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Thursday letters: State Sen. John Thrasher doesn't understand education

Foes of teacher bill earn failing grade | March 30, commentary by state Sen. John Thrasher

Thrasher doesn't understand education

When one is high on a mountain, one has a broad view that gives little clue as to the lush details of the valley below. This is Sen. John Thrasher's view of education. He sees a landscape to bulldoze, and doesn't care about the forest he'd plow under with SB 6. To be blunt, he doesn't understand pedagogy a whit.

Thrasher thinks not enough teachers are getting fired. He doesn't know that most underqualified teachers quit of their own accord, generally pushed out by the students themselves, and that teachers mentor each other to become better. We already have systems in place: I have witnessed good teachers express, "Goodbye and good riddance" many times as bad teachers have left the classroom. SB 6's abolition of continuing contracts is like pruning a rosebush with a chain saw.

He thinks that not enough students made acceptable progress with learning gains because they didn't reach a certain number on a test score, though we know that many students who find academics challenging are quite proud of any "baby step" learning gains they make. He also doesn't realize that a child's holistic internalization of all knowledge and skills of an entire year cannot be based on one reading test score.

Thrasher doesn't trust principals' professional judgment to evaluate their teachers fairly and impartially. He doesn't know just how detailed the teacher performance appraisal system is.

Thrasher believes a teacher has a "lifetime guarantee" of employment after three years in the classroom, but that is so grossly overstated. Teachers must go through constant training to ensure that their contracts do not expire every five years; they are not just automatically renewed on their own.

If Thrasher has his way, he won't need his chain saw because there is going to be nothing short of massive bud drop-off and withering of the public school system. But he won't care to see that from on high, gazing down at this legislative monument of his own magnificence.

Sarah Lehrmann, Clearwater

Foes of teacher bill earn failing grade March 30, commentary by state Sen. John Thrasher

Misinformed lawmaker is the one who is failing

You've got to just shake your head when you realize how misinformed John Thrasher really is. The failing grade belongs to him!

It seems in his mind it is the sole responsibility of the teachers to see that students make progress. He obviously has no concept of the reality of a public school population. In middle school and high school in particular, students without parent support do not do homework, couldn't care less about their grades and often don't even show up to class. The best teacher in the world would have his/her class data contaminated by even a small percentage of those students in class. Yet this is how Thrasher would choose to evaluate that teacher and determine his/her pay?

I have been a teacher for more than 30 years both in New York and Florida. I, and most of my colleagues, have never assumed that we were untouchable if we did not perform our jobs as mandated by state law or local guidelines. Tenure or a "continuing" contract does not make us immune from being removed if our performance is unsatisfactory. I want my performance evaluated, but not based on the unsatisfactory growth of students who couldn't care less. That is a part of the equation I have no control over.

Instead of putting away $900 million a year to award teachers lucky enough to teach students whose parents know they exist, put the money into school budgets to preserve class size so all teachers can really make a difference.

Kathy Proctor, Hudson

Foes of teacher bill earn failing grade March 30, commentary

Playing politics

Sen. John Thrasher begins his column by stating, "Education isn't about politics." How rich. Thrasher, who doubles as the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, is the most political of animals, and his Senate Bill 6 is a nakedly political attack on teachers and their unions.

Thrasher's hypocrisy is clear. For example, he states that SB 6 ends "the practice of granting a lifetime guarantee of employment after just three years on the classroom." The bill cannot end this practice because this practice does not exist. If Thrasher's bill isn't about politics, then why is he lying to the people of Florida?

Thrasher asserts that his bill won't cut teacher pay, that it will "raise salaries." How? "The bill sets aside more than $900 million a year that must be used" for differentiated/merit pay. What Thrasher doesn't say is that this $900 million is not new money — it is money already in the education budget that will be "set aside" for this purpose. What will be cut from school budgets to fund this $900 million gimmick?

Thrasher's disingenuousness puts the lie to his statement that "education isn't about politics." If it's not, why is he trying so hard to mislead the public?

John L. Perry, Tampa

Clumsy intrusion

Since Sen. John Thrasher thinks that teachers' pay should be based on their students' standardized test score changes for a school year, I wonder if he is willing for his pay to be based on the Florida employment rate changes for the year.

Obviously, neither approach makes much sense, since 1) the measures themselves are inaccurate indicators of teachers'/legislators' multifaceted accomplishments or lack thereof, and 2) a wide variety of variables beyond the control of teachers/legislators affect the test scores and employment rates.

Rather than intruding clumsily into a complex process of teacher evaluation, I suggest that Thrasher and his like-minded Republican legislators leave that task to educational experts and educate themselves on the real needs of Floridians — and some critical thinking skills!

I am a retired professor from a private university and was evaluated every year for merit pay. I never have been a member of the Florida Education Association. However, I do really resent the attacks that Thrasher and his ilk have been making on our public schoolteachers and their union. We should be striving to improve our educational system, not to denigrate our teachers.

Richard Piper, Largo

Too many reform fads

Hopefully, state lawmakers will read educational historian Diane Ravitch's The Death and Life of the Great American School System before taking a final vote on Sen. John Thrasher's SB 6.

Ravitch writes, "I have tried to show in my work the persistence of our national infatuation with fads, movements and reforms, which invariably distract us from the steadiness of purpose needed to improve our schools."

Thrasher's SB 6 is punitive and destructive. My concern is for my grandchildren's education here in Florida. As a grandparent, I appeal to any open-minded legislator to please research the issue and oppose SB 6.

Andy Szwast, Odessa

Thursday letters: State Sen. John Thrasher doesn't understand education 03/31/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 7:50pm]
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