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Posted at 4:37 PM ET, 04/ 6/2010

More for Florida educators to be angry about

By Valerie Strauss

Florida’s teachers are already up in arms about the likelihood that state lawmakers are about to end teacher tenure, require the creation of standardized tests for every single grade, and link teacher pay to student test scores.

Now there’s another doozy of a bill that the Republican-led legislature is working on that has teachers, parent, and even school superintendents aghast.

It’s SB 2126, which would expand a program that allows corporations in Florida to contribute to a fund that provides scholarships, or vouchers, for private schools. The corporations can then deduct the amount from their corporate income and insurance premium taxes.

In other words, millions tax dollars that could go to the state to help out in this difficult financial downturn would instead go to send kids to private schools, most of them Christian, Muslim and Jewish.

[Added at 9 p.m.: This is an expansion of a program already in place, and there are varying estimates of how much money is involved. Supporters of the fund say it saves money for the state; opponents, and some school districts, say the opposite.]

Never mind that the state is cutting public education (and other) funding and raising tuition at public colleges and universities. Somehow, Florida has money to help corporations help kids go to private religious schools.

Broward County Schools Superintendent James Notter, in an interview with my colleague Nick Anderson said: "I’m adamantly opposed to it. It’s draining off dollars in the Great Recession that aren’t there."

Schools in Florida, he said, have enough trouble already getting funding for what they need, including in his 250,000-student system.

Sadly, big trouble is where the Florida public school system is headed.

Yesterday, the House Education Policy Council held an hours-long hearing about legislation that would end teacher tenure--which would make Florida the first state to do so--and tie teacher pay to standardized test scores. It would also negate the importance of teacher experience, credentials or advanced degrees, and require the creation of standardized tests for every grade in every subject already not assessed by the state’s accountability system.

In Florida, kids will first learn to walk, then talk and then jump right into test-prep.

The Senate has already passed its version, SB6, and the House is expected to pass HB7189 this week. Monday, teachers packed the chamber where the hearing was being held, hoping to get a chance to speak against it during time set aside for public speeches. Most of the people permitted to speak were, of course, supporters of the bill.

After one of a series of amendments to improve the bill was rejected by the council, a few teachers got up and left, sobbing.

There was nothing left for them to do, because the legislators seem intent on making this law, and Gov. Charlie Crist (R) has said he will sign it.

If you listen to the sponsor of the Senate version, new Florida Republican Party chief Sen. John Thrasher, which I did on a video that I can no longer find on YouTube, you learn that he doesn’t know some basics about the bill’s impact.

For example, when asked by a colleague how many tests would have to be created, he said he didn’t know. When asked how much it would cost, he said he didn’t know. When asked whether there was any marker in the bill that would show its true cost, he hedged.

I also listened to a video in which Thrasher introduced the bill, and some of the language seemed oddly familiar. Then I realized that I had read it before, in a position paper on the Web site of former governor Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida’s Future.

Well, Bush was interested in education as governor; he pushed through the legislature the statewide assessment test known as FCAT. And Bush did strongly boost Thrasher’s ascension to the Republican party chairmanship in February, after Jim Greer was ousted from the post. Now Greer is suing the Republican Party of Florida, claiming it hasn’t abided by a secret pact that it made to get him out of office involving a job that would pay Greer tens of thousands of dollars plus health benefits until his tenure would have been up in 2011, according to this Florida Today story.

Oh. Wait. This is an education blog and that sounds a lot like politics, doesn’t it?

Exactly.

That’s what we’ve got: politicians telling educators what to do, even though the politicians have no idea what works in a classroom and what doesn’t.

It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that no teachers were involved in the drafting of this legislation. Anybody who knows the first thing about education knows that the measures in this bill will make it harder for Florida’s children to get a decent education. Effective teachers will bristle at working under these conditions.

Notter has said it would be harder to attract qualified teachers, which is something of supreme importance to a superintendent. Florida’s Republicans leaders, of course, don’t care. They don’t have to hire the teachers--or get paid according to student test scores.

All of this helps explain why teachers in Florida think public education is under attack, a reaction made quite clear at the Teaching is Not Testing Facebook Page. Parents and other nonpartisan Floridians are involved, too, at Fund Education Now.

They are all busy getting ready for the next offensive.

