By Yaël Ossowski | Florida Watchdog
ST. PETERSBURG — Not stymied by the efforts of national and state teacher unions, Florida Gov. Rick Scott is picking up on last year’s significant changes to merit-pay for educators.
The governor is making the rounds on a listening tour this week, aimed at introducing more wide-scale reforms in schools across the state.
The tour will last a week and seek reform ideasfrom teachers, parents and students, according to a release by the governor’s office.
The former health care executive-turned-politician has been the subject of harsh criticism during his two-year tenure as governor, specifically tied to his plan to initially cut nearly $700 million in school funding in 2011 and the mandatory pension contributions for public sector employees, estimated to save the state nearly $3 billion over two years.
The stern opposition from public sector unions gathered enough momentum to challenge the pension contribution law all the way until the Florida Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on the matter this fall.
This year, Scott aimed to renew his gubernatorial pledge to provide the “right learning environment for each student, not the bureaucracy,” successfully allocating more than $1 billion to education, along with several merit-pay provisions that reward teachers based on student performance — another initiative that has drawn the ire of union groups.
A representative from the Florida Education Association, the state’s main teacher union, could not be reached for this article.
If Scott would like to tout some level of reform, however, the numbers are beginning to show that Florida may be headed in the right direction.
From 1992-2011, Florida only ranks behind Maryland in student achievement improvement of student, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The group, also known as the Nation’s Report Card, is the independent organization within the U.S. Department of Education that measures effective education progress.
Marcus Winters, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a nonprofit free-market think tank based in New York City, who wrote a similar report in April 2012, applauded the state’s efforts to reward teachers based on the student performance and achievement rather than seniority or allegiance to the local union.
“The results of this study demonstrate that a test-based promotion policy structured similar to Florida’s policy should be expected to improve student performance relative to a policy of social promotion,” Winters wrote. “Florida’s system is an example for policy makers across the country to emulate.”
The reforms generally have been in the right direction,” Winters told Florida Watchdog.
“Looking at merit pay is really the way to go, but there are a lot of different parts of the education pie to tackle. The focus on teacher quality is certainly a promising avenue, in part because we know that teachers are the most important part of public schools,” he said.
Toni Jennings, former lieutenant governor and current board member of the Foundation for Florida’s Future, a Tallahassee-based nonprofit education policy group founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush, also sees the need for moving education reform to the front burner and introducing the changes quickly.
“This makes education reform a never-ending balance between the need for rapid change versus the ability of educators, students and parents to absorb that change. Glitches will occur,” she opined in the Orlando Sentinel on Sunday.
“Like the other changes, these will be somewhat disruptive. But they also are necessary to ensure our children’s place in an increasingly competitive global market. The biggest mistake we make in education is underestimating the ability of all children to learn. We do that at their peril.”
Yaël Ossowski is Florida Bureau Chief for Watchdog.org. Email him at [email protected]
— Yaël (@YaelOss) September 10, 2012