Two topics that have been with us for a while, and will probably continue to hang around.
USF Health has indeed become a national leader in medicine, but with all due respect to Dr. Klasko, UFF believes that the faculty and professionals of USF Health had something to do with it.
No Mass Drug-Testing ... For Now
A quarter century ago, the Florida Drug-free Workplace Act empowered state and public agencies to require employees to take drug tests if there was cause, or even randomly, but it was up to the agencies to decide what to do about drug testing. Agencies involved with public safety might go along; higher education might not.
That seemed to change when Governor Rick Scott issued an executive order in 2011 mandating pre-employment and random drug testing in those agencies under his direct control. This trial balloon did not include higher education, but of course, successful trial balloons go on to greater things. The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) – the union that represents staff at USF – filed suit, and last year U. S. District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro not only ruled in favor of AFSCME, but awarded AFSCME $ 200,000 in legal fees. Ungaro concluded that Scott had demonstrated no "compelling need" (other than the need to fulfill a campaign promise) for such an invasive practice.
A three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit of Appeals has just upheld Judge Ungaro's ruling, stating that "... the state wants us to approve of a drug-testing policy of far greater scope than any ever sanctioned by the Supreme Court or by any of the courts of appeal." However, "The district court, confronted with a suspicionless drug testing policy that almost certainly sweeps far too broadly and hence runs afoul of the Fourth Amendment in many of its applications, granted relief that also swept too broadly and captured both the policy’s constitutional applications and its unconstitutional ones ... We therefore vacate the district court’s order and remand for further proceedings."
Drug-testing is highly political, so what happens to state employees is merely upstream from us: if Governor Scott can get away with imposing such drug tests on state employees today, his appointees on the Board of Governors can get away with imposing them on us tomorrow. That is why we all have a stake in the outcome of this case. So we should thank those USF staff employees who are members of AFSCME, for it is their union dues – as well as the membership fees for the American Civil Liberties Union – that have paid to defend all of us.
A Common Core
Unlike many European nations, responsibility for American education is distributed to a panoply of school districts across the country. During the past few decades, various tax revolts reduced the property tax revenue stream that school districts traditionally relied on, making them increasingly dependent on – and thus subject to – the state governments. Similar tax revolts led state governments to depend on federal money, and with federal money comes federal involvement: No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and so on.
But some initiatives come from the states.
In 2009, the National Governors' Association (NGA) proposed a Common Core Initiative to improve K-12 English and mathematics education by encouraging states to voluntarily adopt standards comparable to international benchmarks. 45 states and many organizations, including the National Education Association (NEA), participated in developing the Common State Academic Standards presented in 2010.
Unlike those European nations that micromanage education, the Common Core sets a national system of goals and an assessment system to determine how the various states are meeting those goals. The system of goals sets a small number of core skills to be mastered at each grade level, and also sets a vertical system to build on previously mastered skills during successive grades. These systems contrast with traditional practice (which is already fading), where each district had its own goals, with numerous skills to be practiced in each grade and limited continuity going from grade to grade.
From the NEA's point of view, the benefits of a Common Core included consistency across the nation, equity of access to an excellent education as defined by the standards, opportunity for students to prepare for a Twenty-first century economy, clear standards apprehensible to teachers and parents as well as pundits and politicians, and economies of scale. (For more on the NEA's point of view, see their page of links for the Common Core.)
Of course, this affects us: vast numbers of our students take remedial courses, sometimes repeatedly, and even after taking those courses they often struggle with reading, writing, and mathematical skills. Lack of preparation is one of the major reasons so many students do not graduate within four years – and one of the major reasons why so many students do not graduate at all. Having a "common core" of skills a university can rely on admitted students to have would be very helpful.
During the past three years, states and school districts worked on implementation, which is starting next year. It already has started in some places. And there are difficulties and pushback.
The assessment mania may already be undermining the Common Core effort. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
- The standards are measured by computer-graded standardized exams, with all that that implies. There already have been some miserable students and outraged parents, and some critics suggest that the Common Core has merely contributed to our fashion for continuous testing.
- Despite the fact that the initiative came from the states, and only sets standards without prescribing how schools are to achieve those standards, many critics see the Common Core as yet another step in federalizing education. After all, it was the federal government that put up the cash.
The next few years may prove critical. One aspect of the proposal was that the implementation should be data-driven, which suggests that it should be flexible enough to be adapted to whatever surprises and realities the implementation encounters. This is a good moment to remember the Duke of Wellington's claim that he won Waterloo by making his plans out of string while Napoleon used wire. But if so, university faculty may be expected to do more than just cross their fingers; they may be asked to lend a hand.