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School reform will improve education

The Florida Legislature last week passed a bill, which awaits Gov. Charlie Crist’s signature or veto, that could boost the standards of the public school system. Its aim is to raise graduation requirements and abolish teacher tenure.

These proposals, especially the new guidelines and standards for teachers, are intended to improve student and teacher performance.

Teachers obtain job security by earning tenure status after a three- or four-year probationary period. Once a teacher is granted tenure, it is very difficult, expensive and time consuming to dismiss him or her on the grounds of incompetence.

These policies were implemented in the onset of the 20th century to protect teachers from unjust, random and prejudiced dismissals. However, these policies inadvertently offer the same protection to substandard teachers by solidifying lifetime employment.

By also linking teachers’ pay raises with level of education and number of years on the job, rather than professional merit and student performance, it creates a correlation between tenure and the entire pay system. But just because someone has a master’s degree or several years of experience doesn’t mean they really care about making students understand materials.

To reward dedicated, hardworking teachers and penalize ineffective ones, Florida Sen. John Thrasher wants to remove tenure completely and implement a new educational system based mainly on teacher efficacy and productivity. If this bill gets signed into law, new teachers entering the workforce would have to renew contracts annually based on student standardized test scores and principal evaluations.

Standardized tests are a good index on whether teachers are really doing their jobs. If a student can’t do well on standardized tests, then the teacher responsible for those students should be subject to dismissal.

Already tenured teachers will get to retain their status but, like new teachers, they will only get pay raises depending on how well their students do on standardized tests.

Not surprisingly, these bills face much opposition from Florida teachers and unions. Kevin McDonald, a teacher at Royal Palm Beach High School, said to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: “With all the accountability measures being heaped on teachers, what about the parents? The best teacher in the world will not see terrific gains if there’s hell going on at home.”

But this is just a lame excuse for lack of job production. A strong, well-intentioned teacher can make nearly any student do well despite social and family problems if he or she invests the time and effort.

This bill grants continued employment and pay raises based on teacher quality and competence, and that should matter more than merely an upper-level degree and time on the job. Teachers who do not make the grade will be dismissed, and the ones that do will get to keep their jobs with benefits.

Yes, much more will be expected of public school teachers and students. Teachers are going to have to use their expertise and skills to meet tougher graduation requirements without a tenure shield to protect them from unemployment and lower pay. But that’s the way it should be.

Margarita Abramova is a freshman majoring in mass communications.