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The unassuming hero of Jonas Karlsson's clever, Kafkaesque parable is the opposite of a malcontent. Despite scant education, a limited social life, and no prospects for success as it is usually defined, he's that rarity, a most happy fella with an amazing ability to content himself with very little. But one day, returning to his barebones flat from his dead-end, part-time job at a video store, he finds an astronomical bill from an entity called W.R.D. He assumes it's a scam. Actually, it is more sinister-- and it forces him to take a good hard look at his life and values.

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Donald Trump picked a military town — Virginia Beach, Va. — to give a speech Monday on how he would go about overhauling the Department of Veterans Affairs if elected.

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The season for blueberries used to be short. You'd find fresh berries in the store just during a couple of months in the middle of summer.

Now, though, it's always blueberry season somewhere. Blueberry production is booming. The berries are grown in Florida, North Carolina, New Jersey, Michigan and the Pacific Northwest — not to mention the southern hemisphere.

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Big Education Grants Threatened By Teacher Spats

Dec 30, 2011
Originally published on December 30, 2011 6:58 pm

Teachers and school districts say they agree that better teacher evaluations are needed, but they can't agree on the details. Now, those disputes threaten federal grants meant to encourage education reform.

Take New York state, which has a lot of failing schools. Those schools got more than $100 million in federal School Improvement Grants. In exchange, districts promised to phase in new evaluation systems.

But John King, state commissioner of education, says districts haven't followed through. So he may have to take drastic action. "Their grants would be suspended. There ought to be a process in place to evaluate teachers and principals. They understood that at the time they applied for the grants," King says.

The unions say they back the idea in principle of finding a better way to evaluate effective teachers.

But Carl Korn with New York State United Teachers says the plans would link teachers' future to how students do on a standardized test. "I don't think anybody out there would want their career determined by how 25 8-year-olds did on one two-hour test. That's just not fair."

The unions say that the commissioner could simply ask the federal government for more time for districts to negotiate. But King says students can't wait. "It would be inconsistent with the vision of the School Improvement Grants program, but also inconsistent with the best interests of students in the schools," he says.

On Friday, the chancellor of the New York City schools sent a letter to King, saying he doubted the city would be able to resolve the issue. He blamed the union for insisting on an elaborate appeals process for teachers who get an unsatisfactory rating. Low-performing schools in New York City alone stand to lose $50 million.

Deadlock In Hawaii

A similar deadlock in Hawaii threatens a $75 million grant from another federal program called Race to the Top. To get that grant, Hawaii committed to a number of changes, including new teacher evaluations. Those changes are stalled, and now the federal Department of Education says that means the state could lose the money.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has placed states' Race to the Top money in the "high risk" category. Stephen Schatz, of Hawaii's Education department, says that this has served as a wake-up call. He says he hopes to reopen formal negotiations with the unions, which have been suspended.

Hawaii will get its chance to argue for keeping its grant when federal inspectors come visit in the coming weeks.

Other states have run into similar roadblocks. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has ordered a review of that state's new evaluation system after teachers complained it is intrusive and takes time away from instruction. These disputes come as states are particularly hungry for funds because of their tight budgets. Korn of New York State United Teachers says that the state is using that fact as a pressure tactic. "This Education Department is choosing brinksmanship and politics to threaten to disrupt services to New York's neediest students," he says.

More grief may lie ahead, as the education reform process continues to require painful sacrifices.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

The federal government has been pushing states to overhaul the way teachers are evaluated, saying it's critical to improving instruction. But disputes with teachers unions are delaying the rollout of new evaluations.

As NPR's Larry Abramson reports, those disputes now threaten federal grants that are meant to encourage education reform.

LARRY ABRAMSON, BYLINE: New York State has a lot of failing schools. Those schools got more than $100 million in federal School Improvement Grants. In exchange, districts promised to phase in new evaluation systems.

But John King, state commissioner of education, says they haven't followed through. So he may have to take the money back.

JOHN KING: Their grants would be suspended. There ought to be a process in place to rigorously evaluate teachers and principals. They understood that at the time they applied for the grants.

ABRAMSON: The issue shows just how tough it is to come up with something everyone agrees is needed - a better way to assess teachers' performance. The unions say they back this in principle. But Carl Korn, with New York State United Teachers, says these plans would link a teacher's future to how students do on a standardized test.

CARL KORN: I don't think anybody out there would want their career determined by how 25 8-year-olds did on one two-hour test over the course of a year. That's just not fair.

ABRAMSON: The unions say the commissioner could simply ask the federal government for more time so districts can negotiate, but Commissioner John King says students can't wait.

KING: And it would be inconsistent with the vision of the School Improvement Grants program but also inconsistent with the best interests of students in the schools.

ABRAMSON: Today, the chancellor of the New York City schools sent a letter to the state, saying he doubts the city will be able to resolve the issue. He blamed the union for insisting on an elaborate appeals process for teachers who get an unsatisfactory rating. Low-performing schools in New York City alone stand to lose $50 million. A similar deadlock in Hawaii threatens a $75 million grant from another federal program called Race to the Top. To get that grant, Hawaii committed to a number of changes, including new teacher evaluations. Those reforms are stalled, so Justin Hamilton of the federal Department of Education says the state could lose that money.

JUSTIN HAMILTON: A state will not get money for reneging on promises.

ABRAMSON: Education Secretary Arne Duncan has placed the state's Race to the Top money in the high-risk category. Negotiations with the union went on for months and have been suspended. Stephen Schatz of Hawaii's Education Department says notice from Washington has served as a wakeup call, and he wants to resume formal talks.

STEPHEN SCHATZ: We realize that in order to right the ship, we're going to need to sit down together as partners and figure this thing out.

ABRAMSON: Other states have run into similar roadblocks. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has ordered a review of that state's new evaluation system, after teachers complained it is intrusive and takes time away from instruction. These disputes come as states are particularly hungry for funds, due to tight budgets. Carl Korn of New York State United Teachers says his state is using that fact as a pressure tactic.

KORN: This Education Department is choosing brinksmanship and politics to threaten to disrupt services to New York's neediest students.

ABRAMSON: More grief may lie ahead, as the process labeled education reform by its proponents continues to require painful sacrifices.

Larry Abramson, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.