Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Class Size Credit?

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has been on sort of a media tour touting what he calls the "Florida Miracle." Florida was in the dumps educationally before his governorship, and he claims that his reforms helped lift Florida into one of the most improved states in the country. Staff members of his education foundation have also been writing editorials praising the governor's past reforms and urging current politicians to continue pass reforms of the same mold.

I do not doubt that some of his policies had a positive impact on the education system in Florida. But something else happened during his tenure as governor that never seems to receive credit in the media. In what I have read and seen, he and his foundation staffers have never mentioned this either. Florida passed a constitutional amendment in 2002 placing limits on class sizes. The amendment limits class sizes to 18 students in Pre-K through third grade, 22 students in fourth through eight grade, and 25 students in high school. Though some modifications have been made for non-core (which translates to "non-tested") courses, these class sizes pretty much stand as written. Districts face fines for violations. 

Many teachers on comments sections of news articles mention the Class Size Amendment as an integral part of the state's improvement and their own personal success in the classroom, but the only thing mentioned in the media in regard to Florida's improvement is an improved testing and accountability system. Why is that the case? I guess it would be hard to credit class size reductions when the dominate political party in the education reform circle constantly argues that class sizes do not matter. This is contrary to what many private schools, charter schools, community colleges, and small liberal arts colleges believe. Virtually all of these institutions use class size as advantage in their advertising. 

I know that public school funds are not unlimited and schools everywhere may not be able to attain such strict class size provisions, but reformers can no longer continue to deny or ignore the fact that these class size regulations may have played just as much or more of a role in Florida's success over the past few years as the reforms they are now trying to spread to other states. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Is it Wrong to Ask for a Raise?

If you work in a company, and you feel like you have added lots of value to the company, what is the logical thing to do? Ask for a raise. Asking for a raise does not guarantee that you will receive it, but there is nothing wrong with presenting your case to your employer.

Why can't teachers do the same without getting a bunch of negative push-back? It is as if detractors think it is a sin for teachers to ask for a raise, especially in economic times such as these. (I understand that there are a lot of people struggling out there. However, there are many people who are having the time of their financial lives in 2012.) Just because teachers within a district may ask for a raise does not mean that the district is obligated to provide it. This is simply part of the negotiation process. The employee submits a proposal and the employer decides whether it will be accepted. If it is accepted, good. If not, then move on until the next opportunity arises.

As we are always reminded, "That is how it works in private business."

Monday, September 24, 2012

Student's Perspective of Chicago Strike

I ran across this article through Diane Ravitch's blog.  It is written by a Chicago Public Schools student. It appears as though Mayor Rahm Emmanuel is doing the same thing that Rick Scott did during the beginning of this term as governor. He speaks with concern about education, but does everything to prop up charter schools. Here is an excerpt. You can read the entire article here.

As a student in CPS, I would like to share the student perspective on the ongoing Chicago strike. Some may say I don't fully understand why CPS teachers are on strike but actually, I do. 
I may not understand everything to its fullest extent but I do know that our teachers are fighting for a good cause. They want us to succeed, but how can we do that when we attend a school "like Gage Park High School"? At Gage Park, there are brilliant teachers there who dedicate and devote all of their time to us, but the environment that is offered to us isn't what we deserve. 
We are a low-income school; we have to be hot during several months during the year because there are few fans and air conditioners, and no central cooling like the other fancy schools that Rahm Emanuel keeps naming during his news conferences. Why doesn't he name Gage Park? Why doesn't he name Kelly, Curie, Hubbard, Hancock, Tonti, Sawyer or other neighborhood schools? Do we not count? Are we not important? Does Rahm not want us to have a good future? 
When he visits schools, he often chooses charters, selective enrollment schools or the AUSL schools, but he almost never highlights regular neighborhood schools. He refers to us as "my children" and says he will not stand to see another generation fail, but to me that's exactly what he is doing.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Florida's Rush for "Reform" Falters

