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Posted at 3:19 PM ET, 04/14/2010

Teasing teachers in Florida

By Valerie Strauss

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has become a big tease, but it’s hard to know if he is teasing teachers or his fellow Republicans in the state Legislature.

Crist has until Friday to decide what to do about legislation sent to him that would, among other things, end teacher tenure in Florida, link teacher pay to student test scores, eliminate experience and advanced degrees as a factor in teacher evaluation, create a slew of new standardized tests for kids to take.

It’s one doozy of a bad bill, and Crist has been suggesting he is on both sides of the argument. He’s publicly said he supports part of the bill, but also has concerns, including how it would affect learning disabled students.

Here’s where the real teasing comes into play: Crist was quoted in the Gainesville Sun as saying, “I am still listening to the people and there are a lot to listen to," the governor said. "The people are concerned about this and I am concerned about it."

Crist’s office has been receiving tens of thousands of phone calls and emails, almost all of them opposed to Senate Bill 6/House Bill 7189. The governor also mentioned publicly that he got a voice mail message from former Gov. Jeb Bush, whose Foundation for Florida’s Future is behind the bill.

Bush, naturally, urged Crist to sign it. Bush not only supports the bill but clearly was behind the creation of the legislation; the Senate sponsor, John Thrasher, was just recently installed as the Republican party chief of Florida with Bush’s help, and Thrasher introduced Bill 6 into the Senate with language that sounded exactly like a position paper on the foundation’s website.

Florida’s public education system has been in the hands of Republicans -- Bush for two terms and then Crist, for almost a dozen years. It makes you wonder why they keep saying it is so awful and needs to be drastically overhauled.

Could it be that their policies of emphasizing standardized tests over all else could be to blame?

If Crist is going to listen to anyone, it should be Tim McGonegal, superintendent of Manatee County Public schools. He wrote Crist a letter this week that helps explains why the Florida legislation is so awful. And people outside Florida should understand what is happening here to, because Bush and his allies are trying to push this into other states.

Here’s part of what McGonegal wrote:

During the last two years alone, the Manatee District has seen its annual operating budget slashed by more than $44 million. To deal with these cuts, our district has dramatically cut costs in all departments and eliminated 118 support positions. If enacted, SB 6 will result in the Manatee County School District’s budget being reduced by an additional $14 million for the 2010-2011 school year; and that is over and above an already expected cut in state funding for our district between $6 million to $15 million.

The additional cut in state funding resulting from enactment of SB 6 will force our district to eliminate elective offerings and other essential services to our students.

I believe this bill is flawed in many respects. Among the most troubling of these flaws are the apparent conflicts with the Constitution of Florida that the bill presents.

Article IX, Section 4 provides that the elected school board shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district, yet SB 6 usurps this authority by interfering with the collective bargaining process, specifying salary requirements, imposing prerequisites on the hiring and retention of employees, and tampering with the budgeting and expenditure of funds garnered from local property tax levies.

Please do not place more of a burden on the backs of our teachers during these difficult days when they are constantly being asked to accomplish more with less. Please don’t give your endorsement to this divisive and flawed bill. Please veto SB 6.

There are other reasons to oppose this bill, too.

For example, linking teacher pay to student test scores is a bad idea, even if the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, likes it, and even if states around the nation are jumping on the bandwagon so they can win federal funds in his Race to the Top school reform competition.

Crist is in a primary fight with a hard-line conservative who is supported by Bush, and may find it useful to veto the bill -- or send it back to an ad hoc committee for rewrite -- to gain support among the state's teaching force.

I suppose teachers won't care why he vetoes the bill as long as he does, though I also assume they understand that they are being used as a political football, which will continue to have harmful repercussions on their profession down the road.

Crist need stop teasing and just veto the bill. Now.


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By Valerie Strauss  | April 14, 2010; 3:19 PM ET
Categories:  Teachers  | Tags:  Bush and teachers, Crist and teachers, Crist and teachers bill, Florida education, Florida school reform, Florida teachers, Florida teachers tenure bill, Jeb Bush, Senate Bill 6, bush and Florida educaiton, bush and teachers bill  
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Next: When school reform made teachers sick -- literally


The voice of reason.... Crist needs to do the honorable thing. Yes, veto. Now.

