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My Take on Florida Education Reform
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I’ve seen rumblings, mostly con, on Twitter and Facebook about Florida’s current educational reform. I’ve had quite a bit of trouble actually finding a summary of the reform plan, although I found a lot of articles about it.  So I’ve tried to cobble together what seem to be the basic tenets of the plan, and I’m going to try to address them, mostly from an economic perspective.

If you just want to see the Cliffs Notes version, jump down to the Conclusion.

Eliminate Tenure – Tenure in academia and secondary education appear to be totally different animals called by a common name. In a university setting, I understand that tenure is designed to allow proven, experienced academics to pursue research and teaching methods that may be considered risky or controversial. It’s also seen as a draw for quality professors who are looking for job security. Secondary (used here to mean “primary and secondary”) educators don’t do research – on controversial topics or otherwise – and aren’t really known for trying out new teaching methods. So tenure really seems to be more of a reward for having stuck it out for some number of years. “You’ve put in some years, so we’re going to make your employment extremely stable.” In academia, it appears to be designed to draw quality professors and encourage risk taking and innovation. In secondary education, it seems more like a perk rewarding teachers for working in the profession and encouraging them to stick around.

I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around the benefit to society provided by tenure in secondary education. I definitely see the benefit to teachers – job security and regular pay increases – but I can’t quite see how that benefit necessarily translates into better-educated students and a better society. There are very few professions that will guarantee pay increases and erect barriers to termination just because a person has been in a job for a while. This is because “years on the job” doesn’t guarantee that a worker will produce a superior work product, and it can be very expensive to continue employing ineffective employees. In the case of teaching, employing an ineffective, tenured teacher means that society is paying a premium for poorly educated students. Not only is this expensive, but it ultimately damages society and prevents us from hiring good replacements due to budget constraints.

I hope that most tenured teachers are superior to their un-tenured colleagues, but what about the ones who aren’t? They are the most expensive teachers, and their cost prevents hiring younger, cheaper teachers to give them a shot.

Merit-based Pay – As I understand the Florida secondary education tenure system, the primary data point used to determine merit increases is years on the job. There is a performance appraisal, but I understand it’s mostly a formality. The economy may affect pay, but only if the state or county determines that things are so bad it can’t afford to give raises this year. If this happens, the unions go to work, defending their constituents, making it difficult for government to deny raises, and deterring government from even trying to do so. (NOTE: This post isn’t about unions. But I think it’s silly to try to decouple unions from a discussion of education reform, so I’ll allude to unions a few times here.) The result seems to be almost-certain pay increases based almost exclusively on years on the job. It’s also extremely difficult to fire a teacher unless the teacher does something particularly egregious. Producing poorly performing students doesn’t seem to be considered egregious so much as a result of externalities like student home life or poorly designed standardized tests. As a result, teachers are generally not fired for producing bad results – they’re either left alone or possibly moved to another school if local parents make enough noise.

The plan seems to address this by replacing tenure with merit-based pay. If tenure were totally eliminated, teachers would be evaluated annually, and their contract would need to be renewed or discontinued every year. Right now, their three-year contracts auto-renew.  This switch from tenure to merit-based pay makes sense to me in general, although it seems that we’re very short on the details of how merit will be assessed.

In most professions, a performance appraisal and measurement against some metrics is about all that is necessary. Typically, the metrics are called “goals” or “objectives” for the employee. At the beginning of the year, the employee’s manager helps the employee define the goals or the goals are simply disseminated from company management. At the end of the year, the employee receives a performance appraisal where he is evaluated qualitatively by his manager and quantitatively by comparing his actual performance to his goals. The results of the performance appraisal are typically used to determine what, if any, merit increase the employee will get that year (better performance means potential for a greater merit increase and poor performance often means no merit increase). A lot of other factors will contribute to potential increases as well: the economy, how the employee is paid relative to what the market is paying (often handled in a separate “market adjustment”), the company’s performance in the previous year, etc.

Merit-based pay for teachers is tricky because there don’t seem to be well-defined metrics. We also don’t know the market rate for teachers because teaching isn’t really a “market” per se. That basically leaves us with the economic climate to help determine teacher pay. But, as mentioned before, teacher unions typically resist allowing a poor economy to affect teacher pay. From an outsider’s perspective, it looks very much like the unions aren’t interested in finding ways to evaluate teacher performance and create a good product (viz, well-educated students), but in protecting teachers’ jobs and pay. Of course, this is totally intuitive: unions don’t exist to improve the quality of products, they exist to protect their own constituents.