Florida's merit pay law, SB 736 or the "Student Success Act," requires that 40-50% of teacher evaluations be based on student performance on standardized tests. Putting aside the fact that standardized tests were not designed to judge teacher effectiveness, Florida teachers are still waiting on results from the 2011-2012 school year. Yes, you read that correctly. Teachers still do not know the results of their evaluations from last school year. Add to this that several teachers will be judged based on school-wide FCAT performance because they do not teach tested subjects. That includes the kindergarten, first, and second grade teachers as well as elective teachers and other subjects such as social studies, foreign languages, etc. Districts are scrambling to create end of course exams to comply with the law, but there is uncertainty about whether districts have the funding to create these tests. In 2014, these tests will determine teacher pay. However, there does not appear to be any funding mechanisms in the works to provide "highly effective" teachers with raises. 

This column in the Tampa Bay Times explains all of the challenges Florida will face as it tries to implement this law.

The goals sound good: Pay teachers based on whether their students actually learn anything, and pay the best teachers more. But 18 months into a massive overhaul of how Florida will evaluate teachers so the best can earn more and the worst can be fired, school districts and state officials are still struggling to figure out exactly how to do it, much less pay for it. As Gov. Rick Scott launches a fresh campaign claiming to care as much about improving public education as Florida families do, he needs to offer more than lip service. He needs to commit to a long-term plan for finding the resources to honestly implement reforms already on the books.
Scott's statewide public school tour comes as most Florida schools still cannot tell parents how teachers performed last school year. Four weeks into the new school year, districts have been unable to complete teacher evaluations from 2011-12 due to the time it has taken the state Department of Education to establish student learning gains based on FCAT scores on a teacher-by-teacher basis. The data affect nearly every teacher evaluation under a 2011 law Scott signed that is entering its second year of implementation.
This is precisely the problem anticipated by critics when the 2011 Republican-controlled Legislature rammed through SB 736 without consulting the teachers union, establishing a reasonable time frame or providing more money.
The plan sets admirable goals of measuring how much each student learns in a year and rewarding teachers accordingly. But it glossed over the extraordinary infrastructure and funding needed to make it a reality. The upshot: Most school districts haven't had the time or money to develop or purchase the beginning and end-of-course assessments needed to determine exactly how much a student learns in a given course. So instead, students' performance on the problem-riddled FCAT will determine anywhere from 40 percent to 50 percent of a teacher's performance evaluation. And that formula is used even for those teachers whose students do not take an FCAT exam in their course. Teachers such as those teaching kindergarten through second grade, or of a non-FCAT subject like physical education or Spanish, could find their evaluation affected by the average FCAT score for their school. Those evaluations already determine performance bonuses in some districts. Starting in 2014-15, they will also determine who is eligible for raises — assuming districts actually have the money to give any raises.

Charter Cherry-Picking

Charter schools always claim that they do not select their students as some accuse them of doing. They speak of their lottery systems and how they have to turn students down because there is  more demand than space to house the students. Well, according to this article, some Philadelphia area charter schools are discovering ways to be selective without being selective. I know that all charter schools may not engage in such practices, but how can people continue to purport that charter schools do a better job with the same students when many don't enroll the same students? 

For years, parents have had to jump through astonishing hoops to apply to the popular Green Woods Charter School in Northwest Philadelphia. 
Interested families couldn't find Green Woods’ application online. They couldn't request a copy in the mail. In fact, they couldn't even pick up a copy at the school. 
Instead, Green Woods made its application available only one day each year. Even then, the application was only given to families who attended the school’s open house – which most recently has been held at a private golf club in the Philadelphia suburbs. 
Green Woods CEO Jean Wallace declined to be interviewed. In an email, she lauded her school’s “very transparent and very collaborative working relationship” with the District’s Office of Charter Schools, which oversees Philadelphia charters.

You can read the entire article here.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

If the Kids Don't Learn, You're Bad!

