

That clout already is at a low ebb in Florida. Unions usually support Democrats, who now hold all of one statewide office — U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson — and are at historically weak levels in the House and Senate. If Mr. Thrasher's bill appears on track to pass, it'd invite Wisconsin-style protests from unions desperate to hang on to what little power they have left in Florida.

Our opposition to this political power play does not mean we're inclined to take unions' side on public issues. We think public-employee benefits are due for a haircut. We support merit pay for teachers. We strongly oppose a measure in Congress that would allow workplaces to be unionized without a vote of support from employees in secret-ballot elections.

That said, Florida lawmakers face serious challenges, starting with balancing the state's budget. There's no good reason to distract them by picking an unnecessary fight with public-employee unions.

The Fast Track to Florida's ruin

From the Palm Beach Post

by John kennedy

TALLAHASSEE — Senate Republicans say they are intent on making good on last fall's campaign. promises -- setting the stage for a highly partisan opening week of the 2011 Legislature.

In party-line votes this week, the GOP-ruled Senate Budget Committee OK'd four high-profile bills that touch on many of the issues raised by Republican Gov. Rick Scott and other Florida GOP candidates during last fall's contests.

"We have a very ambitious opening week planned," said Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island. "As we promised, we're going to take our job very seriously."

Two measures approved by the budget panel would put ballot proposals before voters next year. One proposal is a constitutional amendment that seeks to cut Florida out of the federal health care overhaul, while the other would put strict new spending limits on state government into the state's constitution.

The spending-limits measure, referred to as "Taypayer Bill of Rights," or TABOR, would limit future state revenue using a growth factor based on population and inflation, and limit future borrowing. It does not apply to counties and cities. Backers say it will limit excessive spending, but critics say it would cripple basic services and point to the existing revenue cap in the Constitution.

Another bill would eliminate teacher tenure, create a new teacher evaluation system and introduce merit pay, an approach generally opposed by the state's largest teachers' union, a big Democratic base. In large part, it's a rewrite of last year's SB 6, which then-Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed.

Unlike last year, though, the new version would allow the evaluation formula to consider students' attendance, disciplinary records, disabilities and English proficiency when evaluating teachers for merit pay. However, teachers say it doesn't go far enough to consider the struggles of high-poverty students.

Rounding out the ripped-from-the-campaign-trail ideas: a product liability bill opposed by Democratic-allied trial lawyers. The bill, sought by the auto industry, would reverse a 2001 Florida Supreme Court ruling and allow juries to hear evidence about to a driver's actions in product liability cases and require that fault -- and damages -- be apportioned among the parties involved.

"They're all obviously being moved on a fast track for the first week of session," Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston told fellow Democrats.

Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said he had no control over when the legislation could be lined up for the Senate floor, saying that's up to the Senate president.

Haridopolos, who has already raised more than $1 million for his campaign to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson next year, has said he is committed to making a big early impression on core conservative issues when the legislature opens March 8.

That includes getting the health-care ballot measure out quickly. Following the committee vote, Haridopolos said he wanted the legislation bearing his name to be the first bill voted on by the Senate after the session opens on March 8.

"Our message is clear -- Floridians can make their own health care choices without mandates from the federal government," he said.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this story,0,7675847.story

Where do babies come from

When I was little the first time I asked my mother where babies came from she said, the hospital. A few years went by and when I asked her again, she said, when a man loves a woman he lies with her and nine months later a baby is born. When I was five and ten both of those answers were good enough and they were correct. However as an adult I learned the answer is a lot more complicated than that and there were a whole lot of factors, like unwanted pregnancy, stds and birth control among others that needed to be considered. The real answer became very complicated

Fixing the problems in education are likewise more complicated than saying, the hospital, but that’s what the powers-that-be and our state legislature will have you believe when they say merit pay and charter schools will make everything better.

Merit pay isn’t as simple as fire bad teachers/reward good ones. First of all reputable studies say merit pay does not work and I have yet to find one that says it does. It sounds seductive though doesn’t it? Pay the better teachers more, get rid of the worse teachers and things will improve. The thing is, do we want simple solutions that sound seductive or do we want solutions that work.

Then there are charter schools the darling of the right. Well friends study after study has shown charter schools, who get to pick and choose who they let in and keep and who often don’t play by the same confining rules that public schools do, don’t do any better. This means they get the best kids with the most involved families and don’t exceed what is happening at. P.S. this or P.S.. That says to me our public schools must be doing something right.

They do this while at the same time trying to limit the one reform that has proven to work and is on the books, the class size amendment. Why because the class size amendment costs money, whereas merit pay believe it or not and charter schools make money for corporations and big business. This is not about what’s best for the kids it’s about money and we know this because they ignore the number one thing that is known to affect how children do in school.

At no point do theses powers-that-be mention poverty, which is what study after study points to as the leading factor in determining how well a child does in school. In fact they marginalize it by saying things like, poverty is an excuse hoping that allows them to maintain the status quo.

Look there are more high performing teachers at the high performing schools and they draw a correlation from that. That's their proof that it must be the teacher’s fault. They hope we don’t notice that that the lower performing schools with the supposed lower performing teachers are in the neighborhoods hit hardest by poverty. It must be the teachers right?

That is what they say, that friends if their ultimate, from the hospital, answer and it's just as accurate as my mom was.

We have problems in education and we need serious solutions, not off the cuff ones designed to placate five year olds, which is what the legislature and governor must think most of us are and line the pockets of corporations while ignoring what’s best for our children.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Worse paid in the nation


NAPLES — Florida’s public school teachers are on their way to being among the worst-paid in the nation.

That is one finding of a report recently released by the National Education Association, the national teachers’ labor union. The report found that, for the 2009-10 school year, average teacher salaries in Florida were 37th among the 50 states and District of Columbia.

Florida’s average teacher salary last year was $46,708. The national average was $55,202.

Estimates for this school year show Florida teachers’ salaries falling to No. 47, according to the report.

Jonathan Tuttle, executive director of the Collier County Education Association, which represents the district’s teachers, said he isn’t surprised by the report’s findings.

“Florida continues to lag behind the rest of the country in educator pay, before the state started talking about these changes to teacher pay,” he said.

The report comes as Florida legislators are proposing sweeping changes to how teachers are hired, fired, evaluated and paid. It also comes on the heels of Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed budget, which proposed that teachers contribute 5 percent of their salaries to a pension fund.

Senate Bill 736 and the proposed House version got hearings in Tallahassee this past week. The Senate Bill was approved by the Senate Budget Committee 15-5. The House K-20 Competitiveness Subcommittee recommended the bill with amendments by a vote of 11-4.

“What kind of investment are we making in our future? There are a lot of changes being made to attract businesses to Florida. And one of the things that is going to attract businesses to Florida is the education system,” Tuttle said. “There is a Quality Counts report that said Florida has one of the best education systems in the United States. But when you look at the ‘investment’ the state is making in the system, businesses are going to shy away from Florida.”

Not everyone shares that opinion.

The Foundation for Florida’s Future has come out in support of Senate Bill 736, saying it will improve the lives of teachers. The nonprofit describes itself as a public policy organization “dedicated to keeping the promise of quality education by advocating reforms that raise standards, increase accountability, provide incentives for success and offering choices.”

Jaryn Emhof, press secretary for the organization, wrote in an e-mail that “teachers are the unsung heroes of the classroom, but Florida’s current system does not recognize teachers for their work in the classroom.

Fast facts.Collier County teachers will host rallies at several local intersections, in which they will hold signs while wearing “Defend Public Education” T-shirts between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. on Friday, March 4. Lee County is planning a similar rally for March 8, the first day of the 2011 legislative session.

Next.Point.“SB 736 changes this by putting Florida on a path to attract and retain excellent teachers. It creates a system that will identify and reward excellent teachers,” wrote Jaryn Emhof of The Foundation for Florida’s Future .

Counterpoint.“Teachers aren’t afraid of performance pay — if your base pay is acceptable. Salaries should be competitive,” said Cal Boggess, president of the Collier teachers union.

“SB 736 changes this by putting Florida on a path to attract and retain excellent teachers. It creates a system that will identify and reward excellent teachers,” Emhof wrote.

Emhof added that the salary system for teachers is the same, even for those who choose to work in low-income schools or critical subject areas.

“Under SB 736, teachers who choose to work in these schools or teach high-demand subjects such as math and science will earn more money,” she said.

Cal Boggess, president of the Collier teachers union, said it’s not about performance pay.

“Teachers aren’t afraid of performance pay — if your base pay is acceptable. Salaries should be competitive,” he said. “They haven’t been. We have to face reality on certain issues. If you want the best, you pay for the best and demand high standards.”

