It's safe to say that for approximately 4 million teachers in our nation, education reform's F word is now -- Florida!
Last month, Florida's Governor enacted a teacher merit pay bill. Legislators cunningly re-titled it, "The Student Success Act." This law and subsequent bills in queue are being torpedoed through the House. A combination of these bills will certainly dissuade anyone from becoming a teacher in the Sunshine State and, in turn, will dissuade companies to make Florida its home base.
With a veto-proof majority in the Florida Senate and House, combined with an extremist legislature, Florida's children became collateral damage in this grand plan to dismantle public education and sell off huge chunks to giant test companies and newly hatched edupreneurs. Is this a far-fetched theory? As a fair-minded business woman and tax-paying parent, I say it isn't far-fetched at all. Using a few more "F" words, I'll explain.
Florida lawmakers gushed over ousted, former D.C. Chancellor Rhee's testimony on February 9, nodding their heads in unison and later echoing the same hype. "This bill rewards effective teachers and protects children from bad teachers." The sales pitch painted a broad brush picture and was chock full of misinformation. Most notably, the pretense of accelerated learning gains in D.C. These false claims toppled after an intense investigation by USA Today was published, which exposed a widespread cheating scandal in D.C.
Senate Bill 736 was enacted as Florida law and was wholly based upon a fairy tale of falsehoods. Despite this, there are no apparent attempts to roll back this legislation. Why?
Testing experts who consistently research and document their findings agree that when the stakes are so high, widespread cheating is expected. The higher the stakes, the greater the incident for fraud. Teachers' salaries, their jobs, their teaching certificates, and their public school's ability to remain open depend upon producing test score gains. This legislature is well aware of these truths that cheating is inevitable with these enormous axes they hung over the heads of Florida's teachers.
Florida legislators had the opportunity on January 26 to listen to an expert education historian Dr. Diane Ravitch offer facts, research, and undeniable proof that high stakes testing must be discontinued, merit pay does not work, and expansion of charter schools with dwindling education funds, is irresponsibly wasteful. Senator Maria Sachs hosted this Education Forum for the specific purpose of opening up dialogue.
Diane Ravitch repeatedly advised legislators in front of many constituents that enacting this law was fiscally irresponsible due to the mountain of evidence proving these initiatives failed. She produced report after report, fact after fact, warning this is a mistake. Her testimony punctured the foundation for this destructive and wasteful bill.
Despite having a former Assistant Secretary of Education render incisive testimony -- one who was appointed White House positions by both Republican and Democratic presidents -- the Florida legislature proceeded at warp speed. They chose to ignore Dr. Ravitch's 50 years of education research expertise -- widely sought throughout the world.
Legislators forced an unprecedented education budget cut upon our schools while simultaneously enacting a fiscally irresponsible and destructive bill. They even chose to forgo field tests -- without blinking, they jumped head first into voting yes.
This fact-less legislation was based upon proven fallacies yet they still proceeded. Why?
The premise of "rewarding teachers" succumbed to the truth when they admittedly voted yes to a "moneyless" merit pay bill. This law subjects teachers to all the punitive sanctions but not the bonus. Their stated goal and hype was to incentivize teachers.
When legislators knew they had no money in the coffers for merit pay, they deliberately proceeded with passing this deceitful bill into law! Why this farce?
In order to evaluate teachers on test scores, non-educators who crafted this legislation demanded the creation of nearly 1,000 new tests. Yes, Florida's Republican-dominated legislature who theoretically claim to dislike big government reached over to the end user and burdened 67 counties and their taxpayers with an unprecedented $1.8 Billion in unfunded mandates.
They flagrantly fleeced Florida's taxpayers during the worst possible economic crisis ever. Why?
I don't know how the authors of this bill suggest they put Florida's children first, or that they even prioritize Florida's future economy. Educated workers will not be there when we need them. Companies will not be attracted to a state whose school districts and taxpayers are going bankrupt because of reckless education reform laws based on fatally flawed fairy tales and fiction.
The U.S. has a significant teacher recruitment problem especially as we enter the core of the baby boom years. Florida's recruitment issue is magnified given that teachers are paid $5,680 less than national average. Does this legislature think that taxpaying parents will embrace full time virtual learning as a substitute for teachers? They are sadly mistaken. Without quality teachers, our children lose.
Practically speaking (someone must!), our school districts cannot afford the technological upgrades to servers, or the software or the costly invoices from companies such as Pearson for test development, training the trainers, virtual learning, online tutoring, etc. Without funding for education, our children lose.
Spare the Race to the Top funding comeback since districts must spend minimally 12 times more than the RttT pittance received to implement its mandates. Further, the measly Race to the Top funds eventually trickling down to the districts, vanish in less than three years, further exacerbating Florida's financial crisis.
Will this bill attract highly qualified teachers to this state? You tell me.
Florida already pays teachers $5,680 less than the national average.
This new law strips new teachers of tenure, collective bargaining rights and they must re-apply annually for their one-year contracts.
Existing teachers cannot change districts without falling under this one-year plan or these rules.
Florida teachers will not be paid at a higher rate for a Masters Degree. Thus, proving that education is a not valued to those who crafted or voted for this bill.
Let's not forget the moneyless merit pay that teachers compete for depending upon unpredictable performance of students assigned to them and depending upon the unreliability of the scores.
Who wants to race to Florida to play Russian Roulette with their salaries, their livelihoods, and the schools they embrace?
These lawmakers sold our children's futures and Florida's economy is right behind it. Dr. Diane Ravitch summed it up perfectly in one of her tireless tweets when she wrote, "Florida is sinking into a Sea of Idiocy."
Let's add another "F" word: Fix! Let's resolve to fix this legislation and save public education in Florida.
Follow Rita M. Solnet on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ritacolleen