The State of Education and SB 6

The issue: In March, Sen. John Thrasher of Florida introduced legislation that could forever change the culture of education: SB 6. The House soon introduced HB 7189. The bills, nearly identical, would introduce annual end-of-year exams (beginning as early as in kindergarten). Teachers’ bonuses/raises would be tied to their students results beginning in 2014. Beginning July 2010, any teacher hired beyond that point would face a potential layoff each year, again, based on test scores.  Both bills were passed last week in the middle of the night, after a debate that went on from after 11:30 p.m. to nearly 3 a.m.  Under Florida law, Governor Charlie Crist has one week to either sign a bill into law or veto it. Deadline: Friday, April 16, 2010.

My take: SB 6/HB 7189 cannot be passed under any circumstances. A veto would guarantee educational and economic health for the state of Florida. Implementation would be disastrous for teachers, parents, students, local economies. However, this law could benefit financially its loudest advocates and potentially become a model for education reform across the country.

First and foremost, the bill does not address the lack of equivalency across districts, schools, and even classrooms within the same school. Teachers are at the whim of principals who cut ESOL classes (those that instruct students for whom English is a second language) and ESE programs (instead giving teachers full-time aides for the children mainstreamed into the classroom), who design schedules so that one teacher always has under-performing children from homes where education is not respected and another always has the advanced, gifted or eager students who’ve had decent meals. Teachers should not be judged and have their livelihoods depend on decisions and actions of another. This point also begs supporters to remember their own school days. Surely they knew students who disrespected teachers, lied to parents about homework due, forged signatures on F papers, had severe test anxiety but could win the science fair with a long-term project. Teachers understand the need to be held accountable, but for too long, they’ve needed uncooperative adminsitrators, parents/guardians, and students themselves to be held accountable for their roles in education.

Instead, SB 6 aims to have an as-yet unwritten exam as the sole measure of accountability. Once the bill is passed, the public loses its say in the resulting consequences. Legislators will decide which company will write the questions. It’s public knowledge that some of the supporters of the bill have financial stakes in charter schools. If schools do not show improvement, parents can receive vouchers to send their children to private or charter schools. Hence, the SB 6 advocates stand to profit.

Money is a key issue that should have sunk this bill on the floor. It is an unfunded mandate. The bill has no language, no rubric for determining how successful teachers should be awarded their merit pay and where it will come from. Presumably, this money will come from increased property taxes (meaning a flight of people who cannot afford to live there), perhaps elimination or reduction of county services. Boston recently closed 3 neighborhood libraries to close a $3 million budget gap. Surely the money could have come from somewhere other than libraries. Florida could face the same future.

SB 6 passing would just cause a severe downward spiral of increasingly negative and long-term consequences. Laid off teachers would not be replaced because fewer college students would want to major in a field where their pay is based on test scores and not boosted by advanced degrees. Fewer teachers mean bigger class sizes, necessitating passage of a companion bill that would scale back a constitutional amendment that the people of Florida themselves voted for to reduce already egregious class sizes (35). Bigger class sizes mean less attention given to students, meaning performances suffer. With children failing to make progress, teachers will not get merit pay, will not be able to afford to live in safe neighborhoods, buy cars, have children themselves, or in any other way stimulate the local economies.

Eventually, with more and more state dollars going to send children to private schools and charter schools, public education as Florida knows it will cease to exist. Sure, teachers will have employment, students will learn, but politicians will profit. SB 2126, another bill up for discussion, will expand corporations’ abilities to write off donations to private schools (largely religious in nature). What do the children, the future of the state and its economic prospects, stand to gain from such an arrangement? Of course, after a few years or so, the charter and private schools will start to face the same problems public education now faces – too big classes, lack of support at home, students who hurt each other rather than conjugate verbs, etc. Merely diverting children from building that started to burn to another that’s just as likely to burn just moves them around. It doesn’t stop the fire.

SB 6 attempts to solve ballyhooed perceived problems of some genuinely bad teachers not being able to be fired due to union rules by throwing money at them. Merit pay is a great idea in theory. It does give corporate workers, sales people, etc. to do better. But such professionals have control over their situations. Teachers do not. By attempting to control the contracts of Florida teachers for “better,” SB 6 actually contracts a worse future for Florida itself, and if Arne Duncan’s southern friends have their way, for the nation as well.  Charlie Crist, veto SB 6.


Sending a Message – Exercise

Many people decry teens’ abilities to communicate (ie write) properly due to poor habits formed by constantly “chatting” via computers, cell phones, etc. This prompt aims to get budding writers to consider tone, details, dialogue, tags, etc., to determine what information is communicated and how well.

Materials needed:

at least 20 lines of an online chat or text messages wherein sender and receiver have at least 10 lines each in conversation you wouldn’t mind sharing with two other people, two other people (either in person or on the phone)


1. Select the chat. Do not think too hard, but be careful to respect people’s privacy.

2. Have the two volunteers read the conversation aloud (either in front of you or on a three-way call). Do not give them context or preamble.

3. As they’re reading, mark the times when you think they’ve read something wrong, if it sounds too flat, if they have trouble understanding the words, etc.

4. Once they’re done reading, ask the volunteers what they thought the gist of the conversation was and what they thought the tone of each “speaker” was.

5. Now go back and re-write the conversation so that it communicates what you know in your heart and head was truly going on. Was your friend speaking ironically? Hilariously? Somberly? Discover ways to convey both your tone and that of your friend. Maybe give the situation context – set up the scene, introduce characters, etc.

6. Correct spelling and grammar errors.

7. Then have your volunteers read your practically-a-short-story conversation and your friend as well. Is everyone on the same page?

Online language (TM Britt Leigh, I think)) is a unique, oftentimes endearing way of communicating with people. It can give rise to new words, expressions, friends-only codes. But many times, brief is misconstrued as brusque, punctuation marks are used inappropriately as the only ways to indicate a joke, etc. Ideally this exercise will capture the conversation more accurately, and more broadly. Perhaps it could engender a whole new fiction!

Chapter One

It was a dark and stormy night. So I stayed in and started a blog. Though I may travel into another dimension in my dreams.

But you, grab a sandwich, book, and kitten and get in bed. That is perfection. This blog will not be. But it will be full of wit and whimsy and wherefores about the writing world.

At 25, I am facing an epoch in my life. I can feel it. One day I will have full books under my name in your local independent book store. Until then, check out my publishing progress, thoughts on the craft and industry, pieces of my mind, and general coming of age.

I love you forever, dear reader.

P.S. Bonus points if you can name the literary allusions riddled throughout this post.