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Florida Not Alone in Push to Make it Tougher on Teachers

Bradenton -- Its been a tough year to be a teacher. If you're startled, or you jump when you hear the word "reform," chances are you're in the education field. Florida Governor Rick Scott said he was going to reform education, and he and his team has not wasted any time with their wrecking ball. Symbolically, the first bill Scott signed, "Senate Bill 736" in March of this year, was an education bill. It knocked out the provision "first-in-last-out" (where seniority determined who was laid-off first), put new restrictions on "collective bargaining," ushered in merit pay for teachers and tenure out for the newly hired, and required them to participate in a year-to-year employment contracts after a probationary period.

The Republican legislature has pushed through bills that require state employees to contribute 3 percent of their salaries to their pension plan, while tying teacher's pay with student performance on standardized tests. Here in Florida, reform has become synonymous with insurrection.

But Florida isn't alone with their immense austerity. It's becoming an alumni around the country. It appears all that is needed is a Republican Governor and legislative body. For better or for worse, the GOP has it a cornerstone of its platform. In Wisconsin, Republican Governor Scott Walker and his legislative loyalists legally disposed of collective bargaining from not only teachers, but most of their public workers. Many see the formula used for teacher reform, and how it has primed the pump for vouchers and charter schools, working in other areas of public service - its called "privatization" and some feel that it is the master plan.

When Michelle Rhee founded The New Teacher Project (TNTP) in 1997, many saw it as a four lane highway into education reform. Its stated goals were to close the achievement gap by providing high need students with outstanding teachers. It focused on developing a "teaching fellows" program with a target to recruit individuals with a strong content of knowledge and willing to teach in under-performing schools. The project developed a path to certification around the bureaucratic hurdles. It later published The Widget Effect: Our National Failure To Acknowledge and Act Upon Teacher Effectiveness. A war and peace size study involving over 18,300 teachers and principals in 12 school districts.

This revenue-generating nonprofit partnered up with public schoosl to supply services strenuous to a vast and challenged systems, by contracting with their district. This has attracted donations from orgainazations like The Bill and Linda Gates Foundation, but many feel it has also paved the road to what has been the undermining of the public school system.

When public/privates partnerships first emerge, they are seen in a shaded light. The first advantage goes to the private partner because the collective investment of infrastructure has been paid for by the public. This is usually the largest expense of any enterprising endeavor. Next is equipment, contacts, organizational platforms and a list goes on, all made available to the rescuing private sector. Hence, the newcomer will always steal the light and is usually credited with recent achievements. There is little wonder why these arrangements have gone viral.

States like Ohio, Nevada, Utah, Illinois and Idaho have all plunged into this theater of dramatic concerns about saving us from ourselves. Yet it's hard to think that the current economic realities they are faced with haven't shaded their visions to where legislators see public schools only as a cash cow. They'll cut big shares of a large school budget and pawn off deeds in the name of reform with vouchers to charters who are more than willing to walk-in at a very limited cost.

Rick Scott is selling a strategy where less means more for the students of Florida, and county by county superintendents are buying it. Rather than reduce the hand-outs, tax emotions and subsidies for the corporations that payed for his political ticket, he is tapping into the coffers of our children's future. He says his concerns are bottom-line, but one has to wonder whether it's the bottom-line we should be worried about. 


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