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Posted at 3:00 PM ET, 03/31/2010

Teachers fighting back in Florida

By Valerie Strauss

Even if you don’t live in Florida, you should pay attention to what is going on there.

Teachers, parents and even students in the Sunshine State call it the “Education Debacle.” And they are no longer sitting quietly, hoping that common sense will magically prevail with state legislators seemingly intent on passing legislation affectionately called a “hammer” on the teaching profession by its sponsor.

They are taking to the streets, literally and digitally, to transmit their horror over legislation that would end teacher job security, increase student testing and tie teacher pay to student test scores. It also prohibits school districts from taking into account experience, professional credentials or advanced degrees in teacher evaluation and pay.

Protests are planned around the state this week, including one Thursday afternoon that will bring people onto U.S. Highway 1 from Jacksonville in the northern part of the state to Miami in the south.

They also plan to bring their protest to Washington D.C. soon, to let their representatives in Congress and federal officials know that they don’t want what they consider an assault on their livelihood and on public education.

A growing coalition of teachers, students, parents, school administrators and others are publicly protesting what is probably the most heavy-handed attack on teachers in the country at the moment.

Thousands of people have signed petitions being sent to Florida’s governor, Charlie Crist, demanding that he veto the bill if it passes the legislature. He's indicated that he supports the legislation but is coming under more pressure than he probably expected.

The protesters had hoped the Obama administration would end the high-stakes standardized testing culture and pseudo-accountability regime of No Child Left Behind; after all, Barack Obama bashed NCLB when he campaigned for president.

But now, President Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, are finding new ways to continue some of its egregious features. Just this week, Duncan announced the first two winners (Delaware and Tennessee) in his “Race to the Top” competition, a chance for states to win federal funds to enact school reform in the form that Duncan likes: more tests, more charter schools, etc. Sounds a lot like NCLB.

Unfortunately, part of the criteria for winning Race to the Top money is a scheme that links teacher pay to standardized scores, which is part of the legislation that Florida’s teachers are protesting. Known as Senate Bill 6 and House Bill 7189, the legislation would require:

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

*School systems to ignore a teacher’s experience, advanced degrees or professional credentials in any evaluation or pay.

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

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

The Senate has passed its version of the bill; the House may take it up Thursday.

Teachers and their supporters in Palm Beach County are communicating about the bill on Facebook at a page called Testing is Not Teaching, and in response, someone apparently connected to Republican legislators launched a counter page deceptively called “Support Florida’s Teachers.”

The folks running that page write in support of the legislation, and then delete posts from people who oppose it. Now that’s right in the spirit of the openness of the web, isn’t it?

The Senate bill was sponsored by state Sen. John Thrasher, the new head of Florida’s Republican Party. He calls the bill “the hammer,” which he says is necessary to force the Florida teachers union to end its opposition to merit pay for teachers.

I will say this for Thrasher: He doesn’t make any pretense about the heavy hand he believes should be used with Florida teachers.

This approach could easily spread beyond the borders of Florida. It’s everybody’s business.

-0-

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By Valerie Strauss  | March 31, 2010; 3:00 PM ET
Categories:  Education Secretary Duncan, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Teachers  | Tags:  Arne Duncan, Florida, NCLB, teacher tenure bill  
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Comments

Valerie - you seem to be the only journalist who is capable of seeing beyond the veneer in the debate about public education. The acceleration in targeting teachers as the problem in education, defined solely by test scores is nothing short of alarming; with the end result the demise of public education. Can this corporate juggernaut be stopped?

Posted by: PGutierrez1 | March 31, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

The nation needs more and better qualified teachers and so the politicians are working overtime to convince Americans enrolled in colleges that education is a poor career choice.

It is hard to tell whether it is the Republicans in government or the Democrats in government who are the most effective in destroying public education in this country.

Posted by: bsallamack | March 31, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the update. You are right, this is a absolutely critical time for public education in this country. I do not think either President Obama or Secretary Duncan fully appreciate what they are proposing. They come from large city background and private enterprise and basicly elite backgrounds. Obama went to private schools I believe. This is the same thing that happened with Clinton.

