SB6: All Teachers Left Behind.

As you may have found out from my Twitter feed today, the Florida senate passed a bill this morning, Senate Bill 6. What does this bill do? For starters, it ties teacher pay directly to student performance on state exams. It also eliminates seniority, advanced degrees, and any notion of job security as far as teachers are concerned.

I have a nickname for SB6 -- I call it the "All Teachers Left Behind Bill." As you can tell, I'm not too optimistic about this. Not because my students do not perform well on state exams -- I actually have a decent passage rate in my classes -- but because I think it is jeopardizing the future of students, teachers, and public education in general.

While I do think assessments are important in education, I do not believe it is fair to base educator pay (which is already terribly low to begin with) upon student performance. What if I have a class of students who are poorly motivated, despite my best efforts to inspire them to pass the FCAT? So many of my students come from low-income families and have to work jobs themselves just to help make ends meet. Their motivation is more often than not getting a paycheck over getting a grade. In addition, a great number of my students are immigrants from Cuba and other nearby foreign countries, and so they have a language barrier to cross before they can hope to pass a test like the FCAT. Is it fair for these students' scores to affect my salary if these issues are out of my control? And is this bill fair for teachers whose students are enrolled in ESE or ESOL courses?

Someone wrote a great letter to the editor of a local paper about this:
In response to the March 15 Teachers' pay faces big overhaul article on teacher evaluations and teacher pay, here are some issues I hope to raise with my elected representatives in the Florida Legislature:
  • Will we be scientific about applying this new evaluation system? For example, will we pilot-test the system before rolling it out statewide? And will the results of this pilot test be published and open for peer review? And if the pilot test shows that the system cannot validly identify which teachers in a school district are ``better than'' others, will we still keep the system?
  • So that teachers can be relieved of their fears that this new system is an insidious attempt to lower their meager salaries even more, could the state publish some figures showing, on the positive side, how high a teacher's salary could rise if that teacher's students have high test scores?
  • If a teacher's pay will depend on how high a teacher's students score on state tests, wouldn't it be fair to make students and their parents sign contracts promising that they, too, will take the necessary steps to ensure that the students' test scores are as high as possible? And if a student fails to come to class every day or fails to do his or her required assignments in a class, does that contract become null and void? And should such a student's test scores be factored out of a teacher's salary calculations?
  • Considering that it has never been easy to put a highly qualified teacher in all of Florida's classrooms, will we heed Hippocrates' famous caveat that the new evaluation system, first and foremost, do no harm?
  • If increasing a teacher's pay based on seniority is such a bad thing, shouldn't the state banish it for all state employees and all other civil-service jobs including for college professors at state universities; UF, FSU, and FIU; troopers with the Florida Highway Patrol and corrections officers?
  • If it is fair to make half of a teacher's salary contingent on student test scores, couldn't the state devise similar systems for its other civil-service employees? How about 50 percent of the salaries of our state court judges tied to decreases in criminal recidivism? Or 50 percent of the salaries of doctors in state-funded hospitals tied to decreases in patient's weight and cholesterol levels? Or 50 percent of the salaries of elected officials tied to honestly representing the needs of their constituents?

DeNight raises some valid questions, but unfortunately, Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who wrote the bill, apparently did not consider these issues upon writing Senate Bill 6. Its future now lies in the hands of the Florida House, whose members will ultimately decide whether or not to pass this bill. I hope for the future of Florida's public education, and more personally, for my own future, that the house decides not to pass Senate Bill 6, now House Bill 707.

picture via flickr

To learn more about Senate Bill 6 and what you can do to help, visit these sites:

United Teachers of Dade

ETA: Call 850-488-1450 and tell the Speaker of the House that SB6/HB707 is UNACCEPTABLE!

4 comment(s):

g2 (la pianista irlandesa) said...

I don't understand legal particulars of the education system, Floridian or otherwise, but to me, a lay student, this doesn't make sense. Unless there's something government folks plan on doing to make every single student in the state, any state, a highly-motivated learning machine solely dedicated to scoring exceedingly well on state examinations, I personally think this really skews things for both students and teachers. A student might have the best teacher in the world, but if that student doesn't go to that teacher for help and take advantage of what that teacher has to offer, that student may suffer, by no fault of the teacher. And then the teacher might suffer because of this.
Unless I'm missing something basing pay off state test success just doesn't make sense to me.

g2 (la pianista irlandesa) said...

Almost forgot to mention: despite all the near-infuriating confusion you lay this situation out very, very well, as does the editorial you included. Hopefully things work out in your favor!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the comment, g2! I'm happy to see students are not in favor of this bill, either -- in the end, it hurts them, too!

Marc said...

What a ridiculous concept.

I mentioned this to my fiancee (who teaches high school here in Vancouver) and one of the first things she said was:

"So all the teachers are going to want to teach in the rich, affluent schools, while all the schools with difficult students or that are in poorer areas will struggle to attract teachers? That's stupid."

I'm paraphrasing, obviously (because no matter how much I lover her, there's no way in hell I'd remember all that word for word) but you get the idea.

I hope this bill dies a painful death and you don't have to deal with this.