Last week, Florida chamber voted 21-17 to pass Senate Bill 6 sponsored by Sen. John Thrasher (R) with the support of former governor Jeb Bush, which requires teachers to be evaluated and paid primarily on the basis of student test scores. The Florida House will vote on the bill as early as this Thursday, April 1. The bill would also require that experience, professional certification, and advanced degrees not be considered when paying teachers. Teachers would be put on a 5 year probationary period and then work one-year contracts, allowing principals to easily fire teachers on a year by year basis. New tests would be created to include every subject in the annual testing lineup.
As in schools across the country, Florida’s high stakes test – the FCAT, has been criticized for years for helping turn schools into a test prep factory whereby teachers are forced to teach to the test and students are reduced to nothing more than a test score. Teachers in Florida are outraged by the passing of this bill and teachers elsewhere look on in fear. Some have already begun to plan their exit of Florida and others are ready to leave the teaching profession as a whole. Some teachers are worried that if the Florida House of Representatives echoes the senates passage of Bill 6 there will be no teacher shortage in Florida. Instead, we will have a teacher leakage on our hands.
Teachers Speak Out
One teacher, Erin Johnson, asks “How difficult will it be to recruit good teachers into impoverished neighborhoods if the threat of firing is being held against them? And refers to the bill as a “prescription for increasing the achievement gap.”
Teachers all over the web have openly opposed the bill, insisting on the invalidity of tests as a tool for measuring teacher performance. Many are trying to make sense of the achievement gap, blaming parent expectations and support, funding, and other culprits for low test scores.
B. Crosby urges, “In my state all students test in reading and math on a test that is at grade level … even if we know the student is behind for any number of reasons. We know the student isn’t at grade level, why are we testing them 2 and 3 grade levels above where they are? Why not evaluate for growth? Why not evaluate family and other issues that might be part of the problem?”
Insight from the Front Lines
Educators and policy makers can agree on one thing, this achievement gap that exists along socio-economic and racial lines is the most pressing educational challenge of our time. I think the disconnect lies in the perceived causes of this gap and how educators and policy makers can work together to close the ever-widening gap.
Teach for America, a national non-profit with a mission to end educational inequality that places recent college graduates in our nation’s lowest-income urban and rural communities, recently released a study on the causes of the achievement gap. A survey of nearly 2,000 Teach for America teachers working in the front lines asked corps members to comment on their beliefs about the causes and solutions to the achievement gap.
The findings were surprising. In spite of all the external challenges, educators have the power to close achievement gaps. The expectations of students, from teachers, schools, parents, and the public in general are the biggest tool and most difficult obstacle to overcome. Low expectations of students are one of the most significant causes of the achievement gap. Funding, itself is not the answer, specifically because of how resources are currently being allocated. Teacher quality, school leadership, and expectations of students outranked funding in causes and solutions to the achievement gap. Teach for America teachers are concerned that the public misplaces blame for the achievement gap on students and their families.
What will it take to close the achievement gap in America?
Senate Bill 6 could be perceived as though policy makers are blaming teachers for the achievement gap. The public and many teachers often blame parents and poor policy for the achievement gap. I think it’s time for everyone to stop blaming each other and start working together to determine a full on approach to tackling this problem. What will it take to close the achievement gap in America?