The most talked-about item on the governor’s legislative agenda this year is a teacher pay raise and for good reason. Teacher pay in the state is below the regional average, and teachers do have a rougher time than you’d imagine (full disclosure: I am a public school teacher).
Still, the question of timing is odd. The legislature seems pretty keen on the idea, so why not before 2019, unless your whole objective was to keep teachers and their unions on your side?
And besides, $1000 split into twelve months doesn’t actually amount to that much of a raise for teachers, especially given how much many of them spend out of pocket for their classrooms, as well as any clubs or sports they sponsor.
And, if there is only now a budget surplus based on tricks and lies told in the previous legislative session, how do you intend on paying for it?
Instead of a pay raise, I’d rather see some fundamental reforms happen in the legislature that would ease the burden on teachers and make their jobs a bit less… let’s say insane.
For starters, did you know that Florida actually has a constitutional amendment limiting class size? A single teacher in Louisiana can have a classroom with upwards of 30 students. A 1:30 or even a 1:35 teacher-student ratio makes it nearly impossible to provide the services needed to most students, much less any students with needs (those with individual education plans, special education needs, 504 services, etc.). A reduction in class sizes will do a lot to stem the teacher walk-outs and subsequent shortages you see in the state.
There is a cost to this amendment, namely in teacher hires and new construction to have enough classrooms, but that is a cost that is ultimately worth it, and there is always plenty of space in our budget to make actual cuts to accommodate.
Is a constitutional amendment worth seeking at a time when many (including myself) want to see a new state constitution primarily because it’s so heavily-amended already? Depends. However, it would go a long way in helping teachers out, which is what Edwards claims he wants to do with the pay raise.
Another policy that needs to be enacted is one that provides proper training to teachers on their content standards. One of the reasons teachers ended up rejecting Common Core standards (and bear grudges against the Louisiana state standards) is because they were thrown at teachers without anyone ever really seeing how these standards actually worked in a classroom.
There were errors in translation, and frankly a focus on too many unimportant standards while not enough attention was given to others. The legislature, governor’s office, and BESE can come together to figure out how to provide the proper training and information to teachers about what any of it actually means. Standards are important in education, but if you give a list of things kids need to know to teachers and say “Have at it!” you won’t get the results you’re looking for. There has to be a basic understanding of what they are and why they are, as well.
On that note, I’d like to see the state’s lawmakers and education officials come together and at least talk about the idea of gradeless classrooms.
Essentially, the idea is that instead of offering grades for sometimes (frankly) bull@#$% work, you track those standards a student needs to know, and you assess and re-assess students on those standards until they have mastered them, then move on to the next unit. Grades really only serve to motivate the already motivated, as lower-performing students see low grades and either try to scramble at the last minute to merely pass on stuff they barely know or just accept their fate.
Gradeless classrooms are a growing trend in education, and while I know some folks’ initial reaction would be saying this seems more like participation trophy education than real education, I assure you that the logic and reasoning behind the move are sound.
Another policy the governor, legislature, and BESE would be wise to review is the timing and implementation of standardized testing. As of right now, most standardized testing in the state is offered starting in April – meaning you are testing students on the material you expect them to have a full school year learning two months before school is over. If you check any 6- or 7-12 school in the state, you’ll find that students are in some form or fashion testing every day of those last two months. It’s absurd.
Along with that comes the need to shift our emphasis on the importance of standardized testing. It is treated as an urgent matter every year, but at the same time, teachers don’t see their students’ scores until the students have begun their next year, and many of these tests are not pass/fail so much as they are a measuring stick for teacher success, rather than student success.
That’s not to say teachers shouldn’t be held accountable if their students tank a test, but there are so many factors that play into those scores that if they aren’t a pass/fail test for students, the students who need to grow most don’t take it as seriously.
All of this, mind you, is just a start. I’m by no means an expert on education policy, but I do know enough about life in the classroom (I teach multiple 30+ student classes daily) and life on the front lines to know that easing the burden on teachers doesn’t just mean more money, especially if that money is less than $100 per month before taxes*.
I hope the governor has a more comprehensive education reform package than just giving teachers pay raises. Otherwise, it’s more than a little obvious that he’s just using that raise to fund his 2019 campaign.
*Those taxes, by the by, will be increased in some way, either in income tax or – more likely – by more sales tax. There is no way without long-lasting and permanent cuts OR increased revenue to pay for a permanent raise like this, and he knows it. This is an odd-numbered year and the legislature is allowed to put up some revenue bills without a special session. Rest assured, he is going to push for it and his allies will support it… and, in all likelihood, enough Republicans will back it, too.