Bring Back Teacher Autonomy

22 Feb

The following was presented to the Pasco County School Board on February 21, 2017:

School Board members:

I’m here tonight to ask for your help fighting education reform. Thank you, in advance, for listening.

My husband recently left his job after teaching elementary school in Florida for 22 years. Like many teachers before him, this was a decision that was not made in haste. He stayed in the system for years after education reform began, but there came a time when he simply could no longer continue. When I asked him the main reason he left his chosen profession after so many years, he responded with “I can no longer make a difference, because my hands are tied.” He didn’t leave because of the low pay (he knew about that when he entered the profession). He didn’t even leave because of the benefits that have slowly disappeared over the years. He left because of the politicians and others with no business making decisions thinking they know better than teachers who have studied pedagogy, created curriculum and lived the profession for years.

Some of those in the education reform world might respond with “he’s just one of those old school, veteran teachers who needs to leave anyway.” Well, by the state’s own measurement, he is “highly effective.”

I’m telling you this so that you will know that this is personal to me. You see, the negative effects of the state’s accountability system on teachers’ jobs not only affected my husband, but they affected my family as well.

As a result of my husband’s new position, we will be leaving Pasco County at the end of the school year. I’m deeply saddened to be leaving this district, where we have created a life and most importantly have found a public school that is a second home for our children. I will continue my fight to save public education, just from another place.

And speaking of fighting, I’m sure you are aware of the recent research produced by the Central Florida Public School Boards Coalition indicating that teacher merit pay doesn’t work.  Orange County is asking the Florida legislature to remove merit pay from the Florida statutes, and I’m here tonight to ask you to do the same. I know the decision is made at the state level, but you do have the ear of our legislators, and I’m asking you to speak to them. Let’s remove all of those tests that were only created to evaluate teachers, and restore the autonomy that was taken away from our classrooms. We have to do this to keep even more teachers from leaving, and address the teacher shortage that we know is such a problem here in Pasco County.

Florida Senate Bill 964 was filed recently, which removes several high stakes tests, changes the timing of the testing window and eliminates tying a teacher’s evaluation to test scores. Please reach out to our legislators in the Senate and the House, as individuals and as a School Board, and ask them to support this initiative.

I have enjoyed getting to know you all through the years, and I thank you for all of your communication. I wish you all the best of luck.

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