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If the Souls of Schools are Lost in One Location, They Can be Lost Anywhere

April 1, 2011

We’re living in a time when our collective experience in public education lends further ammunition to Sabrina’s piece, It Wasn’t That Long Ago. I spoke recently with teacher and parent allies in both Rochester, NY and throughout Florida regarding the recent passage of SB 736 in Florida.

Florida teachers protest SB 736

We all had deep concern regarding the drastic effects this bill would bring to Florida, described by NYCEducator as “all stick and no carrot”. SB 736, ironically titled the “Student Success Act”, would eliminate the ability to obtain tenure for teachers hired in Florida after July 1, 2011.

New teachers will be hired on one year contracts and their pay and job security will be tied to FCAT standardized test scores value-added student learning metrics. The Miami Herald-Tribune ran a critical opinion piece that broke down the systemic problems with such draconian policy, as protest from teachers has been heating up.

So I spoke with a friend who teaches high school English in Miami who we will call “Papi” (his demanded pseudonym not mine). Papi has taught in Miami for 2 years and is extremely concerned that this aggressive policy is one of the most clear examples of a malicious assault on the teaching profession. His ability to achieve tenure, especially given that he is building up his skills as a teacher/organizer, is in his view increasingly precarious due to the advance of such legislation. Another factor he was alarmed by was the reality that he works in a school with some of the highest needs students in Miami and his newer colleagues in the school would be especially punished for undertaking this challenge. The school as a whole and the district would suffer as talented teachers either leave the state or the profession altogether. He spoke of the overwhelming concern and anxiety among seasoned educator colleagues who said, “this is the Trojan horse in breaking community-centered public education while humiliating teachers, and eliminating teachers’ due process rights.”

The events discussed in this phone conversation were deeply disconcerting for me as a teacher and community organizer. I’ve come to recognize how connected our local struggles are nationwide. What happens in one location will likely be attempted in similar ways throughout the country. I also was affected on a personal level, as I have considered moving to teach in Miami schools. With this kind of policy development taking place in Florida, that kind of move for me seems suicidal as a teacher. Given my politics and increasingly outspoken nature, my ally gave me about five months at most before I would be before a disciplinary/dismissal hearing for critically questioning and organizing. So……….anyone ready to organize a massive, statewide strike in Florida? Let’s take the power back here, comrades.

Furthermore, we need to understand that the forces behind these policies in Florida and around the nation are NOT PLAYING. We need to respond in kind by building a national movement in which we are prepared to fight and struggle for the alternatives we know our schools and communities need.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Barbara permalink
    April 6, 2011 8:12 pm

    I agree with everything you are saying here. Our school district is cutting over 200 jobs at the end of the year. The school system is millions of dollars in debt. I work at a school that a few years ago we were close to being taken over by the state and all the staff fired or transferred and a new staff hired. We have turned the school around in the last few years through teamwork. I think that teachers should be measured on if their students have made growth. They may not pass a state test but as long as you can prove they have shown growth you have been successful.

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