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Thursday, March 10, 2011

In Florida... Teachers get ready to take one up the butt

So not only is the conservative house and senate now intent on all kinds of silly changes to the teaching standards, they also are now going to assure that potential teachers steer well clear of the state. The legislature is fast-tracking a bill that will (a) tie teacher's salaries to standardized tests and (b) eliminate tenure in favor of yearly contracts. The arguments made by the republicans are that by rewarding good teachers, more of the good teachers will want to come to Florida and teach. Sounds good in a perfect world, but Florida is not a perfect world and teaching is not a perfect profession. So let's look how this might actually affect teachers in the state. Consider:

(1) Teachers in Florida:Average salary is about $43,000 . The national average is somewhat higher, but as usual it's tough to compare state to state as cost of living factors in. The site linked above puts Florida about mid-way in terms of comfort level with that average salary. Someone has to be in the middle, so why not Florida, right?

(2) So given that Florida is right in the middle in terms of salary and comfort level, what's going to attract better teachers? The legislature seems to think that teachers are going to flock to Florida for a guaranteed one year (ok 9 month) salary with the hope that they can teach to the test enough that they will get a second one year contract and a raise. Pay for performance, sounds normal? I think that there are only a handful of teachers who feel that performance should not be tied to salary, but there is a strange dynamic in public schools. Performance on standardized tests are tied not only to how well the teacher can prep the students on the tricks of ST, but also depends on the family environment and the resources available to the teacher. So let's say a really strong teacher comes into a low performing district and raises the average performance of his/her group by 50%; however that 50% increase only brings the class average to the 10th percentile in comparison to the rest of the state? Is the teacher non-renewed because of failure to meet test standards? In Florida, that's what would happen.

(3) It can easily be argued that most jobs involve a trial period and job security is tied directly to the individual's performance. Perfectly understandable. Suppose you are hired to a new management position and your job and raise depends on your ability to raise production by 50%. As manager you can fire the underperforming worker. You can request additional resources that may be required to raise productivity. Management is unlikely to tell you that you must raise productivity without also giving you the free rein to alter how things are done. A teacher cannot expel students for not being up to par on the test. They cannot expect to receive additional resources to raise performance levels. They must deal with what they have and do the best they can.

(4) In short people in the private sector do have some form of job security. It's not perfect and it is possible that a top-performing worker could lose their job for economic reasons. Believe it or not, that is also true for the tenured teacher. A tenured teacher can also be dismissed for other reasons. Post-tenure reviews are a good idea and most support this notion, but it's unlikely that a state can expect people to flock to their teaching ranks for 9 months of security with their hands tied.

I am also of the opinion that standardized testing measures nothing more than the ability of a student to learn the tricks of the standardized test. In college, students cringe at tests that require more thought than multiple choice. Teaching to the test doesn't create an environment conducive to producing the best and the brightest. So I don't have all the answers and certainly the Florida legislature thinks this is something that's needed in our state. Time will tell, but I'm betting that this results in more problems than it allegedly plans to solve.

Joe Meert


At 7:11 PM, Blogger Sarafan said...

I wait with much apprehension fearing how the state will handle this regarding teachers with ESE, EBD, and ESOL students.

At 10:33 PM, Blogger LadyAtheist said...

I think state legislators should get one-year contracts


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