The current mantra in education is that if students aren't learning (otherwise known as "not testing well"), then they must have poor teachers. After hearing all of the negative (or misleading) reports about test scores, we have to listen to commentators and some in the public complain about bad teachers and how unions supposedly protect them. If students are not performing well, the teacher is obviously not teaching, right? Granted, there are poor teachers, and contrary to popular opinion, poor teachers can be fired without abolishing "tenure" protections. However, there are other factors at play in student performance. Comparing teaching to your typical private sector job (even a private school job) is not as good of a comparison as some people think. The private sector has the power to do things with their "products" and "clientele" that public schools cannot do. 

I was reading an article about the Chicago Strike and how the parties' arguments about teacher evaluations will impact the course of reforms in the entire country. A reader posted an awesome comment, and I would like to share that here:

Evaluating teachers sounds like a good idea right? I mean they are hired to do a job (educate children) if the children aren't educated, they failed. In the business world if it is my job to say, train a group of incoming workers (say call center new hires) and I don't train them well, I am responsible.
But take a step back. Would you want your job and bonus on the line if:
You couldn't drop any of those reps from the program - even if they didn't show up, showed up late, could barely speak english, or weren't smart enough to do the job? What if they didn't care, didn't want the job anyway and were disruptive to the rest of your group and you STILL couldn't drop them from the group... would that be fair?
Teaching is unique and not at at all like the business world. Widgets are not being produced and teachers are not dealing with people who want to be there, or even need to be there for a paycheck. They have no power over teh students
In many districts parents fight against the teachers if their kid receives a bad grade - even it is the result of not even turning in the assigned work.
Parents complain when homework is given.
School boards have mainstreamed children with learning disabilities, which holds back other students
School boards have removed "levels" when I was in school there were lvl 1-4 classes, now in my old HS they are doing away with levels becuase of self esteem - which also gives less incentive to work to get into the higher level classes
Teachers can no longer remove disruptive children from classes at my old school - they can't even send a disruptive student to the office becuase it would "deny them their right to the education of that class period" the other students be damned
Teachers I know in my town are adivisng their kids that want to go into teaching NOT to becuase of the crap that teachers have to deal with. We have prevented them from actually teaching, now want to hold them accountable for teaching every kid in their class regardless of ability, desire to learn, or parental stupidity (I'll sue if my kid doesn't get an A).
While the pay has gotten a little better from the poverty wages it used to be, the job satisfaction has gone down preciptously. Bring back common sense to the classroom, then find a good way to evaluate teachers, not by scores on a bubble test. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Chicago Fight

UPDATE: I wrote this post yesterday afternoon and timed it to appear on today, September 19. Last night, I read that the strike has been suspended. It appears as though the union got some concessions, but it appears as though the plan to evaluate teachers by standardized test scores will remain. You can read about it here.

I am undecided about the concept of striking, especially when it involves students missing school. I don't believe there will be any make-up days for this. I don't think it is the best thing to do in light of that. However, I do believe that Chicago teachers are fighting for what they believe is right, and I believe that they are doing it on behalf of all public school teachers in the country. They are only asking for the things that the private schools who enroll the children of the reformers have. They include the following:

  • Reasonable class sizes
  • Electives (art, PE, music, etc.)
  • Well-maintained facilities
  • Restricting the use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluations
  • Restricting the unfettered expansion of unregulated charter schools

These are all things that teachers across the country are fighting to attain. It's unfortunate that the Chicago Teachers Union had to go this far, but something has to change in this "education reform" climate. As a nation, we have been doing the intense testing thing for the past ten years, yet these same reformers continue to complain about low our students are scoring on international exams. Their only answer is to increase the amount of testing and the consequences on teachers if test scores do not improve. The reformers love to call detractors supporters of the "status quo." However, testing is the status quo. This is a ten year endeavor that has done nothing but intensify with little to no results. 