-0-

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By Valerie Strauss  | April 6, 2010; 4:37 PM ET
Categories:  Teachers  | Tags:  Florida, Florida tax credits, Florida teacher tenure bill, Florida vouchers, Senate Bill 2126, Senate Bill 6, Standardized test, school voucher, standardized test, teacher tenure bill, teachers  
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Comments

Valerie,

I'm not sure it's public education that's under attack. I believe all this is being orchestrated because people have had it with teacher unions and their narcissistic attitude. It's all about them and nothing, I mean nothing to do with students. So if Florida appears to be targeting public education that might just be a rouge. What the Florida legislature really is after is the myopic teacher unions.

Posted by: phoss1 | April 6, 2010 7:23 PM | Report abuse

They just sound shockingly stupid. Sad for the kids.

Posted by: celestun100 | April 6, 2010 7:31 PM | Report abuse

People don't understand what teachers have to do. They think teachers just stand there and talk. They have no idea about time for planning. They think teachers work from 8-3. That is why they hate unions. They have no idea of what teachers do. These Floridians sound idiotic. They think testing the kids each year is going to reform? Give me a break!

Posted by: celestun100 | April 6, 2010 7:36 PM | Report abuse

phoss1, you have it right.
They are targeting teacher unions.
That said, where's the evidence that teacher unions have brought down american public education in the past 40 or 56 years?
And in Florida, their NAEP scores have been rising faster than the rest of the country, despite, I guess, those myopic teacher unions.

Posted by: edlharris | April 6, 2010 7:51 PM | Report abuse

I am getting quite frustrated over all of the articles that reference that teachers in Florida have tenure. This has a negative connotation to it.

Teachers have contracts and due process. Administrators CHOOSE not to terminate teachers. Unfortunately, this choice has given much ammunition to those who favor dismantling public education in Florida.

Posted by: FumingEducationSupporter | April 6, 2010 8:16 PM | Report abuse

Sadly, phoss1, you are only partially correct. The motivation for this legislation has been around since Jeb Bush was our governor. His main goal was to get vouchers for private schools to pass. However, just about everything he could get to pass was found to be unconstitutional. It would seem that the Republicans in Tallahassee will not be happy until our students fall at the bottom of the barrel (along with our ranking of #51 in education funding) so that they will somehow be able to justify these vouchers that they have not been able to completely legalize since Jeb was first elected in 1998. The teachers union are a natural target, but they are not the main target. They will simply stop at nothing until public education in our state is completely destroyed so that a private school education will be affordable for all. By the way, the private schools are not subject to any of the standards that are so important to these politicians!

Posted by: flamathteacher | April 6, 2010 8:17 PM | Report abuse

This war on education is like when Bush went to Iraq because of weapons of mass destruction, they have attacked and invaded our schools and think they will find "bad teachers" and HB7189 will get rid of them. The number of bad teachers is so few compared to the number of good teachers, it's not worth the ink in their p...en.
They've won this battle, but in the long run this is going to be a long and expensive process and they are going down in history as very poor policy makers, both Bush brothers.

Posted by: ananna | April 6, 2010 8:41 PM | Report abuse

phoss1: "What the Florida legislature really is after is the myopic teacher unions"

Yes, Republicans hate unions, no doubt about that, so teachers' unions are definately a target. But I don't see how you can call the FL legislation as anything other than a drastic re-organization of public education as we know it. NCLB enshrined test scores as a key measure of school "performance." The FL law puts that on steroids, so that nothing matters but test scores. If you believe that education should be about talented and dedicated people transmitting their knowledge through a unique student-teacher bond to the next generation, this is not it. At best, teachers are reduced to cogs in a big, well-oiled machine. Would you send your children to schools like that?

Posted by: dz159 | April 6, 2010 9:48 PM | Report abuse

They will make easy tests so that anyone can pass and then act like they have reformed the schools. These people don't care about the kids or the future of their state. Pathetic.

Posted by: celestun100 | April 6, 2010 9:53 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, everything’s all the fault of the unions.

-In the 1950’s and 60’s, the CEO’s of major American companies took home about 25 to 30 times the wages of the typical worker. And in the mid-1950s, 36% of the United States labor force was unionized.

-By 1980 the big company CEO took home roughly 40 times the worker’s wage. By 1990, it was 100 times. By 1989, the unionized United States labor force had dropped to about 16%.

