Friday, April 09, 2010

Florida's 'Disappear the Teachers' Bill

"Even hamburger flippers at McDonald's have better job security than this."

The Republican-dominated legislature in Tallahassee has just come up with a scheme to completely ruin public education for the state's children. Two bills passed yesterday. They are now on their way to the Governor for signature or veto. Both are classic examples of political hypocrisy mixed with rank stupidity.

Never mind how Horace Mann taught the world a hundred and fifty years ago that excellence in public education is essential to the health of a democratic republic. There is no better way than these two bills to drive away from Florida young working families with children and cutting-edge technology industries with high-paying jobs.

First, the legislature proposes to clear the way for increasing class size. Essentially, this bill would upend a voter-initiated constitutional amendment which passed over the objections of many Republican legislators just eight years ago.
The three-fifths vote by both chambers gets the measure on the ballot in November and reopens a passionate campaign that has long pitted public school teachers and parents against school administrators and Republican lawmakers who say current class-size limits are impossible to fund.
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The constitution currently limits class sizes to 18 students in grades pre-kindergarten through third, 22 students in fourth through eighth and 25 students in high school. Superintendents have been allowed to meet those caps first by district and now by school averages, but the constitution requires a shift toward hard classroom counts starting in July.

The proposed amendment would forgo hard caps in favor of maintaining school averages and would increase the maximum class size limit by three students in pre-kindergarten through third, and by five in other grades.

As Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, says, "They just don't want to pay for schools."

Second, legislators passed S.B. 6, or the so-called 'pay-for-performance' bill. It should be called the "Disappear the Teachers" bill. The St. Petersburg Times has a useful summary.

Under this horror:
  • All public school teachers would serve a five year "probationary period." What this means is that even the very best of them would be assured of a job only on a day-to-day basis for five years. Any teachers could be laid off at any time for any reason or no reason at all, with no warning. Even hamburger flippers at McDonald's have better job security than this.
  • Teachers who survive those five years then can be offered only "single-year contracts." Good grief! We give legislators better deals than that, and most of them don't know algebra from Albania.
  • Regardless of a teacher's individual merit, half their pay would be linked to the results of student tests. Teachers assigned to chronically under-funded schools -- many of them in inner city neighborhoods or rural areas which have an abundance of families who devalue education or suffer economic hardship -- would suffer lower pay. Those with connections that get them into tonier schools -- where many students have sufficient intellectual support at home to teach themselves -- get the raises.
  • As for those "student tests," every school district would be required to "find or create" a standardized final test "for every subject in every grade." As the St. Pete Times points out, "Many districts would need hundreds of new tests. And they'd be high-stakes, with teacher salaries and future employment riding on the outcome, beginning in 2014-15."
  • One-time bonuses for those dedicated teachers who on their own study for and pass all requirements for National Board certification would be forbidden after 2013. How much sense does this make? A proven, nationwide teacher certification system often used for paying small one-time bonuses is thrown overboard for locally-developed tests, many of which don't even exist yet? This can only be understood as a mean-spirited poke-in-the-eye to public school teachers.
  • Districts that don't comply with all this insanity would be penalized by state funding cuts and "requirements to raise local taxes." The legal implications of this are breath-taking enough; almost certainly, it won't survive challenges under the federal and state constitutions. But the notion that public schools, which are in many cases under-funded to begin with, would be "punished" for poor test results by cutting their funding is completely daft.
  • Districts would be required to set aside "up to 5 percent of their budget" starting next year "for performance and differential pay increases." Or, for those districts headed by administrators just as pencil-headed as our legislature, they are authorized to use much of the money "to develop tests to determine student gains."
At best, what this bill does is load all of the incentives, parsimonious as they are, into the absolute worst kind of pedagogy: "teaching to the test." Tests which in most cases haven't even been developed yet! At worst, these two bills will drive all the good teachers and administrators away, leaving behind only those who are among the worst, the least imaginative, or completely unemployable.

Everyone knows that Florida's school system suffers from chronic sickness. It ranks very poorly in comparison with other states, especially those of comparable population. Past legislatures have a lot to do with that. They've starved the public schools of adequate funding for years while trying to lavish funds on mostly religious private schools.

Yes, the Florida school system is sick. But what this year's Florida legislature has just done is to fashion an "arsenic cure" that will kill it. As the Washington Post's Valerie Strauss puts it, Senate Bill 6 is a "disaster for teachers" and the damage done by both bills is "incalculable."

Both bills are a disgrace. Governor Crist must veto them. Then the voters should fire the legislators who flunked the test by voting for this abomination.

Dept. of Related Blogistry


Anonymous said...

Great blog. If 5 year probation and 1 year contracts are such a great incentive why don't corporations and politicians require them for themselves?

Anonymous said...

You ain't seen nothing yet, as our state reps would say. Coming next: more state money for private religious schools.

"Included in the package of bills is a measure to massively expand the state’s voucher program, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, so more low income students could choose to attend private school."

As if! Low income kids will never be able to afford private schools even with vouchers but rich kids can use them to offset the expense. Typical Republican Reverse Robin Hood legislation: steal from the poor while robbing the rich.