Assuming that the No Child Left Behind provisions began in the 2002-2003 school year, the students who started kindergarten should now be in tenth grade. Are they performing better in reading, writing, math, and science than the children of the 1990s? According to the reformers own comments, the education system is only getting worse. If the system is only getting worse, then why have these reformers been able to maintain their credibility? 

Though striking is something I would be weary of doing myself, the political establishment needs to do a better job of involving teachers in educational decisions. Obviously, they weren't involved too much in Chicago, and this is the only way those teachers felt they could express their concerns.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Florida Districts React to K12 Investigation

The Miami Herald did a story on the unfolding controversy with K12, the online charter school company. The company is accused of using uncertified teachers to teach students. One school district requires teachers at the company to sign their rosters, and one teachers' refusal to do so help to spark this investigation. 

Seminole County teacher Amy Capelle had to make a decision.
Her supervisor at the nation’s largest online school, K12, asked her to sign a roster saying she’d taught 112 kids.
She’d only taught seven.
“If you see your name next to a student that might not be yours, it’s because you are qualified to teach that subject, and we needed to put your name there,” wrote K12 supervisor Samantha Gilormini in an e-mail.
Capelle refused, and now state officials are investigating whether K12 used improperly certified teachers and asked employees to cover it up.
Seminole County officials say this problem may reach far beyond their borders.
But many Florida school districts have no way to know whether K12 students are actually being taught by properly certified teachers, according to a review by StateImpact Florida and Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.
Seminole County school officials took a series of unusual steps to check if K12 was being honest about who was teaching its students.
They asked K12 teachers to sign rosters of their students. And they followed up with a survey of K12 parents. Just one in three parents said the teacher listed actually taught their child.
Most Florida districts don’t take those precautions -- and several contacted by StateImpact Florida/FCIR said they had no plans to do so.
Both Hillsborough and Pinellas county school districts said all online teachers undergo standard human resources checks. Those steps include fingerprinting, a background investigation and providing proof of all teaching certifications.
Neither district has ever done a follow-up survey, such as the one Seminole County schools conducted to identify problems with K12.
Meanwhile, school officials in Brevard and Volusia counties say they are asking parents to verify their child’s K12 teacher.
K12 officials say they always use state-certified teachers, but an internal review found “minor mistakes” in matching a teacher’s grade and course certifications to students.
K12 founder and CEO Ron Packard called the conclusions of the Seminole County schools investigation an “unbelievable amount of rumor-mongering and absurd extrapolations” in a conference call Thursday.
“All teachers teaching Seminole County students were Florida-certified,” he said “In our internal review we have only identified minor mistakes in matching the appropriate grade and course certifications with specific students in courses.
"Why would we have ever hired teachers that weren’t certified? We have tens of applicants for every job."

Quite frankly, I do not think this will matter much with the reform movement. In fact, I think many of them will endorse the idea of not having to use certified teachers. Many of them have already said or implied that graduate degrees do not matter. Many feel that certifications are an unnecessary loophole. That's interesting inasmuch as these teachers evaluations will be based on student standardized test scores yet these reformers do not think having a teacher demonstrate her skill through a standardized test is necessary. 

Read more here:

Monday, September 17, 2012

Irrational to Blame Teachers for All Ed Problems

There was an excellent column in the Tampa Bay Times today by John Romano explaining the absurdity of placing all of the blame for student performance on teachers. Do we scapegoat police officers for high crime? Did we scapegoat our wonderful soldiers during the struggles in Iraq and Afghanistan? Do we blame doctors and dietitians for our country's obesity problem? No. Because in all of those circumstances, other factors that are beyond those parties' control are at play. Why can't teachers be held in the same regard?

