This Friday, Rick Scott will almost certainly sign into law Senate Bill 0736, which eliminates tenure for new teachers and implements new requirements for teacher performance.
The bill's got problems. For one, its methods of judging school performance are piggybacked onto Florida's odious Race to the Top program, which I excoriated here. If you're not in the mood to click that link, here's a summary: Race to the Top works by subjecting our already test-addled students to yet more tests to ensure that their schools are doing them justice. Unfortunately, the ability to take a test correlates only vaguely to a person's actual knowledge of a subject. I could probably ace a test on 20th-century American theater because I worked as a theater critic for five years. I could have aced that same test earlier, and with far less expenditure of time and sweat, by studying biographies of playwrights and a couple of hundred script summaries. But what would I have learned? Teaching to tests creates brilliant test-takers; it does not create citizens with a contextualized understanding of the world they inhabit.
Alas, our schools weren't creating those citizens before Race to the Top (or its ugly elder cousin, No Child Left Behind), so it's debatable how much damage is being done by all this testing. Finding a high school instructor who knows and cares about his or her subject is about as easy as finding a police officer conversant with current trends in legal positivism. (Anecdotal evidence: One of my own Floridian history teachers regularly referred to the dominant religious philosophy of Tibet as "Boodooism"; one of my English teachers thought George Eliot was a man; and two of my science teachers believed in the Great Flood and Noah's Ark.) Earlier drafts of HB 0736 seemed to address the abysmal intellectual standards set for our teachers by demanding they possess "knowledge of subject matter," but that language has been removed. A few lucky classrooms aside, Floridian public schools will continue to be what they've always been: institutions in which the ignorant corrupt the innocent.
Oh well. For students who actually want to learn something, there's always Amazon.com. (And, for the moment, libraries.) Whatever happens, at least the abuse will stop.
HB 0736 rears its homely head thanks in large part to the actions of Wendy Portillo -- a West Palm Beach teacher who abused an autistic child, received a year of paid leave while the incident was investigated, returned to work in a new county while her old school district paid out almost half a million dollars in damages, and proceeded to allegedly abuse yet more children. All of this so incensed Melissa Barton, the mother of her first victim, that Barton has spent the past two years on a kind of mama-bear rampage, talking a mile a minute on Fox News, whipping into politicians' offices like a small, voluble hurricane, stumping for HB 0736, and generally making life miserable for the protectors of the status quo.
The aspect of HB 0736 most important to Melissa Barton, and most depressing to the many teachers who have spoken out against it, is its elimination of teacher tenure -- a genuinely execrable institution that makes it fiscally irresponsible for schools to eliminate bad teachers, since the teachers in question will most likely keep drawing their salaries anyway. Getting rid of it is a good way of keeping a bad situation from getting even worse. Florida's future schools won't teach most kids a damned thing, but at least they won't be torture chambers.
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