Basicly a sell out of the middle and lower classes while calling it a great success. All the current politicans have the basic belief the public service and government in general could be better done by private business. It is almost a return to the patronage system the existed during the birth of this country. Ben Franklin made his fortune by running the colonial post office and govenment printing office.
George Washington made his on land sales in Pennsylvania The system was fully supported by all the political parties of the time and it appears that is where we are going again.

Posted by: jnaway | March 31, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps we should now base Congress's pay on their performance and how well the perfomance of America is doing for the things they are responsible for governing.

If the music teacher and art teacher kids don't test well in music and art, will their pay get docked?

Perhaps parents who's kids don't get good grades should be taxed more for waisting teacher's valuable time.

Posted by: Green10 | March 31, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

To Green 10--According to the Florida bill--until tests are developed in the arts classes, those teachers will have their pay determined by the reading and math scores of the kids. So their pay will be based on tests in subjects they don't even teach!

I can tell you one thing. I will not go to Florida for any reason after this. I have no desire to feed their economy with my leisure money.

Posted by: musiclady | March 31, 2010 6:06 PM | Report abuse

I teach in Florida and if we can sell our home, we will be moving. I have taught here for 15 years, and I have seen a lot of crazy things, but this is just too much. I don't mind accountability, but it needs to be shared among all parties responsible for educating our children. Parents, teachers and students are all responsible and throwing teachers under the bus is not going to solve all of the problems facing education today. Please, contact Florida legislators and tell them that you will boycott Florida if this bill is passed. If it happens here, make no mistake that something similar will soon come to a state near you.

Posted by: Lisa35 | March 31, 2010 6:30 PM | Report abuse

If this reporter has her way we'll return to the good old days of yesteryear in public education where no one is ever evaluated, teachers or students, everyone gets promoted, and all high school seniors graduate, regardless of their performances. Reminds me a bit of a tee-ball team. No one keeps score, everyone is declared a winner, and in the end everyone gets a trophy. But there will be losers under the Tee-Ball Commissioner Strauss' Plan; students, parents and taxpayers.

Posted by: phoss1 | March 31, 2010 8:06 PM | Report abuse

Thank you Valerie and the teachers of America! We want the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa! The picket signs will be painted and you are all invited! Just like '68, the whole world will be watching, except this time, the police will be on our side. They tried to damage their retirement, too. No respect there, either. Besides, we probably taught most of them to read.

Posted by: veteranteacher1 | March 31, 2010 8:13 PM | Report abuse

Here is the list of merit pay recipients from Hillborough County. They have Bill Gates as a sugar daddy. Would be interesting to see what percentage of teachers came from high vs low economic schools.

blogs.tampabay.com/schools/2010/03/is-your-teacher-on-the-list-hillsborough-releases-names-of-merit-pay-recipients-for-200809.html

Posted by: veteranteacher1 | March 31, 2010 9:11 PM | Report abuse

It is important also to mention that Florida has one of the highest unemployment rate in the USA and Florida is on the top five in the USA in foreclosure. Many of student's parents are loosing the house or already lost it, and parents lost their jobs, how do you think students can perform in the school if they are having such a hard time at home? How are you going to pay teachers based on student's performance if students are having such a hard time at home?
This is a political, economical and social problem what legislators needs to fix first and then let's talk about education.

Posted by: siritilent | March 31, 2010 9:13 PM | Report abuse

Article:

Merit pay benefits affluent schools. No duh!

www.sptimes.com/2008/02/24/Hillsborough/Hillsborough_s_merit_.shtml

Posted by: veteranteacher1 | March 31, 2010 9:19 PM | Report abuse

When teachers let the wolf, the FCAT, into their classrooms it emboldened the leaders of the pack. So they're back now to destroy those very teachers. State Senator John Thrasher has rolled out "Jeb Bush's SB 6". At first the legislation will put the jobs and livelihoods of every inner city teacher and special education teacher in jeopardy but they intend in time to get to all public school teachers.