Here is an excerpt of the column:

Simple question:
Is it Gov. Rick Scott's fault that Florida is far below the national average pay scale for teachers?
Follow-up question:
Is it the state Legislature's fault that Florida is 42nd in the nation in average spending per student?
Upon hearing those questions, I would suspect most reasonable people would have the same answer:
Of course not.
You cannot look at numbers in a vacuum and come up with indisputable conclusions. The reality is more complex. The truth is more nuanced. Some problems are inherited, and some issues transcend policy decisions.
So if we agree raw numbers are not always the definitive measure of job performance, let me ask you something else:
Why do the governor and Legislature insist on blaming Florida's teachers for low standardized test scores?
Shouldn't the same rules of common sense and fairness apply? Shouldn't factors beyond a teacher's control be considered? Shouldn't our politicians at least acknowledge the possibility that the underfunding of schools is a major factor?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Florida Investigates K12, Inc.

K12 is a virtual charter school operation. In fact, it is the nation's largest provider of online education. It is currently under investigation by the Florida Department of Education for allegations that it used uncertified teachers to teach classes.  Furthermore, the company is accused of asking certified teachers to sign documents stating that they taught students they did not actually teach. You can read an article about it here

This is the most interesting part about the article, and explains why K12 would want to use uncertified teachers. It also explains why the charter school movement is so appealing to many in government.

K12 has a financial incentive to skirt Florida’s law requiring the use of certified teachers. Simply, K12 can pay uncertified teachers less than certified teachers while collecting the same amount per student from state public school districts, increasing profits for shareholders.
Founded in 2000 by William Bennett, a former U.S. education secretary under President Ronald Reagan, K12 is an $864 million publicly traded company whose stock price has more than doubled in the last year.
In recent years, K12 has increased profits while student performance has suffered, raising questions about whether the for-profit virtual schools provider is making money at the expense of academics.
A July 2012 study by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado found that students at K12 schools fell further behind in reading and math scores than pupils in traditional schools.

Like I've said in the past, the charter movement is all about reducing the cost of labor. Otherwise,  states would provide traditional public schools with the same flexibility to do things they felt were innovate and productive for their students.  

Charter Schools Skipping Disabled Students?

Here is an article from NPR discussing a trend in Florida of charter schools not enrolling severely disabled students at a rate comparable to that of a traditional public schools. The article states that 86% of Florida's charters do not have these students, and the number is still staggering when factoring in the handful of charters in the large cities that specialize in teaching students with severe disabilities.
Charter schools first developed as an alternative for parents unhappy with their neighborhood school. They are publicly funded but privately run. Charter schools are given the flexibility to try new ideas and hire the staff they want.
According to state law, every student is supposed to have an equal shot at enrollment — including students with disabilities. But students with severe disabilities are not appearing in most charter school classrooms.
StateImpact Florida and The Miami Herald gathered and analyzed data on K-12 students with disabilities from 14 school districts representing more than three-quarters of Florida's total charter enrollment.
The analysis focused on students in the state's two most severe disability categories, which includes some students with autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. It shows:
• More than 86 percent of the charter schools do not serve a single child with a severe disability — compared to more than half of district schools that do.
• In Duval County, just one student enrolled in a charter school has a severe disability. Duval district schools educate more than 1,000 severely disabled students.
• There's not a single child with a severe disability in charter schools in Pinellas County, the nation's 24th-largest school district.
• The majority of charter school students with severe disabilities are concentrated in a handful of schools that specialize in those disabilities, often autism.
The Florida Department of Education, citing privacy concerns, declined to provide statewide data of students with severe disabilities. But the agency said their analysis shows 86 percent of charter schools statewide had no students with severe disabilities.
It's a trend repeated in California, Louisiana, New York and Texas, according to researchers from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Harvard University researcher Thomas Hehir calls it a "pattern of exclusion" among charter schools nationally. Hehir was the top special education official during the Clinton administration and played a leading role in rewriting the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

It appears as though the response of the charter schools is the lack of funding and resources to provide the essential services for these students. I would accept that point if the charter movement was not built on the premise that they can outperform the public schools for less money. I think they are less likely to enroll these students because the schools are all about test scores, and when it's all about the high-stakes test, you cannot do anything that will put the school at risk for not achieving its goals.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Misinformation About Chicago Students' Performance

If you are watching the news about the Chicago teacher strike, you are probably also hearing the figures that less than a fifth of the students in the district are proficient in reading. According to state test data and a clear explanation of the National Assessment for Education Progress, this is most certainly not true.

