"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Florida Test and Punish Policy Shifts Focus to Teachers

With the Jeb Bush brain trust now rushing through a Senate bill in Florida that would make teachers' jobs dependent upon test scores, Arne Duncan and his philanthro-capitalist cabal at ED must be second-guessing their RTTT contest picks last week. What an opportunity missed to make starving states understand what Arne and the Oligarchs are looking for! Oh well, by the time this Bill becomes law, the second round of RTTT will be upon us, and the Florida message can be hammered home in even a more convincing fashion, i.e., with hundreds of millions of dollars.

But what is that, that rumbling? Oh, I see, it is students, teachers, and parents all together twittering, signing petitions, marching and emailing and calling their representatives to shut down this most insidious Republocratic effort yet to crush the teaching profession and to bring harm to the children who depend upon teachers to teach them more than how to take a test.

From Valerie Strauss yesterday at WaPo:

Teachers fighting back in Florida

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.

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