Surprise! It’s back.
Of course it will not be called Senate Bill 6 this time around…it could be Senate Bill 3, or even Senate Bill 1, considering that it is a top priority of both the extremely conservative Florida state legislature and the uberconservative new Florida governor, Rick Scott.
The bill, alternately dubbed the “teacher tenure bill” and the “merit pay bill,” created such outcry among teachers and parents this spring that former governor Charlie Crist, a Republican (at the time) who had previously spoken favorably of the bill, ended up vetoing it. His veto, viewed by many as an opportunistic bid for votes from Democrats and disgruntled moderate Republican parents and teachers at a time when tea party forces were pushing him aside for Marco Rubio, did not win him the U.S. Senate seat he so desperately hoped for. But it did buy a bit of reprieve for teachers panicking about losing their jobs because their students did not score well enough on the FCAT, and for parents panicking that their children’s favorite teachers could leave the profession (or the state) en masse and that what little is left of instruction in areas besides reading and math could disappear as the pressure mounted for students to score well on the state standardized tests.
However, any teacher (or parent) who truly believed that the veto of SB 6 was the end of the story was either (a) very ill-informed, (b) overly optimistic, (c) incredibly naive, or (d) all of the above. (The correct answer is, of course, d.) The Republican-controlled legislature, and especially SB 6’s sponsor John Thrasher, declared at the time that they would be bringing the bill back next session. And teachers’ union locals around the state, as well as the state teachers’ union Florida Education Association (FEA), sank money and volunteering energy into legislative races and the gubernatorial race. Hopes were high that, with Democrat Alex Sink (once a teacher herself, and who came out strongly against the bill), the legislature would not be able to enact their legislation.
But $73 million to spend getting oneself elected is more than lowly teachers can dole out. To come up with that kind of money, one has to run the largest for-profit hospital chain in the country…one that had to pay $1.6 billion in criminal and civil fines for Medicare fraud.
The legislation vetoed by Crist would have forced districts to base at least 50% of a teacher’s salary on students’ standardized test scores, with no consideration for a teacher’s advanced degrees or years of experience; professional service contracts (which merely guarantee the expectation of continued employment but can be terminated at any time with just cause and due process) would have been eliminated, so that all teachers hired after the passage date would have had annual contracts perpetually; and would have made it so that the teaching certificate of any teacher who did not show “improvement” (based on standardized test scores) three out of five years would be subject to non-renewal.
Now, the state legislature is already putting together a new version of SB 6. According to the News Service of Florida, the new bill shows some concessions on certain heavily criticized pieces of SB 6; for example, special education teachers would not be able to be evaluated based on their students’ standardized test scores, but rather on measures outlined in individual student education plans (IEPs). The draft language supposedly also allows for teachers to go on professional contract after one year probationary contract and three years on an annual contract; the professional contract would come up for renewal every three years. While specific details regarding the requirements for renewal have not yet been released, if the new bill is anything like SB 6–which all signs indicate that it will be–there seems to be a good chance that any teacher not showing enough “improvement” (as measured by standardized tests) could be subject to non-renewal.
Inside sources say that there are many elements of the new legislation that closely resemble the current experiment in Hillsborough County with the Gates Foundation grant, where teachers were given the option to sacrifice a professional service contract and a set salary schedule where pay increases with years of experience in favor of the possibility of earning a higher salary earlier, according to student performance on standardized tests.
Yet in Hillsborough County in 2008, only 3% of those benefiting from the $2100 “merit pay” bonus worked in low-income schools where at least nine out of ten students receive free or reduced lunch. Three quarters of them worked at the county’s most affluent schools, and two thirds worked at schools with an “A” rating.
This does not seem encouraging to teachers around the state who would be subject to the new legislation who work in low-income schools. And any kind of assurance that these types of disadvantages would be taken into consideration does little to comfort those teachers, given that they would face non-renewal of their contracts or even of their teaching certificates if their students’ test scores do not meet the yet-to-be-established criteria for a positive evaluation.