Check out this article from the Jersey Jazzman about the true data.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Comparing Test Scores to TV Ratings

I am a big fan of Greg Gutfeld's Red Eye on Fox News. However, he definitely harbors some negative views about public education and teachers in general. On Monday's The Five and Red Eye, he lambasts the idea that teachers do not want to be evaluated by student test scores because of all of the variables involved such as poverty. This was in reference to the teacher strike in Chicago, which is more about the proposed evaluation system changes rather than pay and benefits. He then went on to equate test scores to television ratings. He said that he is judged by his ratings and despite things like the Olympics, the political conventions, or always being bumped on primary nights and presidential address nights, he cannot use those things as excuses like teachers do with student poverty.  

However, TV ratings and standardized test scores are not the same. Are media personalities judged based on their average ratings or their ratings on one particular day?  It's an average over time.   The last time I checked, the Nielsen boxes transmit information in real time and are not only activated for use once a year like a state standardized test. Furthermore, is Gutfeld evaluated based on the ratings of Mike Huckabee's show? Most likely not. Yet  music, PE, and social studies teachers are rated based on reading and/or math scores. Kindergarten through third grade teachers are being rated based on the scores of fourth and fifth graders. 

This is not a good comparison at all. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Chicago Strike

So, I wanted to write to give my opinion about the Chicago strike. However, when I came home, I spent way too much time reading all of the news articles and scrolling through the comments. Perhaps my opinion of this whole ordeal will come tomorrow. We shall see...

Thursday, September 6, 2012

How is it the Unions' Fault?

Teachers unions take the brunt of attacks in the current education reform movement. Detractors accuse them of making it difficult to fire ineffective teachers and lobbying to block reform efforts such as merit pay and the expansion of public school alternatives. The unions also receive blame for issues within schools in which they exercise no control. These include things such as curriculum, pedagogy, lack of ability-based student grouping, hiring, etc. 

Though the unions are not perfect, I think it is overreaching to scapegoat them when talking about the problems in public education. All states have schools and/or districts that are succeeding and schools/districts that are in trouble, yet they all share something in common. In most instances, all teachers are covered by a union-negotiated contract. For example, in Florida, high performing districts such as St. Johns and Seminole share similar contracts to lower performing school districts. Schools within districts tend to do better than each other, yet those the teachers in these schools are covered by the same contract. Many of the provisions governing the dismissal of a Professional Contract Teacher in Florida is state law and not district and union-negotiated rules. On the national level, several comparisons show that heavily unionized states such as Massachusetts and Vermont tend to perform significantly better on standardized tests than weaker union states such as Mississippi and South Carolina. 

Given this information, quickly blaming the unions for all school woes is intellectually dishonest. If two Florida school districts (or even two schools within one district) are getting different results using the similar or identical contracts, then what could be causing the problem? Could it be the quality of instruction? Do certain schools or districts just manage to obtain better teacher who use best practices? Well, if that is the case, that should change within the next few years. At least 31 out of the 67 school districts adopted Robert Marzano's teacher evaluation system for the observation portion of the new teacher evaluation system. That means, that all of the teachers in this district should be teaching nearly the same way since this system is based on the latest "research" in effective teaching. If the quality of teaching is truly the problem and teachers are now teaching the same way under an evaluation system that now dictates nearly everything they should do in a class period, then test scores should eventually rise at the same rate amongst all schools.