That is precisely what Senate Bill 736 is going to do, according to the Foundation for Florida’s Future.

“By establishing a salary system that attains and rewards excellent teachers, Florida will be better equipped to attract and retain excellent teachers to prepare Florida’s next generation for success,” the organization wrote on its website.

Mark Castellano, president of the Teachers Association of Lee County union, doesn’t support Senate Bill 736 and said the Legislature is taking similar steps to curb unions as are counterparts in Wisconsin and Ohio.

“We’re not the problem,” he said. “Since when did we become the enemy? Since when did public employees become the scapegoat and the enemy?”

Castellano said Senate Bill 736 would have an adverse effect on recruiting.

“The idea of Florida attracting teachers is absolutely an oxymoron,” Castellano said. “It’s going to cause people to flee from here.”

Castellano said the state has dipped to 47th in the nation when it comes to teacher pay, just as it is rising to fifth in the nation for student achievement.

That boost in achievement, Castellano said, has come even though the state continues to make changes to the education system.

“We’ve taken everything they’ve thrown at us,” he said. “It’s not because of the reform, it’s in spite of it. We’re making it work, but we’re being made scapegoat for the economy and everything else that’s bad in terms of education.”

Both Collier and Lee teachers’ unions are planning rallies to get the public behind their cause.

Collier County teachers will host rallies at several local intersections, in which they will hold signs while wearing “Defend Public Education” T-shirts between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. on Friday, March 4. Lee County is planning a similar rally for March 8, the first day of the 2011 legislative session.

Staff writer Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster contributed to this story.

Connect with Katherine Albers at

Has the hornets nest been kicked?

From the Palm Beach Post

by John Kennedy

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature's ruling Republicans have kicked over a political hornet's nest by promoting budget cuts, pension overhauls and civil justice changes, which are now emerging as targets for statewide rallies by Democratic-allied organizations.

The GOP's tough medicine for a state pocked by foreclosures and almost 12 percent unemployment may be breathing life into a Florida Democratic Party, virtually left for dead after wholesale election defeats last fall. It also may effectively prove the opening round of the 2012 presidential contest in the nation's biggest battleground state.

"Democrats last fall were down and outspent," said Susannah Randolph, campaign manager for defeated Orlando Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson and now an organizer of the March 8 rallies.

"Now we're seeing that we have to respond to a threat level like DEFCON 1," said Randolph, who also is a leader of Florida Watch Action. "And sure, we want to keep this energy going."

Using a Facebook page, "Awake The State," organizers are planning events in most major Florida cities on the legislature's opening day. Although locations are still being determined, teachers and public employees' unions, including police and firefighters, are forming the core of those protesting expected cuts in education, pensions and government workforces.

Counter-punching, tea party supporters are rallying behind Scott, and looking to converge on the state Capitol for the session's launch, which coincides with the new governor's first State of the State address.

Political spring training

Florida hasn't been rocked yet by the kind of political convulsions coursing through Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio, where unions and Republican governors have squared-off in angry protests and even walkouts by Democratic lawmakers.

President Obama carried each of these states in the 2008 presidential contest and next year, combined, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Florida contain one-quarter of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.

Florida is the largest of these toss-up states. And the Tallahassee power struggle, while growing more fierce, is clearly looking like a proxy fight or - this being Florida - spring training, for the 2012 campaigns.

"Gov. Scott campaigned on exactly what he's doing now, and, unlike a lot of politicians, he's keeping his promises," said Robin Stublin, with Florida Alliance, a coalition of 130 tea party groups planning to rally on the steps of the state's Old Capitol within hours of the session's opening.

"But I guess to some extent, he's also woken up the Democrats' base," Stublin conceded. "You know, they woke up three years ago, too, and we're in a worse mess than ever."

Some tea party organizers said they expect several thousand Scott supporters to travel to Tallahassee for the legislature's opening day. Others plan to go to the Capitol two days later for a round of meetings with lawmakers, including Rep. Mike Weinstein, R-Orange Park, who has formed a tea party caucus among Republican lawmakers.

"Any time the status quo is threatened with billions of dollars in cuts, there's a lot of special interest groups that are feeling put upon," said Henry Kelley of the Fort Walton Beach Tea Party.

"We always say elections have consequences. And we did our best to elect people and now we're going to do our best to hold them accountable," Kelley said.

Republican legislative leaders look ready to play to their crowd.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, has already raised $1 million for his bid to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson next year. Haridopolos last week said the Senate was looking to make a political splash during the session's opening hours.

The Senate chief said he wants the first legislation his chamber passes to be a proposed ballot measure designed to cut Florida out of the federal health care overhaul.

Another proposal set for an early vote in the Senate would ask voters in 2012 to impose a strict new spending limit on state government.

Budget shortfall focus

Other bills poised for swift action would eliminate teacher tenure, create a new employee evaluation system, and introduce performance pay, an approach generally opposed by the state's largest teachers' union, a big Democratic voting base.

Other legislation taking shape is aimed at reducing product liability lawsuits, a measure opposed by Florida trial lawyers, who typically pour millions into state Democratic campaigns.

But the dominant focus for Scott and lawmakers is closing a state budget shortfall that has cratered to at least $3.6 billion.

Scott has proposed making the 655,000 government workers enrolled in the Florida Retirement System - the biggest share being school board employees - contribute 5 percent of their paychecks to the plan.

That would pull an additional $1.3 billion into the state's cash-strapped budget.

Scott's $65.9 billion budget recommendation would cut $4.6 billion in state spending, trim 8,681 jobs across state agencies, and set the state on course for even more reductions next year.

The state's Education Department draws the largest single reduction in Scott's plan - losing $3.3 billion. While education also is the largest item of state spending overall, the Florida Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, campaigned heavily last fall for Scott's Democratic opponent, Alex Sink.

Meanwhile, Scott's blueprint also leaves room for $2 billion in tax cuts - for property owners, corporations and businesses.

At a Jacksonville rally last week opposing budget cuts, Duval County School Board Chairman W.C. Gentry, a trial lawyer who has contributed heavily to Democratic candidates, may have sounded a theme that will echo into the 2012 campaigns.

"Can you explain to me how it is that we should give tax cuts to the most profitable corporations in this state on the backs of our school children?" Gentry said, to applause from a crowd of 300 parents, educators and students.

Darryl Paulson, a University of South Florida political scientist, said such "us against them" shadings are certain to color the ideological clash burgeoning in Florida.

"You're seeing a precise political strategy on the part of both parties to mobilize their bases as another election year looms," Paulson said. "Whichever party gets the upper hand in Tallahassee this spring is going to be in good shape for next year."

Children, the elderly and the enviornment, where will Scott stop


Florida's premier land acquisition and conservation program — Florida Forever — is facing an uncertain future.

Gov. Rick Scott's proposed budget contains no funding for the program. Additionally, Scott has proposed major changes to the distribution of Documentary Stamp Tax revenue — the backbone of Florida Forever — and the elimination of dozens of trust funds intended to protect Florida Forever funds.

This is a travesty.

It also causes informed Floridians to wonder if our new governor is aware of Florida Forever's enormous success in preserving hundreds of thousands of acres of sensitive environmental land.

Or if he even cares.

Florida Forever was authorized by the 2000 Legislature for a period of 10 years and invested $300 million of taxpayers' money each year to acquire preservation land. The program's predecessor, Preservation 2000, was created in 1990 and funded at the same level. Incredibly, these two programs are responsible for the permanent acquisition of 2.4 million acres statewide.

To date, Florida Forever has protected:

• 53,600 acres of springs and spring sheds

• 5,190 acres of fragile coastline

• 300,000 acres of sustainable forest land

• 158,700 acres of working agricultural land

The Treasure Coast has benefited greatly from these programs. More than 23,300 acres have been purchased and set aside by Florida Forever in Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties. Included in these purchases are 15,436 acres in Pal-Mar in Martin County, 996 acres in Ranch Reserve in Indian River County, and 354 acres in the Indian River Lagoon Blueway in St. Lucie County.

More than 21,000 acres of additional land on the Treasure Coast is slated for acquisition by the Florida Forever board of trustees. However, the completion of these projects depends on the continuation of the program.

Conservation-minded Floridians were relieved to learn Scott's budget did not included closing 53 state parks — as initially reported. But this relief has been tempered by grave concerns about the future of Florida Forever.

Scott, for the sake of Florida's environment and future generations, must continue funding this valuable program.

The false claims of education reform

From the Washington Posts Answer Sheet

By Paul Thomas

"Accountability," "merit," "choice," and "competition" are compelling to most Americans because they speak to our faith in rugged individualism.

