Recently the majority Republican Florida Legislature passed Florida Senate Bill 6. This is a bill that sets aside funds and ties nearly 50% of a teachers pay raise to students performance on standardized tests. It also does away with the automatic renewal of teacher contracts and teacher tenure for teachers hired after the passing of the bill.
Surprisingly Republican Governor Crist vetoed the bill perhaps signaling his intent for future office runs as an independent. Perhaps though more surprisingly – I agree with him vetoing the bill.
Politically I am a conservative Libertarian who frequently votes Republican from lack of better viable choices. I'm not really a fan of Governor Crist and while I approve of some of the things they were trying to accomplish with this bill I have to admit there is a lot of it that does not sit right with me.
I am all for merit pay, getting rid of tenure, and under performing teachers. However I am dubious on student testing being the best means of evaluating teachers performance (although I would concede it should be a factor). Teachers do not have full control over the educational environment which contributes to a students performance on a test. While averaging the tests for a class can give us an idea of how a teacher might be doing and allow us to try and address issues with the teacher it really does not account for the things beyond the teachers control. What we end up with is taking more control away from teachers to enhance individual student performance by forcing them into situation of having to teach to the test.
Another problem with this bill is that prohibits factoring in advanced degrees, certifications, and experience as criteria in determining base pay. This does not exactly encourage people with higher qualifications and skills to seek employment for a very difficult, very important, and very under valued position in the public sector.
I think the biggest problem with the bill is that it is seems to be to narrowly focus on teacher performance. The problem is that teachers are the public face of a system they have to operate under. They have all of the responsibility but very little actual power. They can only do what their school administration (the principal, vice principal, etc) tells them they can do which is dictated to the school administration by a school board, who is following mandates from the state and federal government. Are we beginning to see the problem here? Yet when little Johnny can't pass a test it is the teacher who gets the blame from parents (I won’t get into how many contribute to our educational problems, although to be fair parents have perhaps less power than the teachers) even though the teacher may be doing everything dictated to them. That is what is wrong with this bill - it is trying to solve a piece of the puzzle in a vacuum. It is requiring that teachers create a better educational environment but giving them none of the tools and resources to do so.
If we want better performance from our educational system, then we need to change the entire system - not just the piece that is getting all the complaints. To start with while governments should set guidelines as to what skills should be mastered when. They need to let the schools determine how those guidelines will be fulfilled. Secondly we need to adopt a system where the money follows the student by allowing the parents to send them to whatever school will teach them best. This is how it is done in many countries with educational systems that outperform ours on nearly every level. This would encourage schools to develop and adopt effective curriculum. It would encourage them to reward better performing teachers and weed out the bad ones. It would also allow us to develop many curriculum which would be good since education is not a one size fits all process. Students learn in different ways. Our current school system want to dictate we teach the same way. Finally parents need to be more hands on and involved in the education process. I believe this would happen if we implemented the first two points as parents would have the ability to make changes in their child's education if whatever they are currently doing is not working out.
Like I said - I'm no fan of Governor Crist but in this case I think he was right.