Letter to the Editor: Thrasher on Education

Legislative Assistant, Kay Rousseau forwarded the following letter from Senator John Thrasher for publication to Historic City News readers.

Senator John Thrasher
9485 Regency Square Blvd., Suite 108
Jacksonville, FL
Email: thrasher.john.web@flsenate.gov

Education isn’t about politics. But, over the past several weeks some opponents of an important piece of education legislation have utilized politics as a talking point in their widespread campaign of misinformation and fear tactics, designed to defeat this solid element of education policy.

Senate Bill 6 is good for students, good for teachers and good for Florida. With the passage of this legislation in the Senate on Wednesday we have heard more of the same from the opposition.

Opponents to this legislation say the current system for teacher evaluation is fine. Last year, 99.7 percent of teachers in the state earned a “satisfactory” evaluation, yet 50 percent of our high school students, 35 percent of our middle school students and 30 percent of our elementary students didn’t make a year’s worth of progress in reading. (And 60 percent, 40 percent and 30 percent, respectively, were not reading on grade level.) That’s fine?

Opponents to this legislation believe that it’s unfair to base teacher evaluations on student learning. Right now, teacher performance reviews are based on the observations and opinions of their principal — making these evaluations 100 percent subjective. Using data for 50 percent of the annual performance review makes the evaluation more objective — and therefore, more fair.

Opponents would have you believe that the bill eliminates tenure for teachers in the classroom today. What the bill does is end the practice of granting lifetime guarantee of employment after just three years in the classroom. This bill ties renewal to effective or highly effective performance, and requires a demonstration of student learning gains for at least four of the five previous years for recertification.

Opponents say that annual tests are not a good measure of teacher effectiveness. Annual tests are an objective measure of the knowledge and skills students gain from one year to the next. If you believe teachers impact how much a student learns, then annual tests that measure progress are an objective measure of their effectiveness in the classroom.

Opponents would have you believe that the bill punishes teachers whose students are below grade level. The bill requires progress — what students learn during the year should be considered. Teachers can’t control what their students know when they show up on the first day of school, but they do influence what they learn during the year in their class. In fact measuring progress may benefit teachers who teach students with disabilities and low-performing students the most.

Finally, opponents say the bill cuts teacher pay. Rather than cutting pay, the bill sets aside more than $900 million a year that must be used to raise salaries for teachers in high-poverty schools and teachers of subjects that are in high demand, such as math and science, and teachers whose students are making progress.

Education isn’t about politics. Education is about recruiting the best and the brightest to provide our children with world-class instruction that will allow them to compete and succeed in a global economy. We have some outstanding teachers, but we have some who are underperforming who are being paid at the same level as those highly performing. The bill improves the way we recruit, retain and reward outstanding teachers.

Senator John Thrasher

Photo credit: © 2010 Historic City News contributed photograph

HSN Editor: Florida District 8 Senator John Thrasher (R) is a 66 year-old Jacksonville attorney who was elected on October 6, 2009 and also serves as Florida Republican Party chairman. He graduated from Florida State University, College of Law, earning a Juris Doctor degree in 1972. He was born in Columbia, South Carolina and moved to Florida in 1949. Thrasher serves on Policy and Steering Committee on Commerce and Industry, Policy and Steering Committee on Governmental Operations, Policy and Steering Committee on Ways and Means, Community Affairs, Criminal Justice, Education Pre-K – 12, Ethics and Elections, Higher Education, Appropriations, Reapportionment, Regulated Industries, Rules and Select Committee on Florida’s Economy.

Thrasher introduced legislation this session that would base teacher pay on how well students do on controversial, standardized tests and has advanced legislation that would shield emergency room doctors, staff and even ambulance drivers from deep-pocket lawsuits — apparently a direct shot at the Florida Justice Association which vigorously opposed him during last fall’s election.

Thrasher is sponsoring legislation that would prohibit state agencies from hiring private attorneys on contingency fee contracts unless the attorney general’s office gives them written approval –- a move gubernatorial hopeful Attorney General Bill McCollum is touting as a cost-saving step.

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