As South Carolina faces yet another year of budget shortfalls that jeopardize many aspects of the state budget—notably education—we must look especially close at new policies and proposals that are driven by ideology but not supported by evidence. Two ideas being considered now that deserve our skepticism are merit-based teacher pay and increased funding for charter schools.

From President Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan to the misleading documentary "Waiting for Superman" to the new reformers (Bill Gates, Geoffrey Canada, and Michelle Rhee), the public is bombarded by a false claim that teacher quality is the most important element in student learning and public education is failing because of an inordinate number of "bad" teachers.

Evidence, however, shows that teacher and school quality accounts for only about 10-20% of measurable student achievement and that out-of-school factors are the dominant source of education problems.

Yet, teachers do matter, often in ways that cannot be measured, and since teacher pay accounts for the greatest percentage of education budgets — which continue to dominate state budgets — political leaders and the public feel compelled to call for greater teacher accountability.

Reformers such as Gates and Canada have been beating the drum for teacher accountability and weeding out the claimed "bad" teachers, and this media-driven mantra is turning many states to consider dropping traditional teacher pay scales based on experience and degrees for merit-based systems that are linked to claimed objective data, such as test scores.

Again, "accountability" and "merit" are compelling concepts, especially when we are talking about adults who are charged with educating our children. But merit-based teacher pay should be rejected for the following reasons:

• Studies show value-added methods (a popular form of merit pay) to be statistically flawed as tools of assessing a teacher's impact on student learning. In short, research refutes the effectiveness or accuracy of merit-based teacher pay.

• Teaching and learning are not singular and direct relationships between one teacher and one student. Any measure of student learning is a reflection of that child's entire life and entire education experience (including all teachers and learning experiences in that child's life). The impact of one teacher on one student, in fact, can be hard to measure for many years.

• To identify a direct and thus causational relationship between teachers and students, all other factors impacting student achievement, including out-of-school factors, would have to be controlled, resulting in a process that would cost more money and time than the state can fund.

• Decades of research show that teachers are not motivated by merit pay. Teachers are motivated by better teaching conditions, administrative and parental support, and collegiality.

• Accountability must be connected to autonomy and to the behavior of the person being held accountable. Currently, teachers are mandated to implement standards that they did not create, and their students are assessed by tests that those teachers did not design. To hold a person accountable without honoring that person's professional autonomy is unethical and invalid. And to hold one person (the teacher) accountable for the actions of another person (the student) is just as unethical.

If we believe teacher pay should be tied to merit and accountability, we must first honor teacher autonomy, and then design a system that addresses teacher behaviors—not student outcomes.

Charter schools appear to offer the choice and competition—which we have idealized—we believe can raise the quality of education, but increasing funding of charter schools proves to be as flawed as teacher merit pay.

The overwhelming body of evidence on charter schools shows that they are essentially the same as public schools. Also problematic is the inequity common in charter schools:

"The analysis found that, as compared with the public school district in which the charter school resided, the charter schools were substantially more segregated by race, wealth, disabling condition, and language. While charter schools have rapidly grown, the strong segregative pattern found in 2001 is virtually unchanged through 2007," reveals a review from the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder (NEPC).

Another review from NEPC cautions: "Federal policies that will strengthen charter schools in the longer run—rather than expanding the number of charter schools in the short run—need to be based on a more accurate and representative body of evidence." SC would do well to delay expanding charter support, especially in a difficult budget year.

The teacher merit pay and charter school movements are being driven by false claims, clearly refuted by the weight of evidence. SC's political leaders must be careful not to be swayed by our ideologies and to seek policies and funding that serve our students well.

Its not as simple as fire bad teachers, reward excellent ones

From the St. Petersburg Times

by Tom Marshall

Turkey Creek Middle PE teacher Tecca Kilmer worries that simply testing student knowledge, ignoring physical gains, misses a big part of what she’s teaching.

TAMPA — Everyone seems to have a bright idea in the tug-of-war to fix America's public schools.

Pay teachers more. Adopt a common curriculum. Give parents a voucher and let them pick the school.

But this spring, one solution is looming above all others, both nationally and in bills before the Florida Legislature. It rests on a simple claim: that it's possible to predict each student's performance on tests based on their track record, and then hold teachers accountable for making those annual predictions come true.

It's called value-added analysis. And the Hillsborough County School District is preparing to push the new science to its limits.

Nearly every Hillsborough student this spring will take exams in rarely-tested areas like physical education and the arts. Such scores, along with those already collected on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, will allow the district to rate virtually every classroom teacher using student tests.

"What it means is every student has their own starting line, and students are compared to themselves. That's a good thing," said Anna Brown, assessment director for the district's seven-year partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Teachers say the new emphasis on testing adds pressure to teach memorizable facts at the expense of exercise or creativity. They worry of being wrongly labeled and facing pay cuts or even termination as a result.

And experts say they're right to worry. Even those who find value-added methods useful say Hillsborough is venturing into uncharted waters by including non-academic subjects and special-needs students.

"All of these indicators are fallible," said Henry Braun, an education professor at Boston College and former vice president of research for Educational Testing Service. "I think we overestimate what statistical analysis can do for us."

Value-added is being used by hundreds of school districts nationwide, including New York City and Chicago. But research shows it's often inaccurate.

One federal Education Department study found such systems misclassify up to 35 percent of teachers in a single year. That error rate falls to 25 percent using three years' worth of data.

Steven Glazerman, a senior fellow at the consulting firm Mathematica, said it's not clear whether it's fair to use a 20-question test to determine 40 percent of an elementary art teacher's evaluation, as Hillsborough plans to do.

"Unfortunately, we don't know the answer," he said. "Because most of what we do know is based on the traditional grades in the traditional subjects. I'd have to say it is an open question."

Hillsborough officials say they won't rely solely on value-added. Starting this fall, such scores will make up 40 percent of a teacher's evaluation, rather than the 50 percent being considered by Florida legislators. And the district will use three years of scores to make decisions on teacher pay.

Observations by principals and peer evaluators will make up the remaining 60 percent in Hillsborough, with support from a $100 million Gates grant. Officials say their new system will be tougher than in previous years, when 99.5 percent of their 12,500 teachers were rated satisfactory or outstanding and one-third were called flawless.

It's true that value-added is imperfect, said David Steele, who oversees the district's Gates reforms.

"But is it better than what we have done?" he asked. "Is there more error built into value added? Or is there more error built into one principal sitting in his office, evaluating every person on his staff whether he's ever actually seen them teach or not?"

• • •

It's kind of like growing oak trees.

That was the analogy offered by Brown during a visit to teachers at Williams Middle School in Tampa.

She pointed to a picture of two trees, one of which had clearly done a better job of reaching its full, leafy potential. Would it be fair to judge their gardeners without knowing more about things like soil quality and climate?

"Gardener B must be superior, (because) he has the higher tree?" she asked. "I think we all know that doesn't tell the whole story."

In the same way, Brown said, University of Wisconsin statisticians will help Hillsborough to factor in variables like poverty or language fluency in predicting annual student gains.

But several national value-added specialists argued against Hillsborough's plan to use such scores as part of an automatic rating system.

Braun of Boston College said value-added often fails to account for things like a principal's weak leadership or school climate differences, lumping such factors into a teacher's score. He advised using it only to focus attention on potential concerns.

"What you (should) use it for is to do detective work," said Derek Briggs, an associate professor of education at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He favors his state's approach of using value-added methods to spot potential problems with schools — not individual teachers.

Jesse Rothstein, an associate professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said using value-added as part of a teacher's evaluation can prompt them to change their teaching in unhealthy ways, dropping useful activities that aren't being measured by a narrow, simplistic test.

"You do have to worry that you create incentives for teachers to aim at the measure you're using, rather than aiming at being effective," he said.

• • •

"Okay, wait a minute!" called out PE teacher Tecca Kilmer. "I want you to take two fingers and check your pulse."

Her students at Turkey Creek Middle School were playing an energetic game of capture the flag on a wind-swept field. But now they dropped to one knee, pressed their necks and counted silently.

"What does it mean if it's beating faster than usual?" she asked.

"You're using more oxygen," said eighth-grader Logan Holland.

Even before Hillsborough won its Gates grant last year, PE teachers were teaching and testing more — both as part of a voluntary state merit-pay program, and to set the pace in an age where every teacher must show they're making a difference.

Kilmer said she's not doing anything differently this year. But she worries that a single, written exam that tracks student knowledge — not physical improvements — can't capture all of what she teaches.

"It's good in the sense that it's looking at what students are learning," Kilmer said. "But a written test is not enough for PE."

Hillsborough arts teachers, too, say the new tests miss a lot.

