A weekend interview with ...
... Pam Stewart, Florida deputy chancellor for educator quality. Stewart spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about the state's new teacher discipline web site, myfloridateacher.com, and the attention it has generated nationally in publications such as Education Week and Newsweek.
Why is myfloridateacher.com out there right now and what do you hope to achieve by having it?
Those two questions are very related and probably it's one long answer for both. Really, it's something that we have looked at for a while. We knew there were a few other states that had similar web sites, and we had viewed those web sites, and feel as though public information is important to have out there for the public. So we pursued that possibility and started work on that. As you see on the web site we started with January 1 information and forward. We will continue to add to that as we have those public hearings and at the same time work backward so we are adding to the web site. But, to make the public information more accessible.
As a reporter, I've been trying to get information like this for a long time. I'm wondering it took so long to have a database as opposed to just having individual files of individual teachers.
Part of the reason was this process began many many years ago with probably an office of one or two people. As it grew, as our certified individual pool grew, that office began to grow but we really continued our process as it was for a number of years, which for a long time was just paper files. Then we began tracking those files almost for lack of a better word almost an Excel file, just who has it now, where is it, what's the status of it. Not ever intended at that time to be a tool from which we could query or drive policy. And then, just as Florida has done in lots of arenas - you know Florida is quite a data-rich state - we began looking at that. ...
As we began having more and more media requests, that helped us realize that we don't have it in a manner that is easily even for us to access it in the manner that is being requested. And it's taking a great deal of time for us to stop what our job is all about and pull files that are needed. So let's look at what we need to revise in our system so we can make it more publicly accessible.
We've been hearing in some of these articles that have come out that teachers are questioning whether their civil rights are being violated by putting this information out in this way. Have you got any response to that?
We obviously would not want to nor are we doing anything that would violate one's rights. So we certainly are not doing that. ...
You are simply putting forward public documents.
Speaking of public documents, we know that the state has just a small amount of teachers who get to that level. But school districts have a lot of information. ... Is there ever any chance we'll get that information published online, by the districts or by the state, so we will know not just that the state had a hearing but perhaps that a teacher got suspended for a day for doing something bad in their district?
... What we have on the web site about contacting the district would be related to that incident they are seeing on the web site, that the district may have additional information, or may be able to clarify something for an individual who might have questions about that. We also have some additional information, and also offer that. ...
Secondarily to that, by Monday instead of having the column of allegations, there will actually be a link to the documents. So there won't even be the need to contact for additional information.
... Other cases that may not be on the web site? Is that what you mean?
Yes, cases that might not make it to the state level. There are district level hearings, different district level infractions. Like we had a story here recently about a teacher who was given a one-day suspension for calling a student by a name. That never would have made it to the state level, and if we hadn't heard about it, it never would have made it publicly anywhere. And it outraged people.
Generally speaking, those cases do make their way to the state. A district may do a one-day suspension or a disciplinary action. That doesn't preclude something from happening at the state level.
I guess I'm wondering if we would see a recommendation or a requirement or a request that school districts put personnel files of this nature on the web so it's easily accessible in the same way that the state is doing.
If a district wanted to set up some sort of web site like that, we would help them to do something like that. We would be here to serve as support and offer information about how they would go about something like that without violating one's rights.
What about requiring them to do it?
I don't think there is a plan at this point for requiring something like that. That would be a local decision. And remember that local districts have other requirements with regard to their personnel files and evaluations than we do when it rises to the certificate level. So all of that would have to be taken into consideration. For it to a requirement would take a change in statute.
Speaking of change in statute, I know there's a whole range of recommendations that the state board approved the other day ... regarding the way that teacher disciplinary cases are handled. Can you tell what the most important aspect of that from your perspective would be.
One of the most significant for us within the department is to do more systematic training statewide to ensure that we are receiving all the cases that we should be. That everyone involved in this process is fully aware of their obligations. ...
What would be your recommendation to parents to make sure that they are getting the best information available about their teachers, in terms of their history, to be sure they're not getting somebody else's problem?
Utilizing the web site. If the behavior, if the misconduct, is egregious enough to rise to the state level, and a final order occurs, a sanction on their certificate occurs, then that is something for a parent to take a look at. But it is one piece of the puzzle, or one snapshot of the picture of that educator, and it's not the entire picture of that educator. So a parent would want to know their own assessment of how their child is doing in that classroom. And a history of that teacher in the classroom. Are they successful in that classroom? Do they do a good job in the classroom? That's all information that a parent would want to take into consideration. ...
Should parents be going to their school district headquarters and saying, I'd like to see the complete personnel file for my child's teacher? On a regular basis?
If they feel that they need to do that. If there is something has occurred, or some reason that they feel they should do that, there are laws with regard to personnel files and records and evaluations of educators. So they could access what is within their realm of being able to access. If they feel they need to do that, there is the avenue for them to be able to do that.