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Thursday, December 2, 2010


(The Miami Herald ran a column assessing their coverage of issues relating to public education in Florida. My wife (Francesca) and I wrote the following letter in response. The Herald printed it on 12/6/10)

Dear Editor,
We are responding to Mr. Schumacher-Matos' column in Sunday's paper. It concluded that The Miami Herald has given balanced coverage of the proposed state law known as SB 6 and related public education issues.
We are public school teachers with 49 years of combined experience. We disagree with your conclusion that teachers and the problems they face are fairly represented by your newspaper.
The Herald assumes for instance, that Florida's public schools lack the tools get rid of "bad teachers". They do have the tools, they always have. If a principal is doing his job he or she can evaluate any teacher's performance and act accordingly. Standardized test results are not necessary to deal with ineffective teachers.
Considering another important area, do standardized tests scores reflect a teacher's talents? We think this is often not the case. Every school is different and it is our belief that these test scores are more reflective of the socio-economic levels of the students in each school. There are certainly many outstanding teachers working in schools who making poor scores on these tests. Should they be penalized by their students' test results?
Miami welcomes many new immigrants to its public schools everyday. Some schools never get these new arrivals. Both of us teach in public schools that get new students from other countries every week. These students usually do not speak English. Should teachers have their pay cut because of the poor test scores resulting from this?
Schools often form classes based on student abilities, honors classes and so forth. This grouping can start as early as kindergarten. What about these teachers? Should the "honors teacher" make more than the one teaching students with learning disabilities because her students make higher grades on standardized tests?
What of the student who is struggling with emotional issues due to a difficult home life. These problems can certainly affect school success. It can take a long time, sometimes years, to turn these problems around. Do the annual tests take this into account? We think not. The Standardized Test Machine wants all schools to produce the same "cookies" while each is often given different ingredients.
This letter could get very long if we described how uncomfortable we feel with the growth of standardized tests, teachers being asked to teach the some things, the same way, at the same times. It can feel very Orwellian.
And what of this new love for charter schools? Overall they do no better than non-charter schools on tests even though they have the advantage of hand-picking their students. Should their test scores be above average in the future, due to their choice of students, should their teachers be paid "above average" as well?
Of course, schools can get better and hopefully they are getting better. We do not think standardized tests are a fair or reasonable way to evaluate teachers and the schools that employ them. We think it is a glossed over simplification of complex issues. Your paper would have a more balanced view of public education if it reflected more on the realities of teaching in public schools in South Florida.

Glenn Terry and
Francesca Violich.
Coconut Grove, Florida

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