My guess is that this will not happen, and one day, these reformers will have to admit that teachers have been right all along. Issues beyond our control contribute to the poor performance of some of our students. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Testing Comes to Pre-K in Florida

Florida will begin testing Pre-K students this school year. As with the standardized tests for older children, this is brewing similar controversy amongst the mostly privately-run Pre-K schools. Here's an excerpt from the Orlando Sentinel:

Youngsters in Florida's pre-kindergarten program this month will take a new test of early literacy, language and math skills, sitting one-on-one with their teachers to answer questions and point to pictures. 
The kids are to take the Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Assessment again at the end of their pre-K year —hopefully showing improvement on how well they identify letters, count objects and answer questions.
The test can be presented to 4-year-olds as a time "to play a quick game," but it is designed to assess key academic skills and predict later school success. 
More than 180,000 children are expected to take the new test, which will have no consequences for individual youngsters but eventually will be used to help judge the quality of their preschools. 
Advocates say the test will help preschool teachers change lessons as needed and will help preschools document student growth. In a state pushing to boost public-school performance, making sure preschoolers are on track is part of an overall improvement strategy. 
But the test's introduction, required by the Florida Legislature, has prompted criticism from the private preschools and child-care centers that run most of Florida's pre-K program and the local agencies that help administer it. The Early Learning Advisory Council even wrote Gov. Rick Scott this summer, asking him to halt the new test.
Some dislike that the test does not assess the full range of the state's pre-K standards, which also include emotional, physical and social development. 
The council's letter, for example, complained that it ignored other areas "critical for school success." And it argued that the test focuses on a "very narrow skill set" that would lead to "poor instruction that is inappropriate for young children."
Like the FCAT, Pre-K centers are complaining about inadequate funding, finding time to administer the test effectively, and the test's emphasis on assessing a limited range of academic standards. I imagine that Pre-K still will eventually be placed under similar accountability regulations as K-12 schools. One surprising thing is that the state is doing this to a mostly private-run system. Why can't they apply these same standards to K-12 charter and private schools to which they want to send public dollars?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Were Teachers "Tenured" Before Florida's SB 736?

Education reformers always make the claim that districts cannot fire ineffective teachers under the current employment rules in many states. Some even say that teachers who do blatantly immoral things to students cannot be fired. These reformers assert that after three years in most places, teachers qualify for a contract that pretty much guarantees them a job for life, otherwise known as "tenure." This was the driving force behind the failed SB 6, the original merit pay legislation in 2010, and the successfully passed SB 736 legislation. Under this law, teachers without a Professional Service Contract  (PSC) prior to July 1, 2011, would work under an annual contract for the duration of their career and be subject to non-renewal at the end of the school year for any reason or no reason. Through such a system, education reformers say that districts will be able to remove ineffective teachers resulting in greater student achievement. (Note that this law says that all teachers without an existing PSC will be on annual contract. Though politicians claim that good teachers will not be fired because of their value to a school, there is no provision in the law that will protect teachers earning "Effective" or "Highly Effective" under the new evaluation system that will include student performance on standardized tests in teachers' evaluations from being fired.) 

Despite all the rhetoric about this supposed permanent employment, one Florida Republican politician claims that teachers were indeed fireable under the old system. When discussing the issue of tenure with people, I always bring up the statement Republican State Senator Nancy Detert made in the debate leaning up to the passage of SB 736 in the Orlando Sentinel Education Blog back in February 2011. 

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Sarasota, delivered the bluntest argument for bill’s passage: She said districts haven’t removed bad teachers, even though they could have done so under current pay systems.
“We had a process. You didn’t have the courage to use it,” she said.
With more than 90 percent of teachers earning good evaluations, yet many students still struggling on FCAT, something is amiss, she said.
“We’ve started to forget what business we’re in. We’re not in the employment business. We’re in the business of moving kids from point A to point B,” Detert said.
When someone brings up unions and protecting bad teachers on the websites of Florida newspapers, I always copy and paste that passage. I never get a response after that. 

