I have a fourth grade child. She's a great kid, and a lot like me in some interesting ways. One way is her embracing of my newfound political identity and, as children are wont to do, her taking of my views as her own. I took her to a Palin rally during the election, and we were privileged to speak (briefly, of course) with Todd, Piper and Willow. We all got autographs and it seems the whole experience really made a big impression on my daughter. She has been politically savvy ever since. Yes, she sometimes gets bored with all of the political talk in the house, but quite often she joins in, and she knows that all of the talk is because her father and I are concerned about her future. So in my new life as an activist, I am guilty of politicizing my child. I'm not concerned about this, though, because she is my child and I have every right to do so.
However, I object strenuously when people try to use her as a political pawn. This happened just today in, of all places, her school.
The state of Florida has been hotly debating legislation to put teachers on a merit pay system that just passed our House this morning. The legislation would require the testing of all children in grades K-12 at the end of the year. This test is to evaluate the effectiveness of the teacher. Opponents of the measure say that this means the teachers will be teaching to a test. They are already doing that with our FCAT system, if critics of that program are to be believed. Luckily the FCAT is a comprehensive test that is standard for the entire state. Whatever the critics might claim, the FCAT program has boosted the literacy rates of Florida schools and closed the "minority gap" of educational success.
My daughter's teacher has spent the past three days up in Tallahassee protesting the legislation. Her class had to make due with a substitute. She returned to class today, so hoarse that she could barely lecture. Most of the day was, apparently, spent with the kids writing letters to the governor asking him to veto the bill when it comes to his desk, so her hoarseness wasn't much of an issue.
What did the teacher tell the children in order to get them to write to a politician and demand he veto a bill? She told them that if the bill passes, they will be forced to take lots of big scary tests. She has told them that no one will benefit from the bill - in fact, children will be hurt by it because they will have those big scary tests to take. She also told them to email and call the governor to tell him to veto the bill over the weekend.
I am absolutely outraged. How dare they use my child to push their agenda? I support the merit bill, and I resent my child being used in an attempt to stop it from becoming law. The teacher's unions are in panic mode because this bill will get rid of tenure and require all teachers to be on year-to-year contracts for the first three years. After the three years, they can sign multi-year contracts, but, if their students perform poorly on the evaluation tests, the schools will be able to fire them more easily because the tenure structure has been removed. This program rewards good teachers and gives schools an opportunity to jettison bad ones. Just as importantly, the union loses a lot of power.
As a parent, I have been extremely lucky in the teachers my children have had. For the most part, we have had teachers who have a real, vested interest in "their" children and their careers as educators. Unfortunately, we have also had the misfortune to have one or two teachers who see the job more as a way to get a paycheck and have summers off. My child's grades have suffered and enthusiasm for school dropped dramatically. When you end up with a teacher like that, it is nearly impossible to transfer your child to another class - suffering through until the next year or pulling the child out to home school are really the only options most parents have.
I can understand why my child's current teacher is so opposed to this bill - quite frankly, I think she would be one of the first casualties of the new standards. My daughter has gone from a straight A student last year with perfect attendance to a mixed bag ranging from A's to D's and a constant desire to stay home. This is not due to missed homework or poor test grades (she averages 90's - 100 on tests) , it is entirely due to poor grades from in-class work. I have flirted with pulling her out to home school but, knowing what a little social butterfly she is, am hesitant to take her away from the structure and socialization of the school environment.
Last year, on the other hand, she had a superb teacher. All of her children excelled; even the more troubled students thrived under her. Unfortunately, she is no longer at the school, as the principal did not offer her tenure or even assurances of work for the next year until after she had found another position. Hopefully her new school will realize what a treasure they have and keep her happy.
Which brings me to an interesting story that she told me towards the end of last year. She mentioned that the fourth grade teachers were complaining to her about how well her students were performing. They told her to take it down a notch, because she was raising the bar too high for the next year's teachers. This was appallling to me, and quite an eye opener. It made it obvious that the unions tend to reward slacking and mediocrity, and our children are paying the price.
The FCAT program has endured a steady stream of criticism since it's inception, but the results don't lie. No doubt this new legislation, if Crist signs it into law, will also be vilified for years to come. If the FCAT issue is any indicator, criticism by unions who are only out to protect their status quo (how fun to use their favorite term against them!) have little bearing on facts.
