Assault on Florida Teachers

Teacher rally in Orlando, Florida
Photo by W. L. Doromal ©2010

April 12, 2010
The debate about Florida legislation that would remove teacher tenure and base teachers’ pay on student performance is heating up. News of the ridiculous bill has been covered from The Washington Post to the New York Times. There have been demonstrations from the Panhandle to southern Florida with teacher unions, teachers, parents and students protesting the destructive legislation.

Orlando teachers held a rally and march last week. Today thousands of Miami-Dade teachers are calling in sick to protest the bill. Under Florida law teachers are not allowed to strike, but they can take personal leave or sick days. At one high school in Dade County students dressed in black held “sit ins” before class to protest the bill. The Miami Herald reported:
South Florida teachers unions are mobilizing members, parents and others to flood Crist's office with calls and e-mails. Since Thursday afternoon, more than 9,000 e-mails had poured in.
Crist has received more than 10,000 calls opposing the bill and at least 71 in support. Since the beginning of March, he had received more than 15,000 e-mails opposing the measure and at least 66 supporting.
He said the level of concern was unlike any other piece of legislation he has encountered since becoming governor.

Senate Bill 6 passed March 23, 2010 and the House passed H.B. 7189 at 2:30 am on Friday morning in a 64-55 vote. The Florida Educator's Association broke down the controversial bill:
  • Requires a 5% “hold back” in funding for schools that goes into effect immediately. This “hold back” for the next three years will be used to develop hundreds of new tests and then used to pay the $900 million “performance fund” in 2014.
  • A 5% hold back in some districts means a 9% reduction in available salary dollars.
  • Florida already has a differentiated pay system that pays teachers in challenged schools more. Florida statute already requires that performance data be part of every teacher’s evaluation.
  • This plan does not only punish “bad teachers”, but all of Florida’s teachers will be assigned, compensated, certified and terminated based on test scores.
  • HB 7189 says that all teachers could lose their professional license if their students don’t test well based on a learning gains model that hasn’t been validated, piloted or created.
Now it is up to Governor Charlie Crist to decide whether or not to veto the bill. He could risk losing the votes of the 168,000 Florida teachers and supporters of public education by signing the partisan bill, or he could risk the ire of the Republican Party by vetoing it. Crist is running for the U.S. Senate and is in a primary with Miami's Marco Rubio who is supported by the Tea-partiers.

Senate Bill 6 was pushed by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush who is chairman of the Foundation for Florida’s Future. The foundation ran ads in support of the bill, which is said to have been masterminded by the ex-governor. The legislation was sponsored by Jeb's buddy, Senator John Thrasher of St. Augustine.

Bush also founded the Foundation for Excellence in Education in 2008, even though he is not an educator and has worked during both terms to tie teaching to a test, support vouchers, and destroy public education. Opponents of the bill claim that Jeb stands to make millions on a school voucher program. While underfunding public school this year as always, Florida legislators supported a huge expansion of corporate-funded vouchers for private schools. Public education took yet another big hit in the budget, losing once again to Bush-backed vouchers as S.B. 2126 was approved.

During his stint as governor Jeb claimed public schools in Florida needed reform, yet at the same time failed to adequately fund them. Florida ranks 50th in per student education funding. For every $1,000 of Florida residents' personal income, the state spends $33.51 compared with the U.S. average of $43.34. Teachers are expected to pick up the slack reaching deep into their pockets to buy school supplies, classroom books and other materials. Florida teachers are also expected to work off the clock to meet district and state mandated requirements as they lack the planning time to complete all required tasks.

Both former President George W. Bush and brother Jeb pushed teaching to the test and grading schools based on student test scores as mandated by No Child Left Behind. Not surprisingly, in Florida the "D" and "F" or "failing" schools have routinely been those schools that have the highest levels of students with families living at or below poverty levels. Yet, our lawmakers do not know what educators know. They don't get the connection between hungry students and failing grades, students with no medical care and failing grades, homeless students and failing grades, ever-moving students such as children of migrant farm workers and failing grades, non-English speaking students and failing grades, or lack of parental support and failing grades. If they believe that teachers alone determine student success then they seriously need some education.

Jeb's brother, Neil Bush has been profiting from the standardized testing push. He sells software connected to the tests. In 1999 Neil Bush founded an educational software company, Ignite! Learning. The company was funded with $23 million from investors including his parents and businessmen from around the world from such countries as Saudi Arabia, China, Kuwait, and Russia. In 2002 the company began promoting FCAT (the Florida standardized test) software to schools in the state.

Hopefully, Crist will veto the bill to demonstrate his support for public education, educators and our students. Maybe that would also send a message to let Bush know he is no longer ruling Florida.

No Florida teacher has a problem with being evaluated. No Florida teacher supports "bad" teachers remaining in the classroom. There is already a system in place to eliminate ineffective teachers. Teachers are evaluated every year.

The problem with evaluating teachers strictly by student performance is that such a system doesn’t take into consideration hundreds of variables that also play a role in student performance. These include parental involvement, learning disabilities, language barriers, domestic violence, illness, attendance, behavior, student motivation, substance abuse, behavior problems, poverty levels, and on and on. Teachers at the Orlando rally spoke about the unfairness of being evaluated poorly because students slept in class, failed to complete classwork or hand in homework, skipped classes, didn't focus or pay attention, Christmas treed the test or other student-controlled circumstances.

No Florida lawmaker ever proposed terminating law enforcement officials who failed to solve enough cases, taking away licenses of physicians whose patients died, or firing fire fighters who failed to put out every fire. Yet, they propose that teachers should be terminated if students don't perform at some yet to be determined levels.

Florida teachers are following Governor Crist as he makes appearances around the state to appeal to him to veto the bill. The Washington Post stated, “You can’t make this stuff up” as they told the story of the governor coming to the aid of a retired teacher this weekend. From the article:
In Tavares on Saturday, as protesters shouted “veto veto,” a retired teacher collapsed in the heat. The governor rushed to his side, grabbed a sign that said, “Veto” and began to fan him, staying there until the man was taken to a hospital.
Hopefully, he read the sign that he was using as a fan.

The Daily Commercial reported:
That was very generous of the governor, I thought," said Frank Wood, who was among the group of protesters upset with the passage of Senate Bill-6, which bases teacher pay on student performance and phases out the tenure system for new hires.
Crist acknowledged the teachers and their supporters when he spoke.
"This is an important time in our state and our nation's history, and there are all kinds of important issues that we're going to face," he said. "I'm glad these people showed up to have their voices be heard. I want to thank you for taking your time to be here."
The teachers erupted into cheers.
"There are lots of things that people who do what I do need to listen to you about," Crist added. "I have a very straight-forward philosophy about government. We need less of it. We need people in public service to understand that when you're in public service the purpose of doing so is to help the public. ... I think that it is extremely important at this time in our country's history that we have people that will serve the people first."
Florida teachers are polishing off their resumes, researching teaching opportunities in other states, exploring the possibility of filing lawsuits if the governor signs the bill, and vowing not to vote for any candidates who have supported this ill-conceived legislation. Most Florida teachers haven’t seen a pay raise in years, including step increases. The bill is considered the final slap in the face to teachers who are under-appreciated and disrespected by Florida's elected officials. Veto the bill, Governor!

Orlando rally Photo by W. L. Doromal ©2010


Anonymous said...

Crist should do the right thing, but to him the right thing is the most politically advantageous thing. We will see.