Carl Hiaasen savages the FCAT today in "FCAT has become 'unholy obsession' for Florida schools. Hiaasen mocks the move to re-name the test, pointing out that "they're not fooling anybody. A mess, by any another name, is still a mess." Here's a taste:
Under Gov. Jeb Bush, the FCAT program morphed into a monster that punishes struggling schools and, by default, the students who attend them. Bonuses offered to better-scoring schools and their staffs have perverted the test into a cash grab for grown-ups, with mixed results for the kids.Read the rest of it here.
FCAT scores have risen for elementary students, and the ''achievement gap'' between white and minority students has narrowed. Yet the progress stalls markedly during the middle and crucial upper grades. After eight years of FCATs, reading levels for high-schoolers remain dismally low, and the statewide dropout rate remains dismally high. ...
80 percent of school principals surveyed last year opposed the practice of awarding bonus money to schools with high or improved FCAT scores.
And two-thirds of the principals said that FCAT preparation has reduced teaching time for history, foreign languages and other subjects that aren't on the test. [A summary of the survey is here (scroll down)]
The Daytona Beach News-Journal chimes in: "FCAT, that towering titan that controls public education is wiping out history, civics and geography. And as Godzilla promoters might say: 'The fate is in your hands.'"
We have known for years that the monster tests have gotten out of control. Instead of state standards guiding education, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test does. School districts spend thousands of dollars on software programs to help improve test scores. Teachers train to improve FCAT scores. Students who don't pass the tests are routed into summer schools and after-school programs. Teachers and administrators get raises when test scores go up. Schools get bonus dollars. ..."Crist's choices for the State Board of Education are telling: "
Last month, Gov. Charlie Crist hinted that changes were on the way. But the results are disappointing.
Subject to Senate confirmation, they are T. Willard Fair, (a reappointment) who has championed Florida's style of high-stakes testing, and Akshay Desai, president of Universal Healthcare, whose stance on FCAT is unknown but who has ties to former Gov. Jeb Bush (he was named by Bush to the state Board of Governors, which oversees the university system). This suggests major changes on FCAT are unlikely."Ravaging path to well-rounded education".
The governor seems to aim for tweaking when the whole premise of FCAT needs trouncing. A myopic punitive assessment system doesn't educate well-rounded students ready for global challenges. To tame the FCAT monster, people have to start speaking up.
"'Jeb: America's Next Bush'"
"'Jeb Bush is going to hate this book.' That's the opening salvo in a 370-page broadside by a veteran Capitol journalist who is convinced that Florida's most famous ex-governor wants to be president. In 'JEB: America's Next Bush,' reporter Shirish Date advances a plausible-on-paper scenario for Florida's 43rd governor to run for the nation's highest elective office. Date writes the run could happen even as soon as next year, despite Bush's repeated denials of national ambition." "Jeb will run for president, book says".
The book will be available February 15. Here are some excerpts from the preliminary reviews. The author will speak at Books and Books this Thursday.
A Great Floridian
"Stetson Kennedy still gets threatening phone calls, six decades after he gained fame for infiltrating and exposing the Ku Klux Klan and other domestic hate groups." "'Klan Buster' still active at 90".
Have you read these books yet?: "The Klan Unmasked", "Jim Crow Guide: The Way It Was", "Southern Exposure (Florida Sand Dollar Book)", and "Palmetto Country". More here.
This piece reports, among other things that Florida wingnuts are wearying of Charlie paying mere "lip service to the conservative agenda", and repeating the now familiar meme that his "seizing the top job in the state has folks talking about him as vice presidential material, or even more." "Crist charms allies and opponents".
Florida Mainstream Democrats Meet
"Democrats won back seven state House seats, two congressional seats and a Cabinet post in what was easily the party’s best election year in long time — the last time they had a gain in House numbers was 1990 when Democrats picked up a single seat."
Florida Mainstream Democrats said the success also came with a warning: Don’t assume that it’s going to be easy to maintain the momentum. If they want to build on 2006, they have to recruit strong local candidates, reach out to all areas of the state and promote a message that can be heard and accepted by conservative Democrats and independents who have been supporting Republicans. ..."Democratic group hopes to build on ’06 success".
