Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Federalism Part 2: Shake Your Fist

There is a lot of blame and frustration in our jobs. We, as teachers, are trying to change the world one student at a time. And we sometimes don’t actually achieve that goal, completely. Hence the frustration that lies in the middle between what we WANT to accomplish and what we ACTUALLY accomplish.

It’s a frustrating job.

My husband likes to mock the people who vent their frustration in the wrong direction (and me, incidently) by shaking his fist in the air and yelling at the president every time it rains or every time we get stuck in traffic. It’s just his own teasing reminder that we can’t blame everyone for everything. (Note: no matter what your politics are, you will agree that Obama does not control either the weather or the US 19 traffic).

So, last week we talked about Federalism as a serious point of confusion for students. We talked about the huge difference between Federals, federalism, federalists (and anti-federalists), the Feds, the FED, and the federal government.

I want to add another point to talk about: Federalism as a part of our jobs.

It can be very confusing to be a teacher. So many different directives come from so many different places and levels, no wonder half of us give up and just say that the mysterious “They” are behind everything.

You know -- our kids are always worried about “Them” too. “They” are going to make us wear uniforms. “They” are going to change the bell schedule. “They” are going to make us go to year around school (one of my favorite rumors).

Federalism is knowing that “They” are real people in real jobs. “They” have names.

Federalism is knowing who to blame. Or who to praise. Or who to talk to about this issue....

Federalism is not just something Civics and Government teachers teach about. Federalism is a factor in our jobs.

So, you don’t like the school lunch? Grumpy at the lack of soda in the machines? Many of our students eat free and reduced lunch from a federal (national) school lunch program. But how those dollars are used for lunches and what those free or reduced lunches look like are different across states, district, and even across different schools!

Another example of federalism mixed up in our schools revolves around testing.  Florida Senate bill 736 (state level) determined that teacher evaluations must be determined, in part, by student assessment scores. \State Statute in Section 1008.22 (state level) also determines that students in 7th grade Civics and high school US History take state-written end of course exams (EOCs).  But because of that SB 736, the state has determined that other courses need district-written or district-selected exams (like AP tests). And the federal (national) Race to The Top grant also calls for Florida to use "high quality interim assessments".

State, National, District level are all mixed up together. And your SCHOOL may have a different way of interpreting all these different rules, leading to differences between one school and its neighbor.

Whew! No wonder our kids and their parents -- and teachers in general -- are pretty confused about federalism! Who should I shake my fist at?

So all these new tests, EOCs, district-assessments, and all that -- are part of federalism. They are all mixed up in the national, state, and local levels.

I had mentioned last week that I had jury duty. One of the interesting things the judge talked to us was about our role. He asked us, point-blank, “Do you recognize that you are here today in this county courtroom to uphold the law? To decide whether or not a person broke the law? Do you recognize that you are here to evaluate the EVIDENCE, not to evaluate the LAW? Do you understand that if you do not like the law, that the place to deal with that is Tallahassee, not this courtroom?”

Yikes! It’s important for us, as social studies teachers who often teach federalism and who teach in this federal (multi-level) system, which rules or laws come from Tallahassee, which come from Washington, and which come from Largo PCSB.

Here are some federal tidbits you may or may not know.
·         The Regents Exams, in NY, were first administered in 1865 for middle school and 1875 for high school!
·         The first Standardized test in Florida, the CSE, was given in the 1971-72 school year.
·         No Child Left Behind in 2001 (national) required that all schools who receive federal funding give standardized tests annually and make AYP (adequate yearly progress)
·         Florida School Improvement and Accountability (1999, state) measured schools using standardized tests and started School Grades.
·         The state Statute Section 1008.22 authorized the role of EOCs in 2010
·         The first state-wide EOC, Algebra 1, was given in 2011
·         Senate Bill 736 (state) was passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Scott. This bill determined that 50% (or 40% if teachers have less than three years of data) of teacher evaluations be based on standardized test data, “statewide assessments ... or for subjects and grade levels not measured by statewide assessments, by school district assessments”
·         Part of the impetus for SB 736 in 2011 was for Florida to gain a federal (national) Race to the Top grant.
·         Pinellas County School Board has either selected assessments (like the AP exams) or has district-written (like the district-developed EOCs) starting in the 2014-15 school year, all based on the course standards.
·         Course standards come from the Florida Board of Education, with input from the public.

Federalism is the sharing of power between national, state, and local governments. All this testing -- it comes from all three levels! I’m not even touching the other pieces of testing, like FAIR and PM the standards formerly known as Common Core and so on...

I know that testing isn’t anyone’s favorite subject and I know many folks are frustrated enough to shake their fists and curse the president about it. I’m by no means telling you what to think about it all -- just which parts come from where.

As we teach our students about the federal system of government with all the confusion and shared powers that come along, it’s important for us to understand the effects of federalism in our own jobs. It’s important to figure out who to lobby, who to praise, and who to talk to about a certain issue -- what we do and don’t have direct control of.

Does this make it all “clear as mud”? Do you have a better idea of how federalism works in our jobs? Any more good examples of Federalism in our lives?

As always, I want to hear from you! Email me at

Tracy Newman
Reading-in-Social Studies C

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