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Diane Ravitch Joins Florida Teachers in Opposition to SB 6/HB 7189

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By Jerry Waxman

As submitted to The Huffington Post

The Florida House of Representatives will vote today on passage of controversial bill HB 7189 which, along with its sister bill SB 6 will radically change the way education is funded and administered in the State of Florida. Anti forces such as Stop Senate Bill 6, No Tallahassee Takeover: Stop SB 6, Fund Education, and many others have come up in a short period of time in opposition to the legislation. Florida’s teachers unions are in opposition. Demonstrations by concerned civic groups, individuals and other public officials have been taking place all over the state.

On Tuesday the legislation was voted out of committee to be voted on by the full house. During the discussion period seventy five people spoke in opposition. Only four people spoke in favor, and those four were either Chamber of Commerce members or employed by one of Jeb Bush’s foundations. Representative Will Weatherford (R. 61) of Panama City acknowledged the turnout and inferred that everyone in opposition was “misinformed.”

Meanwhile, Governor Charlie Crist according to several sources has indicated that he may veto the legislation. Crist, who is running against Marco Rubio in the Republican primary for the US Senate is also thinking about running as an independent candidate. Advocacy groups from across the state and now, through social networking, across the country are flooding the legislators and the Governor with phone calls, e-mails, as well as holding rallies in support of the teachers.

Diane Ravitch has now joined the opposition forces. She sent a letter to the Florida legislators urging them to defeat the legislation. Here is the text of her letter:

To: The Honorable Members of the Florida LegislatureFrom: Diane RavitchDear 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

Her reasoned, yet passionate appeal to the legislators states factual evidence that their approach will be harmful to Florida education in general, yet they seem determined to run our educational system off a cliff. I would add my own P.S. to her letter for the Republicans:

“Dear Messers Atwater, Thrasher, Cannon, Weatherford, Cretul et al,

Diane Ravitch has exposed your proposed legislation for what it is-no good at any price. Her background, credentials, and experience by far put to shame any of your experts whom you seem to put your trust in. If anyone is misinformed, look to yourselves. Intellectually, she can run circles around you and your experts, even when she’s asleep. Take her advice and shove your legislation where it will not see light of day. Our kids and teachers deserve much better.”…………………….Oh, yes, Sincerely yours


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