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How To (Actually) Fix Florida Schools

Miami schools media specialist Karen Herzog, troubled by legislation that promises radical changes to teacher tenure, job security and other aspects of Florida education, has written an angry letters to Florida legislators.

   
Dear Senator Atwater, Thrasher, Diaz de La Protilla, Rudy Garcia 
        Representatives: Cretul, Gonzalez, Bovo, Fresen, Rivera, Lopez-Cantera, Flores, Zapata, Llorente, and Planas:
 
    I am appalled at what you (my elected officials) are doing to the teaching profession. As a longtime teacher who has gone back to school for three masters, I am an avid reader and a promoter of higher learning, I now feel angry, devalued, and frustrated with what is taking place in Florida from my politicians who once had teachers. I know that many of you are trying to destroy public education in this state and that goes against our US Constitution.  It is apparent that we need change some aspects of education, but not this way. We do need to get rid of our ineffective teachers, but both "bills" will do the opposite. Please do not vote for Bill 7189 or Bill 6. 
   
    We do need to make some changes, but not the not changes proposed. I am tired of politicians making these decisions without consulting the classroom teacher, who for the most part works very hard for our children. (Many teachers spend money from our own pockets for the classroom.) I can tell you as a media specialist (whose field had been destroyed both by eliminating personnel and funding), you are not looking at the whole picture clearly. Most teachers are too busy educating your children and do not have enough time to write you. But the time has come. Here are a few suggestions if you get this far in my email.
  •  Provide competitive salaries. If you do not give teachers decent pay (and that should be determined where they live and by their bargaining unit), then many bright and young teachers will not enter into the field. Who could afford to save or budget their monies or take out a mortgage with a varying pay scale year to year?  How could you tie a teacher's salary to the FCAT test? Since I live in Miami, I pay $4,000 for my homeowner's insurance on a small home  Do you pay that in your area where you live? YOU WILL CONTINUE TO SEE POOR TEACHERS IF YOU DO NOT PAY THEM ADEQUATELY AND THAT IS WHAT I AM SEEING TODAY AS A VETERN TEACHER.
  • I am evaluated every year. Work with the union and let the school districts create a better plan to get rid of the so called "ineffective teachers". SPEAK TO YOUR EXCELLENT TEACHERS around the state to GET MORE FEEDBACK!  
  • Higher degree incentives: I earned three masters:  English from FIU, an MFA from the University of Miami in Communications, and MLS (Masters in Library Science from University of South Florida because of two reasons: the incentive extra pay and the understanding that in order to be an effective teacher one must continue learning. Fresh ideas create a stimulating teacher.   
  • FCAT does not teach critical thinking skills or promote reading or for that matter, the life long learner. As a media specialist, our students are not reading. Teachers say to me: "The reason I can't come to the library as much is because I have all these FCAT prompts." And I see a difference in how our students learn because they are not readers. AND I continue to provide promotions for our students- speakers, authors, book exchanges, contests in addition to my other duties to get them to read. In addition,  for no extra money, I am working towards Florida Power Library even though I will be retiring in 3 years. 
  • Hire veteran retired teachers to help the younger teachers who are not interning or reestablish internships for all new teachers as in the past. I see very poor management skills because of this issue. 
  • Change the tax base in Florida. Property taxes are not going to provide you with quality education funding.
  • Tenure- I am observed every year. Perhaps have rotating APS and Principals or committees (again this could be your retired teachers who have been outstanding in the classroom)  to observe teachers. It is important for a teacher to develop seniority. Think about your profession...doesn't seniority matter on what committee you get assigned to...????
  • And last, but not least: Tying FCAT tests or standardized tests to teacher salaries is both unfair and abusive to the hard working teacher.   If you have children please think about this question I am about to ask you. Have all your children learned at the same time the same way? How could you allow a teacher's salary to be a part of that? Each year there are different students with different levels and multiple personal issues.  We should consider to tie your salary to the home sessions you miss and how many bills you don't pass for the state.
  • Put more money into your libraries. We are falling behind because of the budget. cuts and some libraries will never recover.  Our libraries are becoming obsolete and our students need the resources and personnel that has been eliminated because of the budget cuts. Please understand that reading is tied into the student's performance on any test you administer.

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BHarrison

For far too long the system has tolerated and even promoted incompetent teachers. I recall the intelligble note sent home by my son's teacher; and the primcipal's response that there wwa nothing that could be done to replace her. So, how is it that our HIGHLY EDUCATED teachers and bureaucracies cannot come up with a reasonable, intelligent method of retaining good teachures without the flawed system of tenure. And, the prinicpals in education system are no different than bosses in the private sector ... some are good; and some are bad; and should be fired just like bad teachers. How and why should the pbulic sector of employment be different than the private sector of employment. Tenure is a BAD measure of "rights" for anyone. Why should "new hires" have less protection than "tenured employees"?