-By 2007, executives at the largest American companies received about 350 times the pay of the average employee. By 2000, only 13% of our labor force was unionized.

-The United States is now one of the most economically stratified societies in the western world. A 2008 study found that the top .01% — or 14,000 American families — hold 22.2% of wealth. The bottom 90%, or over 133 million families, control just 4% of the nation’s wealth. http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/04022010/watch2.html

And in international comparisons (NationMaster):

Trade union membership
-United States: 13%
-Canada: 30%
-Finland: 76%
-Sweden: 82% (#1)

Adults at high literacy level
-United States: 19%
-Canada: 25.1%
-Finland: 25.1%
-Sweden: 35.5%

Child poverty
-Sweden: 2.6
-Finland: 4.3
-Canada: 15.5
-United States: 22.4 (just under Mexico)

Posted by: pondoora | April 6, 2010 10:00 PM | Report abuse

If we are going to base teachers' salaries on how their students perform, why don't we base doctors' pay on how many of their patients survive. Or policeman's pay on how many crimes are committed in their neighberhood.

Cleary this would be asinine. The teachers have little more control on how their students perform than doctors do in controlling their patient's lifestyle.

Ironically, the NCLB was created by the dumbest President in American history--George W., who was a 'C' student in college.

If the politicians in Florida want to be concerned about performance, why don't they hold themselves to the same standards. I live in Florida, and the state unemployment rate is over 12%, the state is in massive debt, rasied college prices accross the board, and is laying off state workers: not exactly results anyone could be proud of!

Why don't we have politicians on an annual contract, base their pay on how much money they have saved the taxpayers of Florida, and fire them if they underperform in any area. Furthermore, we would take away their jets they fly in, take away staff members, and remove their pension and benefits if they underperform.

Clearly, this whole fiasco is created by the Florida Republicons who want to knockout the teachers union.

You could hardly pick a group of people that get paid less or have to put up with more nonsense than teachers. Testing is not teaching, and it is unfortunate Obama backed this NCLB and FCAT nonsense. He will lose a lot of votes from the teachers--who normally support Democrats.

The only thing Florida kids will learn is how good they had it after their good teachers leave for greener pastures. Some of the few benefits to being a teacher was having summers off and, getting a fixed salary and a pension. In other words, some dignity for a profession that offers little otherwise.

Posted by: bigmac0812 | April 7, 2010 12:23 AM | Report abuse

No phoss, it's the entire system. This is just a culmination of a decade of policy...more radical as we have a lame duck gov., hence the light speed legislative process of the last 14 days.

As public school teachers are hammered with state tests, the scores of which will determine if you can re-certify, the private schools are handed blank checks with no 'accountability' strings attached. Not too hypocritical.

If they wanted to circumvent the teacher associations, the would have simply offered a fair, incentivized package. As CTA in FL are basically toothless and 1/5 teachers belong. This is an ideological war that attempts to funnel massive amounts of $$$ to Jeb's cronies ($900 mill is already set aside for test companies in the current legislation).

Posted by: hstorm | April 7, 2010 7:39 AM | Report abuse

phoss1--you are totally correct. This is all about the union. The FL legislature has tried to force merit pay on the teachers for over 10 years now and the union has fought each of the different incarnations. Why??? Because they crafted the legislation without us. They didn't ask for our input and they didn't want it. First it was Comp-Ed, then STAR, and then MAP. Under these programs only a Percentage of the teachers who qualified for the merit pay would get it. Not everyone who qualified, but a percentage.

Teachers, in general, are not opposed to merit pay. They just want to be involved in the process of creating the qualifications. For 10 years now , it has just been crammed down their throats.

The above comments on teacher tenure and Jeb Bush cronies making the big money. A contact with due process does not equal tenure. And I don't know about you, but the thought of Pre-K and kindergarten chilren taking tests in each subject area makes me cringe. What are these legislators thinking.

Rep Gonzales said (during the house committee debate) that if his 2 year old can watch Mickey Mouse and The Wiggles and learn to count to 20, then every student in FL should be making learning gains. That is what education in FL will come to--rote memorization of test items. No real learning will take place.

