Sunday, April 04, 2010

Opposition to tough education reforms in Florida

Teachers who don't get results will be fired -- as employees in any other field would be

Sweeping education changes including a plan to end tenure for teachers and enact merit pay may have won approval in the Florida Senate, but it hasn't won lead sponsor Sen. John Thrasher points with educators and school advocates in his home county. The word "frustrating" comes up a lot when talking to people about the education changes.

Two weeks ago Senate Bill 6 whipped through the Senate. This week a similar House bill is set for debate on Monday and passage is expected.

However, Thrasher didn't campaign on the school issue, hold town meetings or talk with St. Johns County school board officials, teacher unions or education advocate groups to get input on the issue and that's left many feeling blind sided. It's also a surprise for a county whose schools are ranked first in the state and whose school leader was named superintendent of the year.

Thrasher has said anyone who wanted to have input got the chance. Others disagree. "This was never discussed with the superintendent, the staff or anyone on the school board," said St. Johns County School Board chair Bill Mignon, who sees the bill as one that will "pit teachers against the school board."

Like others Mignon finds the bill "political" and worries what it will mean for public education and local control. "I think the biggest frustration I and others educators face is that we weren't part of the plan; we were never asked to provide any input. It's almost like we didn't have the ability to make rational decisions," he said. "But we're the ones in the trenches, the people who have to make this work."

St. Johns County School Superintendent Joe Joyner said Thrasher never contacted him. "I think there is some room for discussion about merit-based pay, but I'm more talking in terms of enhancement as opposed to making it 50 percent of a teacher's pay," he said. Like others he has a number of questions about the bill and what the long term costs and effects including fairness and assessments will be.

District 1 school board member Bev Slough, former head of the state school board association, echoes those concerns. Thrasher, she said, "talked to nobody locally." Among the problems is that the bill "effectively does away with collective bargaining" and "really strips local control."

While she doesn't like the bill or what it will do, she will be "real surprised" if it doesn't clear the House because "there is so much pressure from House leadership to pass it."

But, Slough said, grassroots efforts have made a difference in the past. Teachers statewide turned out for rallies on Friday, waving protest signs and seeking to increase public awareness. The Florida Education Association is rallying efforts statewide to take the fight to Tallahassee for hearings on Monday.

Debby Etheredge, president of the St. Johns Education Association, wasn't consulted about the bills, but she's hearing plenty from local teachers who are concerned about what the evaluations and tests will mean. "It's not really based on what the teacher is doing, it's based on what the children are doing," she said.

The plan means more tests and more pressure, she said. "(Some students) have enough on them, they're about to explode," she said.

Teachers argue time in school is just part of what is involved in children learning. There is also the home life. Broken homes, family arguments and financial pressures all can contribute to potential learning problems. There's also the question of whether a family considers education important and how supportive it is.

Leadership in the Florida Legislature has made the bills a priority. In an interview last month, Thrasher said the issue didn't just come out of nowhere as many have said. It was brought up in last year's session, but didn't get anywhere. In October of last year, it was among the items Florida legislative leaders decided they wanted passed, he said.

More here

British politicians warn over ‘shocking decline’ of school trips

Pupils have increasingly been denied the chance to visit museums, galleries, theatres and the countryside in recent years, it was claimed. In a damning report, the Commons schools select committee warned that the likelihood of children enjoying any green space at all had “halved in a generation”. One expert told MPs that the drop – combined with parental fears over child safety – meant many young people were becoming “entombed” in the home instead of being allowed out to play.

The conclusions were made despite a Government drive to increase the number of school trips. Recently, ministers have issued new guidance to teachers attempting to cut health and safety red tape as well as launching a kite mark to accredit organisations hosting school parties.

But MPs insisted that the measures had failed to increase the take-up – suggesting that a sharp drop reported five years ago had continued. In a document published on Thursday, they said that each pupil should have an entitlement to at least one school trip every term.

Barry Sheerman, the committee’s Labour chairman, said: "The steep decline in the amount of time children are spending outside is shocking. “Research has shown that the likelihood of a child visiting any green space has halved in a generation. "It is vital for the Government to make a commitment to a serious funding increase to ensure that all children have opportunities to visit the wealth of museums and galleries, and the natural environment of the English countryside, which are at our disposal. “

MPs quoted a recent survey by the Countryside Alliance that showed only around half of six- to 15-year-olds go on a trip to the countryside with their school. This has been coupled with a more general decline in the amount of time that children spend outside, the committee said.

Other research by Natural England has found that the likelihood of a child visiting any green space at all has halved in a generation. Almost two-thirds of children played indoors at home more often than any other place, it found.

MPs cited a number of reasons for the decline in school trips. The report said that that funding to support education outside the classroom had been “derisory”. Since 2005, just £4.5 million has been allocated, including £2.5m on a single residential initiative, it was claimed. By comparison, MPs found that £40m has been spent on one scheme to boost the amount of singing in schools.

The report also said that teachers' fears over “health and safety litigation, making them reluctant to offer trips and visits, have not been effectively addressed”.

In a further conclusion, the study said that teacher training continued to pay “scant attention” to giving new staff members the skills and confidence to lead outings.

MPs also blamed rules that effectively barred heads from asking teachers to cover for absent staff. Schools are supposed to pay for supply teachers instead of ordering existing staff members to step in when colleagues are leading trips. The move was introduced in September to ease teachers’ workloads.

But the select committee was told that many schools are simply cancelling outings altogether instead of raiding stretched budgets to pay for supply staff.

Attractions and study centres reported a “significant reduction” in the number of bookings following changes to teachers’ contracts imposed last year.


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