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Marcus A. Winters
Respecting Teachers in the Sunshine State « Back to Story

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It seems to me there are a lot of fundamental false assumptions. It makes more sense to me to pay students for performance rather than teachers. Or pay parents. Why should taxpayers have to pay for government provided babysitters and propagandists.
As a thirty five year teaching veteran of innercity classrooms let me weigh in. Is public education broken. Yes. Is the law just passed going to do anything at all toward fixing it? No. It's just another Jenga stick pulled from the bottom of the pile. The law just passed is an accelerant to the collapse and fall of the already broken system. Stick a fork in Public Education. It's done.
What standardized test will they use on student performance to judge the effectiveness of: music teachers, art teachers, speech therapists, psychologists, school councilors, learning specialists, special ed teachers, teachers of emotionally compromised, occupational and physical therapists, etc.? Teaching is actually an art, but legislatures think it can be evaluated like a science. Please get REAL!
Kudos to the Florida state legislature for adopting this common sense measure! It's high time we started treating teachers as we do other professionals: rewarding high performance and demanding accountability for low performance.
I don't disagree with the author, but a word of caution remains. I've been a teacher in another state for 23 years. But I teach a subject (Technology Education) that is not part of the standard testing regimen. How about the music and art teachers and other vocational teachers? How are we to be evaluated? I don't disagree that there are teachers who are not qualified to be in the classroom, but an OBJECTIVE evaluation system is extremely hard to implement those of us who do not teach math or language arts or history.
And we need work rules, including termination policies, that meet private sector standards, not rules designed by union stewards.
The objective of the Florida Legislature was not improving the education like Marcus suggest, it was to silence the teachers and reduce the salaries. When the experienced teachers are removed they may be replaced by the potentially excellent teachers as much as the potential rapists. The parents and living standards are as influential as the teachers in the students learning. How does the new system will consider it. Everyone has right to some job security as much as the property ownership. Does the new rules bring any security to the excellent teachers. All the working and middle class people on the pay checks will suffer from this legislation. If even the state do not offer minimal job security for the permanent jobs who will make the working class people feel secure about their future.
I would like to be the first to nominate all those who advocate merit pay as a panacea for public education, for a Noble prize. You see they have managed to take all the complexities of human life and boil it down to learning gains made on standardized tests. Not only that but they have excluded themselves, parents, and basically everyone except non-voting minors and teachers for the responsibility of these scores. Being a Florida educator, over the last 6 years, I have watched as the economy has soured and the burdens students must deal with in life have multiplied. Parents struggling with money issues, can’t pay electric, food, and phone bills. Children who are dealing with parental split ups are being used as babysitters or feel that they need to get jobs to help pay the bills. Let’s just add peer pressure, raging hormones, drugs, alcohol, gangs and kids having kids into the mix. These are just some of life’s every day challenges far beyond the control of teachers that effect standardized test scores. So excuse me, when I get upset about being held to an accountability for my student's test scores.
Another issue here is the empowerment of children. Children have always been treated differently in our society. Children are judged as juveniles, can’t enter into contracts, can’t get a driver’s license, buy firearms, cigarettes or vote until they reach certain ages. Why? Because society has deemed they have not reached a level maturity or attained the knowledge that would allow them to responsibly make such decisions. Over the years, and as recently as today, I have heard students say “I will have your job”. My response to this retort has always been you want me to lose my job because I’m trying to get you to do you work, learn and not disrupt the class, is that right? The student’s response is always “yes” which is irrational. Guess what, by flunking a test that student now can cause a teacher to lose his/her jobs. What about the flip side? The child who does his/her work, think of the additional stress these tests now put on those children knowing that their test scores not only effect them but their teacher’s careers as well.
Finally, how about kids just tuning out? I have seen Florida impliment writing, reading, math and science tests. The english tests are always administered first followed by math and science. By the time the science test is presented the kids have become less than enamored with the idea of taking another test and it is clearly demonstrated in their body language and occasional emotional outbursts. Under merit pay ever course from math to cooking is to have a high stakes test which can be used for teacher evaluations. If children score poorly is that because of a poor teacher or test fatigue?
Test scores being the principal factor in determing an educator's employment or salary is a simplistic solution to a complex problem. A 28 March 2011 USA Today article entitled "When Standardized Test Scores Soared In DC, Were The Gains Real?" shows the real world pratfalls of merit pay tied to test scores (e.g. cheating, high turnover). While I do agree that current teacher evaluations are inadequate, a multifaceted approach rating as opposed to rating primarily on test scores will be needed to insure fairness.

