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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

SB 6 moves closer to the finish line today as the press for a veto intensifies



(Cartoon special to the Times, Jake Fuller) 

Well, today's the day SB 6 makes its final stop in the Florida Legislature before, presumably, heading to Gov. Crist's desk for what looks more and more like a possible veto

Facebook folks are cautiously celebrating Crist's wavering, saying positive things but still urging everyone they know to blitz the governor's office and also House members in advance of the 3:15 p.m. floor session.

The public isn't able to speak on the floor. So we thought we'd share one of the more positively received speeches from the House Education Policy Council here.

It came from Hillsborough teachers union president Jean Clements, one of the few union leaders with the ability to say she truly supports reform not just in words, but also in actions. (See her group's support of Race to the Top and performance pay as two key examples.)

Even Clements blasted SB 6 as the wrong approach:

"What 7189 and Florida’s Race to the Top grant don’t recognize, is that most teachers and their unions are not opposed to reform, including improved evaluation systems which look at student performance, but we are opposed to a process which is developed without teacher input, and is not evidence-based, reliable, fair, or fiscally sustainable."

Read on for her full remarks. And be sure to watch the House this afternoon to see what happens.

House Ed Policy Council, Tallahassee - Testimony of Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association president Jean Clements - April 5, 2010:

I stand before you as a native and loyal Floridian, dedicated teacher, and president of the teachers union in Hillsborough – a district not shying away from the tough work of Reform.  I agree that the status quo in our schools is not acceptable

It’s time to create teacher evaluations that are meaningful, instructive, and fair,   and include accountability for student performance gains. It’s time to provide the support and mentoring that truly values and assists developing professionals.     It’s time to construct a professional salary structure that recognizes the worth and importance of educators.

It’s time to have teachers play a lead role in creating all these systems.

As you know, the Hillsborough School District was recently awarded a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant for $100 million.  The money does not come all at once.   We’ll receive allotments over the next seven years as we develop and implement different portions of our proposal.        Our plan includes substantial support for new teachers,  improved curriculum and measures of student performance,     improved methods of tracking and reviewing student gains,      and a complete redesign of our teacher and principal evaluations.    We’re also developing an alternate salary schedule based on that evaluation process,   to be implemented only after 3 years of using and refining the evaluation.

This allows us to build capacity,  ensure our methods are valid and fair, build confidence, and increase buy-in. Research supports this careful and deliberate developmental process as a critical component to the success of implementing large-scale systemic changes.  Had Hillsborough not included this thoughtful rollout over several years, developed collaboratively,   I daresay the Gates Foundation would not have awarded the grant to Hillsborough.

And here is where House Bill 7189 is flawed, and has negative consequences which threaten our work and the ability for other unions and districts to be successful in reform development and implementation.

In Hillsborough we’ve been working for the past decade to pilot and experiment with variations of teaching, learning, assessment, and alternate compensation. 

We knew the importance of induction, mentoring and support for new teachers, but couldn’t afford to do it right.

We’ve rethought teacher evaluation so that it’s instructive, helpful, meaningful and fair for teachers at all stages of their careers. Tenure should not be automatic or easy. The induction and evaluation process should make tenure a meaningful milestone.

We’ve learned that accurate assessment of student progress is tricky and difficult. Students are different from school to school, class to class, and desk to desk, and accounting for those differences in students – not teachers – is a science and art not fully developed or validated.   

We’ve learned much more about what should be done, and how to do it.

But fixing these things takes money, time, and collaboration.

7189 provides no money, little time, and no meaningful collaboration with teachers.

Whereas Hillsborough has the Gates grant, —  a 7 year plan — and the union on board.

I’ve heard that many teachers are rated too highly,  and less effective teachers are left alone.   But 7189‘s requirement that half a teacher’s evaluation be based on student performance doesn’t correct the real problem – the lack of a meaningful and beneficial evaluation process.

I hear that ineffective teachers cannot be removed because of tenure. We examined this very closely in preparing our Gates proposal.

If ineffective teachers are not dismissed, it’s because administrators don’t have the time, tools, or will to do so. Or because of a weak or useless evaluation process. 

And thank you, Rep. Heller, for that very telling data on the number of teachers we really are moving out of our classrooms and the profession.

 Florida tenure is not an obstacle to teacher quality, nor does it prevent ineffective or unfit teachers from being dismissed in a timely fashion. In fact, it provides the framework to ensure teachers are treated fairly and professionally, which makes for better schools.

Teachers who’ve proven their mettle over 3 to 4 probationary years, should then have confidence in a contract that does not allow capricious firing, and ensures due process prior to dismissal….  Innocent until proven guilty.

We also did a great deal of research with national experts on finding, recruiting and retaining great teachers.. I can tell you  there was nothing to be found to indicate this bill will help us recruit and retain great teachers.

You say you value the hard work of teachers and the remarkable achievements we’ve made; you  want to honor and reward quality teaching; you  respect quality teachers. I be lieve you.

But ask us. We’re not feeling the honor or respect.

What 7189 and Florida’s Race to the Top grant don’t recognize, is that most teachers and their unions are not opposed to reform, including improved evaluation systems which look at student performance, but we are opposed to a process which is developed without teacher input, and is not evidence-based, reliable, fair, or fiscally sustainable. 

I hear some are saying that Florida must pass this bill in order to win a second bid for Race to the Top dollars. Believe me, we need those dollars in Hillsborough to help with our reforms, and we, through trust and collaboration, were able to craft local agreements and sign off on RTTT. But my research in DC tells me it’s the opposite. What will get RTTT dollars to Florida, is a modified application that will enable more participation by districts and unions, not passage of 7189 or SB6.

I firmly believe, based on my conversations with Sec. Duncan and others at the U.S. Department of Education, that passage of this bill jeopardizes any opportunity for FL to get RTTT. It’s not just what state law allows, but the climate of collaboration… In Delaware, where they do have teacher unions, 100% of local unions signed off on Delaware’s application. In Tennessee, a state with teacher unions and collective  bargaining, 93% of local unions signed off….    

In Florida, only 8% of local unions signed off.

We should not choose between collaboration and bold innovation. We should insist on both.

Hillsborough has a head start in working on reforms. But we could not do what we’re about to do, without the Gates grant, and the funding from the MAP program.

If you want real reform, if you want it to last, then don’t pass this 7189 -- another unfunded mandate.

Develop an exclusive funding source above current levels that makes “QUALITY” affordable and achievable.    Allow us to make teacher evaluations relevant.  And most of all,  Allow time for the kinks to be worked out. Work with us, don’t do to us. 

That is the right way. Not the passage of this bill -- 7189.


[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:57am]


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