DEAN’S MESSAGE: Education bill on Gov. Crist’s desk ignores true reform

Posted April 15, 2010 Few issues in education have created as an intense public debate as the two bills the Florida Legislature passed last week. Known as Senate Bill 6 […]


April 13, 2010



Posted April 15, 2010

Few issues in education have created as an intense public debate as the two bills the Florida Legislature passed last week. Known as Senate Bill 6 (with the identical companion House  Bill 7189), the bills propose radical changes to educational policies and practices that will negatively affect teachers, school-based administrators, non-instructional personnel, school districts, and state-approved degree programs in all private and public post-secondary institutions in  the state.

Dean Catherine EmihovichIn this month’s column, I‘d like to review the key components that will most affect colleges of education, and conclude with a general comment on the heavy-handed approach to a very real and serious problem in this state – improving the academic performance of students, particularly those who attend the most challenged and diverse schools.

Based on a letter the Florida Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (FACTE) sent to Governor Charlie Crist urging him to veto the bill, here are some of the most pressing concerns voiced by education deans across the state:

  • We requested that all teacher-preparation service providers be held to the same standards of accountability. Our concern is that non-university-based providers (e.g., district-based alternative certification, competency-based exams) will produce teachers who do not have to meet the same rigorous standards regarding levels of clinical experience and demonstrated ability to work with struggling readers, special needs students and non-native speakers of English.
  • We vigorously protested the removal of “degrees held” as a factor in establishing and augmenting the school districts’ salary schedules.  Teachers and administrators need to maintain their knowledge base and skills in rapidly changing fields, and to understand the deep connection between evidence-based research and practice. Building a quality workforce requires advanced training, and I know of no other profession where advanced degrees do not lead to higher salaries.
  • We sought clarification on the requirement that colleges of education remediate teachers at no cost if they are not effective in the classroom in their first two years. While the SUS deans certainly stand by the quality of our graduates who completed a professional program, the bill does not clarify who is responsible for non-program completers. We also note that non-university based providers are not required to provide the same level of remediation.
  • We disagreed with the language in the proposed legislation that requires teacher education instructors to have teaching experience and/or clinical education training.  If this were the case, all university faculty, including those who teach the subject area courses (e.g., history, math, science) would be required to have clinical experience in K-12 schools, which is a logistical nightmare. This requirement would present an unnecessary hurdle to the interdisciplinary use of the college faculty without providing any real benefit.

These bills are so sweeping in their intent regarding the K-12 components that I do not have the space to discuss all the concerns, particularly those provisions which have stirred the greatest public anger – the removal of tenure, and linking teachers’ performance evaluations and pay to student-learning gains.

On the surface, both items seem like reasonable ideas, until the data on student performance is examined more closely. Student achievement, which is highly variable from year to year even with the best teachers, is determined by not just what happens in the classroom, but by multiple factors outside the classroom beyond the school’s control.

If we as a society seriously want to improve the educational outcomes for our poorest and most challenged students, then we not only have to address issues of teacher quality, but also the poverty and racism that have kept many students from achieving their full potential.

Blaming teachers and asking them to assume full individual responsibility for a collective societal failure is the easy answer. As the satirist H.L. Mencken once said, “There is always one simple answer to a complex problem, and it’s almost always wrong.”

We can only hope that Gov. Crist will recognize this simple fact, and veto this draconian education bill so that all stakeholders – parents, teachers, administrators, community members, policymakers, and college faculty – can work collaboratively to design the true educational reform Florida desperately needs.

Catherine Emihovich
Professor and Dean