Posted by: bethanne1 | April 7, 2010 8:13 AM | Report abuse

These "tax credit scholarships" are managed by the euphemistically-named organization "Step up for Students." Since the Florida Supreme Court ruled against direct vouchers, former Gov. Bush, a major power broker and "policy wonk" in the privatization movement, is now working behind the scenes with the legislature to expand these scholarships. The bill you mention raised the cap for the program from $114 million to $140 million, inserts mechanisms for it to be raised further, increases income eligibility for participation and allows more business sectors to participate. I don't know the exact numbers, but many use these "scholarships" to go to religious schools.

Another bill that is not getting much attention--Senate Bill 2550-
".....Religious Freedom; Proposes an amendment to the State Constitution to provide that an individual may not be barred from participating in any public program because of choosing to use public benefits at a religious provider and to delete a prohibition against using public revenues in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or any sectarian institution."

Read between the lines--- this would open the door wide to expand this "scholarship" program and bring back the program for outright vouchers, specifically making them open to religious schools. I am not an attorney, but I assume that an amendment to the Constitution would tie the hands of the Florida Supreme Court in any future court challenge.

Anne Geiger

Posted by: AWCG | April 7, 2010 8:43 AM | Report abuse

While there has indeed been much partisan rancor on education in the Florida Legislature this session, the Tax Credit Scholarship has been different. It has Democratic cosponsors in both chambers and passed its last House committee with a majority of Democrats voting for it and passed the Senate with four Democrats voting in support. I encourage you to watch the House debate over these measures during the next couple of days because I think you will see strong bipartisan support on the floor.

What may be getting lost in this discussion is the mission of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. This is a scholarship that benefits only low-income families. You must qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch to be eligible, and even that barely begins to capture the poverty many of these families know. The average income of a household of four in the program is just 20 percent above the poverty level.

Two weeks ago, more than 5,500 of these parents, students and schools journeyed to the state Capitol to voice their support for legislation that would increase the amount of the scholarship and begin to tie it to a portion of the formula the state uses to develop public school per-pupil funding. Despite their financial circumstances, these families currently pay on average $1,000 out of pocket to pay the school expenses left uncovered by the $3,950 scholarship.

The 5,500 who rallied for the legislation got to hear from a number of Democrats who support the bills along with the acting president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. You can watch a video of the event here, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QuDu61p-Sk4. You can read the speech from the president of the SCLC and read the many stories and commentary about the bill by visiting our legislative Web page at http://scholarshiplegislation.sufs.org.

True, many of our schools our faith-based. While traditional public schools will reach and inspire the vast majority of our students, the students in our program were the ones most at-risk of dropping out. And some could only be saved in a faith-based environment. By her own admission, a young woman named Denisha Merriweather, who failed the third grade twice, would have dropped out of school if it wasn’t for the scholarship and a school named the Esprit de Corps Center for Learning. Two weeks ago, she told the Capitol rally she is bound for college.

Adam Emerson
Step Up For Students

Posted by: ajemerson | April 7, 2010 10:04 AM | Report abuse

I am a teacher and I have to say that this bill is just depressing. I went to college to receive a Master's degree to educate students, and now because of this bill and others, none of that will matter. I just want to know how this bill will be regulated? Who will be responsible for the 10th grade student that comes into my English class in 2014 when this bill goes into effect, who doesn't read beyond a 4th grade level and can't possibly pass the FCAT? Will my pay be based on that student and others like him even though I just met him/her? Will the parent share in this responsibility and lose pay also, since they have known all of the child's life that they couldn't read on grade level? How much pay will the parent lose? I can't see how I will be solely responsible and lose pay when I only teach lower level students, and there are so many students like the one described above. I find it hard to believe that this bill will be regulated fairly and everyone one will be judged based on their performance and not the faults of parents and students who are not interested in education.

Posted by: afrodcya | April 7, 2010 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Let me tell you my own story and see if you think a voucher would have brought down public education as we know it or would have been a good idea in at least my one case. First off, I was poor, as in my mom was on welfare. Beyond this I was extremely twice exceptional. Very gifted in math and reading (as in ready to learn high school mathematics by 3rd or 4th grade, and reading middle school level novels in the first and second grade). Sadly, the school had no solution to this.

There was a Montessori and gifted private school in the area, but yea right for me ever being able to afford it and they didn't offer scholorships. Maybe there alone might make a voucher worth it for me, but there is more.

