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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 03/30/2010

Florida's terrible teachers bill a test for Duncan

By Valerie Strauss

The state of Florida could prove to be a big test for Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Legislators in the Sunshine State are moving with all due speed to pass legislation that would go a long way to making sure no teacher would ever want to work in Florida again.

The Republican-dominated Senate has already passed Senate Bill 6, which would require:

* School systems to evaluate and pay teachers primarily on the basis of student test scores. (Testing experts say this is a really bad idea.)

* School systems to ignore a teacher’s experience, advanced degrees or professional credentials in any evaluation or pay. (You don’t have to be a testing expert to know how really bad an idea this is.)

* School systems to put newly hired teachers on probation for five years and then give them annual contracts for the rest of their careers.

* Require the creation of more standardized tests for students, to cover subjects already not assessed.

A Florida House committee has already approved the companion version of this bill, with the same features, and the full chamber is expected to take it up this week. The governor, Charlie Crist, has said he supports the bill.

But now, just maybe, there’s a new wrinkle for the state.

Florida was a finalist in the first round of Duncan’s $4 billion “Race to the Top” sweepstakes in which states with education reform plans that subscribe to Duncan’s brand of reform -- more charter schools, more standardized testing, linking teacher pay to test scores -- can get millions of federal dollars.

Duncan announced Monday that only two of the 16 finalists were getting money in that round, Delaware and Tennessee.

Recently Florida’s education commissioner, Eric Smith, had said he thought Florida stood a good chance of winning money in the first round. The state ended up fourth in the competition. Comments from department reviewers of Florida’s proposal mentioned that one of the problems was lack of union support for its plans.

In fact, the unions that represent teachers are in full revolt over the legislature’s plans to eliminate job security.

So here’s the test for Duncan.

If, as he says, collaboration and buy-in from stakeholders matter a lot to the success of education reform, and they are important elements in any winning Race to the Top proposal, Florida is going to have to give up its plans to hit the state’s teachers over the heads with this dangerous legislation.

Because if Florida goes ahead with this legislation, and still wins Race to the Top money, Duncan is going to have a lot of explaining to do.

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By Valerie Strauss  | March 30, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Education Secretary Duncan, Race to the Top  | Tags:  Ed Secretary Arne Duncan, Florida, Race to the Top  
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Where is Paul Harvey when we need him to tell...the REST of the story?

How does the WaPo allow this kind of 'reporting' to even be printed?

Posted by: phoss1 | March 30, 2010 7:01 AM | Report abuse

phoss1 - perhaps you could tell us the rest of the story?

Posted by: efavorite | March 30, 2010 9:08 AM | Report abuse

It's very hard for teachers to be vocal, independent voices for education reform when politicians control your employment. That so many teachers today aren't integral, respected members of their school community because they're so transitory limits the impact of their voice for reform. Unions are vocal, but their focus has been too much on pay and benefits versus curriculum and instruction. Very few public schools, urban ones particularly, today have that core of 15-20-30 year teachers who are the character and corporate knowledge of the school. With these it's much easier to resist and counter the lunacy evidenced in this bill because you have REAL EXPERTS with reputations that can illuminate the flaws of this legislation, and also back up their desire to replace legislators who forward horrid bills.
Where did Arnie Duncan teach? Has he ever written a lesson plan or held a parent conference? I don't care what access he has to 'experts,' I cannot take him seriously if he's never done what I have as a teacher.

Posted by: pdfordiii | March 30, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Thank you Valerie for supporting democracy by challenging the rhetoric of testing=achievement. Perhaps we need to look where the money is going with tests like the FCAT. If the legislature really wanted to save money they would get rid of the high stakes tests and and fill their school libraries and classrooms with books. I'm sure the kids would love some time in school to read and talk about them too, or would they rather do test prep? Mr. Duncan, you should ask them.

Posted by: olas10 | March 30, 2010 10:45 AM | Report abuse

"School systems to ignore a teacher’s experience, advanced degrees or professional credentials in any evaluation or pay. (You don’t have to be a testing expert to know how really bad an idea this is.)"

Let's see, we have research showing that teachers tend not to become any more effective once they reach their third year. (

We have research showing that the vast majorities of ed schools stink (

Why, again, is this a "really bad idea?" Oh, right, because "everybody knows" that more degrees and more experience make you better.

I would like to see a law that is a little more of a scalpel and a little less of a hammer. But let's stop pretending these ideas are just part of some vast right-wing conspiracy to hurt teachers.

Posted by: Jessedavidam | March 30, 2010 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Many former colleagues and I gave many years of our lives to the profession of education, and were glad to do it; at the end of the day we knew that no matter how difficult the job was at times,we were working to make students' lives better. We made low salaries until the last 5 years or so of our careers, paid for most of our own graduate work, attended countless follow-up workshops, took extra classes not required and retained a healthy amount of self-respect for the work we did.

My heart goes out to the teachers now in

I continue to be stunned and outraged by the current LACK OF RESPECT and downright disdain shown to the education profession by actions like the ones being taken in Florida. No teacher would deny that there are always some of their ranks who don't belong in the profession BUT, most inadequate teachers do not stay because the job is just too difficult to do without substantial skills, training, dedication and a sense of the needs of children.

The test scores' obsession is a dangerous red herring masking many other ills that our schools are struggling with: students on drugs or selling drugs, students not having adequate parental care or nutrition, students being bullied into depression or suicide,students with special needs that can't get tutoring or other help,students having sex too young, pregnant's a very long list and NOT limited to inner city schools.