BHarrison

Well Fred, speaking of "competitive pay, perhaps YOU can explain how it is that the USA pays 300% MORE per student than ANY OTHER ountry in the world; and day before yesterday there was a hearald article listing the USA as the 34th in the quality of education worldwide.

Come on Frred, how about if YOU put THAT into perspective for all of us average citizens?

When the tax revenues cannot support the public salaries then something is GROSSLY WRONG, especailly when we are already paying 300% MORE than any other country. Where's YOUR common sense Fred. you'rre a bright guy, how about some PRACTICAL SOLUTIONS? How do you figure that tachers are not being given "decent pay"? Blind jouranlism is one of our country's primary problems ... people have been so inundated with unrealistic expectations that they don't know the reality of what has and is occuring in this country as we transsition into an orliigarchic, sociealistic welfare society.

By virtue of your article, you apparently support raisig property or other taxes to pay what YOU condsider to be "decent salaries" for teachers, right?

Keats'

Fred-
Great post. I'd also like to add that a suggestion that legislatures pay be linked to unemployment rate probably wouldn't be well-received by the legislature!

I’m a current law student and former high school teacher. I just read HB 7189 and would like to share some lesser known (but very dangerous) aspects of the bill.
Little Known Aspects of HB 7189
-Won't be able to attract teachers from other states because they will have the starting pay of a brand new teacher. Teachers from other states will be labeled "beginning teacher" and will get the same starting pay grade as brand new teachers. Imagine telling a 20 year veteran teacher from New York that her starting salary is $32,000! This will only exacerbate the problem of finding good teachers. Additionally, teachers from other states won't want to move here because of the other general provisions of this bill.
-Restricts the teachers who can teach reading math, science and other critical shortage areas. Must be certified in the area, and cannot even teach out of field temporarily while getting certification in an area. While this *might* be a good idea in math or science, it will make it even more difficult to have enough reading teachers. For example, a principal can no longer assign a English teacher to teach reading , even temporarily, while getting a teacher is getting the additional reading certification.
-Teacher cannot be rehired if students don't make gains in only 2 of 5 years! If, for some reason a teacher's student don't do well enough on a standardized test, the teacher cannot be rehired, no matter how good of a teacher he/she may be. We will lose some good teachers over this. This will make good teachers much less likely to teach high risk students.
-Makes it harder to get rid of bad teachers in first three years. The bill grants tenure protection to all new teachers, meaning that all new teachers may only be removed for "just cause" - which is really hard to do (gross incompetence, felonies, etc.)
-Reduced incentives for administrators. ALL administrators and non-instructional teachers will have 50% of their pay determined by others, the AVERAGE gains of the entire school! This also goes against the entire concept of incentives. What incentive does a non-instructional teacher have to do better, when his pay is affected by how well *OTHER* students do in *OTHER* classrooms do on average!
-Bill contradicts itself on National Board Certification. In one area of the bill it requires that school cannot consider National Board Certification in teacher pay, but then also leaves intact the Dale Hickam Excellent Teaching Program, which gives teachers a 10% bonus for completing National Board Certification. This bill is poorly drafted and poorly thought out.
-Schools are forbidden from financially recognizing a teacher of the year! We've heard a lot about how teachers cannot be recognized for years of service, National Board Certification or graduate degrees. Additionally, school boards are expressly forbidden from providing incentive pay to state or local teachers of the year! Talk about perverse incentives!
-Teacher retention must be based on standardized testing. If school boards have to cut back on teachers, (as many have had to do because of budget cuts) the board must base their decisions primarily on standardized tests scores. Of course, seniority is out the window, but note something even more pernicious--the school board has to ignore its own need for teachers in certain subject areas in the face of standardized test scores. For example, what if a school board has to let go of 10% of its teachers. Let's say that students in math, ESOL or reading on average make less gains per year. Well, then the school board would be forced to let go all the teachers in that critical need subject area who are performing less on standardized tests, while other subject areas have a relevant surplus of teachers. This is just plain bad policy.


Mr. Luis Bravo

Your missing the point. Its not about providing better teachers or improving student performance. if it were then this SB6 would not exit! Its obvious to EDUCATORS (what do we know?) and politicians that the remedy is nothing but a curse. The real objective is 1. Get rid of labor unions and end collective bargaining 2. support more charter schools and move towards a complete PRIVATE (VOUCHERS) SCHOOL MODEL 3. Return to a segregated school system (private schools for blacks, whites, jews, cubans, Haitians etc. 4. Once this is accomplished then the Florida Legislature will not have to deal with the thorny and complicated issues that compromise the fundamental issue of civilizations: EDUCATION.