"It's a tiny snapshot," said Frank Hannaway, a music teacher at MacFarlane Park Elementary.

He said he likes the new teacher observation system, which includes visits by peer evaluators with experience in the arts. But teachers want an evaluation that measures musical learning, and not just facts about music.

"We're working on that," said district arts supervisor Melanie Faulkner. Music students will listen to a song as part of an "experience-based" test, and art students will look at a picture.

"It's not writing definitions," she added. "We want children to apply what they've learned."

Elementary art classes have already been reduced to 30 minutes per week due to budget cuts. With the new tests, some teachers have been forced to cut back on projects, said Amy Klepal of Ballast Point Elementary.

"The biggest complaint I've heard from teachers is that it really takes away from the creative process for children," she said. "We're stopping more, we're talking more."

On a recent morning, her third-graders used a full period to finish collages. Klepal said she'd wait until an early-release day, when she sees each class for 15 minutes, to brush up on test topics like the difference between Van Gogh and Renoir.

"We want them to gain deeper meaning in their learning," she said. "We're talking about cultures, we're talking about history. But when you see a child once a week for 30 minutes, that's a tall order."

In the womb yes, out of the womb no

From the New York Times

by Charles Blow

Republicans need to figure out where they stand on children’s welfare. They can’t be “pro-life” when the “child” is in the womb but indifferent when it’s in the world. Allow me to illustrate just how schizophrenic their position has become through the prism of premature babies.

Of the 33 countries that the International Monetary Fund describes as “advanced economies,” the United States now has the highest infant mortality rate according to data from the World Bank. It took us decades to arrive at this dubious distinction. In 1960, we were 15th. In 1980, we were 13th. And, in 2000, we were 2nd.

Part of the reason for our poor ranking is that declines in our rates stalled after premature births — a leading cause of infant mortality as well as long-term developmental disabilities — began to rise in the 1990s.

The good news is that last year the National Center for Health Statistics reported that the rate of premature births fell in 2008, representing the first two-year decline in the last 30 years.

Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, the president of the March of Dimes, which in 2003 started a multimillion-dollar premature birth campaign focusing on awareness and education, has said of the decline: “The policy changes and programs to prevent preterm birth that our volunteers and staff have worked so hard to bring about are starting to pay off.”

The bad news is that, according to the March of Dimes, the Republican budget passed in the House this month could do great damage to this progress. The budget proposes:

• $50 million in cuts to the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant that “supports state-based prenatal care programs and services for children with special needs.”

• $1 billion in cuts to programs at the National Institutes of Health that support “lifesaving biomedical research aimed at finding the causes and developing strategies for preventing preterm birth.”

• Nearly $1 billion in cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for its preventive health programs, including to its preterm birth studies.

This is the same budget in which House Republicans voted to strip all federal financing for Planned Parenthood.

It is savagely immoral and profoundly inconsistent to insist that women endure unwanted — and in some cases dangerous — pregnancies for the sake of “unborn children,” then eliminate financing designed to prevent those children from being delivered prematurely, rendering them the most fragile and vulnerable of newborns. How is this humane?

And it doesn’t even make economic sense. A 2006 study by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies estimated that premature births cost the country at least $26 billion a year. At that rate, reducing the number of premature births by just 10 percent would save thousands of babies and $2.6 billion — more than the proposed cuts to the programs listed, programs that also provide a wide variety of other services.

This type of budgetary policy is penny-wise and pound-foolish — and ultimately deadly. Think about that the next time you hear Republican representatives tout their “pro-life” bona fides. Think about that the next time someone uses the heinous term “baby killer.”

See how the United States's infant mortality rate compares to other "advanced economies."

Teachers don't get it, this is about destroying the field

Fron the Providence Journal

by Linda Borg

PROVIDENCE — After two hours of contentious discussion, the School Board voted 4 to 3 Thursday night to send out termination notices to each of the city’s 1,926 public school teachers.

More than 700 teachers jammed a high school gymnasium to tell school officials that their hearts were broken, their trust violated and their futures as teachers jeopardized.

“How do we feel? Disrespected,” said Julie Latessa, a special-needs teacher, before the vote. “We are broken. How do you repair the damage you have done today?”

Every teacher received a certified letter from the School Department on Thursday informing them that they might be terminated at the end of the school year. It also said the School Board would vote on the proposed dismissals at Thursday night’s meeting, which was moved to the Providence Career and Technical Academy to accommodate the huge turnout.

Many of the teachers were caught off guard by Mayor Angel Taveras’ decision to terminate teachers instead of laying them off. Last night, speakers questioned the mayor’s rationale: a $40-million school budget deficit and a March 1 deadline by which the School Department must notify teachers if their jobs are in jeopardy.

“This is a quasi-legal power grab,” said Richard Larkin, a teacher at Classical High School. “You want to pick and choose teachers. Well, we will not be bullied.”

More than 700 teachers turned out for the School Board’s meeting Thursday night at the Providence Career & Technical Academy, at which the board voted to terminate them at the end of the school year. The Providence Journal / Ruben W. Perez
Speaker after speaker demanded to know why they were being fired. Didn’t the teachers union sign on to the federal Race to the Top initiative? Hasn’t the union collaborated with Supt. Tom Brady on new curricula? Isn’t the union working with the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers on a new teacher evaluation?

“I’m feeling disrespected, devalued and marginalized,” said Ed Gorden. “Termination is a career-ender. You are putting a scarlet letter on every one of us.”

Teachers begged the School Board to issue layoffs rather than fire them outright because, under the layoff provisions, teachers are recalled based on seniority. There is no guarantee that seniority would be used to bring back any of the fired teachers. School leaders have been vague about exactly how seniority will play out in the case of terminations.

Before the vote, several School Board members explained their reasons for supporting or rejecting the motion to dismiss:

Philip Gould said he believes that Providence Teachers Union President Steve Smith is committed to serious and meaningful school reform, adding that if “we do this, it will be detrimental to the children of this district.”

Nina Pande said the board is faced with an extremely difficult decision and that the board was given only three days to close a $40-million deficit.

Melissa Malone, Kathleen Crain, Pande and Julian Dash voted for the motion to dismiss; Robert Wise, Brian Lalli and Gould voted against it.

Earlier Thursday, Smith called the terminations “an attack on labor and an attack on collective bargaining.”

“This is a back-door Wisconsin,” Smith said, referring to the weeklong protests in Madison by labor unions. “We don’t know why we’re being fired. The mayor says he needs flexibility. Can you buy that? I don’t know of any other district that has done this.”

Thursday night, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called the possible dismissals “shocking,” and said the move will “disrupt the education of all students and the entire community.”

Superintendent Brady has said that the majority of teachers will be rehired but could not give any details until the mayor’s special panel completes its report on the city’s financial status.

Teachers who attended a meeting with Brady on Thursday afternoon left as dismayed and confused as they were when they entered the building. Many said they still didn’t understand why they were being dismissed.

“Everyone is anxious,” said Eileen Finklestein, an elementary school teacher. “We hope the School Board will make a rational decision.”

-- with reports from Richard C. Dujardin, Journal staff writer

Yes: Melissa Malone, Kathleen Crain, Niña Pande, Julian Dash

No: Robert Wise, Brian Lalli, Philip Gould

Understanding the problems: a letter from a teacher

Education Reform has become the buzz right now, and teachers have obviously been under attack. The root of all of this is ISTEP scores. Why are so many kids failing ISTEP? It is easy to point fingers at schools, teachers and administrators, but that doesn’t explain why so many kids do pass ISTEP. How can so many children pass ISTEP with the same education as those who don’t?

And are teachers at one school better than another?

That would perhaps be a valid point if every teacher at a school came from the same university. But all teachers come from a variety of universities and educational backgrounds, so to deem an entire school “bad” is as ridiculous a notion as believing that all police officers are alcoholics because you only hear about the ones getting DUIs on the morning news.

So, what is the problem?

Teachers often bite their tongues and often have to portray Zen-like patience when it comes to the answer, because the answer means you point the finger at nearly every living soul and the problem can’t be controlled by legislation. The problem is parents. There. I said it. Parents.

Now, before I go on, I know there may be quite a few parents out there who may be screaming at me, saying, “I work hard with my child, and they still fail at school and on ISTEP.” I’m not talking about you. You are in the minority. The rest of this speaks of the majority.

Now, find a school with low scores and you find a general lack of parental involvement. Find a school with high scores, and—you guessed it—you have plenty of parents involved in PTO, making phone calls to teachers, writing e-mails, attending extra-curricular activities, volunteering in classes, tutoring after school, keeping up with grades online…The list goes on and on.