They are out to achieve the vision of a man by the name of Milton Friedman. Sixty years ago Friedman wrote, "I believe that the only way to make a major improvement in our educational system is through privatization to the point at which a substantial fraction of all educational service is rendered to individuals by private enterprises. Nothing else will destroy or even greatly weaken the power of the educational establishment--a necessary pre-condition for radical improvement in our educational system... The privatization of schooling would produce a new, highly active and profitable industry. . . ."

Senate Bill 6 is intended to work the same way FCAT did with children--batter teachers into lower pay and lesser benefits and more overcrowded classrooms through fear and intimidation. Then they will snuff out what is left of public education and install their "new, highly active and profitable industry...." And they are counting on Florida's teachers to commit suicide.

That remains to be seen. The only reason an FCAT booklet has ever been distributed in a Florida classroom is because a teacher has agreed to do it. They can pass Senate Bill 6 or Senate Bill 666 and it's null and void unless teachers administer their tests.

P.S. I did call it "Jeb Bush's SB6". Valarie, I bet you thought the former governor was out of the picture. Au contraire. To this day Bush is the single most powerful force in terms of setting Florida education policy. The sponsor of SB6, Sen. John Thrasher from Jacksonville, is one of Jeb's errand boys and is taking his direction from the two education foundations that Jeb Bush has established.

Posted by: natturner | March 31, 2010 9:50 PM | Report abuse

George Bush's Sec. of Education, Margaret Spellings had zero teaching creditials, ditto for Obama's man, Duncan. Why on earth would a president of the United States of America choose a person for such a potent Cabinet position given such lasting influence on the future of our children?

Seems that the power of Duncan is to withhold taxpayer's education dollars from the states only to have the states become desperate for such funds and forced to jump through his hoops to receive $$ by applying for grants that conform to his will.

Napoleon crowned himself king..... With stuff akin to this legislation, the American people are mentally shopping for donkey ears for Duncan. Utter befuttlement.

Besides, "Race to the Top" is a creepy name for this convoluted mess anyway. Sounds a little like playground bullying, but in this case, the bullying is done by DC and the victims are the states and the posterity thereof.

Posted by: shadwell1 | March 31, 2010 10:11 PM | Report abuse

Protesters (teachers unionized and non-unionized) parents, and students were instructed to email Arne Duncan to thank him not choosing FL for the R2tT money. Hopefully he will get THOUSANDS of emails, and he then can get the message of what is at stake in November at Florida.

Posted by: redisni | March 31, 2010 10:12 PM | Report abuse

make that "utter befuddlement"

Posted by: shadwell1 | March 31, 2010 10:15 PM | Report abuse

What happens to the pay of the teachers who teach my son. My son has Autism. He can not take the FCAT. How will there pay be done. On top of that this school year started out with 12 students in each class with 1 teacher and 1 para.......how can you teach 12 children with Autism that way. Something needs to be done and there need to be caps on the amount of kids in an Autism Cluster class

Posted by: bzmommie | March 31, 2010 10:51 PM | Report abuse

I have been hoping all week for some national attention to HB7189. I have spent much of my spring break writing to our representatives and reading whatever I could find the bill. Here is the letter I wrote to the local paper tonight.

HB 7819 is a bill that will hurt all teachers and students in Florida. It proposes to decrease teachers’ salaries by 50% and base the remaining salary on students’ scores on standardized tests. But how standard are these tests? At the high school level End of Course tests have not been piloted and yet they vote on this bill next week that links teacher pay to a single year-end test. They plan to create tests for all subject areas. The cost of these tests will be taken out of district budgets; they give us less and expect more.

This bill will have teachers incomes fluctuating from year to year, there will be no due process rights, annual contracts only, no tenure, no credential pay, they are even changing the certification process. This brings to mind questions:
How will teachers obtain credit?
How will a state with critical teacher shortages in 6 subject areas attract new teachers?
Already 50% of new teachers leave in the first 5 years; will that percentage increase?
Will the “merit pay” portion of the salary count towards retirement?
Will students get HS credit for a course if they fail the EOC test?
How will schools in economically disadvantaged communities that struggle with lower test scores keep their teachers?
What will happen to the teachable moment as we board a fast paced streamlined curriculum that will leave little time to develop imagination, creativity and exploratory learning?
Our students will become better test takers but not necessarily life long learners.
This bill could rob our students of a well-rounded education.


