Education reform will be one of the most significant, controversial issues that the legislature will address in 2011. I have been blessed with very thoughtful feedback on the issue. Our office has received countless emails and phone calls. We’ve hosted small group discussions with educators and parents. I’ll confess that my approach to education reform comes partly from my own experiences as a mentor at Pryor Middle School, a debate coach, a guest teacher in 4th grade classes and a student (not all that long ago).
I have come to some very clear conclusions:
The argument against any education reform is not persuasive
Teacher tenure needs to be eliminated
Highly effective teachers should make more money
Tallahassee cannot dictate what constitutes a “highly effective” teacher
As such, I have signed on as a co-sponsor of HB 7019 and will strongly advocate for its passage on the floor of the Florida House of Representatives. I firmly believe this bill to be the right approach for Florida’s students.
In Northwest Florida, we have great schools – but we can do better. History shows that when the bar is raised, our academic achievement improves. Though Okaloosa and Santa Rosa’s schools are consistently among the best in Florida, Florida has a long way to go. In many ways, we are in the middle of the pack nationwide. Florida’s middle school students are tied for 24th in mathematics and are only 11th in reading.
America itself needs to improve. Among the world’s 30 most advanced nations, America’s students rank 25th in mathematics and science. Being “OK” as a state simply won’t cut it. We should strive to be the best.
Student learning is directly linked to our long term economic viability. No longer do our students only compete with others in the American Southeast for jobs. Intel, Microsoft and other major companies are shifting their human capital investments overseas where school days are growing longer and more rigorous – particularly in the areas of math and science.
Florida has recently engaged in education reform, but with the wrong objective. Through the class size amendment Floridians invested in bricks and mortar rather than in quality teachers. Money should flow to the priorities we value. I value great teachers. We should reward our best teachers and remove those who have proven to be ineffective.
I have been firmly convinced that Florida’s tenure system is part of the problem. Just like there are bad lawyers, bad doctors and bad engineers – there are also bad teachers. I know – I had some at the schools I attended. Too many are still teaching. The current tenure system protects the incompetent and preserves mediocrity. HB 7019 will eliminate teacher tenure for new hires and will allow principals to terminate chronically poor performing teachers. It’s a great start.
Eliminating tenure alone is insufficient to attract young folks to the teaching profession. Highly effective teachers should get the biggest raises each year. No longer can we have an education model that requires new teachers to essentially accept a life of poverty to enter the profession. A new teacher should be able to earn more money by demonstrating learning gains among students – not just by accruing another year of service. Teachers willing to work with struggling students or otherwise disadvantaged students should get the highest salary increases.
Determining which teachers receive the “highly effective” designation will not be simple or easy. We will likely have to hone the formulas for years to come with lots of input from parents, teachers and administrators. The daunting nature of this challenge cannot deter us from trying. The stakes are too high. If we work together and stay engaged in the process, I am confident that we will find great solutions.
Tallahassee cannot dictate the “highly effective” teacher formulas. Each school district should have a say in determining to what extent peer review, principal review, parental surveys, end of course exams and an ever-evolving universe of measurements are utilized. HB 7019 places the power in the hands of school districts to craft formulas that make sense for them and to ensure that teachers in the areas of art, music, exceptional student education and P.E. are treated fairly. Teachers will have the power to work directly with school board members and will have a seat at the table.
HB 7019 is not a panacea for education reform. Some students will always present unique challenges. Some tests will need to be reformed or replaced. Please stay engaged in this dynamic process. As your state representative, I’m willing to do anything except give up on education reform. There is no room for complacency in a world where jobs are increasingly competitive. As we work to prepare our students for a global workforce, perfect should never be the enemy of the good.
I do not expect every Northwest Floridian to agree with me on these issues. I know with certainty that many will not. That said, you elected me to make the best decisions I can with the information I have – and you deserve to know where I stand. Next week as the Florida House debates education reform, I’ll be voting to reward great teachers.