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Posted at 9:42 AM ET, 04/ 9/2010

Florida ed reform passes: Is it a model or disaster?

By Valerie Strauss

It's now up to to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) to decide whether to sign legislation that would end job security for teachers and link their pay to student test scores.

House Bill 7189 passed the chamber before dawn today after hours of impassioned debate, and after conservative House Republicans ran over more moderate members of their own party who offered amendments to ease the measure's most controversial provisions.

Backers hailed the legislation as a model of reform for the nation, while many educators in the Sunshine State and beyond said it makes them fear for public education.

Already approved by the Senate, the legislation now rests with Crist, who first said he supported it but has been hinting that he may now use his veto because it is so unpopular.

Teachers, parents and students have been loudly protesting the legislation, which, if it becomes law, would:

*Make Florida the first state to eliminate tenure for new teachers, putting them all on one-year contracts for the first five years.

*Eliminate class experience and advanced degrees (in most cases) as factors in teacher evaluations and pay increases.

*Require that at least 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, and pay increases, be based on standardized test scores. Test experts say this method is faulty because teachers can’t control every factor that affects the test-taking process.

*Require the creation of a slew of new standardized tests for every subject, in every grade that is not already assessed. This must come as good news to companies that create tests and that prepare students for taking tests. There could be a lot of new business for them in Florida [Disclosure: The Washington Post owns Kaplan, an education company with a test prep divison.]

A look at some of the details of the bill passed by the House helps explain why critics say it was not thought out or written with much care.

It requires all school districts in the state to develop end-of-course exams that will determine “learning gains” made by students ( a plan that also would require exams to be given at the beginning of the school year, too, so that student progress can be measured). It doesn't, however, explain what a student “learning gain” -- on which teachers will be judged-- actually is.

Within a few years, Florida second-graders could, perhaps, sit down, with pencil in hand, to take a test on how well they did in art class that year. What kind of test? Nobody knows. The bill doesn’t say.

The new tests will cost millions of dollars. A legislator from Duval County told the House that the state Education Department is developing three end-of course exams right now, at a cost of more than $1 million. The Miami-Dade County school system alone has something like 900 course offerings.

To pay for the course development and performance pay for teachers and other parts of the legislation, 5 percent of federal, state and local Florida Education Finance Program funds are to be set aside beginning in 2011. That’s about $900 million.

But here’s the catch: It’s not new money. It would come out of the already stretched budgets of county school systems. School officials say they can't possibly afford this.

The bill also doesn’t mention how special-needs students should be factored in, although Crist said this week he was concerned about this omission.

The backers of the bill say these are details that can be worked out later in rules by the Department of Education.

That’s the same thing they said when former Florida governor Jeb Bush pushed through a statewide standardized testing program called the FCAT. The legislation had few details, which had to be worked out over years. The adults fiddled while students had to suffer taking tests that had no meaning.

The bill has been hailed by some conservatives outside the state, including Stanford University economist Eric Hanusek, who praised Florida in the April edition of Education Next magazine for being "poised to lead the nation in crafting student policies."

Hanusek was a big supporter of then-president George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind education reform, once writing that it was "raising overall student performance." Bush's own administration issued reports showing that it did not, in fact, raise overall student performance.

Education historian Diane Ravitch, a former official in the administration of president George H.W. Bush who once supported NCLB, has looked at data and changed her mind, saying it actually harmed education, in part by emphasizing high-stakes standardized tests. The New York University professor wrote an open letter to the Florida legislature expressing her opposition to the state's reform approach.

The legislation's supporters have repeatedly said that its reforms will improve schools and encourage good teachers to stay in the profession because they will be paid more for their good work. Supporters may indeed believe this. But good teachers know that they can't fairly be judged by test scores alone. It isn't surprising that no teachers were involved in the drafting of the legislation.

Certainly there are teachers in every school system who should not be in the classroom, and certainly principals should have the flexibility to remove ineffective teachers. In fact, in some counties, they do already. Nobody wants bad teachers to be forced out better than good teachers. But taking away job security, linking pay to test scores and forcing kids to take more tests is going to hurt the good teachers as least as much as the bad.

Opponents of the bill accuse its sponsors of disliking teachers and trying to tear down public education. Sen. John Thrasher, sponsor the Senate bill on teacher tenure and testing, who was recently installed as chairman of Florida’s Republican Party with the help of former governor Jeb Bush, denied this. Incidentally, he didn't ask any educators for their input on the reform.

During a recent debate on the Senate floor, Thrasher pointed to his daughter who was sitting in the gallery. She’s a former teacher, according to this piece from WUSF, Tampa Bay’s public broadcasting station.

“She’s told me she’s not fearful of this bill. Because she thinks that when this bill passes, it’s gonna inspire teachers to get into the classroom, and do a better job than they’ve been doing, even now,” Thrasher said.

Of course she's not fearful. She doesn’t teach anymore.