Posted by: ananna | March 31, 2010 10:55 PM | Report abuse


HB 7819 is a bill that will hurt all teachers and students in Florida. It proposes to decrease teachers’ salaries by 50% and base the remaining salary on students’ scores on standardized tests. But how standard are these tests? At the high school level End of Course tests have not been piloted and yet they vote on this bill next week that links teacher pay to a single year-end test. They plan to create tests for all subject areas. The cost of these tests will be taken out of district budgets; they give us less and expect more.

This bill will have teachers incomes fluctuating from year to year, there will be no due process rights, annual contracts only, no tenure, no credential pay, they are even changing the certification process. This brings to mind questions:
How will teachers obtain credit?
How will a state with critical teacher shortages in 6 subject areas attract new teachers?
Already 50% of new teachers leave in the first 5 years; will that percentage increase?
Will the “merit pay” portion of the salary count towards retirement?
Will students get HS credit for a course if they fail the EOC test?
How will schools in economically disadvantaged communities that struggle with lower test scores keep their teachers?
What will happen to the teachable moment as we board a fast paced streamlined curriculum that will leave little time to develop imagination, creativity and exploratory learning?
Our students will become better test takers but not necessarily life long learners.
This bill could rob our students of a well-rounded education.


Posted by: ananna | March 31, 2010 10:55 PM | Report abuse

Valerie,
There needs to be a way for teachers outside of Florida to express their professional opinion on this. Politicians are way out of their area of expertise and have been for a long time. Education does not need their incorrect assessment of the state of American students. What we need is for politicians to help with poverty, inequitable situations. Let teachers teach: math, music, art, social studies, industrial arts, literature, writing and so forth. Stop the madness of punishment, let schools get back to helping kids learn, not to teach kids how to take tests, and not to turning all teachers into mindless slaves to the test with no voice in their own profession. I hope the people of Florida can stop this and I hope the rest of the country pays attention. I am a teacher, 15 years in the classroom, and a doctoral student in learning technologies. Where is my voice in these matters and the voices of other teaching professionals?

Posted by: smithtk | April 1, 2010 12:47 AM | Report abuse

Valerie, as a parent here in Florida, I can't thank you enough for following this story. We are not even seeing it here in our papers. Having a learning disabled son, I ask who would want him in their classroom? He will never be a good test taker although he is a good student. Not to mention the fact that the curriculum will be further narrowed to just passing test after test. This will not benefit my gifted child either as the curriculum will pared down to nothing but basics. Can someone get Jeb Bush out of my state and out of education? How can anyone, ANYONE, be so evil as to destroy a system that does its best to educate all students, not just the affluent. And as former teacher with a Masters Degree, I am stunned, appalled, and shocked that I am told my education, EDUCATION, means nothing? What message does that send? I have yet to be disatisfied with any teacher and my kids are 13 and 10. Someone needs to stop Thrasher in his tracks. This will drive out good teachers and further the cry for vouchers as no one will want their kids in public schools. But hasn't that been Jeb's goal all along?

Posted by: Live4literacy | April 1, 2010 6:41 AM | Report abuse

I agree that teachers everywhere need to be paying attention to this. I'm a NBCT who has taught for 34 years and I continue to enrich my own education in order to continue to provide quality instruction to my students. I can't imagine losing 50% of my salary and having to earn the other 50% as a merit bonus. I teach in a title I school with a large number of ELL students and results are just unpredictable. How can anyone expect to live under such uncertainty? Also--why would any system want to discourage their teachers from furthering their own education? It is truly sad to see so many people that think of education as "elitist" and ignorance as a positive thing.

Posted by: musiclady | April 1, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

I am checking my email and there is a preview on my tv behind me for Action 10 news tonight at 11. "Teachers with higher degrees don't make better teachers."

