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Valerie Strauss from the Washington Post:

Even if you don’t live in Florida, you should pay attention to what is going on there.

Teachers, parents and even students in the Sunshine State call it the "Education Debacle." And they are no longer sitting quietly, hoping that common sense will magically prevail with state legislators seemingly intent on passing legislation affectionately called a "hammer" on the teaching profession by its sponsor.

The Senate bill was sponsored by state Sen. John Thrasher, the new head of Florida’s Republican Party. He calls the bill "the hammer," which he says is necessary to force the Florida teachers union to end its opposition to merit pay for teachers.

He doesn’t make any pretense about the heavy hand he believes should be used with Florida teachers.

This approach could easily spread beyond the borders of Florida.

It’s everybody’s business.

They are taking to the streets, literally and digitally, to transmit their horror over legislation that would end teacher job security, increase student testing and tie teacher pay to student test scores. It also prohibits school districts from taking into account experience, professional credentials or advanced degrees in teacher evaluation and pay.

Protests are planned around the state this week, including one Thursday afternoon that will bring people onto U.S. Highway 1 from Jacksonville in the northern part of the state to Miami in the south.

They also plan to bring their protest to Washington D.C. soon, to let their representatives in Congress and federal officials know that they don’t want what they consider an assault on their livelihood and on public education.

A growing coalition of teachers, students, parents, school administrators and others are publicly protesting what is probably the most heavy-handed attack on teachers in the country at the moment.

Thousands of people have signed petitions being sent to Florida’s governor, Charlie Crist, demanding that he veto the bill if it passes the legislature. He's indicated that he supports the legislation but is coming under more pressure than he probably expected.

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LAKELAND - Polk teachers want to make sure their voices are heard loud and clear. Dozens protested against an education overhaul now making its way through the Florida Legislature.

On Monday, they marched in front of Representative Kelli Stargel's office in Lakeland, who supports the plan.

"I think this is crazy," said protester Kit Taylor, a teacher at Traviss Tech. "I don't think they know what they're doing."

Supporters say the proposal ties a teacher's pay with his or her student's progress. Teachers would be put on a yearly contract that would have to be renewed, and they would not automatically get more money for having an advanced degree.

They would be paid according to how well, at the end of the year, their students score on a new test that has not been developed yet.

The Senate has already approved its version of the bill. The House is still working on its version.

Protests similar to the one in Lakeland are being held around the state.

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Dressed in red, the teachers chanted, 'We will remember in November,' and waved signs that read 'Respect Florida Teachers' and 'Treat Teachers with Respect.'

Marianne Capoziello, president of the PEA, said red signified how angry they are with lawmakers.

'Nothing has angered teachers more than this,' Capoziello said. 'We don't understand what they (legislators) are doing.'

'I will not vote for the people voting for this bill,' said Dana Kelly, a K-5 teacher for the gifted at Highlands Grove Elementary in Lakeland.

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This is by Michael Mayo of the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel:

There's so much to dislike about the merit-pay teacher bill (SB6) working its way through the Legislature I don't know where to begin.

Today's Sun-Sentinel ran a Q&A about the bill. Here are some more questions -- without answers -- that I have:

--The bill calls for pay raises and job security based partly on test performance, and it also calls for the creation of new standardized tests for subjects and grades not covered by the FCAT. Does anybody realize how much more complicated and bureaucratic this will make paying teachers? Who's paying to develop and administer these new tests?

--If you teach art, music or physical education, how is your pay raise determined? Will there be standardized tests in these fields? Or will those teachers' pay be based on the school's overall FCAT grade, even though that has nothing to do with the teacher's ability in his given specialty?

--Student improvement is one of the factors tied into pay raises. Will teachers be penalized for being in high-achieving school, where those reading at grade level are at high levels (like 90 percent), but stay flat? And does that mean teachers are rewarded simply for getting an F school to a D?

--Finally, the big question. Between this bill and other bills that would greatly reduce teacher pension benefits and allow for a voter repeal of the class-size amendment, why would anyone want to become a Florida teacher?

It's bad enough that the results of a standardized test weigh so heavily on students throughout their public school years in Florida. Tying teachers' jobs -- and pay raises -- to the FCAT and other test performance is worse.

So the push underway in the Legislature to make the FCAT even more important -- literally a meal ticket for teachers -- sounds like a disaster in the making.

I've got nothing against a merit-based system for teachers. There should be a way for principals to reward good teachers and weed out bad ones, no matter how long they've been on the job.

But a one-size-fits-all legislative edict isn't the way to do it.

Every school and every classroom is different, with its own unique challenges. It's possible to have good teachers whose students test poorly, and vice-versa.

If the standard for good teachers becomes who can teach to the test the best, the overall educational experience for students can get shortchanged.

There has to be a more nuanced approach, and that approach has to respect local control, teachers' overall abilities and the collective bargaining process.

Once the Legislature is at it, I propose one of our state senators should tack on an amendment to this bill (SB6) -- let's call it the Legislative Educational Performance Amendment.

It would tie a legislator's pay and perks to the state's educational performance in national rankings for graduation and dropout rates, standardized test results like the SATs, and other benchmarks.

If Florida improves, the legislator gets a pay raise and more money for staff and travel.

If Florida's results tank, the legislator gets no pay, no staff and has to ride a Greyhound bus between his district and Tallahassee.

You think they'll go for it?

My friends, I am exhausted.  You can google Florida teacher protest to see how far we have come in bringing our movement into the local, state, and national awareness.  It is a survival issue, for current and future teachers and the generations of Florida children yet to come.  

This was my favorite sign of the day:

WANTED: FLORIDA TEACHERS. NO JOB SECURITY. UNPREDICTABLE SALARY. POOR WORKING CONDITIONS. YEARS OF EXPERIENCE ARE MEANINGLESS AND SO ARE YOUR ADVANCED DEGREES. MUST PAY FOR SUPPLIES WITH MONEY FROM YOUR OWN POCKET. BRING YOUR MAGIC WAND.

We know that there is no magic wand in our struggle.  The Republicans in Tallahassee will force this bill through.  Marco Rubio will vote for it, and Charlie Crist will sign it.  We will take our fight all the way to the ballot box in November.

We are Democrats and Republicans.  We are teachers.  We will not allow ourselves to be swayed, and we will rise above a system that has kept us down for too long.  We will do everything we can, and we will do it together.

This is by Abe Lincoln:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth-stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

These are the better angels that marched with us today.  Two of them are Republicans.  That is changing fast, since Alex Sink is fighting alongside us.  Our city was the starting point for a connect-the-dots campaign all the way up US1 to Jacksonville. It has been a whirlwind day of democracy, and I am glad you are here to witness it with us.  It's everybody's business.

Now, I need some sleep.

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Originally posted to Rian Fike on Thu Apr 01, 2010 at 09:24 PM PDT.

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