What’s Really Driving Florida’s Teachers’ Dispute

I couldn’t help laughing when I read this paragraph today in a Miami Herald article by former Florida governor Jeb Bush (above):

Senate Bill 6, which is on the desk of Gov. Charlie Crist, will incentivize and reward excellence in teaching. The centerpiece of the legislation – tying teacher salaries to individual student progress – is based on the fundamental belief that all students can learn. Scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test given to students across the nation, prove it.

If you believe that’s what the Florida Legislature is trying to do, there’s this bridge I would like to sell you.  Here’s a more credible take on the legislation that prompted Miami schoolteachers to call in sick this week.

It’s by Truthout’s Henry A. Giroux:

One current example of the unprecedented attack being waged against teachers, meaningful knowledge and critical pedagogy can be found in Senate Bill 6, which is being pushed by Florida legislators.

Under this bill, the quality of teaching and the worth of a teacher are solely determined by student test scores on standardized tests. Teacher pay would be dependent upon such test scores, while the previous experience of a teacher would be deemed irrelevant. Moreover, advanced degrees and professional credentials would now become meaningless in determining a teacher’s salary.

The real point of the bill is to both weaken the autonomy and authority of teachers and to force the Florida teacher’s union to accept merit pay for teachers.

But there is more at stake in this bill than a regressive understanding of the role and power of teachers and the desire to eliminate the very conditions, places and spaces that make good teaching possible. The bill also mandates that the power of local school boards be restricted, that new teachers be given probationary contracts for up to five years and then placed on a contract to be renewed annually.

Moreover, salaries are now excluded as a subject of collective bargaining.

This bill degrades the purpose of schooling, teaching and learning. It is not only harsh and cruel, but educationally reactionary and is designed to turn public schools into political tools for corporate dominated legislators, while depriving students of any viable notion of teaching and learning.

This bill is bad for schools, teachers, students and democracy. It lacks any viable ethical and political understanding of how schools work, what role they should play in a democracy and what the myriad forces are that both undermine critical teaching and critical learning. Moreover, it turns the curriculum into a tool box for ignoramuses.

What’s really going on? My personal opinion is that it’s part of a Republican crusade to re-segregate the schools. As a reporter, I covered some of the shenanigans taking place in the state’s assault on the civil rights that were won at such a high cost in the Sixties. The architect of this nefarious scheme was former governor Jeb Bush.

In brief, Jeb’s tactics included a program to introduce “school choice,” which would let parents move their children from some schools and enroll them in others considered more effective; a voucher program (ruled unconstitutional by the courts) to divert tax revenue from public education to private schools and “homeschooling”; and a relentless attack on the public school system.

He even launched a campaign to overturn a constitutional amendment restricting class sizes, and the Legislature is pushing an amendment that would reverse the ban on giving state funds to religious groups. The reason? To make tax-funded vouchers constitutionally OK for church schools. (I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that some church schools are not integrated.)

So I am not surprised at the all-out assault on the state’s public education system and its teachers. Before a new order can be introduced (or an old order re-introduced), the existing system must be destroyed.