Statement from FEA about Merit Pay Ruling

I am still a little confused about the significance of the recent ruling of a Florida judge against aspects of the new merit pay system. The Florida Educators Association is treating it like a huge victory whereas the Department of Education is acting as though it is not a big deal. The DOE only sees itself making some technical changes but continuing everything else as normal. Here is a statement from FEA:

TALLAHASSEE – An administrative law judge today invalidated in its entirety the rule the State Board of Education had sought to impose upon Florida school districts, teachers and administrators regarding performance evaluations under the law passed last year requiring evaluations to be based in large part upon standardized test scores. 

In the challenge brought by the Florida Education Association, Judge John G. Van Laningham found, among other things, that the State Board of Education and Department of Education had not followed proper procedures in trying to incorporate into the evaluation process a mathematical formula for calculating the effect of FCAT scores on teacher evaluations. 

The judge concluded that the state’s numerous failures to follow correct rulemaking procedures were so significant as to “taint” the resulting rule, and that the flaws “cannot be cured without starting over and redoing the process.” 

“This is a huge victory in our battle for fair, reliable and valid evaluations,” said FEA President Andy Ford. “The State Board of Education and the Department of Education skirted rule-making procedures and exceeded the scope of their authority. It’s time for the state’s education bureaucracy to stop trying to impose its will on teachers and administrators and start having a meaningful dialogue with us to put together a fair evaluation system that is understandable, valid and accepted.”

This decision does not mean that teachers’ 2011-12 performance evaluations are invalid under the bargained evaluation systems already approved by the DOE for Race to the Top purposes, nor does it erase the statutory requirement to rely upon the education commissioner’s approved model to measure student learning gains as part of the 2011-12 evaluation process. It does mean that none of the proposed, mandatory 2012-2013 evaluation system changes will become effective at this time.

The state can appeal this order to a District Court of Appeal within the next 30 days, but the proposed rule will remain unenforceable while that appeal proceeds.  The DOE also can begin a new rulemaking process and attempt to correct the problems found by the judge. 

The evaluation system rule was challenged by FEA in March and the case was heard by Van Laningham on May 30 in Tallahassee.

The Florida Education Association is the state’s largest association of professional employees, with more than 140,000 members. FEA represents pre K-12 teachers, higher education faculty, educational support professionals, students at our colleges and universities preparing to become teachers and retired education employees.

"Because They Love Children"

Last week at the Republican National Convention, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said that teachers do not teach because of the money, but because they love children. There was a discussion on Diane Ravitch's blog about why teachers enter the profession. Many readers of Ravitch's blog said they entered the profession because of their love for the subject area and/or their passion for learning. Obviously, you have to have a love of children in order to work effectively with them. However, I think the motive behind Christie and other people saying that "we do it because we love children" has more far reaching implications. 

In the past four years or so, many local governments have had to make drastic cuts to education in order to balance budgets. States have had to consider serious pension reform measures as well. Since education is usually the largest expenditure in most state and/or local government budgets, educators will be more impacted by these decisions than entities such as the police, firefighters, DMV employees, park rangers, etc. For example, all public employees in Florida were effected by a mandatory 3% state retirement plan contribution starting in July 2011, but the Florida Education Association is the entity leading the lawsuit against it in Tallahassee. 

Anyway, I believe that the comments about teachers doing their jobs "not to be rich, but because they love children" is code for "you must be willing to make whatever sacrifices we throw your way because you love children." If you love children, then you will still do you job with joy if we have to:

  •  raise your retirement contribution next fiscal year
  • ask you to add an extra hour to the school day  or days to the school year with no additional pay
  • cut supplements for extra periods of instruction or club sponsorships that require additional student contact time
  • compete with charter, private, and eventually virtual schools who are exempt from or merely do not operate in the same conditions as public schools
  • go without music, art, etc. to offer more remedial courses to raise test scores

I do not consider "they do it because they love children" as a full compliment. I see it as a conditional compliment with strings attached.