Democrats are still outnumbered in the Legislature by a nearly 2-1 ratio in both chambers. In Washington, Republicans outnumber Democrats 16-9 in the U.S. House. Sink is the only Democrat on the three-person Cabinet.
Ideas on how to keep making gains during the daylong conference included finding candidates that better reflect the makeup of districts, finding talented young people to serve in government jobs and in party positions, better targeting open and Republican held seats and working to build more support and structure outside the party’s South Florida base.
"Property Tax Relief"
The Miami Herald editors argue that "lawmakers must recognize"
that what they decide will affect the ability of local governments and school districts to do their jobs -- provide for the health and safety of Floridians and educate their children. Funding for these vital functions primarily comes from ad valorem taxes, which, with the exception of the Required Local Effort for schools, only local governments can levy. The Legislature sets the tax rate for the local effort, and it should be noted that last year it raised the rate by 17.3 percent."No quick fix for property tax relief".
Gov. Crist's proposed increase in the homestead exemption to $50,000 from $25,000 wouldn't apply to property taxed by school districts but would be applicable to city and county taxes. Doubling the exemption would reduce Miami-Dade's tax revenues by about $250 million a year and Broward County's by about $60 million. It would cut Miami-Dade's fire-rescue expansion program, based on an ad valorem taxing district, as is the county's library program.
"Crist's push to slash property taxes is putting some of his biggest supporters on the chopping block, with police and firefighters already threatened with possible job cuts by cities and counties fearing belt-tightening." "Public-safety sector leery of tax cuts". See also "State considers tax limitations, but local officials say restrictions would hurt".
Florida's New Growth Industry
"Real-estate bust brings foreclosure boom" ("Foreclosures in Florida are at their highest rates in years.")
"The 2008 presidential race will kick off in Florida this week, when former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney races to the Sunshine State within days of formally opening his campaign. Although barely registering among state Republicans in a recent Quinnipiac University poll, Romney is perhaps the best-organized candidate of either party in Florida, having snapped up many of former Gov. Jeb Bush's campaign team and staff." "Romney bound for Florida, ahead of the presidential pack". Pamela Hasterok had this the other day: "Welcome to election rat race".
The Washington Post editorial board doesn't like it: "the worst news is that a number of larger states, including California, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Florida, are considering moving their primaries to Feb. 5, the first permissible date for other states to hold contests. On the part of each individual state, this is a rational act: Why should voters from smaller states determine the outcome while big-state voters are shut out? But the overall result will be a worsening of all the ill effects of front-loading, and for both parties: In most states, the Republican primary is held the same day." "Off-load the front-loaded voting".
Dara Kam has a lengthy piece in the Palm Beach Post this morning about the change in leadership style in the Florida Senate, which includes a substantial discussion of the effect of Jebbie's failed attack on Alex Villalobos.
The Democrats' elevated role and the selection of term-limited or moderate Republicans to leadership positions - and Pruitt's hands-off approach - have stabilized the chamber so far."Pruitt puts teamwork over power in Senate".
Property Taxes Meeting
"Members of the Florida Senate and House of Representatives, as well as local government officials, will hear questions and ideas from the public Monday from 9 a.m. until noon in the Duncan Theater at Palm Beach Community College's central campus in Lake Worth." "Meeting Monday on property taxes".
"Less than a year from now, South Florida voters could be choosing from among a host of presidential candidates in one of the nation's early primaries. The Florida Legislature is widely expected to approve a plan to move up the state's primary date to late January or early February, a shift that would give Floridians a crucial part in picking the Republican and Democratic nominees." "Early primary date could boost Florida's political clout".
It seems "the Miami Heat are hyping the FCAT -- again." "Kids get support, tips as Heat players hype the FCAT".
Bad Form in Tampa
Ask an elected official a question, and
one minute later, Dingfelder sent a follow-up email in which he asked Taylor to tell a mutual friend "to support my re-election efforts with a campaign check! :) :)""Request For Cash Draws Ire". See also yesterday's "Harrison Aide To Stop Distributing Fliers At City Hall".
