Suit-Up

It would only be a matter of time before one of the school districts in Florida decided to file a lawsuit against HB7069, and Broward County was officially the first to do so last week.

Who’s next?

All districts across the state should join this suit for multiple reasons; here are just a few:

  • It violates the Florida Constitution, first and foremost. As noted during WEDU’s “Florida This Week” that aired last Friday (and certainly in numerous print publications over the last several weeks), bills that are passed by the Legislature should be a single subject bill. “Education” is far too broad, and each bill should deal with one aspect of policy only.
  • It undermines local control/usurps the autonomy of the school districts in a multitude of ways, the most brazen of which is the demand for traditional public schools to share their capital outlay revenues from the millage rates collected locally.
  • It interferes with Federal law regarding Title I spending by dictating those monies go directly to the Title I schools rather than the school district itself. In the past, the leaders of each district could decide how to distribute the Title I money for wraparound service programs, teacher salary-based incentives, etc; under the new law, the districts have been stripped of their administrative rights.
  • It is inequitable in its demands placed on traditional public schools. For instance, parents across the entire Sunshine State have been advocating for recess for the last several years and this bill mandates that all schools implement recess beginning next year…unless it’s a charter school.

The list could go on, but let’s not belabor the point: HB7069 is just one more way the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature dictates what happens in our communities at the local level.

And this has me perplexed for several reasons. Isn’t “local control is the best form of governance” the mantra of all card-carrying conservatives? Isn’t it considered anathema by conservatives to also “pick winners and losers”? By flushing charter schools with cash while offering nothing but unfunded mandates to traditional public schools, the Legislature has done just that. What about “corporate welfare” that the Republicans claim to despise? How does that square with the conservatism? It doesn’t. Frankly, none of the things this bill has wrought conforms to conservative ideals.

But you know who the real loser is in this legislation? Our students all across this state. The way we pit traditional public schools against charter schools gets us no where. It’s time for the Legislature do something useful such as closing the loophole that for-profit charter companies exploit year after year. It’s time for the Legislature to ensure that both traditional and charter schools are held to the same accountability standards. It’s time for there to be a substantial investment in education combined with an equitable distribution of funds to all schools.

But before the Legislature can get back to work, let’s have every school district band together to join this suit and send a message.

 

VAM Formula
The VAM Formula

If you’re a teacher in Florida, you know all about VAM. Back in 2009, teacher accountability became all the rage, and by the legislative session in the spring of 2010 members of both the House and Senate were putting forth various bills to measure teacher effectiveness. SB6 sponsored by Senator John Thrasher was the first to emerge fully formed, and it was the first that I am aware of to propose the use of VAM, or the “Value Added Model.”

I am a teacher, not a widget. I don’t come off an assembly line, and neither do my students or their learning gains. We are human beings, so I immediately took umbrage with a term we often associate with products we buy, sell, and consume. I was so upset, in fact, that I wrote a letter to the editor of the now defunct Tampa Tribune, and it was featured on the front page of the Opinion section that Sunday. If you’d like to read it, click here, as the words I wrote are still relevant today.

Even though HB7069 is a train wreck…er, train bill, one of the *VERY FEW* good pieces of the legislation is that school districts can now opt out of using VAM as part of the teacher evaluation process. Though it unfortunately takes the Florida Legislature years to realize they’ve implemented bad policy, I’ll give them credit for finally acknowledging it, even if they only did so tacitly by burying something like this in a giant bill.

If you read the post on Facebook that took you to Jeff Solochek’s piece about VAM being eliminated in Citrus County, you know that one of the School Board members, Thomas Kennedy, advocated for its removal (thank you, sir!). Perhaps most importantly, Solochek notes that “other districts are also preparing similar moves.” I sure hope that means here in Hillsborough County Public Schools.

