What Should Charlie Do? Latest Poll on Tenure and Merit Pay in Florida Finds Support for Change



By 04/09/2010

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In 2009 Education Next asked a representative sample of Floridians their opinion about teacher tenure and merit pay, the very issues that have just landed on Florida Governor Charlie Crist’s desk.*  Although Crist initially supported the bill, he has given hints that union-backed protests are causing him doubts.  “Shame on any public servant who doesn’t listen to the people,” he told the St. Petersburg Times on Wednesday.

So let’s have a look at what the people think:

Teachers with tenure cannot be dismissed unless a school district follows detailed procedures. Some say that tenure protects teachers from being fired for arbitrary reasons. Others say that it makes it too difficult to replace ineffective teachers.  We want to know what you think of tenure. Do you favor or oppose offering tenure to teachers?

Favor: 26 percent

No opinion: 28 percent

Oppose: 45 percent

Sample size: 953

Do you favor or oppose basing a teacher’s salary, in part, on his or her students’ academic progress on state tests?

Favor: 36 percent

No opinion: 26 percent

Oppose: 38 percent

Sample size: 311

President Barack Obama has expressed support for the policy of basing teachers’ salaries, in part, on their students’ academic progress on tests? What do you think of this policy?

Favor: 50 percent

No opinion: 21 percent

Oppose: 29 percent

Sample size: 300

On teacher tenure, those opposed to the practice outnumber supporters by 20 percentage points, although a sizable minority remains undecided.    Those opposed to tenure also appeared to hold their views more strongly: more than 16 percent reported that they “completely oppose” tenure, while fewer than 6 percent said that they “completely favor” tenure.

Roughly equal shares of Floridians favored and opposed merit pay, although again more than one quarter of the state was undecided.  Yet among respondents who were first told that President Obama supported the practice, support jumped to 50 percent.

As I read these results, the “people’s governor” need not worry that signing this legislation would be at odds with the public’s views.  At a minimum, he has the opportunity to show leadership, as public opinion has not completely jelled one way or another.

* The 2009 Education Next-PEPG Survey included an over-sample of 948 residents of the state of Florida.  Complete results for the national sample and details on methods are available here.




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