March 25, 2010

Florida Senate overreaches on changes to regulation of teaching

Yesterday, the Florida Senate voted for Senate Bill 6, which would dramatically change the structure of teacher evaluation, contracts, pay, and licensure in the state. A few amendments were approved on the floor of the senate, but only three appear substantive, and the largest changes happened in committee, in part to address concerns about constitutionality for the initial bill. 

As the Washington Post's Valerie Strauss has, most observers have focused on the evaluation, pay, and contract issues, and that's because the intent of the bill is to elliminate any form of tenure, to reorient evaluation around student test scores, and to eliminate the ability of school boards to pay teachers in part based on experience. For a variety of reasons, legislation such as SB 6 is policy overreaching, and as it has in several other ways in the past decade, Florida has gone far beyond any other state in education policy. In part because it is so hostile towards the Florida Education Association, I suspect that some observers will praise the senate even if this turns out to be horrid policy. That way lies Thrasymachus, and it's not pretty.

SB 6 is overreaching. Instead of reducing the protections of tenure, it eliminates all meaningful due process related to job security. Instead of mandating that student outcome data be a part of teacher evaluation, it requires that test scores form the majority of any teacher evaluation system. Instead of moderating the influence of job experience on pay, it completely prohibits any such factor being used.

As a result of this overreaching, school boards are going to be motivated to work with teachers unions on workarounds for most of these issues. For each area where school boards and union locals agree the state has gone too far, they'll figure out another way to provide for some job security, to moderate the effect of test scores on evaluations, or to create a legally defensible proxy for experience in salary structures and call it performance-based pay. It took me about 10 minutes to come up with a few mechanisms for these issues, and I'm not nearly as clever as highly-motivated union officials and superintendents. But as a result, you're going to see highly variable treatment of teachers across the state, which I don't think is the intent of legislators.

There is only one area where the state has an undisputed right to regulate teaching, either in Florida or elsewhere, and that's in licensure. Regardless of what happens in collective bargaining at the local level, any state can decide who has the right to be licensed as a teacher, and at least at first, the part of SB 6 that is least amenable to mediating influences is in the requirement that teachers demonstrate effectiveness to have their professional certifications renewed. Does that mean that it will be tied closely to test scores? That's what I fear. While there's a substantial academic literature on the problems with using either test scores or growth measures, Daniel Willingham's video remains the clearest short explanation for a lay audience. But I'm sure there's going to be lots of testosterone-laced talk about getting tough on teachers, at least until the State Board of Education has to decide what proportion of experienced teachers it's going to non-renew licenses for... and wait for things like lawsuits and backlash from parents and districts.

I expect that I might find a few additional nuggets of unworkable details in the bill, but that's the big picture. If the Florida House passes SB 6 without substantial changes, there's going to be a great deal of turmoil in schools over the next few years, and until the questions raised by the bill are settled about local bargaining authority and the use of test scores in teacher evaluation, there's going to be a substantial cost of the bill in terms of instability.

Listen to this article
Posted in Accountability Frankenstein on March 25, 2010 7:53 AM |