06/08/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

SB 6 Is the Wrong Rx for Our Public Schools

Suppose doctors were given a negative rating whenever one of their patients died? Few doctors would be willing to treat critically ill patients, and those with life-threatening ailments would have a hard time getting care. A bill now pending in the Florida legislature similarly would encourage teachers to avoid the students who are hardest to educate by making teachers singularly responsible for test scores.

Florida has been trying to test its way to better teaching and learning, but that strategy hasn't worked. Senate Bill 6 continues down that mistaken path by using test scores as the predominant measure of a teacher's effectiveness and holding them virtually solely responsible for student performance.

A more effective way to achieve the outcome we all want is to use a valid teacher evaluation system that provides the support, assistance, tools and conditions teachers need to succeed. Otherwise, they're being asked to do their job with one hand tied behind their back.

To develop great teachers and teaching--and deal with ineffective teachers--school districts must overhaul current evaluation systems. Instead of administrators basing evaluations on standardized test results and an annual "drive by" observation, I've called for a teacher development and evaluation system that helps identify great practices that should be replicated and those that should be thrown out. Regular observations would identify struggling teachers, who would get immediate, targeted assistance and coaching. If they didn't improve, there would be a fair and fast removal process. In this newly designed system, of course student learning should be part of a teacher's evaluation, along with so much more that goes into teaching and learning.

SB 6 falls far short of achieving a crucially important goal--to attract and retain the best teachers and encourage them to take on the toughest assignments. The legislation is the embodiment of the current fad to demonize teachers. Its premise is simply to throw the classroom keys to the teacher and say, "Just do it, and if you don't, you're fired."

Florida's test-based accountability system hasn't solved the problems that schools must contend with--weak curriculum, inadequate resources and support for teachers, school safety issues, students' poverty and other home-life challenges. Indeed, Florida schools have become test prep centers instead of centers for academic excellence.

If teachers truly are the key to the educational advancement of our children, they need the support, resources and professional respect to make a difference for all of their students. SB 6 offers none of that. Instead, it crassly bases most of a teacher's pay on test scores. Further, it ignores the fact that teachers only get better as they become more experienced; the bill places them on annual contracts and prohibits recognition for years of service, advanced degrees or becoming nationally board certified--the equivalent of board certification for doctors.

Teachers don't shy away from responsibility or from being held accountable for the results of their efforts, but they want what they need to do their jobs. And they need genuine partners--principals, superintendents, parents, political leaders and the broader community. None of the other countries that outperform the United States has the kind of provisions that Florida is entertaining. SB 6 is an assault on teachers and students. It will hurt our public schools. This bill, combined with legislative schemes to renege on the constitutional amendment to reduce class sizes and to cut school funding, is the wrong prescription for what Florida schools need and what students deserve.