That exchange is one of at least two in which Dingfelder asked for a campaign contribution just minutes after discussing city business with Taylor over e-mail, raising ethics questions about whether the councilman adequately separated his government work from his re-election campaign.
Miami Party on Back Burner
"Fidel Castro’s older brother Ramon said Friday the ailing Cuban leader is recovering well from surgery six months ago, joining his other brother Raul in a growing number of upbeat assessments." "Castro’s brother says ailing leader is recovering".
The Tampa Trib editors urge a "Warming Up To Incentives To Cool Down The Planet", including a review of approaches by state and local government. They close with this parting shot: "Remind liberal politicians that you can't afford sharply higher taxes. Remind conservatives that greed and waste have never been conservative virtues."
"A wholly owned subsidiary of Big Sugar"
Mike Thomas suggests that the "South Florida Water Management District is a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Sugar. The district uses tax dollars to push the growers' position and engineer the Everglades to meet their needs. ... Crist needs to intervene in this mess. First up is replacing the district's governing board." "Everglades plan isn't restoration -- it's insanity".
It might also be said that the RPOF is "a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Sugar", but don't expect Thomas to write those words. The closest he can get is to complain about politicians generally: "Big Sugar controls politicians by funneling millions of dollars into their campaigns.".
Of course, there are always Jebbites disguised as reporters: "Instead of waiting, the South Florida Water Management District, working with then-Gov. Jeb Bush in 2004, created the Acceler8 initiative, which identified work in six counties to address wildlife restoration and water quality needs." "State 'Stepped Up To The Plate' For Restoration".
Undeserved Tax Breaks
In Southwest Florida "dozens of rich landowners, wealthy developers and big corporations ... have co-opted a tax break crafted to save Florida farmers from extinction." "Tax break is a cash cow".
"Despite improvements to a coal-fired power plant proposed by FPL, environmentalists say it's still dirty enough to harm the Everglades and speed global warming." "FPL in fight to ease doubts on coal". See also "Tampa Electric's newer process avoids coal fuss" ("Coal, the source of half of the nation's power, has a dirty reputation with environmentalists. But a plant that Tampa Electric Co. has run for a decade is the forerunner of an emerging technology that could clean up coal's reputation -- at least as a fuel. Mining is another story.")
Pigs at the (Public) Trough
Good work if you can get it:
Consensus Communications has been paid $288,000 as a federal lobbyist for the area's toll-road agency during the past four years. Yet the Orlando company never has signed a contract or had to compete for the work."Lobbyists zip through X-way cash".
Another lobbying firm employed by the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority -- Southern Strategy Group of Tallahassee -- is paid $174,000 a year to represent the authority to Florida politicians and bureaucrats. The firm's 2006 post-legislative report to the agency consisted of a 352-page document downloaded from a state Web site. The dearth of documentation and detailed reports makes it difficult to assess the effectiveness of the authority's team of lobbyists, collectively paid $318,000 a year.
A public-records request by the Orlando Sentinel for correspondence between the authority and its lobbyists since 2003 netted a couple of dozen e-mails, 50 one- to two-paragraph memos, two generic legislative reports, a bound presentation to the board in January 2003, some letters of support for a planned interchange and copies of federal-grant applications.
But expressway officials say the lobbyists are worth the money they've been paid and have helped land millions in grants for the authority.
"Future Corridors would be the state's biggest road project ever. But new Gov. Crist has yet to sign on." "Can Crist be sold on huge toll road plan?".
Dems Eye Tampa
"Florida is one of the country's ripest states for national campaigns to raise money, but Tampa Bay has never been a prime spot for Democratic fundraising. South Florida has always been the fertile ground for chasing big Democratic bucks. But, sensing opportunity, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential exploratory campaign is working on a fundraiser in downtown Tampa for either Feb. 20 or 21." "Democrats cast eye on Tampa for funding".
"Anti-murder" Legislation "Irresponsible"
"This irresponsible legislation is more reminiscent of the old Charlie Crist who exploited crime issues and pandered to voters' fears of random violence. Everyone is anti-murder, and it is understandable that legislators want to help the governor achieve one of his top priorities. But this goes too far, and lawmakers have to rein it in before it's too late." "Crist crime bill goes too far".