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Jeb Bush: Florida law brings teaching into the 21st century

Jeb Bush, governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007 and chairman of the Foundation for Florida’s Future and the Foundation for Excellence in Education, responds to The Times' March 31 editorial on the state's new education law, "An average grade on tenure reform." If you would like to share your thoughts on a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed and would like to participate in Blowback, here are our FAQs and submission policy.  


What is a great teacher? 

Today, many people across the country -- lawmakers, educators, editorial boards, business leaders, moms and dads -- are asking that question.  

Here are a couple of characteristics that all great teachers share. A great educator believes all students can learn. A great educator does whatever it takes to motivate students to learn, and what is learned by their students is quantifiable and measurable. A great educator doesn’t accept excuses, and doesn’t make excuses, for lack of learning. 

If you accept this fundamental premise, then evaluating, rewarding and retaining teachers based on student learning is just plain common sense. This year in Florida, common sense ruled the day -- and the debate -- on modernizing the teaching profession. The result is landmark legislation that recognizes that great teachers make great students.

The Times' editorial board panned Florida’s landmark legislation to modernize the teaching profession as “average.” It also stated there is no silver bullet for improving public schools or increasing student achievement.

Florida has proven the latter point to be true. Over the last decade, the state has introduced and implemented sweeping reforms to transform education from being at the bottom in the nation to a national model for quality schools. Now, it is forging the path for modernizing the teaching profession by identifying and rewarding great teachers.

Under the new law, teacher evaluations are no longer purely subjective peer reviews treating those who go the extra mile the same as those who only meet the bare minimum. For the first time, an objective measure of teacher effectiveness -- standardized tests that measure student learning -- will be part of annual evaluations.    

Fifty percent of teacher evaluations will be based on what matters most: students’ knowledge and skills. Essentially, do students know more at the end of the school year than they knew at the beginning? This common-sense evaluation system provides a healthy balance of empirical evidence and valuable peer feedback. Principals are evaluated based on the same student data. 

The bill also establishes a fairer salary system, improving Florida’s ability to attract and retain excellent teachers. The current salary structure is blind to effectiveness; pay increases are largely based on years of service. Under the new system, teachers who are effective and highly effective will earn raises -- not one-time bonuses, but annual increases that build their base salary.  

Those who take the toughest jobs, including positions in inner-city schools, will earn a bonus, as will teachers of high-demand subjects such as math and science. Higher salaries for these positions will attract talent and energy to our greatest challenges -- preparing all students for college and careers in the 21st century economy. 

The law also effectively ends tenure and the policy of “last in, first out.” Merit is the new basis of retention. New teachers will no longer automatically receive pink slips when layoffs are necessary.  School leaders are now empowered to keep their top teachers in the classroom.

The new law creates a system where everyone’s interests are aligned toward a common goal -- ensuring every student learns a year’s worth of knowledge in a year’s time. For the first time, there is a clear and unequivocal connection between the success of principals and teachers and the success of students. 

Under this system, everyone wins. Great teachers will finally earn the financial recognition they deserve. Principals, who have a vested interest in retaining great teachers, will support great teachers. In fact, incorporating data in the evaluation of teacher effectiveness is likely to make it more difficult for administrators to make capricious decisions about retention, which The Times says could result from abolishing the current tenure system. In fact, teachers are now “protected” by their own effectiveness. 

Most importantly, students win. When the education is organized around the singular purpose of learning, kids will achieve and even excel beyond our expectations. That’s a whole lot better than average, if you ask me.

-- Jeb Bush


An average grade on tenure reform

Blowback archive

Photo: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and President Obama tour the Miami Central Senior High School in Miami on March 4. Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press


Comments () | Archives (21)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Donald Michael Kraig

Heaven help us if Florida is a "national model for quality schools." The SAT scores for Florida are 41st in the nation. With "quality schools" like that Mr. Bush will have us become a 3rd world nation in no time!

Kent Allard

The Bush family bringing the same standard of excellence to education that it brought to the economy, Iraq, Afghanistan, Wall Street, public pensions, home mortgages, the ever shrinking middle class, and health care?

I can hardly wait!!!!

Ironman Carmichael

Can't wait to see how Jeb Bush sneaks in mandatory Bible study (there's already corporal punishment in Florida schools) into his "bringing teaching into the 21st century."

Bob Johnson

Teachers being judged based on their performance? What is this, Mars? :)

Kelly M Bray

Does this mean Evolution will be taught as both a theory and a fact? There is Evolution the fact, there is no doubt the process of Evolution has been occurring for a billion years on earth. There is the theory of Evolution, the specifics of the process as it has occurred. Both are two sides of the same coin and should be taught together. If Florida wants to have a world class school system they need to quit kowtowing to ignorant conservative religious factions.


Florida's Govenor Scott already is trying to eliminate Florida public schools.


Jeb Bush needs to shut up and go away. No more from the Bush crime family!


To the general public, this all sounds reasonable. But the evidence proves otherwise. Research has proved beyond doubt that none of the procedures Bush is putting in place has ever been effective. Use of high stakes testing in evaluating schools and teachers leads to massive cheating as in Atlanta and now revealed in D.C. under the formerly highly touted Michelle Rhee. No other country in the world has instituted these kinds of bogus "reforms" and these countries are the ones we constantly compare ourselves to like Canada and Finland. We say we want to compete with them educationally, but refuse to look at what works for them and learn from their successes. What a pity......we will only go backwards into oblivion.