I see nothing but benefits from this bill. As for the threat of new testing, well, children have to take tests throughout the school year, culminating in the FCATs - isn't that the point, really?
I've heard the test called unfair because minority kids don't have the same background as white kids when it comes to taking high-stakes standardized tests. Is the solution then to surrender to this weakness or to confront it and overcome it?
Life is about high-stakes testing.
You want to get in a good college, it's the SAT. There are tests for graduate school, law school and medical school. There is a test to become a police sergeant, a fire lieutenant, a general contractor and most every other skilled profession.
The FCAT is a primer for life.
Holding teachers accountable via testing only makes sense. The importance of their job requires that there be strict standards, and those who excel should reap the benefits. Those who do not should find another profession. The Dept. of Education needs administrators, too.
A favorite argument is that sometimes children just don't test well - perhaps they are ill or have testing issues - so this program runs the risk of punishing good teachers whose good students have a bad day. Most children who have testing issues are identified early and there are programs to help them and/or they are given extra time to take the tests. Those who are sick are encouraged to stay home for the day and take the retest. My daughter actually did that with the final day of the FCATs this year. She took the remainder of the test the next week, no problem. But even if the child goes to school feeling ill, one bad score in the classroom won't do much damage; the aggregate score of the rest of the class will make up for one or two bad testers. There will probably be a few cases that fall through the cracks, but name me a profession where that doesn't happen.
Have we really come to the point where the risk of losing a few good teachers demands we keep all of the bad ones with no question? Is this what the progressives mean when they talk about fairness and social justice? How is being saddled with a sub-par teacher "fair" to our children?
The teachers and their unions have no problem using their students as human shields to protect their own interests, but seem perversely indifferent to the real issues arising from unfirable bad teachers and their effect on the children in their dubious care.
The odds are good that Crist will veto the bill - the opposition is on fire to kill it and the unions are highly organized.
Crushed with calls on Friday afternoon, Crist's office voicemail said it could no longer accept messages. By 5 p.m., his office reported calls and emails from 25,701 opponents and 137 supporters since March 1. Another 3,107 organized e-mail campaigns poured in from critics, and 279 from proponents.
Please note in the above quote the term "organized e-mail campaigns". Union dues at work, of course. Unfortunately, many people, myself included, have been so consumed with national events that we have lost track of what is happening in our own backyards. I and others I know are going to wage our own campaign over the next week to email and call in our support for the bill. We can use all the help we can get.
Bottom line, this bill is good for our schools and good for our kids. The cream will rise to the top under this bill and our children will reap the rewards.
Governor Crist, do the right thing and sign this bill into law. Forget, for a minute, the unions and their influence over elections, and do it for the kids.
UPDATE: Here's my email to Gov. Crist:
Please do not veto the merit pay bill that has passed the House today. I know that you are getting a lot of pressure to veto the measure, but the bill will improve our classrooms by weeding out underperforming teachers and rewarding those who excel. This in turn can have nothing but good results for our children.
As a parent, this issue affects me deeply. I have had the opportunity to see my children thrive under excellent teachers and wither under bad ones. Right now, it is a crapshoot as to what my child will get each year. Last year we were lucky, this year not. Unfortunately, there is little recourse for me or my child. We either stick it out and hope for something better next year or I pull her and home school.
When she came home today and told me how her teacher had taken 3 days off to protest and then spent today making the kids write letters to you asking you to veto the bill (my child is 10 and in 4th grade) instead of catching them up from her missed days, I am even closer to home schooling. I do not appreciate my child being used as a political pawn. Her teacher told her class that the bill would be bad for children because they will have to take another big, scary test. Excuse me, but I thought school was all about taking tests. Above and beyond that, I find it inappropriate for a teacher to be forcing her views (which I vehemently oppose) on a bunch of 9 and 10 year olds and manipulating them with scare tactics. Politics are appropriate for high school civics classes - NOT elementary school.
Considering what an important job teaching our next generation is, shouldn't our teachers be held accountable?
Please remember that the unions are driving the opposition because this bill will cripple them. Yes, the unions are powerful forces, especially in an election year, but the really important issue is what is best for the children, not the unions.
Please, Governor Crist, sign the bill. Merit pay works.