It is unusual to have a parent conference concerning academics or behavior where both parents are present, let alone see a father present. In most of the cases, the father has been out of the picture for years. Can you legislate that a man should act like a man and be a good father?

And if you doubt me, ask any teacher about this: when students who receive midterm or report cards with almost all failing grades, their parents almost never ask to speak with the teachers about the grades. You’ll get some requests to communicate on e-mail, have a phone call or conference with parents who have children with Cs and Ds, but rarely Fs. You’ll hear the kids who fail laughing, “I won’t get in trouble. My parents don’t care.” The answer is simple, once again. Kids who fail often have parents who don’t care. This is why they fail. You don’t have to read Sigmund Freud or get a PhD in psychology to understand the psychological needs that aren’t being met by these students who fail. They fail because they aren’t cared for or loved enough by their parents.

I once had a female student who overheard another student complain about being grounded. She said, “I wish I could be grounded.” All eyes in the room snapped back to her in wide shock. She said, “My mom doesn’t care enough about me to ground me. “ She, of course, hadn’t seen her father in years and she hated her mom’s boyfriend. I wonder how a teacher could fix this problem and make her care enough about herself to work in school and pass ISTEP?

School As a Business

I know that many people believe that school should be treated as a business, and the success of teachers should be evaluated based on their students’ performance. And like a business model, an unsuccessful teacher should be fired—the way it would be done in the business world. As a matter of fact, in the latest draft for principal evaluations, it states that principals are “human capital” managers. Human capital. There are those who say that we should be paid the same way business professionals get paid: by commission. The better you are, the more you get paid. That sounds great, but when a salesman gets shut down by a client, they move on to sell to someone they can convince needs the product. We have to keep pounding away at the same clients, no matter their background. We even have to keep and educate the "bad investments." If we could "cherry pick" our students like other countries or private schools, public education would look stellar. But we take your tired, your poor, your hungry, your abused, your bright and gifted. School is not a business and to treat it as one is to defile the nature that makes public education so wonderful in America.

Teacher Evaluations

So, do teachers fear being evaluated and being paid according to their performance? I’ve never met a teacher who has a problem with being held accountable and being evaluated. Most teachers love the opportunity to show off what they’re doing in front of someone who understands what kind of effort it took to get there. And there are plenty of bad teachers out there who should be fired, but evaluating a teacher based on the performance of children who take a test and have no consequence for success or failure? This is the problem.

Science of the Teenage Mind

As a middle school teacher, I’ll address issues with the teenage mind, and since I know that Dr. Bennett used to be a science teacher, I’ll speak his language and explain why teachers’ incomes should not be based on adolescents going through puberty.

Everyone knows that teenagers have a lot of hormones raging through their bodies. That’s a given, but there’s more. The last part of the brain that is “shaped to its adult dimensions is the prefrontal cortex, home of the so-called executive functions—planning, setting priorities, organizing thoughts, suppressing impulses, weighing the consequences of one’s actions,[1]” and adrenal sex hormones become extremely active at this age causing adolescents “to seek out situations where they can allow their emotions and passions to run wild.[2]” In other words, they seek fun, but the parts of the brain used for exercising good judgment haven’t fully developed yet. That’s why they are risk-takers and try so many things at this age that are so self-destructive. Also, since the prefrontal cortex is underdeveloped, adolescents mainly depend on the amygdala for decision-making. This is the part of the brain that processes emotion. This is, of course, why adolescents are more impulsive than adults. But that’s not all, the nucleus accumbens, a region in the frontal cortex that directs motivation has less activity in teenagers than adults as well. This explains why most teenagers like to avoid hard work and lack perseverance. (Park 56-65)

So, to sum it up, teenagers love high excitement and thrill, lack motivation, are infused with hormones, lack judgment and good decision-making skills and are mainly dependent on emotions to make decisions because their minds have yet to be fully developed. And you want us to base our salaries on their performance?

Sociological Factors

If these were the only factors that teenagers have to deal with on a daily basis, we could perhaps struggle to adjust, but many also have to deal with rape, molestation, divorcing parents, parents being arrested or imprisoned, jumping from foster family to foster family, moving for the third time in one year because mom has a new boyfriend, bullies, alcohol snuck into lockers between class periods, drugs, drama in the hallways, anger and mental issues. To say that all students can obtain one year of education for every year they are in school is to completely disregard Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which says that survival and safety needs must be met before all else. There are so many students who do not get these needs met daily, let alone on the day ISTEP is taken, so why would academics be important to them?

►For example, we had a student a few years back who earned a Pass-plus on the Language Arts section of ISTEP in seventh grade, but something happened in the following year, something incredibly traumatic that neither he, nor his foster parents, would divulge to any of the teachers, counselors or our principal. It obviously altered his personality. He refused to pick up his pencil on the written section his eighth grade year no matter how kindly we begged and pleaded with him. To the state, his scores represent a teacher failure, not the failure of his parents or himself. What would you have done?

►We also had another student who had missed weeks of school with unexcused absences (By the way, we can report parents for educational neglect when their children have excessive absences, but nothing ever happens. The state has given us no teeth to act. The latest teacher evaluation draft holds educators responsible for student tardiness and attendance. How’s that going to work? Do we have to pick them up from their homes and bring them to school too? Even the police aren’t allowed to do that). Anyway, the student with the many absences has a backstory that includes a father who used drugs and eventually committed suicide by overdosing and a mother who had lost custody to her after her father's death. She took the ISTEP and we, not her family, had to claim responsibility for her failure.

►The other day we had a parent conference with a student and her mother. The student refused to do homework because “it was a big waste of her time.” Her mother yelled at her, “You need to do it!” Over and over she yelled at her daughter. Every teacher has seen this and they are collectively rolling their eyes as they read this, because they know, that if a fourteen-year-old girl has flunked every class, all these years, the parent has done nothing to help her child. The scores are online, she could see all these zeroes at anytime, yet she acts surprised in front of teachers to make it look like she cares enough about her daughter’s education to verbally berate her in front of us. To the state, we failed this girl.

Student Sabotage on ISTEP

This brings up another important point. What’s to prevent a student from being high or drunk when taking the test? Should we drug test students before the test and have psychological profiles of every student to account for sociological differences or events in the last twenty-four hours—like being beaten by a mother’s boyfriend or not eating dinner the night before? I'm not saying we shouldn't try to overcome these problems and push every student to their personal zenith--life must go on and kids are going to have to learn to deal with the harshness of reality--but to hold a teacher responsible for a child's scores when the child is at an age where coping with major issues is usually in a self-destructive manner and their relationships with friends is more important than school is preposterous. And what’s preventing a child from getting retribution toward a teacher they’re not fond of by failing purposely? Think this won’t happen? I heard a student in the hall saying the other day, “We could screw over (teacher’s name) by failing and making her starve!” Yet my son, my wife, my home, my family, my income is dependent on the performance of these kids who have no consequence for failure and could think things like this.

And the negative sociological effects--at least in our corporation--is growing rapidly as our student clientele has drifted from 12% free and reduced lunch to around 43% in the last ten years (it was as high as 50% earlier this year). Do not doubt that these influences make a difference. Where you see more poverty, you see less parental involvement and lower scores. (Compare Center Grove or Carmel scores to IPS). This is the reality. Parents are the key to a child's success. In the middle school, individual teachers see their students 42 minutes a day. How influential do you think that is compared to a lifetime of outstanding or abhorrent parenting. If you think all parents and all students care about their education, you’ve been misled. And if you know this is true, then you cannot support legislation that would make us depend on students’ score as an evaluation tool.

Does Merit Pay Work For Other States?

As a final point on teacher merit pay based on student performance, “Vanderbilt University's National Center on Performance Incentives researchers found that students in classrooms where teachers received bonuses saw the same gains as the classes where educators got no incentive.[3]” Matthew Springer, executive director of the Vanderbilt center and lead researcher on the study said, "Some people were initially disappointed when they saw the results, but quickly turned around and said, 'Well, at least we finally have an answer.’ It means pay can't do it alone.[4]"

The Best and Brightest

Now, the Governor claims to want the best and brightest in education, but why would anyone go into teaching? Especially smart people, who realize their income is dependent on hormone-infused, risk-taking pubescent children who have no consequences for their attendance in classes or performance on ISTEP. Who would risk financial security on children? Adrenaline junkies?

Do teachers get overpaid?

