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

April 6, 2011 |  3:19 pm

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.  

Jebbush

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

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An average grade on tenure reform

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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

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