I’ve always thought VAM was suspect for lots of reasons, the least of which was the dismissive way teachers in our district were told by top brass that “you’d need a PhD in Mathematics to understand it.” Nothing like opaque and vague formulas to determine your worth as a teacher, I guess.

The truth is, I never liked VAM for one simple reason that every teacher will agree upon: teaching is more art than science. It’s more how you connect with kids and the relationships you build with them, not how well they do on a standardized test. When you add in the fact that VAM is inequitable in its application (is it fair to judge a P.E. Coach by the school’s overall reading scores?) and that many kids pencil-whip tests because they know the curves are so ridiculously generous, what does that number really even mean?

Nothing.

VAM has never been anything but a charade that has caused consternation for teachers everywhere throughout the state of Florida. Let’s lobby our individual districts to get rid of this mathematical chicanery for good.

VAM Formula Fixed
Here’s how the VAM formula should really read

IMG_1229

Check out the latest episode of the Friday Five!

Today’s topic: HB7069 and The Best and Brightest Scholarship

Thanks for listening, everyone. Feel free to comment here on the page, on Facebook or on Twitter. And don’t forget! I’m always looking for suggestions for things to discuss or, even better, you can join me for a full discussion on the Teacher Voice podcast.

Have an awesome weekend!

 

Water-Drop

While there are lots of issues cropping up across the state of Florida when it comes to education, the biggest by far is the lack of funding. Current per-pupil spending here in the Sunshine State hovers around $7200 and is less than a decade ago even though the economy has rebounded substantially since the Great Recession.

And we are way behind the national average of $10,600 per pupil, which is downright shameful considering we’re now the third biggest state in the U.S. in terms of population. You’d think our legislators in Tallahassee would realize that properly funding education means luring more investment into the state, because if you want business leaders to flock here we’d better have a high quality public education system to teach the next generation of Floridians.

But if you live anywhere in the Tampa Bay area (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, etc) and are tuning in to what’s happening, you’re also aware of the “financial woes” facing Hillsborough County Public Schools. Our top administrators and elected officials are coming to grips with a significant budget crisis that includes one billion dollars in debt, one billion dollars in deferred/needed maintenance, and another billion dollars of new schools that will need to be built to handle the exponential growth taking place in southern and eastern parts of the county.

This past Tuesday, the School Board held a public budget workshop to discuss ideas about how to combat this challenge, and one in particular stuck out. Susan Valdes, who has been a school board member since 2004–and you could argue bears much responsibility for our current mess because she has clearly passed budgets that were reckless in their spending–openly floated the idea of freezing everyone’s salary.

Clearly Mrs. Valdes doesn’t understand basic economics…

Hillsborough County Public Schools is the largest employer in the Tampa Bay area. There are over 15,000 teachers, and 26,000 employees in total. All of these employees spend most of their hard earned money locally, and anyone who has lived in Tampa in the last 5 years knows the area is experiencing robust growth. If the school board and administration freeze salaries, this will create a ripple effect that will negatively impact the local economy and make the downward spiral that much worse.

Perhaps more devastating, this decision could force good teachers to leave the profession altogether, which we continually see across the state because jobs are plentiful. The unemployment rate in Florida sits at 4.5%; here in Tampa Bay it’s actually 3.7%(!). This means there are jobs out there, and if veteran teachers can’t make ends meet they’ll go do something else. Even if there weren’t a hiring freeze, HR staff in any organization will also tell you that hiring and training new employees is more expensive than retaining older ones.

Should the school board even be considering this as an option? It will probably do a lot more harm than good, especially if those in charge continue to spend money frivolously while asking the primary workforce to make the sacrifice that will hurt our local economy in the long run.

P.S. – If you’d like to hear more on this topic and why freezing salaries is a huge mistake, don’t forget to check out the latest episode of the podcast located on the right-hand side of the main sidebar. The “Friday Five” will be posted each week and will feature me (and hopefully others in the future) sounding off about a timely issue concerning education either locally or elsewhere in the state.