Governor Daniels said, "As always, the union's demand is more money, no change. Their priority is their organization, not the young people of Indiana. Their special interest domination of education policy from the local level to the Statehouse has hurt Indiana children for too long, and this year change must finally come." Are unions bad for education? Where is your proof? “Three prominent state studies find roughly similar positive effects for teachers unions on average scores on either the SAT or the ACT—between 4.5 and 8 percent.[5]. One of these also finds a similar positive effect (4.4 percent) on high school graduation rates.[6]”[7]

And for the Governor to simplify our plight to something like this is an act that reeks of political smear campaigns. Where you vilify your opponent by picking one aspect of their argument and twisting the words to benefit you (And which union representative said that teachers want more money? If you’re going to say such venomous things about an entire organization, it’s best to be specific. If this is true, that person may not represent the needs of the entire organization and the union needs to deal with this). He said he’s “putting himself in the shoes of a voter who says, ‘The teacher next door I just figured out makes a lot more than I do but doesn't work all year.’”[8] Saying teachers don’t work all year is a statement of such bold ignorance it defines the person who would say such things as either naïve, cold-hearted or incapable of understanding.
All teachers went to college, many have invested in Master’s degrees, and we must make enough to pay for our student loans and have a life style that is equivalent to the effort it took to get the education as well as abundant hours over and above the regular work week. Teachers work twelve months in nine and spend the extra months getting more education, working on lesson plans and getting extra jobs on the side to afford to pay off the loans we took to become teaching professionals. How many jobs require continuing education—6 credit hours--every five years, but must be paid for by the individual? And do you think we should be paid less and expect to find jobs that only need us three months out of the year? Where is that job? We’re not NFL players asking for millions, we’re asking to keep what we have, the money that you would take away from our families by basing our income on a child who takes their seriousness on ISTEP on flights of whimsy and circumstance. Children don’t realize they hold teachers’ financial security in their hands, but if they did, we alter their anxiety levels while taking the test and strip them of their childhood. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories of the kids throwing up on the day of ISTEP testing. Do you think that might affect their scores?
Imagine how they will respond knowing their success decides their teachers’ income. And teachers may start eyeing each other in a whole new light, and school morale may plummet as teacher effectiveness on ISTEP is compared, but as I’ve fully explained, there are many variables involved in a student’s performance on ISTEP outside of a teacher’s influence. To be honest, I might find it hard to show kindness, respect and patience to a child who doesn’t work, knowing they’re taking money out of my wallet and from my son’s college fund like a legalized thief.

People say, “You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” but you’re asking us to force the horse to drink without any consequence if he doesn’t.

Are charter schools the answer?

As stated before, Governor Daniels wants the best and brightest to teach our kids, yet up to 50% of teachers in charter schools can be without a teaching license, and they don’t have to be in the process of getting one. Also, you might notice, “Of the top 100 performing schools on ISTEP in all grade levels, only one was a charter school. And of the 50 worst ISTEP scores, 31 came from charter schools,”[9] so taking public school funds to back these schools is tantamount to investing in a dot com company in the late nineties. Did they leave that statistic out of Waiting for Superman? Yes.

Teacher “Experts”

Governor Daniels has said that he wants teachers to be experts in their field, but this also shows a level of ignorance. What defines an “expert?” A deep and thorough understanding of the material? It is easy to say yes to that, because as a retired teaching friend of mine always says, “Everybody thinks they understand teaching because they once sat in a classroom.” But aye, there’s the rub. You can’t understand at all until you face the reality of getting in front of a room full of kids who would rather be anywhere but in a classroom. The art of teaching has very little to do with understanding content. I once heard a minister at a church teaching a class on spiritual gifts say, “My spiritual gift is in teaching, but not teaching children. Teaching adults.” Kids just didn’t get him, he said. But the truth is, he didn’t get children. To be honest, he was boring and kids don’t put up with boring people the way adults do. He knew the material as well as anyone (I should know. I was a snot-nosed PK), but he lacked the skills obtained through educational programs that would teach him how to deliver material without requiring intravenous injections of caffeine to his students.

Once again, the content is not difficult. As a matter of fact, anyone with a high school diploma could understand it because they had to understand it to get the diploma in the first place. Yes, it is that simple. Teaching is about how you present the content. Creativity is not something knighted upon one who earns a degree, but education classes teach future teachers how to develop and implement proper differentiated instruction and various assessment techniques (Differentiated instruction is a requirement based on the latest draft for teacher evaluations, yet how would someone without a teacher’s license learn how to differentiate?). But even more than that, a great teacher has other intangible qualities that an expert in a certain field may not have: charisma, desire, empathy for kids who come from abuse, humor, cleverness, a quick wit (you will be eaten alive without this…trust me) and above all authority. Not the kind of authority you get from being an adult or being an expert, but the kind that is fostered from educational classes, student observation and teaching experiences (In my experience, I’ve seen incredible student teachers coming highly-prepared from places like Franklin College and Anderson University. And no, I did not attend either one of those). Without this kind of authority, it’s interesting to watch how quickly middle school kids can drive you crazy. I saw a biochemical engineer who wanted a new career in teaching come into a middle school classroom and leave in tears and frustration everyday when the kids told her how boring she was and how much “she sucked.” She didn’t get why “kids just don’t listen.” Needless to say, she went back to the lab. Teaching is hard, and I challenge any naysayers who think we don’t deserve the salary we earn to spend a week teaching in IPS. I’m not bashing the IPS system, quite the opposite. I did a student observation there in college, and Home Economic classes couldn’t function because kids couldn’t pay fees, no one did their homework in science classes, and the seventh grade student I shadowed during lunch had been recently suspended for selling drugs, and he had so much power, that with the wave of a finger, a boy moved to another table to eat alone because he had looked at the wrong girl--the drug dealer’s crush. IPS teachers are ridiculed, but they have one of the hardest jobs in the state. Spend some time there and you’ll walk away wanting to grant IPS teachers with sainthood, martyrdom and a lottery ticket (or maybe a Discovery Channel series).

Some Suggestions Based On Successful Charter Schools

However, I do have some suggestions based on what seems to work. Since, as most educators with five minutes of experience could attest, meeting the students’ needs at the foundation of Maslow’s Hierarchy Pyramid is most important for lifting their scores. We could all take a note from the Christel House Schools: yes, charter schools, who reach out to families by offering them “counseling about parenting skills, financial planning and, in some cases, job training.”[10]

Also, many successful charter schools have parents sign contracts that outline hours of involvement required for their child to remain in their school. This involvement includes things like establishing mandatory amounts of parent volunteering time throughout the year, the amount of hours the parent must work with their child on homework during the week(some contracts have the parent assign a specific place, amount of time and materials for daily study periods after school), the number of adult workshops parents must attend, making sure the child is prepared everyday for class, making parents attend monthly meetings (missing a meeting earns a fine or additional volunteer hours), and outlining mandatory parent conference attendance throughout the year.

If a parent is unable to afford breakfast, lunch and books for school or their child has failed ISTEP, is it too much to ask them to take some of these responsibilities to ensure their child succeeds? The charter schools that are successful with low-income kids do this. Legislate parent involvement like this, and all schools--public, private and charter--will succeed.

Evan Camp
8th Grade Science Teacher
Greenwood Middle School

[1] Park, Alice. "What Makes Teens Tick." Time Magazine. 10 May 2004: 56-65. Print.

[2] Park, Alice. "What Makes Teens Tick." Time Magazine. 10 May 2004: 56-65. Print.

[3] Associated Press, "Study: Merit pay for teachers doesn't improve student test scores." 21 September 2010, Web.

[4] Associated Press, "Study: Merit pay for teachers doesn't improve student test scores." 21 September 2010, Web.

[5] Kleiner and Petree, “Unionism and Licensing of Public School Teachers” in When Public Sector Workers Unionize, edited by Richard B. Freeman and Casey Ichniowski (University of Chicago Press, 1988), pp. 305–19; F. H. Nelson and M. Rosen, “Are Teachers Unions Hurting American Education? A State-by-State Analysis of the Impact of Collective Bargaining among Teachers on Student Performance,” Technical Report (Milwaukee: Institute for Wisconsin’s Future, 1996); Lala C. Steelman, Brian Powell, and Robert M. Carini, “Do Teachers Unions Hinder Educational Performance?” Harvard Educational Review 70, no. 4 (2000): 437–66.

[6] Kleiner and Petree, “Unionism and Licensing of Public School Teachers” (See footnote 3)

[7] Eberts, Randall W. "Teacher Unions and Student Performance: Help or Hindrance?." Excellence in the Classroom 17.1 (2007): n. pag. Web. 16 Feb 2011. .

[8] Ben. "Daniels' Target: Greedy...Teachers?." Politico 9 May 2010: n. pag. Web. 16 Feb 2011. .

[9] Urbanik, Vicki. "ISTEP: Charter Schools Failing to Measure Up?." Chesterton Tribune 14, February 2011, Web.

[10] King, Robert. "How Christel DeHaan Launched Attack on Childhood Poverty." IndyStar 12, July 2010, Print.