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By Valerie Strauss  | April 9, 2010; 9:42 AM ET
Tags:  Charlie Crist, Florida, Florida governor, Florida teachers, Gov Crist, House bill 7189, NCLB, Senate Bill 6, jeb bush, protester faints, school reform, teacher pay, teacher tenure bill, teachers and protest  
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Seems there is support for some elements of the bill from students and parents...

Posted by: millionea7 | April 9, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Well, they definitely have a problem on their hands if they didn't include special needs kids in the bill. Unless the federal laws on that change.

Thrasher sounds like my idea of a horrible teacher. How would giving people worse working conditions motivate them to do a better job? It would motivate me to move out of Florida. Or, to put my kid in a private school, which is probably what the legislators actually want to do. A pay for your own child and let the poor people take the leftovers kind of system. Way to close the Gap, Florida!

Posted by: celestun100 | April 9, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Don't they already have trouble retaining teachers in Florida schools or am I misinformed? How does this you can be fired at anytime during your first five years help the high rate of turnover in the 1-5 year period? It sounds like they don't want new teachers. Can anybody explain the rationale on that?

Posted by: celestun100 | April 9, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

It's hard for me to get away from the picture of mostly MALE lawyers needing to
use their political will to castigate mostly female teachers - they aren't exactly taking on college and university schools, are they?

Also, in terms of early childhood students
(pre-K - 3rd), until those children are in
very small classes of 10-12 - or - less -
requiring rigid standards when there are so
many emerging developmental issues, not to mention various disabilities that have to be diagnosed and accommodated for,is just
punishing and potentially very damaging.

Should we all deluge Crist with emails? What's the best way for readers to continue to express their concern with this bill?

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | April 9, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

"...linking pay to test scores and forcing kids to take more tests is going to hurt the good teachers as least as much as the bad."

If positive test results is the standard by which we find and keep the "good" teachers, how is it that testing will hurt good teachers as much as the bad ones? It doesn't.

Is it your opinion that experience and tenure are valuable measures for what makes a good teacher? Teacher experience and tenure mean nothing if the kids show no improvement in knowledge and their capacity to learn.

Given that we are coerced to support public schools (which limits the means by which to improve the product), I think the Florida legislature is doing the best it can. Firing a teacher that can't prepare students for a test is something that should happen whether a private or public school is at issue.

Posted by: beselfish | April 9, 2010 10:29 AM | Report abuse

This is just a form of economic segregation. If teacher pay is (at least 50%) based on test scores, then the richest counties will have an easy time getting teachers, while the poorer ones will have a tougher time; and the gap in test scores between richer and poorer schools will increase. This will make the richer schools even more appealing and the cycle will continue, turning it into a different form of "separate but equal".

Which schools do the legislatures' children go to?

Posted by: williamhorkan | April 9, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Two can play this game. The Florida teachers can fight this by refusing to teach in any schools with low-scoring students. Also, the first teacher to get a low evaluation because of her students' low test scores can go to court where it should be easy to prove that there are no standardized tests capable of evaluating the effectiveness of a teacher. University testing experts will vouch for this. There should be lots of expensive lawsuits in Florida, followed by a huge teacher shortage once this recession is over and the baby boomers have retired.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | April 9, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

The Republicans under Jeb Busch and Charlie Crist have been in charge of Floridas educational system for 13 yrs. What have they accomplished? Well, they lost 836 million dollars of taxpayers and teachers pension fund money by investing in Enron, Leyman Bros. andEdison stock, all politcal cronies and big donaters to their political campains. They had Neal Busch, Jebs brother, start IGNITE, a company to develop curriculum and programs for there new educational reform. Floridas educational system has been failing this administration, so,who better to fix it than those who screwed it up... By cutting teachers wages,pensions and salaries, blaming them for a failed system, they will be able to garner another 900 million to dispense to political hacks. WHAT A POLITICAL PLUM. tr

Posted by: roosboys | April 9, 2010 12:34 PM | Report abuse

This law rests on the same faulty line of reasoning that is the underpinning of NCLB; it assumes that good test results demonstrate good teaching and that students have learned something of value.

In fact, lousy teachers can teach to the test and get their students to score well, just as good teachers can have students with significant personal/social problems or disabilities who score poorly.

Florida is putting the nails in the coffin of its public schools with this overtly punitive system. But that's probably the intention. It will help the drive towards more privatized schools and more profits for certain businesses. That's what's at stake in high stakes testing.

Posted by: aed3 | April 9, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

At the end of the day,the Florida students will suffer leaving all of them behind.

Posted by: sheilahgill | April 9, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Yet again, an unfunded mandate hosited upon our education budgets. This is definitely an aggressive move towards "Thrashing" public education. Given 3 tests cost 1 million, districts will move to completely pare down course offerings for our students. What universities will even consider our kids knowing they have a dumbed down education? I can't believe this can't be struck down as unconstitutional as it is not providing a "free and fair" education for all. These Republicans are remiss in thinking that only the right is angry. As a parent I am dumbfounded and panicked for my kids. As a teacher, I am FURIOUS that MEN who are NOT educators think they can tell me how to do my job and that my advanced degrees mean nothing. This is absolutely ludicrous and is nothing more than a money grab...Kaplan doesn't stand a chance as Neil Bush is waiting in the wings for that 900 million.

