Garrison Keillor Would Love the Department of Education's Florida
Around the State
It must be nice living in Florida's version of Lake Wobegon, home of the Florida Department of Education ... where all the administrators are strong, the students are good looking and the teachers are above average.
Yes, that's what they tell us -- all the teachers are above average. It's a wonderful story.
But so is the DOE's teacher evaluation report, released earlier this week. The story line: A whopping 97.9 percent of Florida's teachers are rated "effective" or "highly effective" in the classroom for the 2012-13 year.
Only 2 percent are duds.
Wow! There isn't a Fortune 500 company that could boast such a rate. In our own Lake Wobegon, out there on the edge of the prairie, Florida must have the greatest school system in the world!
And there's a subplot: School administrators and non-classroom instructional personnel do even better than teachers -- 97.1 percent and 98.8 percent respectively are ranked effective or highly effective.
The report is an embarrassment. As nonfiction, it's meaningless. In one soft-hearted school district, I've been told, all a teacher had to do to stay out of the dreaded 2 percent was show up.
Every district evaluates teachers based on its own criteria. In Jefferson County, not a single dud. In Leon County, 89 percent of teachers are rated as highly effective -- that's the highest rating possible. Meanwhile, there are no highly effective teachers in Collier County. Not a one.
Parents are confused. In Escambia County, for instance, where 95.3 percent of teachers received one of the top two rankings, they can't understand why the teaching is so good if five of the district's schools received an F-grade?
Certainly the guidelines for teacher evaluations sound simple enough: 50 percent of the evaluation is based on a formula called the Value Added Model. It predicts how students should score on the state’s standardized exam -- the FCAT -- and rates teachers based on how well their students measured up to the predicted FCAT score. The other 50 percent comes from observations by school principals.
The DOE accounts for the district-to-district disparity by explaining that state law only provides "a framework" for conducting the evaluations. Districts have a lot of leeway in deciding into which of the four categories a teacher falls.
Evaluations are a big deal for teachers. By 2014, they will determine how much teachers get paid and whether they keep their jobs. The first bill Gov. Rick Scott signed into law in 2013, SB 736, rewrote how they're paid and retained across the state.
The push for Common Core standardization to evaluate students has my vote. I'm all for clear, higher, benchmarked results for students. But perhaps it's time to insist on the same for our K-12 teachers. They deserve better. I certainly don't blame them for creating Lake Wobegon. I have a feeling the wildly optimistic "highly effective" and "effective" numbers, are disappointing even to them. How can they really know how they measure up? Or, is the unionized districts' intent just to help teachers keep their jobs?
The release of teacher evaluation numbers -- coming as it did almost simultaneously with results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) -- is powerful proof that Florida education, and probably most of the K-12 education in America, operates in ineffective chaos. PISA, which compares 15-year-olds from developed countries across the globe in math, science and reading, shows how erratic our education system is and how behind other nations we are. U.S. teenagers are now ranked 26th in math, 21st in science, and 17th in reading. Shanghai, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong are leading the pack, while countries like Poland and Ireland overtook us for the first time.
School districts have to do better for our students, for our teachers. There has to be more parity in teacher evaluations. The whole process needs restructuring, with more coursework required of school principals and other administrators to produce a meaningful evaluation.
Garrison Keillor frequently characterized Lake Wobegon as "the little town that time forgot, and the decades cannot improve." Floridians have higher expectations of their Department of Education.
In the meantime, the less said about teacher-effectiveness ratings in Florida, the better. These were a complete waste of time.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423.