Florida Positions Itself at the Forefront

By 04/07/2010

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Over the past decade, Florida has shown its laser-focus on student performance.  Beginning with Jeb Bush and his able and imaginative education team, Florida moved forward on a reform agenda.  But it was a reform agenda with a difference.  Instead of following tradition and simply doing more of the same old things, Florida did two things.  First, the rhetoric was not about “helping schools”, which too often translates into helping the adults in schools.  Instead it was about student achievement – first reading and then achievement more broadly.  Second, it was willing to do different things.  It developed a strong accountability system, one based on growth in student learning.  It pushed for options for students stuck in failing schools.  It provided incentives for rewarding teachers.

Now it is showing additional leadership by moving aggressively on issues of teacher quality.  It is poised to pass legislation that would do two things.  It would do away with teacher tenure for newly hired teachers.  And, it would require that half of teacher pay increases be based on student performance.

Who could be against these ideas?  Certainly parents and students cannot be.  But just as certainly, the teachers unions are aghast that anybody would want student outcomes to play a prominent role in teacher retention decisions.

Florida legislators recognize that teacher quality is central to student outcomes.  They also recognize that neither teacher experience nor graduate degrees bear any consistent relationship to student achievement.  This legislation is simply putting policy where the evidence is.

Florida is poised to lead the nation in crafting student policies.  No wonder the fight is being fought so hard in the Florida House.  This kind of precedent could sweep the nation.  And then where would we be left?  We would just have to make policies that were proven to support student learning.

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