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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Education is a little more complicated than pay the best and fire the rest

You can have your own opinions on education but you can’t have your own facts.

There are often loose facts offered to justify why the powers-that-be feel they need to tinker with education, the problem is, with any critical thinking these loose facts habitually lose their credibility. Unfortunately this doesn’t stop the powers-that-be from tinkering and much of the general public from believing them.

Take for example one of the education deformers favorites, the nation has increased it’s spending on education exponentially but our kids have gotten worse. We have increased what we spend on education but one of the biggest reasons is we now spend money on disabled children. Thirty years ago we barely spent very little and now about a fifth of school budgets go to our special education students. We also now spend money on the creation, administering and scoring of standardized tests, which siphon money out of the classrooms and school districts. Regardless spending exponentially more money isn’t a Florida issue. In 1976 before tens of millions in unfunded mandates, our inclusion of disabled children and before standardized tests became the rage; the state sent its districts 6,200 dollars per child. This year Governor Scott is proposing spending the districts 6,200 hundred dollars per child. That is actual, not adjusted for inflation, dollars.

As for our kids doing worse, when you factor out poverty our kids shoot to near the top of the international rankings. Over a fifth of our students live in poverty and another fifth live just above it. Poverty is the number one quantifiable factor when determining if a student does well in school or not, that is not an opinion that is a well-documented fact. Some people would have you believe poverty is an excuse, well if it is; it’s a pretty good one.

There are other ways those who seek to profit off education seek to confuse the public. They use ideas like merit pay and charter schools that admittedly sound good. The problem with merit pay is education is a little more complex than pay the best and fire the rest and studies have pointed this out. Vanderbilt University determined that merit pay based on standardized testing did not work and there is not one study that indicates it does. Hillsborough County, which received a hundred million dollar grant for merit pay, is now revamping the way it does things because the vast amount of the receivers of merit pay worked at the most affluent schools (more proof that poverty does matter?)

Then there are charter schools; not only do they not have the same accountability that public schools have but they also haven’t shown that they do any better. This means that schools that pick and chose who they both take and keep and often have more involved parents are doing no better than public schools who are under an obligation to educate every child who shows up.

One of the newer arguments disregards teacher’s experience. Some argue that the last hired, first fired way of doing things protects bad teachers and puts good teachers on the street. There are some great first year teachers that hit the ground running but the vast amount struggle and do so for years until they hit their groove often relying on veteran teachers to get by. Almost half of all new teachers do not last five years either. Is it fair that a great first year teacher loses their job while a mediocre veteran keeps theirs? No, but it’s also not the epidemic that some people would have you believe and the system in place is better than the alternative. Perhaps a better solution is not to slash education budgets so the rare and brilliant first year teacher isn’t put in the position where they might lose their job.

The biggest falsehood being presented is that teachers have tenure, jobs for life. Teachers do not have tenure, they have the right of due process and they only receive after several years of service where administrators are supposed to weed out the bad teachers. The new senate bill 736 in effect gets rid of due process making all teachers at will employees putting them on perpetual one-year contracts. Most businesses have some basic employee protections for workers who make it through a probationary period but now new teachers will have none. Teachers hired in the future will now be eligible to be let go for any reason. Question too much and you could be gone. Refuse to do extra work and you could be gone. Rub your administration the wrong way and you could be gone. The principal’s neighbor has a nephew that wants to try teaching and you could be gone. The scenarios where good teachers can lose their job through no fault of their own go on and on.

There are many issues in education and everyone is entitled to their own opinion just not their own facts. I would hope when people make up their opinion they use facts, not just hyperbole, the word of self-serving politicians, those seeking to make money off education and whatever sounds good. Take once again the example of merit pay, pay the best and fire the rest might sound good, unfortunately education is a little more complicated than that.

1 comment:

  1. Pay the best, fire the rest. That's catchy.
    Like the one about facts v. opinions very much too.