Posted by: Live4literacy | April 9, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Florida teachers are not opposed to weed out out Lafave's wanabees or "Mickey Mouse" teachers; teachers are not opposed to merit pay (look what DC's "Stone Lady" Rhee agree to give her teachers) based on fair, scientific, repeatable measuring instruments; teachers do not oppose not giving salary increases for meaningless (not related to subject area) advanced degrees.

What teachers oppose is the destruction of their livelihood. Initiatives promoted by self-serving myopic interests like SB6, nullification of class size amendment, selective vouchers, and others (yes, ALL of them not only SB6) will dismantle the American public education system in Florida creating a third-world privileged education system that further separates haves from have-nots.

Public education, wow, what an idea, what a concept, a concept that allowed America to put the men on the moon, that created the brains and technology of the Digital Revolution, that nurtured the brains of more Nobel prize winners than any country in the world, that promoted among students the notion of democracy. A concept that the late Jaime Escalante valued for his students because it is poorly implemented in his birth country.

Yes, the idea is showing its age, and it needs modifications, but money grabber politician$ without ANY input of the true stakeholders DO NOT have the right to tell Floridian taxpayers which student deserves to get a better education.

Posted by: redisni | April 9, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

I think, at this point, we need to realize that the politicians and businessmen behind these policies do not care about good education and are probably amused by all the wailing. They know they are ignorant about what goes into good curriculum and teaching, but it's beside the point. The goal is to make a profit off education money and the easiest way to get teachers out of the way is to devalue them.

The media, for the most part, have been happy to assist by reporting the contents of NCLB press kits as fact, rather than investigating the scam that it is. They could have started by looking at the statistical lies that created the "Houston Miracle," the Bush business interests (McGraw-Hill, among others), including Neil's involvement selling education/computer materials of dubious quality, the fortunes made in the testing industry, conflicts of interest on local levels...the list goes on and on.

Instead of looking at all points of view, newspapers and TV stations around the country have been complicit in whipping up a frenzy of teacher bashing by supporting the idea that any teacher who questions the Department of Education's policies is lazy and stupid and in service to the demon union.

Posted by: aed3 | April 9, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

I would seriously consider moving to a "poor" school in Florida now. Since the metric for increased pay is improvement over the course of my class, I know that I will be able to get huge gains from kids who come in struggling. I would much rather go to a poor school than a wealthy one with this system in place. Some, like me, will choose to go into schools where these big jumps (and the pay that come with them) can be had. Some will choose wealthier schools with less challenging populations in lieu of higher pay. This will be great, because we can have teachers paired with the populations they desire to teach. What better investment is there?

Posted by: HappyTeacher | April 9, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

No problem? Try regulating individual charter school owners. You thought the public school system was hard to run. When private businesses run our schools, write our tests, choose only the students they will accept to educate, what will happen to the rest? We are on the road to destroy public education which is essential in a democratic society. This legislation is about the usual power and money. Students' interests are not top priority. Recruiting and retaining good teachers will be a vague memory. I have been teaching for 22 years and have seen more cuts, tests, and mandates in the last 5 years than I care to discuss. Legislators respond to our emails saying we are misinformed. They proceed to explain the legislation to us and refer us to newspaper articles that support the policy as if we were 8th graders. They forget that we have a college education. We are well aware that this is bad for students and bad for teachers. We are the ones in the classroom every day. Teachers were not part of this "solution" until the Florida legislators sent out a survey with stilted questions on it the day before the vote. I will be leaving the profession this year because I refuse to be a part of this travesty of "good educational policy".

Posted by: parrott1 | April 9, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Happy Teacher
I hope for Florida's kids sake you are not the only one who thinks that way. It sounds to me like you have a better chance at making money at a private school there. If you think they are going to pay you a lot to get kids' test scores up, I think you had better check into this carefully. I think they are trying to shift money from the public schools into the private school system. So, that would be where the money is.


I also think this is a new form of economic segregation and possibly a way for the rich to get some tax money into their higher end schools.

Posted by: celestun100 | April 9, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

I have just seen some "sample" pay scales created by the Florida DOE. One of them has a 20 year teacher making over 200,000.00. This state doesn't even have enough money to by books. This is all smoke and mirrors to get Florida voters to sign off on funding religious school.

Posted by: murphinfla | April 9, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe they can afford to pay anyone 200,000. I may join Happy Teacher since I too have no problem getting test scores up.

Posted by: celestun100 | April 9, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse


Show me one public high school teacher anywhere in the U.S. making $200,000 and I will buy the Brooklyn Bridge from you. In Fairfax county (one of the richest in the country), a teacher with a PHD and 25 years of experience maxes out at $92,000.

Posted by: williamhorkan | April 9, 2010 9:28 PM | Report abuse

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