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Daniel Ruth

Bad idea deserves a thrashing

Yep, to be sure, this is a mere bagatelle of a do-nothing job — modest pay, grading papers for hours, overseeing six to seven packed classes a day, attending to parent conferences, dealing with the occasional brawl, being forced to teach to a cockamamie test. And all the while clucking Tallahassee politicians are looking over your shoulder telling you what a lousy, stinking job you're doing and threatening your livelihood.

Given all those lush fringe benefits, who wouldn't want to be a public school teacher?

Or more to the point, let's put it this way. State Sen. John Thrasher, R-The Mr. Chips From Hell, wouldn't last five minutes in a Florida public school classroom before finding himself more dazed and confused than Sarah Palin contemplating a world atlas.

Yet Thrasher and a bunch of his fellow truants from reality in the Florida Legislature seem bent on making it more difficult for our public school teachers to achieve tenure, easier to fire them and more difficult to — teach.

Under Thrasher's proposal, current protections for classroom teachers' job security would be eviscerated and even more stringent requirements for end-of-year exams implemented and linked to educator evaluations.

At the same time, newly hired teachers, after a year's probation, would be subject to annual contracts to continue their employment. Thrasher insisted, with a straight face even as his nose grew the length of a Chilean fault line, that he was merely trying to "make sure our classrooms have the best teachers possible."

But that is so much poppycock, wrapped in fiddle-faddle, enshrouded in balderdash.

By Thrasher's ham-handed reasoning, our classrooms are populated by bonbon-munching, ne'er-do-well, indifferent teachers who while away the public school day reading the Daily Racing Form, taking extended coffee breaks and surfing the Internet, which really sounds like a more accurate job description of a Florida legislator than an elementary or high school educator.

Indeed, if one applied the same standards of job performance to a member of the Florida House and Senate, Tallahassee would be more of a ghost town than Chernobyl.

The fact is, while Thrasher was making a handsome living as a lobbyist, after years with his jowls in the public trough in the Florida House, including a term as speaker, Florida teachers were busily doing the daily grunt work of trying to educate the state's youth while fending off constant assaults by Tallahassee against their ability to perform their jobs.

How is it possible to "make sure our classrooms have the best teachers possible" when someone thinking about entering Florida's public school system knows he or she will be constantly second-guessed by bloviating, posturing pols who have no understanding of the rigors of today's classroom pressures?

Are there incompetent teachers? Sure there are, but it could be argued on a percentage basis there are probably fewer of them strolling the hallways of our schools than the out-to-lunch backslappers haunting the corridors of power in Tallahassee.

Thrasher's disingenuous posturing notwithstanding, procedures are already in place to monitor and evaluate teacher performance. Bad teachers are weeded out of the system.

But to equate student test scores to the skills of a teacher, without taking into account factors such as learning disabilities, parental involvement, economic status, school resources and a host of other issues is patently unfair and dangerously naive.

Miami Democratic Sen. Frederica Wilson had it right when she suggested if Thrasher has his way fewer teachers are going to offer their services to at-risk inner city schools, fearing low test scores could well send them packing after precious little time on the job to make a difference.

Who would want to step into a work environment where your future is dependent on a multitude of forces beyond your control?

And that may explain why a cynic might conclude Thrasher's effort to turn employment in Florida public schools into something out of a Skull & Bones blackball vote is being perceived not so much as an effort at dubious "reform" but an assault on teacher unions — long the political bane of Republicans.

Thrasher has proposed that school districts that fail to comply with the new teacher standards edict would be compelled to levy additional school taxes, with the state withholding matching state general revenue dollars from that district as a penalty. A Republican advocating a tax? The Tea Party types won't like this.

The senator argued such a draconian measure was needed in order to get the attention of school districts, as if local administrators are unmindful of the difficulties — educational and financial — they face every day.

This is a chap so unwitting of the challenges educators and administrators confront in society that it really makes you wonder if John Thrasher ever studied Civics 101.

Bad idea deserves a thrashing 03/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 4, 2010 7:42pm]

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