Inside sources also say that these stipulations of the bill would apply first only to those hired after July 1, 2011, but that as of July 1, 2014, would apply to everyone “hired,” including renewals of contracts.
To further complicate matters, the new governor also advocates an expansion of the state’s Corporate Tax Credit Scholarships–a.k.a. vouchers–that allow lower-income families to send their children to private and religious schools, as well as pushing to open more charter schools. As vouchers and charter schools pick off the children of parents concerned and diligent enough to take advantage of them–children whom, studies show, already perform better in school–public schools, which do NOT have the right to refuse enrollment of any child, are increasingly losing higher-performing students and are left with the lower-performing students.
As public school teachers, particularly those of us working in Title I schools like myself, it is a responsibility we expect and accept. However, many of us do not like, and are apprehensive at, the idea of being compared and evaluated next to those teaching at schools that already take in higher-achieving students and, furthermore, are able to expell students when they do not meet behavioral or academic standards. We already resent the comparisons now, when our salaries and employment are (presumably) not in jeopardy. Imagine how we will feel–and react–once it makes the difference between earning $15,000 a year or $75,000 a year? Once it makes the difference between having a job (and a career) and finding oneself ineligible to renew one’s teaching certificate?
Furthermore, while proponents of the legislation insist that the aim is to better compensate good teachers, the reality is that no state money has been allocated for salary raises. SB 6 stipulated that districts were to begin withholding 5% of their budgets to fund merit pay bonuses; the new legislation apparently does not indicate at all where the money will come from. Presumably, therefore, we will be working with the same (or a smaller) pot of money…and we will thus all be fighting over the distribution of that money. So for me to make (let’s just dream a moment) the $100,000 legislators pretend I might be eligible to make, if my students excel at some standardized end-of-course exam which has not been written (or funded) yet, some other poor teacher would have to be making $15,000. Hmmm. Perhaps I risk being called a communist for this, but…I really would not want to make that sum of money if it were at the expense of someone else’s job, or someone else earning a decent salary for the hard work he or she put in throughout the year.
Being a classroom teacher is not as easy as people sitting in offices who have never done it seem to think. And the “rougher” the school–in other words, the lower the income of the parents of the children sitting in the classrooms (or avoiding the classrooms, as the case may be)–the harder the job is. Teachers in “A” schools generally do not face getting cursed out by children; having desks thrown at them; being threatened; having children missing school because they have been arrested, or because their parents are not around to make them come to school. Teachers in “A” schools usually do not get, as a response when they call parents to let them know that the child has been skipping class and is failing, that it doesn’t matter because “she’s going to drop out as soon as she turns 16 anyway.” Yet, at least in Hillsborough County, which the legislature seems to want to base its statewide experiment on, those are the teachers getting bonuses. Not the ones who have to put up with delinquent children, absent or disrespectful parents, crumbling buildings, and eternal shortages of textbooks and basic classroom materials (not to mention technology)…but those whose students do not have major attendance problems, whose parents are present, concerned and involved, and whose schools have the resources, thanks to higher property taxes, to ensure that buildings are clean and modern and well-equipped.
For the record, my students do not curse me out, and I have never been threatened or had a desk thrown at me…though I certainly know many teachers in schools rougher than mine (and even a few teachers in my school) who have. I do, however, deal on a daily basis with children with major attendance problems–almost always because the parents do not know or care whether the child attends school, either because they are so busy working multiple jobs that they do not even know where their child is, or because, being uneducated themselves, education is simply not a priority. How will my students do on that end-of-course exam when they have been absent one out of three days–or more?
And an even more relevant question: whose fault IS it, if they don’t do well?