Posted by: shadwell1 | April 14, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

This is really one bad bill for the state of FL and teachers. If you have a great class of over-acheivers it looks good on you but if you get a bad class you are up a creek. Most teachers are really in it for the right reasons and bust their butt to try and teach. I know there are some REALLY bad ones out there but that is in any job..... They should be able to get rid of bad teachers but it has to be on how they teach or don't teach not on strictly student performance.

Posted by: tbastian | April 14, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

I agree with you Valerie. Let's hope Crist will think about the future of Florida's kids.

Posted by: celestun100 | April 14, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

He's going to sign it. He's putting on a show of being "concerned" just for public consumption, but he will sign because Jeb says to, and there is so much money at stake with the companies that make the tests.

Posted by: aed3 | April 14, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse


Are the companies based in Florida?

Looking at this another way, what do you have to do to get a job at a standardized test company? How much does it pay? Should I be buying stock in one of these companies? Hey, it sounds easier than teaching and if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Posted by: celestun100 | April 14, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

I think this should be a wake up call to the all the young people not to go into teaching, especially in Florida.

Posted by: jlp19 | April 14, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

celestun100: I agree. In Florida, Crist and his legislators and house don't care about education, but rather money money money and they are all very corrupt. There is not a chance in hell Crist will Veto this bill. I wonder how much money has already been made on this bill and how many companies will begin some sort of module or online pathetic professional development models that come out each and every time a new state mandate having to do with new standards or curriculum reform (cough cough)come out. For example, Neil Bush's COWS "learning" (I use that term very loosely) came out a day after NCLB if even a day. He and his family profited big time. How about the name Cecil Golden, now mandated in all principal prep programs after another very unwise statute was mandated to all universities who train new leaders across the state or dept of ed leadership programs UF, FSU, FAU, FIU, and the rest, all reputable prep programs would lose state approval for their programs and thus would cease to exist unless they infused "Cecil Golden" learning modules "offered" by and from the state and from FOR PROFIT companies. Many who were chosen by the state DOE and umbrellaed under the program by the state. Not surprising since the majority of these were developed by DOE workers or friends and family. Who pays, the universities undergoing the largest budget cuts in their histories and by default, the students so these non research based modules can generate profit by those not in too much need of money in the first place.
Crist will not veto this bill although he should, but that suggests a hundred deals have not already been cut with profiteers. I just wonder which company will show up first and what their relationship will be to the FL gov, Crist, or DOE staff.
I think Crist and the legislators believe Floridians are that stupid as if we didn't notice. Well we do notice and perhaps if Crist continues to deprioritize education, the population in twenty years will lose their ability to critically think about the role of government and the overt and transparent corruption that occurs in this state around education.
Leaving the sunshine, rain beats living in a place where children are surrounded by bad role models and absolute abuse of power by a bunch of wannabe white, yet tan, old men.

Posted by: sikacoruptpoltikn | April 14, 2010 5:48 PM | Report abuse

Students in Davie and Weston on Wednesday joined the ranks of those showing their opposition to the controversial teacher merit pay bill that awaits a signature or veto by Gov. Charlie Crist this week.

Roughly 1,500 students at Western High School in Davie walked out of class and onto the football field just after 9 a.m., said district spokeswoman Nadine Drew. The school was locked down as a security precaution and students returned to class shortly before lunch at 10:40 a.m., she said.

Eight miles away at McFatter Technical High School, also in Davie, several hundred students followed suit and gathered in the school's courtyard for about 20 minutes, said principal Mark Thomas. At Cypress Bay High School in Weston, roughly 100 students marched around the courtyard for roughly an hour during their second period of class, district officials said.

Posted by: natturner | April 14, 2010 8:13 PM | Report abuse

Jeb has a new letter in the online St. Pete Times for tomorrow.

The man needs a real job.

Posted by: veteranteacher1 | April 14, 2010 8:42 PM | Report abuse

I urge the Governor to sign the bill. Bad teachers cannot be fired fast enough. A year is forever in the lifetime of a child. To wait forever to have a bad teacher replaced is terrible. Teachers should be evaluated on what they are able to teach. That means evaluating what their students have learned. If the teacher cannot connect with the students, then the teacher should not be rewarded with a monetary bonus. My sister was "taught" by a teacher with "tenure" who only taught the class when another adult was in the room "evaluating" the teacher. This is unfair to the students.

