Another bad idea from Florida: Bonuses based on teachers’ SAT scores

By Amanda Litvinov,

Considering Florida’s terrible record of using all the wrong tests for all the wrong reasons, perhaps the latest test-related news from Tallahassee shouldn’t come as a surprise.

But this is shocking.

A Florida lawmaker’s proposal to base a teacher bonus of up to $10,000 on the scores they received on their college entrance exams became law earlier this month.

Rep. Erik Fresen was inspired to propose the legislation after he read a book about countries with high-performing students and high-aptitude teachers, like Finland. (Someone should have highlighted for him the fact that teachers in Finland are also paid on par with engineers, and that nearly 100% of the teaching workforce is unionized.)

Fresen’s original bill sputtered out during the spring session. But it was resurrected and tacked onto the budget bill that lawmakers finally passed during a special session that became necessary after House members hit an impasse and adjourned three days early in April.

Gov. Rick Scott had the opportunity to strike the $44 million program through line-item veto, but chose to preserve it.

“There’s no data or research whatsoever to support that someone with a higher ACT or SAT score ends up being a better teacher,” says Faye Cook, a fifth-grade teacher at a Title I elementary school in Hillsborough County.

The SAT and ACT tests are intended to determine a student’s readiness for college, but they’ve been heavily criticized for favoring children from wealthier families, who typically have more exposure to the vocabulary emphasized on the tests and are more likely to have taken the practice SAT one or more times.

Under the new Florida law, whether it’s been five years or 35 years since they took the test, teachers who scored in the 80th percentile or above and received a “highly effective” rating on their evaluation will qualify for the bonus (called Florida’s Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarships).

Cook might never qualify for the “scholarship,” as she started her journey to becoming a teacher at age 35 at a community college that didn’t require the exam.

Never mind that she has received “Highly Effective” ratings under both evaluation systems that have been in place in Florida since she started teaching.

Or that she has 25 years of experience.

Never mind that she has been a National Board Certified Teacher since 1999. (In fact, Cook spoke to Education Votes from a National Board Certified Teacher Network conference–that’s the sort of thing she does with her free time.)

“It’s frustrating that the state would hastily institute a totally unproven idea about what makes for a good teacher. Meanwhile they no longer reward teachers for earning National Board certification, which study after study has shown is beneficial to teacher practice and therefore beneficial for students,” said Cook.

“It makes no sense that legislators in Florida or anywhere else for that matter come up with these ideas and write these bills without talking to educators,” she said.

“Think of it this way: If you’re going to need surgery on your heart, you don’t go consult someone who grows oranges. The stakes are just as high with education policy.”

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Kippers applauds members for role in helping win Senate passage of Every Child Achieves Act

Kippers_Baldwin_320pxWisconsin educators can be proud of the role they played – along with active educators throughout the nation – in winning U.S. Senate passage Thursday of the Every Child Achieves Act, WEAC President Betsy Kippers said.

“Wisconsin educators can be proud of what we achieved together through union,” Kippers said. “This is a victory for educators across the country. Wisconsin teachers and Education Support Professionals were tireless in their emails, phone calls and office visits to our legislators because we know our students deserve better. We’re one step closer to a final law.”

Kippers worked closely with Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin to shape the legislation, keeping up the pressure for federal law that ensures time for learning and opportunities for students.

NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia recorded this thank you message in gratitude for the hard work NEA members throughout the nation put in for our students:

News release from the NEA:

Today, an overwhelming, bi-partisan majority of the United States Senate approved the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, a critical and historic first step toward ensuring that every child, regardless of zip code, has the support, tools, and time to learn.

“Every student in America will be better off under this legislation than the generation of students wronged by ‘No Child Left Untested’,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia. “Educators enter their schoolhouses every morning with one desire foremost in their minds: that every student they encounter that day will know an educator cares for them and is dedicated to reaching, teaching, and inspiring them to reach their full potential. The unmitigated failure of the test and punish culture shackled educators, and we are now one step closer to ending that woeful chapter in American education policy.”

“The Every Child Achieves Act takes a significant step towards fulfilling the original goal of ESEA: to provide more opportunity for all students, but especially those most in need,” Eskelsen García continued. “This bill reflects a paradigm shift away from the one-size-fits-all assessments that educators know hurt students, diminish learning, and narrow the curriculum and that they fought to change. Now, Congress must act swiftly to reconcile the House and Senate legislation and get a bill to the President’s desk. Educators across the country have watched every floor speech, counted along with every vote and made their voices heard with a staggering volume of outreach to elected leaders. Those same educators will not rest until a final bill has the President’s signature. We thank Senators Alexander and Murray for their leadership on this critical legislation.”