Who or what has taken over this state? MSM hates us. Is it corporate owned media that controls what is reported? I have NEVER seen anything like this in my life.

Posted by: veteranteacher1 | April 1, 2010 6:16 PM | Report abuse

Good grief..they keep running this ad..."How much are these graduate degrees costing you? News at 11. This is insanity! Now they don't want us to get a master's degree in anything? Graduate schools must love that idea! God, save us.

Posted by: veteranteacher1 | April 1, 2010 6:34 PM | Report abuse

Washington, DC teachers, can you help us? Carry a sign in front of the White House "Teachers helping teachers" "Save the teachers of Florida" "If Florida goes, so goes the nation"

Posted by: veteranteacher1 | April 1, 2010 6:57 PM | Report abuse

Valerie- The people who sponsor the pro- Senate Bill 6 Facebook page, "Support Florida's Teachers" are none other than the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Why is this important? The COC has a vested interest in the Charter School Movement and the Standardized Test Companies. Not coincidentally, so do many of the Republican members of the Florida Legislature who are pushing these draconian bills. There is money to be made at the expense of public schools. They hope to essentially privatize the school system in Florida, while re-directing funds to their corporate interests.

If you dig deeper you will find a major conflict of interest, coupled with real home-grown corruption. This is not new for the Republican party in Florida. PLEASE dig DEEPER.

Posted by: NowAwake | April 1, 2010 9:14 PM | Report abuse

When I got to school today, there was a survey on my school computer email from the FL Chamber of Commerce. It is the bogus one we were told not to touch. If I can't use my school computer to participate in politics, why are they allowed to infiltrate our email? They have openly supported SB6 and who gave them all of our email addresses?

Dig deeper!

Posted by: veteranteacher1 | April 1, 2010 9:29 PM | Report abuse

I went to school in FL from 1994 to 2007. I remember when we switch to FCAT. I went to high school when AP exploded in Florida. I volunteered this year and get a taste of the pedadgogical side too.

And you know what? A lot of teachers are bad. A lot of them are lazy, too. Yes, this bill is a "hammer." Yes, its over the top. But the teachers are being selfish here. Isn't it obvious they would trade student success to job security and less work? This is about students achievement vs. teacher job security and workload. Just state it loudly and proudly and let people take sides.

You're right that holding teachers accountable will be difficult. When I volunteer in schools I have to role my eyes sometimes when people present statistics. They don't have a clue what they're talking about. It's also true there hasn't been enough research on if accountability is effective. But the reason is that it's never been tried (in a controlled experiment)! There is an overwhelming amount of evidence for the economic theory behind the policy and that counts for something!

At the end of the day, it's better to have teachers working toward a goal than using a "self-directed" approach (read: do what you want, including not work).

Posted by: steve10c | April 1, 2010 10:17 PM | Report abuse

Steve10,
So sorry you volunteer in a crappy school. I teach in a low income Title 1 school that is rated an "A" and we make AYP. We have every computer program known to man to produce daily data as to their progress. The struggling students work with many specialists to get the job done. It would be impossible to accurately attach a child's name to only one teacher. So why should we be punished?

Why don't you ask the principal to use the process already in place to get rid of bad teachers? Contrary to urban legends, the job is not guaranteed for life. An administrator worth his/her salt can get that job done. It just takes work.

Posted by: veteranteacher1 | April 1, 2010 10:46 PM | Report abuse

phoss1,
They seem to work in educating kids who later became our soldiers who defeated Hitler.

Posted by: edlharris | April 1, 2010 11:08 PM | Report abuse

Steve 10 says "At the end of the day, it's better to have teachers working toward a goal than using a "self-directed" approach (read: do what you want, including not work)."

The only goal Florida teachers will be working toward will be finding jobs in other states where they are given some respect. Think what you want about tying teacher pay to test scores, but cutting pay 50% with the possibility of earning the other 50% based on the performance of other people, is not a way to keep the good teachers. They can't plan their lives on unreliable income and they will go elsewhere. Unfortunately Florida legislators will get what they deserve-- but the school children will lose.

