Monday, December 18, 2017
News Roundup

When it comes to teacher accountability, the numbers don't tell the whole story

Simple question:

Is it Gov. Rick Scott's fault that Florida is far below the national average pay scale for teachers?

Follow-up question:

Is it the state Legislature's fault that Florida is 42nd in the nation in average spending per student?

Upon hearing those questions, I would suspect most reasonable people would have the same answer:

Of course not.

You cannot look at numbers in a vacuum and come up with indisputable conclusions. The reality is more complex. The truth is more nuanced. Some problems are inherited, and some issues transcend policy decisions.

So if we agree raw numbers are not always the definitive measure of job performance, let me ask you something else:

Why do the governor and Legislature insist on blaming Florida's teachers for low standardized test scores?

Shouldn't the same rules of common sense and fairness apply? Shouldn't factors beyond a teacher's control be considered? Shouldn't our politicians at least acknowledge the possibility that the underfunding of schools is a major factor?

I bring this up because of the week's headlines.

There was Gov. Scott traveling the state to talk to teachers and parents. There was the teacher strike in Chicago, where the issue was not pay but the idea educators are under siege. Even Pinellas County Commission candidate Janet Long's comments about firefighters made me think of teachers. It seemed half the community rose up in loud defense of firefighters, and I wondered why so few of us ever do the same for teachers.

My guess is that teachers make easy scapegoats.

If the politicians point a finger at teachers, then maybe we won't notice that Florida has not prioritized education to the same degree many other states have.

So instead of talking about how to improve test results, instead of talking about how to improve teacher performance, the state passes laws that threaten pay freezes and pink slips if standardized test scores do not improve.

This isn't about accountability; it's about blame.

"We're not saying teachers shouldn't be accountable. We're not saying that at all,'' said Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association president Jean Clements. "I don't know of any teacher who wants to teach beside someone who is complacent, or not very effective, or not highly dedicated. Most teachers would be greatly offended by the idea that anybody is looking for tenure so they can kick back and take it easy.

"The idea teachers are afraid of accountability is overblown and inaccurate.''

The issue is the way Tallahassee is measuring accountability. Too much emphasis is on standardized tests that are flawed to begin with.

And the accountability is measured not teacher to teacher, but school to school. So two mediocre teachers surrounded by great teachers and affluent students are more likely to get good reviews than a couple of great teachers at a floundering school.

This is what they're not talking about in Tallahassee. This is the point teachers need to get across.

"Teachers are not always the best at coloring their own stories,'' said Kim Black, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association. "We keep telling teachers they need to explain to their neighbors what they're up against.

"We need more people to stand up and say, "Enough.' ''

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