Just because he is a Bush, just because he is a repub, doesn't mean he can't be very very correct...

Richard Ivey

Now that Jeb Bush has "cured" education, he is ready to take on any number of other global causes and to deliver instant, permanent solutions. He is the best thing since religion and peanut butter.

Stephen J. Smith

The Bush family- ruining America with one bad law at a time.


Recent election results show that the Florida school system has a long way to go.

Big Bird

Without a tenure system, principals, politicians, angry parents (for whatever reason) will be able to influence how teachers teach. For example, science teachers may not want to go near the topic of evolution for fear that creationist parents will object and demand the teacher not be rehired.

Pick any subject and you will always have people with crazy ideas about it who may petition to have a teacher fired or not rehired because of how the teacher teaches.

Politics could play a role, a conservative principal may not like a teacher for any number of political reasons.

In my mind, without a tenure system, teachers will not focus on children other than to teach to the test and to not piss anyone off. Bad policy in my mind.


When it comes to American politics, BUSH is a four letter word. The Bush crime family are determined to shove Jeb down our throats by spinning the Bush name into the media every chance they get. We don't need any more crooked politicians riding on their family name. Go away Jeb, we've had enough of you and your kin.

Donald Shackelford

"Tis the time's plague when madmen lead the blind." Shakespeare, "King Lear"


Teaching children is very difficult if you work hard to achieve results. You might not get dirty on the job but after work you are completely drained if you did your job. Good teachers are thorough they treat all children the same and try their hardest to teach children. First a teacher must gain trust and respect from a child; after that the child is more open to learning. Teachers used to do a lot of planning, grading papers after school and planning for the next days lessons. Now teachers rush out of the schools so quick. Children get a bunch of dittos-they can't even copy things off of the board or the overhead projector. Teaching has become so lucrative for some people that they don't teach-they only go through the motions never really trying, especially when they teach children from lower-socioeconomic neighborhoods.


Jeb Bush wants to take a virtual wrecking ball to public education as we know it. Teaching to a test doesn't make students better educated, improve the quality of the instruction and neither do virtual classes or privatization.

Privatization will only give wealthy students' families extra money because their children are already in private schools. The poor children will be in the cheapest, worst schools or relegated to fend for themselves in virtual schools- although I'd love for Jeb to explain who exactly is going to foot the bills for the laptops and the internet connectivity in Florida where salaries are low, bills are high and many do not have enough money for food and shelter, much less broadband and laptops. He is just as out of touch with everyday people as his father and brother.

I have taught in FCAT dominated Florida schools and we end up taking time AWAY from real learning because there is so much pressure to do well on a test. Does Jeb really think that there won't be undue pressure put on BOTH students and teachers when 50% of the teacher's pay is based on one test?
And don't think there won't be jockeying for the best children and marginalization of the ones who need the most help.The best students will end up with the best teachers.

There is absolutely no scientific basis to the notion that merit pay improves the quality of instruction. Ditto for Charter Schools. There are good ones and there are really, really bad ones. Jeb's plans take away money from public education. Please don't be fooled by his so-called common-sense talk. Good teachers ar fleeing the state in DROVES and anyone with children should probably do the same.

No one in Florida has even explained where the money is going to come from for the merit-pay in the first place. We are a cash-strapped state and our teachers are ranked 47th in pay in the nation. Teachers in Florida have not even had cost-of-living raises in several YEARS and our criminal Governor Rick Scott has just cut the education budget by 10%.

Florida is suffering. We already spend less on our women and children than almost any state in the union. Jeb Bush was a nightmare for Florida but he was just the opening act for the GOP. Now they are gutting our state completely and Floridians are waking up to the fact that the GOP only cares about the top 1%. Not seniors, not the mentally ill, not disabled children or our fragile environment. All of this is currently under attack in our Republican dominated legislature.

Just wait until the 2012 Republican Convention in Florida. By that time Floridians will be good and ready to protest the GOP's destruction of our state in Tampa. Jeb Bush was bad for Florida and he will be bad for the country should he weasel his way into another position of power. Please don't let that happen.

Sam Sanders

The USA's and Great Britian's educational systems are based on standards and accountability, and we both rank in the bottom 20 in educational excellence versus other industrial countries. Countries, such as Finland and Italy, score in the top 5, and they and other high scoring countries have educational systems that are child or student centered. However, there is something very exciting happening in education in our country and I recommend people check out the work of Dr. Patty O'Sullivan, teaching 21st century kids. Her web site is www.teaching21stcenturykids.com. Education needs to be about the kids.

harold g erb

Wow, so many unhelpful and angry comments. Where's the discussion ?
Anyway, if education helps provide two things to students, we'd be ahead of the curve. One is boosting student's self esteem the other the courage to think for themselves.
Would that it were so... sigh.


I do not mind anything that Governor Bush said teachers should be doing. However, there seems to be no accountability for administrators, school boards, communities, states, students, and their families. Until we create a system where learning is a team effort, real improvement will not occur.


I am a beginning teacher and I think it must honestly be said that the main issue regarding kids today is the quality of parenting. Teaching can no doubt be improved and some of the structures changed to maximize performance. However, the common denominator between past and present performance is the growth of two income families and lax (and therefore ill disciplined) parenting. In the high-school where I have been teaching maintaining discipline can be very difficult due to the fact that teachers lack the tools to create an orderly environment given the lack of support from home. Putting the (sometimes deserved) blame on the profession is a matter of political expediency and is much easier than accusing parents of doing a poor job writ large.



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