The 2019 legislative session focused on moving money and managing guns. The laws that emerged funded Schools of Hope vouchers for private schools and shifted funds from public schools to charter school privately owned facilities. A lawsuit against the Schools of Hope vouchers is expected. Funding increases for teachers and students were minimal, but teachers were allowed to carry guns.
The Florida Educational Association (FEA) reached an agreement to end a lawsuit against the ‘Best and Brightest’ bonus system that discriminated against minority and older teachers. A signature from a federal judge will provide compensation to some teachers.
Teacher Recruitment. The focus of the 2020 legislative session may shift to teacher recruitment and what is taught. FEA reported 4,000 teacher vacancies in the fall of 2019, and months later 2,000 positions remain unfilled. In response to significant teacher shortages, Governor DeSantis is calling for a higher starting salary for beginning teachers. The impact may be mixed. Teacher recruitment may improve, but teacher retention may decline. New teachers may earn more than many experienced teachers. At least half of these teachers did not graduate from college level education programs and will need mentoring and professional development that typically is not a legislative priority.
Curriculum Standards. The Governor also called for a revision to the Florida curriculum standards that determine what is taught at each grade level. Draft standards have been released, and a summary of the results of public comment has been released. There was relatively little support indicated for eliminating the Common Core elements that have been in effect for the past ten years. More concerns were reported about the age appropriate level of standards particularly for children in K-3 but also in grade nine mathematics. As content taught in higher grades is pushed down to lower grades, the expectations for reading and math readiness for six to nine year old students become inappropriate for many children.
Where these concerns will lead the legislature is uncertain. Politically, the Governor has promised to end the Common Core skills that confuse parents. Practically, yet another change in standards not only changes what skills teachers must focus on, it also mandates that the state tests, school grades, and teacher evaluations adapt. Teachers’ frustration are due to more than inadequate salary levels. What are the expectations they must meet?
Adding fuel to the fire is the release of the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results and the SAT and ACT test results for college admission. Scores are down yet again. Achievement gaps between white and minority students are higher. Choice based on competition and test scores is not working within public schools or among public, charter, or private school voucher-type programs.
Parents from all walks of life are questioning the system that pressures students to enroll in advanced courses e.g. AP English, math and science in order to improve school grades or admission to college. For a few students, these courses are a good option. For most, it results in an unrelenting pressure to chase test scores. Once they enroll in college many retake the same course in part because the passing standard of ‘3’ is too low for success in subsequent courses. Some colleges, like the University of Florida, require a ‘4’ on AP exams to earn credit.
It is a conundrum. Students need challenging courses that stimulate their interests, and Florida ranks third in the nation in the number of students who take and pass an AP exam. Yet, less than half of Florida students who take AP pass the exam with a score of ‘3’ or higher. This score represents a ‘C’ grade at the college level. The University of Florida requires at least a ‘4’ in many subjects in order to earn college credit. Many students would prefer advanced courses geared toward alternative career options rather than the basic college track.
How will the Florida Legislature respond to the stalemate in student achievement? More of the same test-driven competition for scores does not work. Dividing funding among public, charter, and private schools is neither less expensive nor more effective. Teacher recruitment and retention and quality facilities are an even bigger problem for charters and most private schools.
2020 legislative priorities for professional education associations are listed below.