Claudia

What is happening to our education system?
I think I have an answer to that question, and it would benefit at all if finally we become conscious of it. My son does excellent in class, most people would think that since I have not been affected by it, I should not be concern about our education system, but we need to start looking at EVERY problem as OURS! And start taking action, and provide solutions….not just criticism.

After being a mother of 2 and for 7 years, and being part of my son’s education, I have asked some questions regarding the future of our society. After a close look at what we consider “good” education system in our country, and what the whole world has, a lot of doubts and fears have come to me.

I had a career and decided to form a family, so the big question arrived, but I decided that the best approach was to leave my career behind and give my whole attention to my kids. Now I realize that my intuition was right on track. Because educators with what they have cannot do it on their own.

I started teaching my son pre-kindergarten when my baby girl was born, I decided I would stay with both of them for one year, while he would enter school. I would teach him, and have regular classes, where I though him, everything I thought was relevant to his new school year. Time when on and I am still with them, full time with my toddler, and as a supportive parent to my first grader.

Well, obviously he has been more advanced, and was number one in his class that first school year. He already knew how to read, knew all the numbers, science; geography….It was an easy year! He just had to worry about the social aspect of it. And now that he is on first grade. Even better….He is in the top of his class.
I have realized that my sacrifice paid off, at least so he passes his required classes. But, when I see around, I do not see THAT!
Even though he is in an “A” school, blue ribbon, charter, etc, school, the majority of his classmates, are NOT at his level. And worst if I start looking at Miami’s kids, Florida’s, USA’s kids in general. I started seeing that SOCIETY as a whole is getting behind in social-human development!

I started by instructing myself to give my son the best education and foundation, (it was not my original career) I found books about education, child psychology, teaching strategies, talked to my mother who is a teacher, and made an independent career out of that opportunity. I found the beautiful ways to provide the best to our kids in a loving and fun matter.

One of the main points I have found, where most of the strategies (including Finland’s system-best in the world) agree is that “The theory is that education is better when children are allowed to play until they are eager to learn at age 7.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Finland) YES! I can see it in their eyes! When I play with my daughter with the ABC! Or read books…I see sparks! They want to know about volcanoes, science, stars, etc!
But, after talking to my son, and people from his school, that is JUST NOT happening in their schools. No, they are supposed to stay in their seats for 2 hours “listening” to teachers, then they have to go to cafeteria eat, not talk, seat in first position, and go back to class until they have…if the weather allows…recess. Mh! What is wrong with this picture, how in the world can you do that to 6, 7, year olds? Even would not get the attention of teenagers.

A good foundation is the key. But we are not doing that, yes it has to come from both, parents and teacher. If we as a society require hard working hours to everyone, the parents are existed or they are working. As a result, in the house, the parents DO NOT have the time to even read a book to their kids, and at their school, the teachers have SOOOOOO many students, that they cannot stand them talking, it becomes a nightmare. It all is transmitted to our kids!

I went to my son’s cafeteria several times, and felt so bad…the poor social beings where trying to have a conversation to their classmates, because they are NOT allowed to do so in class, because it disrupts the class. In addition, when they come to the cafeteria, they are NOT allowed EITHER! Yes, it becomes a zoo! But how can they balance themselves back! Have we forgotten that we were kids also!

We are not letting our kids explore. The” good” students”, at least the well behaved students, have been silenced with stickers, and super starts, and daily rewards that just provide a short, not rewarding satisfaction or learning experience. And the “bad” ones, sad faces, sticker, note homes, and “DONOT do” scream. But we (parents and educators) are not taking the time to provide positive behavior attitudes, and self-reflection approach.

Yes, most kids are able to learn since they are 2 year olds (my two year old already knows her ABC, numbers, shapes) but they need to learn it at their own rate, and in a “playful” not authoritarian like manner! We should learn from the successful systems, Montessori, Finland’s, etc. Most agree with let them be kids! Treat them with respect, they are all different characters, they all cannot learn the same! How can we make a “slow” readers feel bad in front of their class! What is the future of that poor being when he continues, if he already is classified as a “bad” student? He never gets stickers, or happy face, “he will never be”.

Our capitalistic approach shall not be translated nor implemented in school. If you study and pass a test you will get a toy!? Instead, of learning is fun; it would benefit us all, and help develop our human kind. Learn and you will have fun! Look how fun school is! You discover!

We are a society, , if you help your partner in school, you fell a gratification, because we are a community. We all work together, focusing on our individual strengths. Taking each day at a time, enjoying what we do, and discovering what each of us like and does not like. At the end, they could sincerely find what they would love to do in their future, and have a happy fulfilling input in our society.

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