Florida’s public school administrators are ready and willing to work with state education officials to overhaul a broken testing regime, improve teacher accountability and experiment with proven academic strategies.
Now the superintendents have another arrow in their quiver: the education experts Gov. Rick Scott and his appointees should be consulting about raising teacher and student performance are actually in Florida’s classrooms right now. The National Center on Teacher Quality gave Florida its highest grade in the nation in its State Teacher Policy Yearbook released Wednesday. The center, funded by grants from education reform-minded organizations including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corp. of New York and the Gleasson Family Foundation, cited Florida’s improvement in four of the five categories it evaluates.
The report, which can be found at www.nctq.org, looks at teacher preparation, expanding the teaching pool, identifying and removing ineffective teachers and identifying and retaining effective teachers. Florida received and overall grade of B, the only state in the nation that received that grade. Overall, Florida’s improvement ranked ninth in the nation. The grade includes efforts to show evidence of student learning in teacher evaluations, linking tenure and pay decisions to teacher effectiveness, dismissing ineffective teachers and programs targeting middle school teacher preparation.
While school reformers often focus too much on teacher pay and benefits, the National Center on Teacher Quality takes a less ideological and more analytical approach. For example, its evaluation of Florida’s efforts to retain effective teachers noted that pension benefits are “well-funded and do not require excessive contributions.” It also credits the state for giving districts authority to develop salary schedules based on teacher effectiveness and allows them to offer performance pay and bonuses for working in high-needs schools or subjects in which the state lacks qualified educators.
To be sure, Scott’s administration has been aggressive in pushing reforms during his first two years, although he earned the enmity of teachers and administrators by slashing eduction spending by $2 billion in his first budget and unilaterally cutting teacher salaries by 3 percent under the guise of shoring up the pension fund, which didn’t need it, as the NCTQ report noted. Scott’s recent listening tour with public school administrators and scaled back plans for further reforms earned him rebukes from conservative reform groups pushing for shifting money to private schools and reining in teacher unions.
Scott should build on his success emphasizing accountability. He should also acknowledge that his public school administrators and teachers are willing partners in reform. The results speak for themselves. Too often reform is the goal of reform. The real reform needed is to focus on student improvement, not settling scores.