During the weeks leading up to today’s historic vote, NEA’s nearly 3 million educators engaged in unprecedented advocacy and activism on behalf of America’s students. NEA national leadership, along with state and local affiliate leaders, board members, staff, and educators nationwide, made nearly half a million individual contacts to members of Congress, including:

  • Nearly 2,000 face-to-face meetings with Members of Congress and key staff
  • 216,000 emails
  • 32,000 tweets
  • 15,000 phone calls
  • 25,550 petition signatures

This flood of member activism led to several key victories for students and significant improvements to the Every Child Achieves Act. One of the most important shifts educators fought to include in the underlying bill was the “opportunity dashboard,” a measure that will help ensure resource equity and opportunity for every student. For the first time, the Senate bill would require states to include at least one measure of student and school supports within their accountability system, such as access to higher level coursework, arts and music classes, school counselors or school librarians. The bill would require separation of this information by student subgroups and would help states identify and work to close opportunity gaps.

Further, a bi-partisan group of Senators voted to expand the dashboard measures beyond the already strong provisions contained within the Every Child Achieves Act as part of an amendment. While the vote fell short of the required 60 votes, the level of bi-partisan co-operation sends a strong message to potential conferees that a burning desire exists to ensure every child is more than a test score. Eskelsen García thanked the sponsors of the Opportunity Dashboard of Resources Amendment:

“As educators, we are deeply committed to the success of every student,” Eskelsen García said. “By leading on the bi-partisan Opportunity Dashboard of Core Resources Amendment, Senators Kirk, Reed, Baldwin, and Brown show that they stand with us in that commitment.”

Additionally, Senators from both sides of the aisle voted with the recommendations of educators and rejected an amendment to closely replicate the failed NCLB-era approach of over identifying the number of schools in need of intervention. The Senate also rejected private school vouchers multiple times with nine GOP Senators joining Democrats in opposition to at least one of the amendments. Senators also rejected block granting federal funding that would erode its historic role in helping to target resources to students most in need, with nine GOP Senators joining Democrats in opposition.

While Congress is much closer to sending a law that commits America to the success of every student, the work of NEA is not done. We call on Senate and House leaders to quickly name conferees for the committee that will negotiate differences and present a bill to both chambers. Educators will continue their dogged advocacy to ensure that this already strong legislation is further improved in conference, and elected leaders should ensure such action is taken swiftly and deliberately. NEA’s goal is to proudly support a bill that, when signed by the President, gives every student, regardless of zip code, the support, tools, and time to learn.

The bill now will now go to a conference committee.  For the latest legislative updates going forward, visit NEA’s Legislative Action Center and stay active on the Get ESEA Right website.

Bill introduced in the U.S. Senate would provide relief from over-testing of students


From the National Education Association

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) Tuesday introduced a bill to bring much-needed reform and relief to students from the federally mandated testing required by No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act would reduce the amount of federally required high stakes, standardized tests by more than 50 percent, and, instead, restore “grade-span testing.” This would occur both in English and Math—once in elementary school, once in middle school and once in high school. This past week, the Senate began in earnest the process to reauthorize the federal law with unanimous passage of the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 out of its Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

NCLB more than doubled the number of high-stakes tests in reading and math. In these subjects alone, K-12 students now take 14 federally mandated tests, compared to six before enactment of the law. In some cases, more than a month of instructional time is lost to test preparation and administration in a single school year.

The following statement can be attributed to Lily Eskelsen García, a sixth grade teacher who was named the 1989 Utah Teacher of the Year and elected president of the 3 million-member National Education Association:

“What is clear after years of too much testing is that the status quo isn’t working for students, especially those in high-poverty areas. We must reduce the emphasis on standardized tests that have corrupted the quality of the education received by children. Parents and educators know that the one-size-fits-all annual federal testing structure has not worked and has not sufficiently exposed the reasons for opportunity gaps where they exist. The needs of students will be best served when states and districts are allowed to put into place different kinds of assessments that provide valuable information for students, parents and educators to help find solutions.

“Last week we saw progress with the Senate markup of the NCLB reauthorization. This legislation by Sen. Tester keeps us going in the right direction by reducing the emphasis on standardized, one-size-fits-all tests, which have not worked to sufficiently exposed opportunity gaps where they exist. By allowing states and districts to return their focus to providing students with access to a rich variety of courses that encourage creativity and problem solving, we help students reach their full potential.

“We have to level the playing field and close the opportunity gaps that persist in our public schools, just as the original law intended. We have to move the needle forward for our most vulnerable students.

“We commend Sen. Tester for stepping up and speaking out for kids with the introduction of this very important legislation. The Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act recognizes the growing problem with too much testing and proactively putting forward a commonsense proposal that would again allow educators to inspire students and their natural curiosity, imagination, and desire to learn.”

On 50th anniversary of ESEA, Congress has a chance to fix it

From the National Education Association

The National Education Association, which represents more than 3 million educators working in our nation’s public schools, will mark the 50th anniversary of a landmark federal education law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The law, which was signed by President Lyndon Baines Johnson on April 11, 1965, was the first general aid-to-education program ever adopted by Congress. It provided much-needed funding to help level the playing field for the most vulnerable students: children living in poverty, students with disabilities and English-language learners.

Earlier this week, Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) released bipartisan legislation to overhaul ESEA, more commonly known now as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The Senate Committee on Health Education, Labor and Pensions, is scheduled to mark up the bill on Tuesday, April 14. NEA members across the country have worked to make their voices heard during the reauthorization process with a series of public events, teach-ins, rallies and digital engagements.

