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Let’s hear it for Florida!

Finn seems to be needling Ravitch by reminding readers she was on the Koret Task Force with him that applauded Forida's "innovative" teacher evaluation scheme enacted under Governor Jeb Bush.

Ravitch's change of mind on Florida is posted below this Finn piece.

by Chester E. Finn, Jr

Hurrah for the Education Policy Council of Florida's House of Representatives for endorsing the bold teacher-reforms of pending bill HB 7189, now headed for the House floor tomorrow or Thursday. This pathbreaking legislation--twinned with an identical measure already approved by the State Senate--has many moving parts but three of its provisions are noteworthy. It would, in effect, abolish tenure in Florida's public schools. It would base teacher evaluations at least 50 percent on student performance. And it would create a statewide "merit pay" plan for uncommonly effective teachers.

The folly of teacher tenure and the protection it inappropriately affords to classroom failures has become far more widely recognized.

These are precisely the kinds of far-reaching reforms that my colleagues and I called for four years ago when the Koret Task Force on K-12 Education, based at Stanford's Hoover Institution, evaluated Floridaâs Jeb Bush-era policy changes. (You can read our entire document here and the teacher-specific chapters by distinguished political scientist Terry Moe and acclaimed economist Eric Hanushek.)

Here is what our Task Force--including Paul Peterson, Paul Hill, Diane Ravitch, Caroline Hoxby, John Chubb, Williamson Evers, E.D. Hirsch, and Herbert Walberg, as well as Moe, Hanushek and myself--said should happen regarding teachers and teaching in the Sunshine State:

"Florida has long been concerned about rewarding and retaining effective teachers and has recently moved vigorously to address the issue. In 2002, the state legislature required that districts base a portion of their teacher-salary determination on student performance. Because district response to the law was slow, the state legislature, in 2006, enacted its Special Teachers Are Rewarded (STAR) program, giving it a budget of $147.5 million. The STAR program, which increases the proportion of teachers whose performance can be rewarded to no less than 25 percent, is one part of a series of innovative compensation programs the state has been introducing. For example, one program provides funding for schools based on their studentsâ learning gains, while others give mortgage assistance and tuition forgiveness to those who agree to teach in high-needs schools. Even more significantly, STAR allocates funds to schools based on the gains in student performance that are accomplished, giving each school a fiscal incentive to boost student performance.

"In this regard, Florida is leading the nation. Although other states are moving in this direction, none matches Florida in terms of magnitude, breadth, and focus. Still, Florida can build on its already strong policy record. For one thing, consistent with the legislation enacted in 2006, school administrators--particularly principals and superintendents--should also be rewarded for effectiveness in raising student achievement. And as part of an ongoing evaluation of its compensation policies, it needs to monitor closely the size and distribution of its performance rewards to ensure that they are competitive with opportunities in alternative professions. Only by doing so can Florida retain its highest-performing teachers and administrators."

Much water has gone over the dam these past four years. Associating teacher evaluations with student performance, and rewarding teachers accordingly, is now all but taken for granted in state after state--and by prominent national figures, including President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Today we are more apt to find ourselves disputing specific programs and strategies than the basic concept. No Child Left Behind (and pre-existing programs such as Florida's A+ Program) have begun to yield the kinds of data that make performance-based judgments possible, and Race to the Top has underscored the importance of doing this. Additionally, the folly of teacher tenure and the protection it inappropriately affords to classroom failures has become far more widely recognized.

Florida is now poised to take the next step. It's no surprise that the teacher unions and their acolytes are doing everything in their power to defeat these measures. They do so in the name of "professionalism" but in fact they're trying to protect an approach to school staffing that has more in common with the now-defunct steel industry and the ailing auto industry. The truth is that much solid research, mounting experience, improved data, and shifting public attitudes all point in the direction of HB 7189. I hope the full Florida House has the wisdom to follow the lead of its Education Policy Council--and I'm confident that my current colleagues on the Koret Task Force agree.

A Letter to Lawmakers
by Diane Ravitch

Bridging Differences blog

. . . Last week, I wrote about the awful legislation in Florida, which will strip teachers of tenure and judge them by student test scores. Teachers in that state asked me to come to Tallahassee and testify, but I couldn't be there because I was lecturing in Boston on the day of the hearing. So, I wrote a letter to the legislature, and I am going to post it here.

To: The Honorable Members of the Florida Legislature

From: Diane Ravitch

Dear Members,

I wish that I could be in Tallahassee to address you personally but prior commitments make it impossible to do so.

I am a historian of American education at New York University. I served as Assistant Secretary of Research and Improvement in the administration of President George H.W. Bush. I was a founding member of the Koret Task Force of the Hoover Institution. I was also a founding trustee of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. I have been studying and writing about American education for 40 years.

I write to oppose SB 6/HB 7189.

I understand that this bill would prohibit districts from paying teachers in relation to their experience and education, but would base teachers' salaries mainly on student gains on standardized tests. I further understand that it is the law's intent to develop new tests for every subject area, paid for by reducing operating expenses by 5 percent in the schools.

I strongly believe that this bill will have very negative consequences for the children of the state of Florida. I believe that it will dumb down their education. I believe that it will cause many of your best teachers to leave the profession or the state because this legislation is so profoundly disrespectful towards the education profession.

I urge you not to pass this bill.

My new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, demonstrates that pay-for-scores schemes don't work. The main reason they don't work is that the measures were not intended for that purpose. Standardized tests are intended to evaluate whether students have learned what they were taught. They are not designed to assess teacher effectiveness or teacher quality. The more that teachers focus on these measures, the more they rob children of time for instruction and for the activities that engage children in their education and promote comprehension.

Teachers are not solely the cause of student progress. If students fail to make progress in their studies, there are many reasons for their failure. The causes of academic success or failure include the students' own effort; the students' regular attendance or lack thereof; the family's support or lack thereof; the family's poverty and its effects on the student's health and well-being; the school's resources; the district's oversight or lack thereof; and the quality of the test itself, which may be subject to random variation. It makes no sense to hold the teacher alone accountable when student performance is affected by so many different influences.

Should the teacher get a bad evaluation if students have a poor attendance record? Should the teacher be harshly judged if her students don't speak English or move frequently from school to school? Should the teacher get an F if the student has poor eyesight or suffers from other undiagnosed health problems? Should the teacher be considered a failure if the student's family offers no support for his learning?

Since the 1920s, American schools have experimented with merit pay plans. None has ever demonstrated success. Teachers will bend their efforts to raise test scores, but achievement nonetheless lags. The reason for this is that teaching-to-the-test does not yield good education. The students may learn test-taking skills, but they don't learn how to generalize what they have learned to new situations. Thus, even when state reading scores go up, in response to intensive coaching, national test scores remain flat. As the national tests become more demanding--in 8th grade--the scores don't rise at all.

Our nation has now had eight consecutive years of rising reading scores at the state level, yet the national scores for 8th grade students have not budged from 1998-2009. The reason for the discrepancy is that students are learning test-taking skills, but they are unable to understand complex materials or to demonstrate their progress on a test that is not the state test.

Test scores do not identify the most effective teachers. A teacher who produces big score gains one year may produce none the next year, depending on which students happen to be in his or her class.

The legislation now under consideration will not improve education in Florida. It will harm kids and their teachers.

I urge you to stop and reflect. The research on teacher effectiveness does not support the policies of SB 6/HB 7189. Please defeat this legislation.

Yours truly,

Diane Ravitch

— Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Diane Ravitch
Flypaper and Education Week Blog


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