Fine, if you are going to base teachers salary on student performance then use the grades they make in the class room and not some standardized test. Futhermore, you claim out teachers are a bunch of "interchangeable widgets", well how about our students. How can we expect every child to conform to some standardized test with no real world application. Life is not a standardized test. Maybe we need to look at the fact that we are stealing education from our children. There is nothing to inspire kids anymore. Schools are forced to suspend programs like Drama, art,and home ec. due to lack of funding and need of FCAT scores. Don't you remember a class that inspired you to want to succeed. Most likely it wasn't math or science. But that one class may have changed your whole education.
BTW,my daughter is a tenured teacher who was named Teacher of the Year in 2010, locally. She loves being in the classroom, even after 9 years of 4th graders.

Her enthusiasm toward teaching is known and appreciated by her parents, who later request her for their younger kids.

Her principal informed her that she was the only teacher she's ever known to be requested by people moving into their district. Adding how she is the highest requested teacher in the school.
I honestly believe this is a wonderful change; not only in the law but in the classroom. Too often the older teachers, especially those looking at retirement within five years, are the least likely to care about new ways of teaching. They're simply waiting out for their nice percentage in retirement funds. It is these who receive the higher % of increase and have job security, while the newer teachers are better educated and more enthusiastic toward their students progress.

Tenure and automatic pay increases isn't the norm other than in education. FL is doing the right thing for their students and the teachers who truly make the greatest difference with the children who have been placed in their classroom to be taught.
As a retired teacher I can agree with some of your arguments, but I also think you are ignoring several very important factors. First of all, to judge teachers on standarized tests does not take into account the variation in ability levels between one classroom and another. A better indicator would be an achievement test which would show growth, or the lack thereof, of the individual students in each classroom and not compare one teacher to another. A teacher in a wealthy part of town would be held to the same standards - a year's growth in all areas - as a teacher in the poorest school. Secondly, if teachers are to be evaluated fairly, the person observing them should not be from the same school. Personality differences can play a part in these evaluations, which they should not. Last of all, I believe most teachers are good teachers and deserve to be treated respectfully and paid fairly and encouraged to continue doing what has to be one of the most significant professions in our society. When that happens, you will see those changes the Florida schools are trying so hard to bring about.
Outstanding teachers are extremely rare, primarily because excelling as a teacher requires instincts and sensitivities that are unteachable and uncommon. The number of teachers needed to staff all of the public schools in America is extremely large. The salaries paid to public school teachers are mediocre given the educational requirements for such employment and given the limited opportunities to advance to the compensation levels of other professions. I doubt that eliminating tenure will have any measurable effect on educational outcomes. After 19 years of public and private education, I can remember 5 teachers who I would describe as outstanding and who made a big difference in my education. That is as much as can be expected from universal education and is probably enough for students who are willing. I believe a much bigger difference in outcomes would result from a change in attitude by parents, many of whom no longer parent. Compare the outcomes of Asian American students in public schools with the outcomes for students of other backgrounds to really understand what is wrong with education in this country.
Nice essay, Mr. Winters. I also wrote about the new Florida law, over at Blogcritics.org:
http://blogcritics.org/politics/article/florida-enacts-law-revamping-teacher-work/#comments

I'm a Florida resident, and am delighted that we are leading the way in a much-needed attempt to improve American education.
My daughter spent three years in the Bloomberg program designed to bring motivated teachers to the NY school district and shake up the old order described in this article. Her retrospective: the teachers in the inner city schools were -- with a few exceptions -- uninterested in teaching, were essentially "clock watchers" who main focus was establishing and keeping order in the classroom. She left the program quite discouraged. Now teaches in a private school.
No Research Support March 27, 2011 at 3:42 PM
Marcus A. Winters, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, conducts research and writes about education policy. Show me the research that supports a "merit pay" based system is effective.