FL public education summit to tackle Common Core, teacher evaluations & school grades

08/26/13 Janelle Irwin
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Education leaders in Florida are meeting in Clearwater this week for what will likely be three days of controversy surrounding the state’s public education system. A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Education, Joe Follick, says stakeholders from across the state will brainstorm ways to improve things like teacher evaluations and school grading criteria.

“Reasonable people have a lot of different ideas about how to go about that and that’s the purpose of why we’re here – to make sure that all of these concerns get voiced, we weigh out the pros and cons and provide some feed back for the governor and the legislature to move forward.”

The Education Accountability Summit was the last-minute brainchild of Governor Rick Scott. His administration, along with leaders of the House and Senate, invited dozens from groups across the state including former Governor Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future and a pro-voucher group, Step Up for Students. A representative from Florida Parents Against Common Core, was also invited. Susan Smith, a public education activist in Tampa, is among those opposed to the new education standards being implemented in public schools across the state.

“We know who stands to benefit financially from Common Core and it’s the same bad actors that are creating the assessments – Pearson I’m sure has got their hand in the kitty again.”

Common Core is a set of standards for teachers to follow that streamlines Florida’s priorities with almost the rest of the country – it has been approved in 45 states and the District of Columbia. Even though there are skeptics on all sides of the political spectrum, Hillsborough Classroom Teacher’s Association president Jean Clements says many critics are misinformed about Common Core.

“And so there are a lot of people who are very suspect and concerned that it’s taking away teacher’s creativity and making a daily teaching schedule be completely scripted, even the language of the teacher teaching the lesson and it has nothing to do with that what so ever. There is no script that comes with Common Core. It’s not even curriculum.”

Critics like Smith are worried the implementation of new education standards will lead to more emphasis on high stakes testing. The state currently uses the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, but that will eventually be phased out and replaced. The results of standardized tests are used in assigning schools a letter grade which is another hotly contested issue. Smith says there are better ways to evaluate a school’s success than by over-testing students.

“We can look at the end result. How is – are children prepared when they graduate for college? Are Florida’s children doing well when they get to the next stage of life? Is our economy doing well because we have a well educated workforce?

And Hillsborough County Classroom Teacher Association’s Clements agrees that the school grading system isn’t fair.

“The grades greatly correspond to wealth and the level of poverty in schools.”

She says there should be some way to measure a school’s success and is on board with maintaining some sort of standardized testing system, but adds, more emphasis should be put on individual circumstances like income level, learning disabilities and family life. Right now, test scores are also used to evaluate teacher performance. Teachers unions from across the state, including Clements’, have asked the state to remove any stakes associated with test scores until teachers get acclimated to Common Core standards.

“Where the national teacher unions and a whole host of people have had some concern is that you need to have your standards established first, develop really great curriculum that really supports those standards, have time for teachers for teachers and schools and districts to learn that curriculum and get used to implementing the knowledge that way.”

Clements says she hopes stakeholders will also address the state’s merit pay program this week during discussions. Teacher evaluations were harshly criticized after many educators didn’t have testing data for their students.

“And so half of their personal evaluation is based on student test results from kids they don’t even teach or subjects they don’t teach or skills they don’t teach. That’s just wrong.”

But during the first hour of Monday’s summit, Pinellas County parent Linda Kearschner, listed Florida’s merit pay law as one of the state’s successes.

“It’s very important to parents that we do have quality teachers and I think that the effort to identify and provide instructive, informative information to our teachers so that they can improve their instruction to benefit children is essential and to reward those teachers that are doing a great job and to help the ones that are struggling.”

Skeptics of the Governor’s intentions in convening the three-day education summit complained that there might not be enough room in the St. Pete College Conference Center where stakeholders are meeting. Follick, the Florida Department of Education spokesperson, countered that there was ample opportunity for the public to watch.

“I think by making this available live online via the webcast, we opened up three rooms here for people to attend in public. I think we’ve made every effort we can to make this open and accessible to the public. Obviously when you’re talking about an issue like education which so many people care about, I’m not sure that Raymond James Stadium would be big enough to host everybody who wants to participate.”

Public comment is not allowed during the summit, but people are encouraged to email their ideas and questions to educationsummit@fl.doe.org. Follick says comments sent to that email address will be shared at the summit.

EpiCenter at St. Pete College 13805 58th St N Clearwater

Watch the web cast here

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