Students are not "testing machines"; they are young human beings and very vulnerable,and the vast majority of dedicated teachers are mindful of that.
Would that those in society so eager to tear down the teaching profession would care as much.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | March 30, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

I do not know of a single elected official who understands that teaching results in neither a product nor a service. Accordingly, treating and judging teachers as if they work on an assembly line or out of a van, with production or repairs the measure of their success, is loopy. Walking is not like swimming, and urging techniques used in one activity as a guide to techniques in the other is absurd. The result is not only demoralized and ineffective teachers, but also demoralized and incompetent students. Such efforts to improve education are the means to impair it.

Posted by: MichaelLHays | March 30, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

The rest of the story:
* This bill says if you don't show student learning gains 4 of 5 years, the state will permanently revoke your teaching certificate, and not allow other states to certify you.
* This bill does not differentiate between learning gains, whether you are teaching a SLD or IB class. Doesn't differentiate between teaching in a low-performing school or not.
* Until tests are devised, core subject tests will be used to determine over half the pay of non-testing areas. "Hey PE teacher... you'll be graded on how well your kids read."
* It strips the rights of unions to collectively bargain.
* The state is now going after our pensions to get more money in a separate bill

This is all about the money:
* The state of Florida is dead last in per capita spending on education
* The education has already been ripped off by our lottery and our legislature, when they promised it would supplement education funds, instead cut other funds for a bait and switch.
* With the cuts scheduled for this year, the state would have cut education funding by 20% in the last three years.
* As a percentage of the state budget, education is at it's lowest point since the 80s.

Even with all this, the state scored a 9.6 out of 10 when it came to education funding on the RTTT report card!
RTTT evaluation wanted the state to use input from all stakeholders. They decided to use this "hammer" to punish unions and teachers. Instead of co-operation, we got a fight. Now teachers are getting blamed for not getting RTTT money.

Posted by: redhead11 | March 30, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Finally, a state has figured out how to get around Brown v Board of Ed. Now we can go back to the 50's and pay our teachers in the affluent white suburbs twice as much as the teachers in the ghettos. No teacher in his/her right mind would want to work in a poor district now. Free at last, free at last, hallelujah, I'm free at last!

Posted by: chicogal | March 30, 2010 6:21 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for publishing this article! I just listened to Sen. John Thrasher talk on NPR radio. Gee...suddenly this bill has been changed to "teacher's raises will be based on student gains." "Won't affect current teachers or their salaries." No where was it mentioned that they wanted to give us 50% of our salary on paper and we would have to earn the other 50% back as a bonus and not towards retirement.

MY...what a difference 24 hours makes when you lose Race to the Top Money. Thank you President OBama and Arne Duncan for seeing through the lies.

The teachers of Florida have learned a valuable lesson. We will assign people during every legislative session to track what is going through. When someone runs for a position, there will be a litmus test as to how they would have voted on Senate Bill #6. Teachers in all states would be smart to do the same thing.

Posted by: veteranteacher1 | March 30, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

Obama and Duncan better be taking note of the uproar this is causing in Florida. Teachers nationwide are watching and assessing their actions and response. If they support the current Florida legislators with this dubious bill, they will have sent a loud and clear message that teacher are not valued in Washington. Finding a valid and well-researched method to link teacher evaluation and student learning is one thing. But this bill is a slap in the face to educators everywhere and sends the wrong message.

Posted by: jbrabham1 | March 30, 2010 8:01 PM | Report abuse

Florida not getting RttT funds is a good sign.

If Obama and Duncan are really watching, they will drop this whole idiocy, realizing that they are trying to turn education into a sporting event.

Posted by: efavorite | March 30, 2010 9:05 PM | Report abuse

God..this is almost starting to get comical. Suddenly the St. Pete Times has been inundated by their articles, stating what the bill REALLY says. Someone must have shredded the original bill. Do they think we are stupid? We are teachers. We document EVERYTHING.

Nice try, boys..but please do send the 2012 Republican Convention our way. We already have our picket signs painted and we are inviting the teachers of America.

A school board member wrote to us last week.
"It is disheartening to see common sense
amendments to proposed legislation be ignored in what can only be
described as blind support for the party line. This was apparent in the
House committee this morning where amendments were repeatedly shot down.
Every vote was along party line, and it is obvious that the members had
“marching orders”. This reality is in direct conflict of
Article IX of the Florida Constitution."

Guess he must have misunderstood.

Posted by: veteranteacher1 | March 30, 2010 10:11 PM | Report abuse

Florida not getting funded in the first round had almost nothing to do with their not getting teacher buy-in. True, they lost a few points because of it, but they still barely missed the 440 cut score. That means the judges thought FL's proposal was exemplary in practically every other respect. They are going to be hard to beat in the second round, which will reward 10-15 states, because the RttT puts such a heavy emphasis on having a longitudinal student data system, which Florida has and many states don't. Unless sufficient numbers of people start making lots of noise about the insanity of handing out money for a few states to follow Arne Duncan's disastrously, ill-informed reform plans at a time when almost everybody is seriously hurting.

Posted by: dz159 | March 30, 2010 10:20 PM | Report abuse

Only when you thought it can't get worse down here. A Florida State Senator talking about "teachers crawling through glass"

Posted by: veteranteacher1 | March 30, 2010 10:37 PM | Report abuse

The news commentator this morning just stated "the bill that ties RAISES to student test scores". Let the spin begin.

Keep up the good work, Washington Post.

Posted by: veteranteacher1 | March 31, 2010 6:32 AM | Report abuse

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