"Measure of Success" Part 3: Making It Work
Now that Florida has been exempted from the Federal No Child Left Behind law, state leaders are free to design their education guidelines.
That prospect, along with new graduation requirements, and the FCAT mean students are dealing with a lot of stuff.
And they aren't the only ones. Pressures from all sides are shaping the future of education for teachers too.
UF Teacher Candidate Katie Jones said, "We have our rock and when it erodes... it just kinda changes the shape a little bit."
Like the rocks these first graders are learning about education is also changing.
Jones said, "We used to play school at my house, that's always been what I wanted to do."
Katie Jones is in her last year of the University of Florida Elementary Teaching Program, working as an intern at Newberry Elementary School.
For Katie teaching is more than a profession, it's a calling. She said, "Oh, I love the kids...they are awesome. That's why teachers are here."
But her chosen career is changing drastically.
Alachua County Education Association President Karen McCann said, "This is Senate Bill 736, the entire bill. And this is a prescription for how schools are to operate now, how teachers are to teach the students... how they're evaluated."
High stakes testing is the basis for such changes; namely the FCAT.
1st grade student Malek Taylor said, "Well it's kind of like a test."
4th grade student Katie Thomas said, "when I'm doing the FCAT test, I'm thinking am I going to pass this test, or am I not going to pass this?"
In North Central Florida there are children both failing and excelling on the FCAT. These results play an increasing role in whether or not they will be able to earn a diploma.
High School Senior Kelvin Spivey said, "I realized that next year I'm gonna be a senior and if I don't have that FCAT done, I might not graduate."
There is another facet of the FCAT conversation. Not only does it affect each child's future, new legislation means it also affects teacher pay; and therefore the future of education in Florida
McCann said, "They've taken autonomy out of the classroom."
McCann, the local teachers' union president, says because teacher evaluations and merit pay rely so heavily on test scores, teachers will be forced to follow a "prescription for teaching."
Gainesville High School Teacher Mary Beriau said, "I just feel like so much is coming from Tallahassee right now."
McCann believes these changes are an attempt to push privatization of the school system.
In response to criticism that school choice programs hurt public schools, National School Choice Week Vice President Andrew Campanella said "School choice helps public schools. School choice is about giving the opportunity to choose from a menu of options."
Campanella says the education system is broken and needs to include tax credit vouchers to support options like private, charter, virtual and home school programs. He said, "Our k-12 system lags behind 35 other countries...it isn't because of a lack of funding, it's because of a lack of focus."
As a passionate debate rages on about how best to focus on learning, Dr. Darby Delane works with teacher candidates and area schools to train teacher researchers who can balance external and internal standards.
UF Professor in Residence Dr. Darby Delane said, "That's the moment where they say I have this FCAT data, I've got this fair data... but you know I'm really wondering why I can't reach this particular group..."
Then teachers, like Katie, will develop research methods that produce answers.
Jones said, "I view the data that we collect on those tests as any other data that I gain from the classroom. We collect data all day on our kids, on the work that they do, on the responses that they give, conversations that we have with them..."
For educators past, current and future... it all boils down to making things work in the classroom, by using the FCAT and going beyond it.
Jones said, "Yes follow the prescription that we're supposed to, but in a way that fits our classroom."
For more information on high stakes testing and recent Florida legislation changes you can visit the following websites: http://www.fcatexplorer.com/ http://www.fldoe.org/ www.schoolchoiceweek.com http://aceaweb.org/
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