Make no mistake; education in Florida has become big business. Whether it’s Pearson, College Board or one of the other companies involved with data collection and test making and scoring or charter and private schools that don’t play by the same rules as their public school counterparts, somebody is getting rich. Sadly this more than what is best or the states students and teachers is what’s driving our leaders’ policies.
I would have more faith in the education reforms the powers-that-be are proposing if most did not involve short changing students and teachers. Florida has long underfunded education and many of these new or considered reforms are designed to continue to do so.
Take the class size amendment for example. For all of time smaller classes were thought to be better then suddenly when it came time to pay for smaller classes the legislature balked. The same legislature by the way which has doubled the homestead exemption, allowed owners of multiple houses to have exemptions on each property and given huge tax breaks to bottled water companies and luxury yacht makers among others. The legislature has many friends, sadly however, public education is not among them.
Then there are the changes that they are attempting to make to how teachers are paid. Teachers with advanced degrees get paid more; suddenly advanced degrees are no longer important. Teachers who have been teaching longer get paid more, now all of a sudden experience doesn’t matter either. Now I don’t think having a masters or Doctorate degree makes you automatically a better teacher. Teaching is a profession where you have it or you don’t, but it certainly doesn’t hurt, to work on and/or improve your craft through further education, but think about this, in the field of education suddenly education no longer matters. The lack of experience argument however is very disingenuous. Yes sometimes you will have a wunderkind teacher hit the ground running but more often than not the first few years of teaching is just as much about teaching as it is about surviving. These two reforms will enable districts to get teachers on the cheap.
Even the reform that the anti-teacher movement hails will be a boon to teachers, performance pay is unreliable. There are so many factors that can determine success or not, who is deserving or not, but among them are very few quantifiable numbers that can point to who is high performing or not. Yet certain people, most of who were never teachers, seem to think this is the panacea that will save teaching. The fact that teachers as a group neither asked for nor wanted merit pay should speak volumes.
After that there are vouchers. I think a parent has to look out for their child and I wouldn’t fault one for wanting to send their child to a school they thought was better but at the same time this does take money away from cash starved public schools. Shouldn’t the answer be first to make public schools better, before we tried other things out. I also see vouchers becoming welfare for the well off. With the way things are going, how long will it be before any kid from any neighborhood, regardless of how much their family makes, be able to get a voucher? That by the way is mitt Romney’s plan. Furthermore shouldn’t these schools have to play by the same rules public schools do and have the same accountability measures that public schools do, to get public money?
Furthermore a lot of these vouchers go to for profit private schools, private schools by the way, that like their charter counter parts have not proven to be any more effective than public schools. An article in the Times Union about a local charter schools a few years back reported the principal was making over 150 thousand dollars and that several of her immediate family members were making considerably high salaries too. Florida is legion with charter school failures and scandals but still they are the darling of the Florida legislature. I wonder how much their two lobbyist organizations contributed to that? Once again private and charter schools don’t have the same oversight as public schools and where I am all for everybody making as much as they can, I just don’t think they should make it on the backs of our children.
Next there is the data collection and high stakes testing which has become the tent poles of the blame the teacher education reformers, tent poles that are making some parties very rich. Friends, Pearson has contracts nationwide bringing them in over a billion dollars, of which 320 million dollars will have come from Florida. Pearson by the way is the Halliburton of the education world, the make and score the test but then they also provide remediation services to the kids who do poorly. I read their business plan also involves charter schools which makes me think there may be a few conflicts of interests.
Think about this, if the state of Florida said, you know what, we’re done with Pearson and the FCAT and we’re going to sink the money we spend annually on that and hired more teachers instead roughly a thousand more statewide. Which do you think would be more beneficial? The FCAT or a thousand more boots on the ground providing instruction and services.
Finally let’s talk about the unions which are bearing the brunt of the ire caused by the blame the teacher crowd. Despite the fact we have unions, teachers here in Florida are some of the lowest paid, most over worked professionals in the country. Can you imagine how many teachers would flee the profession if they lost the little cover provided by the unions? Also I have never heard of our local union protecting bad teachers, just making sure all teachers get due process and they work with the district so much and so closely that many of us rank and file teachers think the line between them sometimes gets blurred.
Five years ago in good times we were recruiting in Canada, India and the business world because we couldn’t find enough teachers. Sadly the crippling economy has caused many people to think, hey, I’ll try that but what’s going to happen when the economy turns around? We can’t cripple the profession and expect good results.
I would also like to remind you that teacher’s unions, don’t hire or fire teachers, develop programs, fund schools, appoint administrators or any of the other things that people often attribute to them.
Many of these reforms seemed designed to save money and why? Is it so the legislature can reward their friends and remember make no mistake the legislature is not a friend of education, or to make their friends at the education companies rich. Furthermore more than a dozen or their family members have vested interests in charter schools. Sadly all of this is done on the backs of our children and those dedicated men and woman who teach them.