Posted by: cdc1 | April 14, 2010 9:11 PM | Report abuse

sikacoruptpoltikn: Thank you for your post. After spending about 30 min. on rabbit trails on the internet (chasing info on Cecil Golden), this is scary stuff! Though I no longer live in Florida, this bill is of interest to me due to obivious ills to Florida as well as the spread of this virus. I have been spending some time in the last few weeks discovering many of the connections of educational money funneled through various "foundations" and such that receive their funds (awarded grants) from tax dollars via Fed and State Depts. of Education. Too many folks have their hands in the trough.

Education dollars are divved up so much, that it is no wonder that on the local level schools are suffering. Yes, the private pockets are greedy and the funds flow freely to the well connected, seemingly placed, "foundations" that have been established in order to fulfill the purpose of turning the education of our children into BIG BUSINESS. Obama and Duncan should be very ashamed of themselves for pushing this stuff. The Bush gang, ditto.

"Race to the Top" OR "Plunge down the Crapper"

Posted by: shadwell1 | April 14, 2010 9:23 PM | Report abuse

CDC--You swallowed a pitcherful of the purple kool-aid. These people do not care about your child’s education. Plenty of bad teachers have classes that score well on the tests; passing the test has nothing to do with good education and everything to do with teaching gimmicks that have fooled you and much of the rest of the country into thinking that high scores = good education.

The commercial interests driving this issue are much bigger than Florida. They are siphoning off your tax money and what do they produce? Test scores. That’s all. Test scores of dubious quality that they wave around in front of your face to divert you from what is really going on.

Here’s an example--The Bush family has had close ties to the McGraw family of the McGraw-Hill company for generations. Obviously, it was no coincidence that the company got most of the textbook contracts with Texas while Dubya was governor, when NCLB was being developed. The book company also awarded Rod Paige it’s educator of the year award about the same time the contracts were awarded. Also, a massive amount of money was diverted from funding previously used for libraries and technology into purchasing test practice materials produced by textbook companies. Of course, this affected the curriculum in the classroom as time previously spent on research projects or literature studies went into practicing the test. And I’m sure you know how much influence Texas has on the textbook market.

NCLB places testing mandates on states that are very expensive to carry out. In order to get government funding to fulfill the requirements, only certain “scientifically proven” reading programs may be used. These companies are rife with conflicts of interest.

The Bushes, Crist, and many others have scammed the American public into believing that their fake “science” and stupid tests create better learning, despite the reams of stronger evidence including NAEP scores that show little or no improvement, or even backsliding in some places.

The next step is to privatize schools because there’s even more money to be made there.

The whole point is to dismantle America’s system of public schooling, which used to be the envy of the world, and to divert YOUR tax dollars into the pockets of the businesses that own the schools.

Does that remind you of anything recent?

Posted by: aed3 | April 14, 2010 9:36 PM | Report abuse

You'll never guess who profits if Florida's public schools fail!

Posted by: natturner | April 14, 2010 10:10 PM | Report abuse

Hey Valerie<

He vetoed it!!!

Posted by: celestun100 | April 15, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Vetoed! Gov. Crist did indeed do the honorable thing!

Posted by: shadwell1 | April 15, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Amazing!!! Maybe this is some kind of turning point. Hope springs eternal.

Jeb must be really annoyed.

Posted by: aed3 | April 15, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

How fitting for you to quote McGonegal's letter - he is the Superintendent of the county I teach in, and when he was chosen, many teachers were worried, because he had no previous education experience (he was the district's assistant superintendent for finance) and he was the nominee supported by the outgoing Superintendent who was not leaving on the best of terms. Sure, McGonegal has made a mistake or two, but he recognized the need to repair relations with the local teacher's union (that I am not a part of) and the need to involve all stakeholders in discussions about major decisions. We may not always like the decisions he makes, but he doesn't shut out teachers like the Florida Legislature did when they crafted this train-wreck. McGonegal even rescheduled a School Board workshop and joined teachers in a protest rally last night after sending the letter.

Posted by: jmcoxfl | April 15, 2010 6:38 PM | Report abuse

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