I read Melinda Barrett’s letter and in it she apologized to her fifth-grade students for the FCAT having loomed over their heads, as well she should. I can’t say she lied, however, she failed to present all the facts. Maybe it was intentional, or more likely it was due to her ignorance of it’s history. In it she implicates legislators when she asks the reader, “And then ask your legislators if they support standardized testing and why. If they say anything about ‘measuring teachers’
success,’ then you will know right away that they aren’t interested in what is best for the students of Florida.”
What Ms. Barrett failed to mention is that it was the teacher unions that lobbied legislators for and got FCAT. The legislature had serious reservations with the significant increases in education spending that were being requested. Most, if not all, tended to translate into higher teacher pay and benefit package increases with little benefit going to students. As a result, the Florida Commission on Education Reform and Accountability under Gov. Lawton Chiles offered up a standardized test program, the Sunshine State Standards. It was part of a series of recommendations that were meant to give local districts more control and a better sense of how their schools were doing. This compromise was intended to make the increases in spending more palatable.
Unfortunately for all the bad teachers and their unions, then-Gov. Lawton Chiles died unexpectedly and Lt. Gov. Buddy McKay finished out his term. Jeb Bush became governor and that event became the turning point for FCAT in 1999, when he tied the FCAT scores to school grades. In short order, grades were factored into funding, student advancement and whether a school required intervention. Suddenly the unions were crying foul over their brainchild! Seems they loved FCAT when it was putting money into their pockets while not really measuring its success. Eventually, Ford and the Florida Education Association would become outspoken rivals of FCAT, but the relationship didn’t sour immediately, not until the last of the easy money dried up.
Then FCAT became their red headed step-child that they blamed for all their ills and short comings.
FCAT’s dwindling revenue meant the unions needed to find something to replace it, and that they did; elected officials of both teachers unions endorsed Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) at the direction of members, after informed debate. Once again they lobbied for and got Common Core passed. Now the American Federation of Teachers and the nation’s biggest teachers union with more than 3 million members, the National Education Association officers have recently called for a moratorium in implementing CCSS and PARCC, reversing their initial once-enthusiastic support of the Common Core academic standards. That’s right, both unions supported these new programs when they thought it was going to put money in their pockets, but now they’re not so sure. As usual, when the going gets tough, union presidents run for cover.
Reminds me of when these same unions once supported charter schools.
That’s right, they were for charter schools before they were against them. That was when they could unload their so-called “problem children” who had severe academic and emotional difficulties, poor attendance, many of which were from poor socioeconomic backgrounds onto the charter school program. They thought that would translate into better students, earning better grades, resulting in higher funding. But a surprising thing happened, though charter schools were initially inundated with children that the public sector rejected, they still managed to out perform public schools. And because of their success, parents that are given the choice with vouchers and wealthy parents alike are choosing to send their children to charter schools over the public school system.
So on Melinda Barrett’s behalf, I too would like to apologies to her fifth-grade students. I’m sorry that far too many teachers feel compelled to support their unions and it is these very unions that lack the courage to follow through with a commitment to higher standards and stronger schools. They let their greed and the greed of the law-makers they lobby (buy off) get in the way of efforts to ensure that all students are college- and career-ready, and help all our young people be employable and succeed. I am sorry that not all teachers are good and some are directly involved with the very union activities that are responsible for turning your education into a political football as they use it to line their own pockets. Remember it’s Ms. Barrett’s union that keeps getting in her way, and her ability to teach, not the test.
Lorne DeWitt is a retired Investment Analyst who lives in Brooksville. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.