By Jerry Waxman
As Submitted to the Huffington Post
When Florida Governor Charlie Crist vetoed the controversial merit pay and tenure bill SB 6 last week it was only round one of a war that’s going to be fought over who controls education in the state which could last several years. Jeb Bush and his brainchild, the Foundation for Florida’s Future are going to continue to push for their way, backed by the Chamber of Commerce, the Council of 100 and enough conservative Republican legislators to get legislation to the governor’s desk. The question being will he sign it? Forget last week; that was like seeing Halley’s Comet for the only time in your life. It’s likely not to happen again. This week he signed into law SB 4 which raises standards for high school students and requires them to take math courses and science courses that had heretofore not been required for graduation, unless the student intended to go to college. Now, it doesn’t matter-as a certain local auto dealer advertises “Everybody rides”.
No one can deny that Florida’s standards have got to be made higher and that Florida has got to get off the bottom rung of the ladder if it is going to attract new high tech corporate business to the state. Major companies place a high regard for quality education when looking to relocate their executives. Unless they are looking for low end labor there’s nothing here to attract them. Until the building trades in Florida get busy, the job market here is going to remain static. Retail and Hospitality are major employers here and they are not known for paying high salaries. Members of the Council of 100 like Publix are so stingy they won’t even consent to a penny a pound price increase on tomatoes for the farm workers of Immokalee, so I find it fascinating that all of these corporate types are pushing higher standards. That is…..unless this latest bill is really designed to cause more kids to drop out, which I fear is more than likely since those children not destined for higher learning are going to have a more difficult time, and this new law allows no funding for putting these courses into action. Again, the legislature leapt before it looked in its headlong rush to put Jeb Bush’s stamp on the state.
The main goal is to privatize as much public education in this state as possible. New laws being debated now are designed to do just that. Bills like SB 2126 which will grant corporations huge tax cuts for producing vouchers for students who want to go to private schools, or SJR 2550 which will allow public money to fund religious schools. Assaults on the teachers continue with HB 5701 which reduces teacher health insurance subsidies and reduces retirement contributions by as much as $1800.00 per year. SB 2 will put an amendment on the ballot that will attempt to weaken or do away with the hard won class size amendment that reduces classes to acceptable levels. One veto is all we’re going to get this round. Governor Crist has already started putting together a team to try and access the second round of Race To The Top (RTTT) funds which could put $900,000,000.00 into education……or would it?
This is a bad move. RTTT is nothing more than manipulated scoring. The kids learn nothing, but they score well. Basically it is like lighting a match under a thermometer to get a desired result. NCLB was an abject failure and the charter school movement has not proven itself, however, many of Jeb’s connected friends own these schools and are making their money from public funding while giving a lot less to the kids. I also believe that to get the award we are going to have to jump through some unattractive hoops. That money doesn’t come without some very heavy strings attached. I resent my tax dollars going to any religious institution for any reason, not just education. I resent my tax dollars going to any private company to educate students who would otherwise be in a public school, using more of those dollars on the students. As far as I’m concerned the battle over the current legislation is just as important as the battle over SB6. Some of this legislation deals with cuts in retirement for all public employees including police, firefighters, city and state workers and the like. If that sleeping giant wakes up a real battle could ensue, with major casualties going into this November.
Well, I somehow managed to veer off on a different tangent, so allow me a slight course correction; none of these initiatives are going to help get our schools out of the cellar. Letting teachers teach the proper curriculum, with support from their boards, administrations, parents and the surrounding neighborhoods will go a long way to achieving this. I just read an interesting article by noted leadership trainer Stephen R. Covey who helped turn an F school in North Carolina into an A school simply by training teachers, parents and administrators in some very simple techniques and exercises. He has done this in over 200 schools worldwide and neither accountability nor rigid testing was necessary. Here’s further evidence from the California Council on Teacher Education confirming the shortcomings of RTTT.
There are mountains of fact based evidence that RTTT type accountability and that standardized testing are least likely to help children achieve their potential. There has yet to be a conclusive study that shows that these methods improve knowledge and every study conducted about charter schools and state funded religious schools has shown them yet to prove their value against the public school system. Why then are we still pursuing it? Because, it’s what Jeb wants. Here’s an interesting article by Bill Nye, the Science Guy from the time of the inauguration pleading with the President to elevate all schools to the level of Sidwell, rather than dumb us down even further. Yet the Florida legislature and the governor continue to pursue the wrong course. Yesterday’s Orlando Sentinel had a column by conservative author Mike Thomas extolling the virtues of the way Tennessee handled their problem and won RTTT funding. Teachers, parents, civic groups and everyone else need to let Tallahassee know that they are against this as much as they were against SB6. Let’s not allow Jeb Bush and the Council of 100 to turn our kids into undereducated robots. We deserve much better than that.