Proponents of this type of “merit pay” and “data-driven instruction” (which goes hand-in-hand with such merit pay proposals) insist that if I were a good teacher, and made my class “fun” and “engaging,” and if I “differentiated my instruction to meet the needs of all students,” I would not have these attendance problems. Presumably, I would not have problems with students not doing their homework or studying either…every last one of them would love my class so much that they would not be able to wait to get home to start doing my homework and studying for their next quiz or test.
Therefore, apparently, it would not matter if their parents were around to make them get up and go to school, to make them do their homework or study; it would not matter if their parents were in jail, out on the streets, or making them stay home from school to babysit or help with the family business or take an elderly grandparent somewhere; it would not matter if the child were constantly suspended or in indoor suspension because he couldn’t stop fighting or cursing out other teachers or leaving school to go to McDonald’s at lunchtime or any of the other myriad reasons my students end up suspended over and over again. None of that would matter, you see, because my class would be so utterly entertaining that nothing in the world could make them miss it (or fall asleep in it, or zone out in it).
I recently read a blog complaining that teachers “want it both ways”: they want to be considered important enough that they should be entitled to higher salaries, yet when it comes time to be held accountable, they want to insist that they are not responsible in any way for what a student has or has not learned.
I can only laugh at that naive judgment coming from someone who has obviously never set foot in a classroom since he graduated–IF he graduated.
I have said it before, and I will say it again…hold me accountable. Hold me accountable, by all means, for doing the job I was hired to do. But judge me fairly…don’t just let some computer in someone’s office judge me by comparing me to teachers at God-knows-what schools around the state. Come into my classroom and watch.
What you will see any given day is me teaching, and doing my best to stay as lively and entertaining as possible while still trying to make sure that the kids actually learn French grammar–which, believe me, is not the easiest task in the world, but, without conceit, I think I do a pretty good job at it. You will see the overwhelming majority of my students on task, paying attention, taking notes, smiling, laughing occasionally, answering questions when called on, and many of them volunteering eagerly, sometimes rowdily.
Talk to my students one-on-one if you like. I am confident that the overwhelming majority of them will tell you that I am a good teacher; that they like my class, or at least that they like and respect me (even if they don’t like the subject). Almost all of the ones who are making low grades in my class will readily accept responsibility for their low grades: if you ask them why they have a D or an F, they will tell you that it is because they don’t do their homework, because they don’t study for tests, because they have missed too many classes and never caught up.
But there are most likely a few that you won’t be able to talk to, because you won’t see them. You won’t see them because they’re not there. They’re not there because they’re suspended (again); because they seem to think it’s OK to come to class one out of three classes, and no number of phone calls home or getting sent to indoor suspension has convinced them otherwise; because they have chronic health problems and no (or insufficient) insurance to keep their conditions under control, so that they spend a great deal of time at home or in the hospital; or because their parents are not around in the morning when it is time for them to get up and come to school, and therefore they make an executive decision to stay in bed.
I will take responsibility for a hell of a lot. I’ll take responsibility for anything that happens in my classroom. If the kids are going wild, that’s on me. If the kids are all sleeping, that’s on me (even though, yes, I happen to think that kids today are so spoiled by media and technology that they demand to be entertained at all times, and let’s face it, there are important things we have to learn and do in life that simply are not all fun and games). If none of the kids has learned any French by the end of the year, then yes, I’m a lousy teacher.
But I cannot vouch for how ANY of my students will do on a test that I neither wrote nor even got a glimpse of before it was administered. And I certainly cannot, and WILL not, take responsibility for what happens outside of my classroom. I’m sorry; I just won’t. If kids can’t be bothered to show up to my class, and the parents can’t be bothered to make them, then there’s really not that much I can do…what should I do? Drive to their house (while I’m supposed to be watching my class, of course), beat down their door and drive them back to school?
I already know how those students will perform on the end-of-course exam…no matter WHICH exam it is, one that I wrote myself or one the state, in all its largesse, spared me the hassle of writing.
And excuse me for being blunt, but I do not want my salary, my employment, or my teaching certificate to be dependent on them.