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García issued the following statement:

eskelsen-garcia_150px“I was born one year after the Supreme Court of the United States issued its landmark Brown v. Board of Education opinion. Nearly 10 years later, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was a critical cornerstone of his War on Poverty and a part of the larger civil rights movement. I’m a daughter of an immigrant, a granddaughter of a sharecropper and the first in my family to go to college. The Act provided federal resources for states to level the playing field between schools in wealthy and poor districts. It was meant to ensure all students—students like me—had access to a great public school education, no matter their ZIP code, color or creed.

“By the time I began my career as an educator, I hoped that we would soon realize the promise of equal opportunity in education for every student. But that’s not what has happened with the law—nor is it what President Johnson intended when he called on Congress to pass ESEA and said it would ‘bridge the gap between the helplessness and hope.’

“In 2002, when Congress retooled the law and gave it a different name, No Child Left Behind, it ushered in an era of education requiring rote memorization at the expense of analytical and critical thinking. The demands of high stakes testing make it impossible for educators to do what is most important: instill a love of learning in their students. Instead of raising student achievement, NCLB has perpetuated a system that delivers unequal opportunities and uneven quality to America’s students. More than ever, a student’s ZIP code dictates the education available to her.

“As ESEA turns 50, Congress is now deciding what a new national education law should look like. The question on the minds of parents and educators alike is this: Will Congress double down on the failed policies of NCLB? Or will Congress instead embrace the law’s original vision and promise, which is a public education system that promotes opportunity and excellence for all students?

“In this reauthorization, we’re looking at Congress to do more than just get rid of the bad stuff that has hurt kids. If Congress really wants an opportunity to set a new vision of shared responsibility for our public education system, a reauthorized ESEA must do three things: create more opportunities for all students to receive a quality education, no matter their ZIP code; allow more time for students to learn; ensure every student has a qualified educator who is empowered to teach and to lead. Let’s get ESEA right this time.”

Educators spring into Wave of Action on eve of 50th anniversary of ESEA

From the National Education Association

WaveOfAction_200pxFamilies, students, educators, and communities across the nation are springing into an April Wave of Action to inject their voices into the reauthorization process of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), now more commonly known as No Child Left Behind, with a series of public events, teach-ins, rallies and digital engagements. This campaign coincides with Congress’ Easter recess. Leading the Wave of Action is a new television and digital ad buy that is running in select media markets home to 13 U.S. senators who will play a key role in deciding the future of the law. A cable ad buy also is airing in the Washington, D.C. media market starting the week of April 13, which coincides with the Senate education committee’s expected mark up of their version of ESEA.

“Fifty years after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the most sweeping education legislation of its time, the future of public education stands at a critical crossroads,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “Today, more than 50 percent of the nation’s public school students now qualify to receive free and reduced-priced meals. Fifteen million children in the United States — 20 percent of all children — live with families whose incomes are below the federal poverty level.”

On April 11, 1965, President Johnson cemented ESEA as a critical cornerstone of his War on Poverty programs, establishing the federal footprint in K-12 public education, and putting in place programs to level the playing field for the most vulnerable students: children living in poverty, students with disabilities and English-language learners.

“Under No Child Left Behind, the focus has shifted away from helping those most in need and moved towards testing, labeling and punishing schools, with no significant closure of achievement or opportunity gaps. Today, we call on all Americans to join us and take action, to speak up, to raise their hands, to reaffirm President Johnson’s ‘fierce commitment to the ideal of education for everyone,’” said Eskelsen García.

The 50th anniversary of ESEA comes as Congress is in earnest considering ways to rewrite the law. In fact, the U.S. Senate education committee is scheduled to begin marking up its version of ESEA on April 14, just a few days after the law’s anniversary. Educators, students, and families are demanding that Congress get ESEA right this time by ushering in a new and improved vision for our nation’s public schools—a vision that promotes opportunity, equity and excellence for all students regardless of the zip code in which they live.

“We will continue to fight until we have a new federal education bill signed into law that focuses on students and includes the voices of educators,” emphasized Eskelsen García. “The only way to achieve that is to make sure that our members and the public are fully engaged. The stakes are high for our students and their future. That’s why we are springing into action again to make sure lawmakers hear directly from educators about what hasn’t worked and what needs to happen in order to get the law right this time.”

In February, NEA launched a successful nationwide campaign, “Get ESEA Right,” to get the public and educators engaged in the ESEA reauthorization process. The campaign included a six-figure ad, titled “Fix ESEA.” NEA cyber advocates have sent nearly 130,000 emails to Congress about ESEA reauthorization. And during just one week in February, NEA members visited 245 House of Representatives and 79 Senate offices.

During the April Wave of Action nationwide campaign, educators are reaching out to parents, community partners, and the general public to raise their voices. They are leafleting parents in public places, attending community forums, hosting teach-ins, and writing letters to the editor or opinion pieces in their local papers, among other proactive actions.

The TV ads (embedded at the top of this post) are running in select media markets in Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia., Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Washington state.