A Leon County Circuit Court judge has ruled that the teacher evaluations ordered up in 2011 by Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature do not violate the Florida Constitution.
So now they’re legal, but they’re still absurd.
The Florida Education Association had asked the court to rule that the law requiring local school boards to tie pay to evaluation results violated teachers’ right to collective bargaining. The judge found, however, that meaningful negotiations can happen within the framework of evaluations.
Too bad the evaluations themselves aren’t meaningful. Politicians and education bureaucrats continue to pretend that they can isolate the teacher’s role in a student’s success or failure from other variables that affect learning. That would be hard enough in a straightforward case, such as judging a student’s English teacher based on that student’s score on the reading FCAT.
Evaluations get more complicated quickly if the district tries to account for variables such as days absent, disabilities and a native language other than English. The formulas don’t even try to account for socio-economic advantages and disadvantages — a politically correct choice, though poverty and affluence can have profound effects.
As teachers have emphasized, one aspect of Florida’s evaluation system is even more nonsensical. Because state-approved high-stakes tests are given in limited years in limited subjects, most teachers are evaluated at least in part based on scores of students they don’t even teach and/or in subjects they don’t teach. An 11th-grade calculus teacher’s evaluation, for example, can be based on 10th-graders’ reading FCAT scores. In theory, a time will come when every teacher can be evaluated based on end-of-course exams taken by his or her own students, though even then it will be hard to adjust for factors outside the teacher’s control.
In a hopeful sign, Gov. Scott has expressed doubts about the evaluation system. The Legislature apparently doesn’t share those doubts. It overrode his wish to give teachers an across-the-board $2,500 raise, instead tying raises to evaluations. That snag mars the governor’s current “pep rally tour” of schools to celebrate the impending raises. But perhaps the judge’s ruling on collective bargaining will embolden school boards to be as flexible and generous as possible.
We can see why the state judge did not throw out the evaluation system; some collective bargaining is possible. The teachers union can bring up a better issue, we think, in its recently filed federal lawsuit. The bogus evaluations are the central issue there. Since teachers can lose their jobs, promotions or raises based on scores of students they don’t teach, they have been denied due process guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
Gov. Scott and Florida Education Secretary Tony Bennett should lead a push to delay implementation of the evaluation system until it can be shown to be valid. If they won’t protect Florida teachers, the federal courts should.
Jac Wilder VerSteeg
for The Post Editorial Board