Posted by: musiclady | April 1, 2010 11:11 PM | Report abuse

OK..Channel 10 ABC news on wasted $$$ for advanced degrees
With disgust, the commentator stated that a teacher with a master's degree makes on the average $2,800 a year more, $6,000 for a PHD.
Said the National Council on Teacher Quality says that there is no correlation between advanced degrees and test scores. (Is this a Jeb Bush foundation?)
They went on to say that hundreds of millions of YOUR tax dollars statewide are spent on this. Concluded by questioning whether this $$ should go to teachers that produce test scores instead. Can you imagine telling the teachers of NY this?

Posted by: veteranteacher1 | April 1, 2010 11:25 PM | Report abuse

So in Florida, test scores apparently are really all that matters. That money spent on advanced degrees might not make a difference in test scores but it may make an incredible difference in the quality of classroom instruction. Of course those of us who are teachers know that a great deal of student learning isn't reflected on standardized tests. At least the right wing is consistent. They decry the liberal elite (read that as educated) so they want to make sure that even the teachers don't get more education.

Four years ago I completed a 3 year master's program in a specialized methodology (this is my second graduate program). Yes, it moved me over a pay lane (to Master's plus 30) but more importantly, it made a tremendous difference in my teaching. It was specific to what I teach and even though I had near 30 years experience at the time, I felt like a first year teacher. Everything was new. Sometimes teachers need that. We need to be excited about what we are teaching and learning new things does that. Most people who go into education as a profession tend to love learning too. Are we supposed to give that up? Talk about hypocrisy!

Posted by: musiclady | April 2, 2010 12:39 AM | Report abuse

We need to hold Obama, Duncan and Thrasher ACCOUNTABLE for their destruction of the American system of education.

Perhaps we could start by fining them for every good teacher that gets fired. We can fine them for all the time spent teaching to the test instead of instructing students. We can fine them for misleading the American public about the reliability and validity of standardized tests. We fine them for the fact that there methods of improving education really hurts children.

LET ACCOUNTABILITY START WITH THOSE WHO ARE DAMAGING EDUCATION!

Posted by: jlp19 | April 2, 2010 7:27 AM | Report abuse

Tell young people not to go into Education, because people like Obama and Duncan and Thrasher are going to ruin and destroy them no matter how hard they try - and most of the press will support them in their destruction.

Posted by: jlp19 | April 2, 2010 7:32 AM | Report abuse

Go to FB..Stop Senate Bill 6..discussions..scroll down to "Is this the true agenda for Florida's Attack on Education?" Read Jonah Irvington's piece. Now it all makes sense.

Posted by: veteranteacher1 | April 2, 2010 8:45 AM | Report abuse

Here's the new agenda for 2010.

from a posted comment:

"Our schools are hopeless. Our educational system is thoroughly infested with and run by liberals and is nothing more than another way for them to move their agenda. Indoctrination versus education. Our teachers all have been indoctrinated by the left leaning schools they attended."

Have we made Glenn Beck's chalkboard yet? Right out of Karl Rove's playbook.

Posted by: veteranteacher1 | April 2, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Why is anyone who has a different point of view considered an evil liberal. As an outstanding educator, I consider myself a progressive because I care about our children, the environment, animal rights, human rights, earning a real grade vs. grade inflation, rigorous curriculum, true democracy and many other issues. Lets try to get away from semantics and start talking about what the real issue. You talk about indoctrination. Isn't that what you're doing to your children when you stereotype educators as "all liberals with their own agenda." I'm tired of people making inuendos about bad teachers when they haven't spent one day in my shoes. Mrs. Anti-"Liberal" Educators I invite you to my academically challeged student school to see for yourself what I do everyday with a smile on my face and a mission to make a difference. I'm high energy and never give up.
Naples, FL 239/293-5758
I will be welcome you into my beautiful home for a week and you can shadow me. I won't be putting on a horse and pony show for you. You can't do that with the types of students that I teach.

Posted by: ccof30 | April 5, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

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