Performance pay continues to be a hot topic for Florida teachers as revisions wind their way through Tallahassee. Guest blogger Chris Altobello, an Ocala guidance counselor and union leader, offers this unique perspective.
"Imagine this… It's the first day of school and I am meeting my students for the very first time. I do my signature "Money to Burn" experiment involving fire, a dollar bill, and a student picked at random. I gaze out into the audience noticing I have the students hooked as they wait to see if the dollar will burn. We then have a great discussion on scientific inquiry…WOW these kids are really engaged and it's only 15 minutes into the school year! After introducing myself and class introductions I hand them their syllabus. I give them a few minutes to read the class expectations and policies and then it happens. "Mr. A", one student asks, "What do you mean that no matter how well we do in the class only 25% of us can earn an A?"
Being honest, I explain to her that the state education "experts" created a new performance grade plan called SCAR, Special Children Are Rewarded, in which student grades are primarily based on how well you do on your high-stakes standardized test assessment. I am having what educators call a "teachable moment" now as everyone is participating in the discussion. "You mean to tell me Mr. A that even if we come to school every day, participate in class, complete all our homework, and perform excellent on all our assignments that only a handful of us even have a chance to earn an A…no matter what?" "Yes Johnny", I reply. The kids are really becoming spirited when out of the blue little Ellis raises his hand. "I think it's great…do good for one week out of the year and get an A…can't get any easier than that!" The class is now in an uproar…. Ring! Ring! Ahh…saved by the bell.
The next few periods follow the same pattern. Kids question me as to why they were not involved in the development of SCAR, given that it applies directly to them. Some wonder why the "experts" would set up student meetings for SCAR input after the decision was made. Several students with different classes and special needs are wondering if they will even get the chance to earn an A. Scores of kids come to me asking if SCAR could be delayed until a better plan could be developed. Many simply say they have no chance whatsoever. The student council, on behalf of their peers asks the "experts" if this is even legal! They continue to question me about the SCAR the "experts" gave them. I listen, but I have no answer.
Imagine if teachers tried to SCAR our children. We'd be drummed out of the classroom. Yet this is exactly what is happening to teachers and local school boards all across this great state. STAR or Special Teachers Are Rewarded is nothing more than the last attempt by our former "education" governor (and his rubber-stamp bunch) to SCAR our public school system and those hardworking teachers who make up its foundation. They are being forced to participate in an ill-conceived, inequitable merit-pay system that is based primarily on how well a student performs one week out of the year. Marion, as well as, countless counties across the state will be going through the STAR Wars soon. Teachers, let's do our homework, unite together, and send a message to Tallahassee that we're all STARS!"
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