Saturday, April 21, 2018
Education

Former Florida Teacher of Year critical of reforms

Florida's 2010 Teacher of the Year has left the state and couldn't be happier.

Megan Allen, a one-time national Teacher of the Year finalist, is now a lecturer at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. With her new outsider perspective, Allen said she has found many pitfalls in Florida's system of public education.

They start with a simple lack of respect for teachers, and education in general, she said.

"I can't tell you how belittling, horrible, and discouraging much of the current narrative around our (Florida) educators is," Allen said. "If we want to improve education, one huge and impactful step is to treat educators as professionals and realize the dedication they have for our students and our future."

Allen, who was Hillsborough County's 2009 Teacher of the Year, moved about seven months ago without much fanfare. Her decision attracted attention a week ago when she posted a "Dear John" letter and video to Florida on a blog that got picked up by the Washington Post.

Teacher advocacy groups celebrated her commentary as it went viral in their world. U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor included the post in her recommendations to her Twitter followers who "care about education."

"It's teachers like (Allen) that make FL great," the Florida Education Association tweeted. "So why are we making them want to leave?!"

Allen, a 35-year-old Lakeland native, hadn't expected such a response. She simply wanted to offer some thoughts to her home state after having time to reflect on what she lived and left.

Among her suggestions, Allen said Florida should take better advantage of its teacher experts. That includes creating more leadership positions that don't take them out of the classroom.

"There are so many people ready for it," she said. "But there isn't the career lattice for it."

Hillsborough has a few such jobs, Allen noted. But the profession needs more. "Go get them, Florida."

She called for a teacher on the State Board of Education, urged the removal of politics from education decision-making, and pushed to keep profit-making out of the system.

As for Florida's highly controversial "value-added" evaluations for teachers, Allen said, "Ditch the VAM, plain and simple."

Allen also took issue with Florida's eagerness to implement so many different ideas at once, all under the guise of reform.

"Florida is very quick to jump on reform movements and try them all instead of being scientific about it," she said. "We just have so many pieces that we're trying out, it's going to be really hard to figure out what's beneficial for our students."

Try one thing at a time and study it properly, she recommended.

Allen's advocacy didn't start this month.

Her efforts began in the classroom, where students loved the innovative and often unconventional ways she presented her lessons. She became a National Board certified teacher and was active in the east Tampa community served by her school, Cleveland Elementary.

After winning her statewide award, Allen had a soapbox that she used to call for improvements in her profession. She made recommendations on the qualities of a good education commissioner and the composition of the Florida Board of Education, to which she applied in vain to become a member.

She also has testified before Congress on national education matters.

She waited for months to go public with her thoughts about Florida, though, to make sure it was something she really wanted to say. Now that she's done it, Allen expresses her hope that she has started a conversation that will make a difference.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more news visit tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

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