Don't waste a crisis

From the blog, Grumpy Educators

National and state policymakers cite U.S. student performance on international exams as the reason for urgent education reform. These results are the indicators that the U.S. will not be able to compete in the global marketplace. And so the reforms begin....again.

In 1983, a report titled "Nation at Risk" described the grave outcomes for the nation if the reported decreased S.A.T. scores at that time, were not taken seriously. In the context of the Cold War, the report found a "rising tide of mediocrity" was sweeping through the public education system.

"If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves."

In 1990, the U.S. Secretary of Energy commissioned the Sandia Laboratories to support the claims in the "Nation at Risk" with real data. The study of declining S.A.T. scores revealed that overall scores had indeed dropped, but the scores of sub-groups had increased, known in statistics as Simpson's Paradox. The fact that more students of all backgrounds were taking the S.A.T. than in previous years is significant in understanding test scores. The government received the report, did not like the analysis, shelved it, and the narrative continued. Others who examined the analysis found the findings relevant, but the media took no interest. What has resulted is a national past time of reform efforts in every single administration since - Democrat and Republican. In 1980, the U.S. spent $16 billion on education to $72 billion in 2007.

In other words, the U.S. has been in a sustained state of an education crisis for 31 years, dominated by an industry of professional education reformers, non-profit educational consultants, publishing corporations, and software developers, standing in line to answer the call of legislators and politicians, who promise to make education their number one priority and fix the broken system.

After 12 years of test-driven schools with questionable outcomes, isn't it long overdue that we hold the Florida legislature accountable? Failing to pass legislation that meets the requirements of Race to the Top funding has funding consequences. The requirement, as I understand it, is that legislation must mandate that teacher evaluations be based to some degree on student achievement data. Current bills are far more complex and attempt to standardize a process statewide. Proponents acknowledge the bills are incomplete and will be fixed over time. There is worry over costs and silence on the math.


We are in a budgetary crisis now, but I do not believe we have been in an education crisis at all. The word has been used effectively to manipulate public opinion for 30 years. After reading commentary and opinions from a variety of viewpoints, I conclude we do have serious problems that require precision akin to a surgical team, whose members are knowledgeable and experienced working with children and adolescents, armed with the relevant data gathered over the years, and unaffiliated to politics, large corporations, and money-pumping non-profits.

Not a dime should be diverted from classrooms and students in order to fund solutions and experiments that fail to identify the problem and fail to identify all the costs.

To Remove Rick Scott

From the Edward Ringwald Blog

I received this reply from a fellow Blogger user who replied to my latest blog entry on Florida Governor Rick Scott about a web site in operation which is an initiative to have Florida's 45th Governor, Rick Scott, recalled from office. The web site is

Unfortunately, the process of recalling a Governor of the State of Florida from office is not defined. Florida has a recall process, but it only applies to local officials within Florida. A bill in the Florida House of Representatives authored by Florida State Representative Rick Kriseman of St. Petersburg - HJR 785 - will call for an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Florida to allow for recall of the Governor and other high ranking Florida officials from office. Only the passage of HJR 785 and the eventual approval of the amendment by the voters of this great state will get this recall process going.

We need to get HJR 785 passed and this constitutional amendment passed as soon as possible, not in 2012 when Rick Scott will more than likely have done a substantial amount of damage to Florida's economy.

In the meantime, here's what you need to do as a Floridian to bring back government to the people, not to Corporate America and Corporate Florida:

What you need to do is to write your state representative expressing your support for HJR 785. Now you are asking yourself, how do I know who my state representative is?

It's very simple: Look on your voter information card that your county's Supervisor of Elections sent you. It will have the district number of your state representative printed on it. If you are not sure you can always telephone your county's supervisor of elections or visit their web site.

Pinellas County: or (727) 464-6788
Hillsborough County: or (813) 744-5900
For other Florida counties: Link to Florida Department of State's Division of Elections list of county Supervisors of Elections page

The staff of your county's Supervisor of Elections office will help you in determining who your Florida state representative is. When you call or write your state representative, tell them that you support HJR 785 in order to make our state officials such as our Governor accountable to the people of this great state. If you would like to write a letter to your elected representative and you don't know how to begin writing, here's a sample letter from the website shown below (of course, you can edit it as you like):

I’m writing to let you know that because I am deeply disappointed in the recent actions of our new Governor, and because I support the right of a state’s citizens to hold our elected officials accountable, I am urging you to give HJR785 your full support.

Rick Scott is bad news for Florida — legislators from both parties agree that his decision to scratch the long-awaited high-speed rail project was ill-advised, indefensible and unconscionable, especially considering Florida’s current unemployment rate and the fact that 25% of our revenue comes from the tourism industry.

I hope you will support not only HJR785, but any further actions aimed at the recall of Gov. Scott.

Please let your Florida state representative know today - we Floridians have a chance to save our state from major economic ruin so much that we cannot pick up the pieces. And if you have already contacted your representative, you are more than welcome to report your contact to your Florida representative simply by posting a reply.

And thanks to genepool3 for sending me the link!

Scott goes after nursing homes too

From the Orlando Sentinel

By Kate Santich,

Watchdogs of the nation's nursing-home industry are calling for an investigation into Gov. Rick Scott's abrupt dismissal of the state's long-term-care ombudsman, claiming that the governor's "interference" was illegal.

For two weeks, advocates for patients' rights have waged a campaign to persuade officials of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the federal Administration on Aging to look into the Feb. 7 ouster of Florida ombudsman Brian Lee.

Lee, who had held the post for seven years, previously worked under Govs. Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist and was considered an aggressive champion of residents' rights. In recent months, though, he'd had an increasingly contentious relationship with the industry and said he was ultimately told that the governor had ordered him to resign or be fired. He chose to resign.

"This is really a disaster for the residents of Florida nursing homes," said Kate Ricks, chair of Voices for Quality Care, a Maryland-based nonprofit that supports patients' rights and is one of the groups calling for a federal investigation. "There are problems in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities across the country, and there are very few resources to help — but the ombudsman is one. The ombudsman's only job is to be an advocate for those residents. He has to be independent."

The governor's staff did not respond to several requests for comment, nor has the governor spoken publicly on the subject to other media.

Under the federal Older Americans Act, first passed in 1965, each state must have a long-term-care ombudsman program separate from the agency that licenses the facilities. In Florida, Lee, a $78,000-a-year state employee, led a largely volunteer army of about 400 ombudsmen throughout the state. Their job, according to federal law, is to identify, investigate and resolve residents' complaints.

State law mirrors national legislation in expressly mandating that the ombudsmen are to operate "without interference by any executive agency."

Further, the laws "prohibit retaliation and reprisals." The goal, advocates say, is to ensure the residents have someone free of influence to address their complaints — which in Florida last year numbered nearly 10,000, a record.

The ombudsman's office does not have the power to fine the facilities, although it can refer the matter to other agencies that do have such powers. Mostly, it tries to resolve the matter to the residents' satisfaction. Still, the ombudsmen's influence can be considerable.

"The nursing home wouldn't even return our calls until we got the ombudsman involved," said Karen Mummey of St. Cloud, whose 71-year-old mother fell and broke her hip in a nursing home after being left unattended in a bathroom. Mummey said the facility's staff also failed to awaken her mother for meals and were often too busy "texting on their phones" to do their jobs.

"But when the ombudsman comes in there, they all stand up and pay attention," Mummey said. "It's the only advocate we have."

For his part, Lee admits he had a "rocky relationship" with the state's nursing-home industry for years. But he said things took a marked turn for the worse when Scott — former CEO of the Columbia/HCA hospital chain — was elected.

"It was like, 'Oh, man, Scott is our guy — and now we'll be able to get him [Lee] out of there," Lee said. "When the governor's transition team came to our department, half the group was made up of nursing-home providers. So right there, in December, we knew where this was going."

Late that month, the Florida Assisted Living Association, which represents about 700 of the state's assisted-living facilities, sent the governor a letter supporting the appointment of a new ombudsman. Their suggestion was Robert Emling, a Miami field-office manager for the state's Agency for Health Care Administration.

Lee calls that "complete interference with the program" — an assertion echoed by other advocates. But the Assisted Living Association's executive director, Patricia Lange, said the group never called for Lee's ouster. The letter itself makes no mention of Lee.

"That's not a position we could take," Lange said. "We had actually been contacted by this individual — Mr. Emling — who told us he was interested in the position. We met with him, and we simply supported his effort to apply for the job."

The letter arrived in the Governor's Office on Jan. 18, shortly before Lee sent requests to the state's 677 nursing homes for corporate-ownership information — something he was required to do under the new Affordable Care Act, but which nonetheless rankled industry leaders.