On the flip end (well sortof) I have aspeger's. This meant that like MOST asperger's students out there I was bullied on a daily basis and probably assulted on a weekly basis. Because nothing was known about asperger's at the time anytime something went wrong I would start stimming which they saw a sign of me being guilty (granted sometimes I was but it was rare). Being bullied on a daily basis means by middle school I was clincly depressed and by high school I was suicidal. Teachers stood by and watched most of the time, and even some of them bullied me right along with my classmates. Maybe a voucher wouldn't have been so bad there either. Especcially when school choice was totally impossible in my area (white people weren't allowed to open enroll). Maybe we should start looking into other options... just a thought.

Posted by: endersdragon | April 7, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

How Can 250,000 Teachers Be Wrong?

Posted by: ananna | April 7, 2010 7:10 PM | Report abuse

Ananna, easy, they care more about their own then they do about their students. How else do you explain people like Wendy Portillo (serious child abuser) still working? Teachers unions are fine and all, just don't think for a second they care about children anymore then an auto workers union cares about cars.

Posted by: endersdragon | April 7, 2010 8:22 PM | Report abuse

False. Teachers do care about the kids they teach. I don't understand why you are raving about the unions. They are not that powerful and they only support basic needs for teachers like having preparation time for the classes. Would you rather the teachers were unprepared?

Posted by: celestun100 | April 7, 2010 10:05 PM | Report abuse

I am not raving about unions, but they as a whole do not care about students. Teachers that compose them do. There is a huge difference there. Now I am not going to say they are good or evil or whatever, but their primary concern is the teachers that compose them. Why else would they fight against increased virtual school attendence (which can be used to greatly help kids like me, see my orginal post for details, though it decreases the need for professional teachers). School vouchers and the like could be used to help so many kids out there, but will HURT teachers unions by taking away union jobs. So whats a kid like I was that was stuck in the middle supposed to do? Grin and bare it and hope against hope it will get better.

Posted by: endersdragon | April 7, 2010 11:44 PM | Report abuse

You kind of "forgot" to mention that this is a program that serves 23,000 LOW-INCOME students.

You also kind of "forgot" to mention that this program allows parents to send their kid to ANY PUBLIC or PRIVATE school of their choice.

You also kind of "forgot" to mention that this program is supported by Democrats and Republicans

You also kind of "forgot" to mention that this program has played a strong role in boosting achievement in Florida....

http://npri.org/publications/why-florida-succeeds-where-nevada-fails

Posted by: PRG81 | April 8, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Watch this video from the March rally supporting the Step Up For Students program

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QuDu61p-Sk4&feature=player_embedded


Posted by: PRG81 | April 8, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

I'm a Florida teacher that does not support SB6.
I have worked harder and longer hours on a continual basis as a teacher than during my regular duty as an Air Force Officer. It might seem that teachers only work while school is in session but there are many hours spent in the evenings or weekends in preparation for the school day. Today for instance I was at work for 8 this morning and finished before 4pm but I volunteered to help at the Health & Fitness fair so I was back at work for 5:30. A lot of teachers never left school because they were setting up for the fair for the students. We volunteered our time to help educate the students on proper nutrition, exercise, making wise choices in regards to avoiding drugs,gangs, and other teenage issues. We spent our Friday evening helping students and guess what---we aren't getting paid for it and what they learned is not going to be tested on paper so it won't affect our pay. But just maybe one student that saw the presentation on drunk driving will not drive drunk. Just maybe one student learned what to do to avoid a bad situation and won't become a teen suicide or join a gang. The SB6 doesn't care about what all the students learned tonight because the students won't be tested on paper and the teachers' pay won't be affected. Is that good or not good?

SB6 will indeed change teachers. I believe it won't make us better and it won't make the students better. Teach the test might be the answer.

Posted by: Bekindtoanimals | April 9, 2010 9:44 PM | Report abuse

As a Florida Resident, I worry about our teachers, especially those in the extremely impoverished areas of our state. If a teacher motivates a child to continue trying and/or keeps a child from dropping out, when (s)he has had severe difficulties due to health reasons, home life, disability, etc. the teacher would be punished if struggling children do not perform well on a test.

Additionally, I have my doctoral minor in statistics and measurement. I have published an original psychosocial measure. No test is a sure-fire manner of knowing anyone's full picture. Measurement is an inexact science and should be used in conjunction with professional face to face information gathering. Tests are only a measure of one given point in time & the subject matter constists of what a few people decide is important. These test writers should not be given the power they have in this state.

Posted by: AlertAndConcerned | April 12, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

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