Last night I attended the 8 hour Florida House Education Council Committee meeting on House Bill 7189 (HB7189), which is the companion to Senate Bill 6. While I never had a chance to testify, I left feeling both more inflamed by this legislation and more proud to be a member of this profession than I’ve been in a long time.
Over 120 people came to speak out against this bill. Most were teachers, but there were also parents, principals, superintendents, and representatives from PTA, School Board Association, and Civic Concern in attendance.
There was bipartisan opposition with only partisan support among representatives.
Hour after hour I listened to teachers speak truth to power about schools, learning, and the reality of teaching in Florida. Teachers who have been teaching for 20, 30, and nearly 40 years offered their thoughts and insights, all of them speaking eloquently and passionately. They truly represented the best of our profession.
Common theme in many of their testimonies: Education in Florida is over-mandated and underfunded.
The question every representative supporting this draconian bill should have been asking them was this: How do we get more teachers like you in our state’s classrooms, and then what’s it going to take to get them to stay?
The main proponents speaking on behalf of the bill: Chamber of Commerce representatives, a spokesperson from Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future, and Florida’s Secretary of Education, Eric J. Smith.
I wondered why the Chamber of Commerce was so dedicated to this bill.
If they were in this for the best interest of students and tomorrow’s work force they would be citing the latest brain research, talking about creating innovative and engaging learning environments, and encouraging legislators to enact policies that provide students with meaningful learning experiences in which students apply skills in relevant contexts.
Their mantras would be:
- Let’s focus on job ready skills for helping Florida compete in a globalized world.
- Lets give these kids skills that can’t be shipped overseas.
Then, I found this clue in the evaluation of Florida’s Race to the Top application that shed light on the Chamber of Commerce’s intense interest:
A substantial amount of the resources requested are target(ed) to external vendors and contracted services as opposed to a systemic integration of the work into key functional units of the state department of education as well as other state agencies.
So . . . money will be pilfered from our schools and go to corporations . . .
How much money?
Well, turns out, this bill does not begin the testing portion until the 2013-2014 school year. However, during the next three years districts are required to allocate 5% of their budgets for development of the measures used to assess teachers in order to reward them.
Code: Development of standardized tests.
This 5% amounts to $900 million dollars siphoned from our already cash strapped districts and funneled to private companies.
And that is just the initial development costs. The on-going costs will continue to rise as districts will be forced to pilfer from their treasuries in order to sustain the additional costs associated with additional tests. (I’m still wondering, where exactly will the money to pay teachers more come from?)
At a time when districts are forced to eliminate programs and services due to budget cuts, teachers are paying for supplies out of pocket, and students must share textbooks because there are not enough for everyone, the legislature is mining schools to help companies profit.
There is a gross warping of education policy going on in Florida.
The Hillsborough Example
One irony in this dark comedy is that we have in our state an example of unions and policy makers working together to create a merit/performance pay plan that everyone can agree on.
Hillsborough County applied for (and won) a $100 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to create and implement a collaborative plan for differentiating teacher pay and measuring student growth.
In order to not negate the grant, legislators amended SB6 so that Hillsborough county would be exempt during their grant period.
Even so, numerous teachers from Hillsborough testified against HB7189 offering their district as an example of what can be accomplished when lawmakers and teachers work together. As a principal remarked to the committee, “Rather than exempting them, we ought to be following their leadership.”
Teachers are not against using standardized testing to measure growth. They aren’t against merit/performance pay.
What they are against:
- Being left out of major reform that does not include their input.
- State mandates that pillage from local districts’s limited funds to pay private companies.
- Reforms that do not promote meaningful learning.
- Deaf legislators.
It is time for Florida leadership to see the writing on the wall. This railroading of the bill disrespects the professionalism of educators. And when teachers and districts do not support or stand behind these reform measures recruitment efforts to attract and keep the best and the brightest to our classrooms will be severely undermined.