Some say that was the final straw.

"It shouldn't have been a problem," Lee said, "except that the industry doesn't want that information out there. They're really crafty. What they do is separate out all their corporate information and have these individual little limited-liability companies that hold all their interests."

If a facility is sued, Lee said, it is not only protected by state caps on liability, but it also is able to close down the targeted company and continue business under the name of another

Our state government has left unprotected our most vulnerable citizens: our grandmothers and grandfathers," said John Morgan, founder of the sprawling personal-injury law firm Morgan and Morgan. "We've let them set up these shell corporations and then set limits on how much you can collect."

Advocates had worked behind the scenes for years to change the federal law, ultimately succeeding with the Nursing Home Transparency Provision in the nation's health-care overhaul. The new law requires nursing homes to provide the information to state ombudsmen — although Florida has challenged the law in federal court, and officials here have said the state does not need to comply with the federal law while the case makes its way through the appellate process.

In Ricks' opinion, the timing of Lee's dismissal — on the heels of his request for ownership information — is "scary." Joe Rodrigues, president of the National Association of State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Programs, said it is "suspicious."

"It's a concern to our association first of all because of the letter from Assisted Living Association to the governor suggesting that the governor replace Brian with this other individual, and, second, because it came immediately after the request Brian made for ownership information," said Rodrigues, who heads California's ombudsman program. "The ombudsman shouldn't fear he'll lose his job if he speaks out or challenges someone, whether it's the licensing agency or the facilities or anyone else."

But Florida's nursing-home industry, represented by the Florida Health Care Association, claims Lee's request was both "onerous" for the one-month deadline he imposed and because it "failed to focus on residents' rights."

Kristen Knapp, the association's director of communications, said the ombudsman program under Lee had often strayed off target and that some volunteers had used their state-mandated yearly assessment of the facilities to become de-facto health inspectors.

"Some folks would even come in and look at the kitchen and question an administrator on the backup food supply in the event of an emergency," Knapp said. "And why is that [ownership] information even necessary? When you have to pull people back to do paperwork, it takes them away from the [residents'] bedside."

Rodrigues countered that anything that concerns an ombudsman should concern the facility, too.

"If I was a facility administrator," he said, "I'd want to hear this from an ombudsman rather than a licensing agency that's going to fine me or an attorney who's going to sue me."

Lee had recently begun to use Twitter to report his findings during nursing-home visits, posting residents' complaints and his observations as he went. An October visit to an Orlando nursing home was especially embarrassing to the facility.

Meanwhile, the Administration on Aging, the most likely agency to investigate, has not yet announced its intentions. But Public Affairs Officer Moya Thompson said the advocates' letters are being reviewed.

Lee and Rodrigues said they had been given verbal assurances that the agency would investigate.

The state ombudsman's office has yet to advertise for Lee's replacement, but acting Director Aubrey Posey — formerly the program's attorney — said the office is continuing to do its job.

The request for nursing-home-ownership information, though, has been rescinded.

Lynn Dos Santos, volunteer chairwoman of the State Long Term Care Ombudsman Council, sees it as the potential beginning of the end. If the ombudsman program loses autonomy in Florida, she said, the nursing-home industry will be emboldened to apply pressure in other states, too.

"I've seen a wonderful leader taken away from us," she said. "He lived and breathed that job, and I can't imagine the program without him. As far as I'm concerned, we need to draw a line in the sand." or 407-420-5503,0,6912440.story?page=2

The attack on teachers continues


by Tracey

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Wisconsin Governor Walker succeeded in his aim to remove collective bargaining rights to teachers and other public employees. And, following right behind, Providence, Rhode Island issued pink slips to all of their 1,926 teachers. Sure, most will likely get hired back. But what this move effectively does is remove collective bargaining for these teachers. If you watch the heart-wrenching video of the board meeting, the teachers were begging to be laid-off rather than terminated. A termination for everyone means that the district can hire whomever they want back, regardless of seniority. It’s difficult to sit back and watch these two demoralizing attacks on teachers and teachers’ unions.

In both of these stories, the governor of Wisconsin and the mayor of Providence claimed these were necessary moves because of severe budget shortfalls. While it’s true they’re experiencing a budget crisis; it’s false to presume these actions will aid in alleviating the budget. We know that Walker offered tax cuts to businesses and is further diminishing state revenue by eradicating collective bargaining for public employees.

Unfortunately, people seem to be buying the argument and agree that everyone “needs to sacrifice.” I wonder if these drastic moves are being blamed on budget issues because if Gov. Walker and Mayor Angeles Taveras came right out and said, “We want to dismantle labor unions and end collective bargaining for working Americans,” they know they wouldn’t get elected. A recent poll shows that Americans are still in support of collective bargaining. This brings me some hope. However, there’s no question teachers’ unions are under attack. And the fervor behind this comes from the mistaken notion that teachers’ unions are all about protecting bad teachers.

We know this isn’t true thanks to Tom’s post, where he featured data showing that about two percent of public school teachers get fired each year. Unions provide teachers, whether good or bad, with due process. They don’t protect a bad teacher from being terminated. If that’s not happening in your school, look around and you’ll also find an ineffective principal.

One thing we all seem to agree on is how important quality instruction is to a child’s education. I hear this idea repeated from everyone discussing education policy: teachers, administrators, parents, teachers’ unions, politicians, Davis Guggenheim. It’s a common-ground issue. So, why did congress lower the standard for defining what it means to be a highly qualified teacher to include “teachers in training?" Valerie Strauss, education blogger for the Washington Post, calls it “a gift for Teach for America” since their teachers enter the classroom with only five weeks of training under their belt.

Teach for America, as I’m sure you know, is made up of young college graduates from elite institutions who commit to teach in high poverty schools for two years. It’s a sort of “Peace Corps” experience before moving onto graduate school and other careers and leadership positions, such as, say… for example, superintendent of DC Public Schools. (Michelle Rhee got her three years of teaching experience by becoming a TFA teacher.)

There’s no labor union for teachers of Teach for America, unless you’re including NEA, AFT, and local affiliates. These teachers aren’t negotiating for lower class sizes and health care benefits. But they are moving into areas where there aren’t teacher shortages. And, yes, in some cases, they are taking the vacated classrooms of laid-off, more experienced teachers and competing with brand new teachers fresh out of teacher education programs. Starting next year, TFA teachers will be in both Seattle and Federal Way school districts. Likewise, they'll also be in Providence, Rhode Island. According to the TFA website, they are hoping to hire 35 new TFA teachers for the 2011-2012 school year.

You might think that TFA would have the benefit of alleviating budget issues, such those facing the Providence school district. Teachers with the least amount of experience are lowest on the pay scale. Hiring TFA teachers could save money. But that’s not the case. In fact, due to their high turn over and necessary training, they actually cost districts $70,000 a year per recruit. Districts pay the same salary to TFA teachers as they do to their regular teachers, plus a $5000 finders fee to the organization.

Regardless, the Teach for America model seems to be a success. They’re in their 20th year and expanding to more regions. The Department of Education awarded them $50 million to broaden their work.

Does this raise questions for you like it does for me? If TFA isn’t working to improve the quality of instruction students receive, reaching out to address teacher shortages, or reducing the cost of educating students, why is it getting so much praise and attention? I can see how putting high energy, bright people in classrooms with high needs can have a positive outcome. I’m all for more people in the classroom. But who is it benefiting? Is it benefiting kids? Maybe. However, this account doesn't suggest that. Nor does this one. Research also doesn't support this claim when comparing test scores of students of TFA teachers with students of certified teachers. But, we know how murky test scores can be.

Is it possible that TFA benefits another group of people we’re not thinking about? Maybe, people who want to see the demise teachers’ unions? What do you think, does Teach for America weaken teachers’ unions?

Here’s an internet game you can play. Open up the page listing the Board of Directors for Teach for America and Google the members. Try, in your search, not to bump into Texas oil billionaires, off-shore oil drilling ventures, and financial consultants for 80% of the 70 biggest banks and financial institutions. I’m not saying these are bad people. I have no idea. Their mission seems extremely admirable. I’m just questioning if they share the same interests I have as a public school teacher who wants to see public education become the best it can be for a free democracy. Or, might they be more concerned with removing one of the last obstacles restricting the privatization of the public sphere? NEA president Dennis Van Roeke made a statement regarding these recent attacks to our union, "America Cannot Have a Middle Class without Unions." I hope that once we get through this recession and our next series of elections, we can still find quality instruction from teachers who enjoy their work, students who are curious and engaged in valuable learning, and labor unions protecting the interests of the middle class.