Merit-based pay seems to be a good alternative to tenure in that in enables administrators and local governments to identify, reward and retain the better teachers, and weed out the poorer teachers. The trick is determining how to evaluate teachers accurately. Whether the new plan will provide reliable ways to evaluate teachers remains to be seen.

Vouchers – But teacher pay really only tackles the supply side of the equation: how do we encourage teachers to produce a good product and retain those who do? Evaluating pay and incentive structures, budgeting, and allocating teaching resources are all top-down approaches to evaluating education. Markets also consist of a demand side: who consumes the product and how do they determine which version to consume if there are substitutes? This lack of a demand side in secondary education is a big reason there isn’t a real market for teachers or education. Enter vouchers.

What if we gave a student the option to spend his money at the local school, which is known to be a crummy school, or at any number of other schools including private ones? Now does the local school and its teachers have an incentive to provide a better education? Yes, because its customers now have access to substitutes that were not available before. Vouchers are ultimately good because they promote competition. They actually create a market for education and subsequently provide a better education and may lower education costs by introducing efficiencies.

If we look at things from the local school’s perspective, I think this becomes more obvious. Without vouchers or some other form of competition, a local school has a more or less guaranteed customer base. The kids who grow up within a certain radius of the school must go there unless they can go to a magnet school or their parents can afford to send them to private school. So the school knows that it will definitely get a certain number of kids every year just because it exists. All it has to do is collect its funding from the county, hire some teachers and the rest pretty much takes care of itself. What incentive is there for the school to improve its performance? Where will its customers (the students) go if it performs poorly?

When there’s a market offering equally-priced substitutes, customers will choose the best substitute. If I go to McDonald’s and get a bad hamburger, I’ll go next door to Burger King and see what they have to offer. If Burger King stinks, I’ll try Wendy’s. If Wendy’s stinks? I might just decide not to spend money on a hamburger. What happens if a student goes to a school for an education and the education his school provides is poor? Not only is there no Burger King or Wendy’s (unless his family can afford private alternatives), but he must spend his money at that school. Even parents who pay for their kids to attend private school still have to pay into the public education kitty. The student is forced to buy a product from a single provider and he has no alternatives. The school is a local monopoly whose product is secondary education.  What incentives does the school have to provide a better product when it has a captive customer base?  Sure, we can try to provide indirect incentives like threatening to cut funding if they don’t produce better test scores, but there is no direct way for the consumer of the product to choose substitutes and punish the school for a poor quality education.

But if we allow the student to spend his money at any school – public or private – the schools must compete for that student’s money. Competition forces producers to make better products and use their resources more efficiently because they can’t rest on their laurels and just assume that their current customers will be their future customers.


It seems like the plan might also involve some tax deduction shenanigans and other smaller items, but most of the chatter I’ve seen doesn’t focus on these. I couldn’t find enough information to even describe the other factors, so I’m just going to leave them alone.

What’s really baffling about all this is that, at the macro level, there is an ongoing, decades-long discussion around how we can improve our educational system – how we’re falling behind other countries in educational output, how our students aren’t as prepared as students from other countries – and yet we refuse to evaluate the quality of our educators in order to promote the good ones and replace the bad ones. This conversation was going on for years before Milton Friedman wrote about the need for education reform in his 1979 book “Free to Choose”, and yet all the talking doesn’t seem to be affecting actual student performance. We seem to be asking how we can improve the quality of our country’s education product (and typically the answer seems to come back, “spend more money”) while refusing to evaluate the producers of that product.

Other groups need to step in and give it a shot. Modern technology should make this relatively easy by offering an “educators” version of Consumer Reports, or a website for parents to rate their kids’ teachers, or a peer evaluation system or some other way of identifying those teachers who are doing good work. The LA Times attempted to do this, but that attempt was strongly rebuffed by the unions as they called for a boycott of the Times:

The Los Angeles teachers union president said Sunday he was organizing a “massive boycott” of The Times after the newspaper began publishing a series of articles that uses student test scores to estimate the effectiveness of district teachers.

As the LA Times discovered, there is a lot of data out there, but it can be difficult to evaluate that data and determine how to proceed without more science to help us understand how to identify good teachers. Just looking at data doesn’t tell us anything – we need to know what we’re looking for and we need to be prepared to act on what we find.

The current reform in Florida seems to be heading in the right direction. Merit-based pay seems to be a more transparent and effective way to evaluate our teachers, identify the good ones and reward them for their good work. Although the metrics and methodology required to actually evaluate teachers’ merit don’t seem to be well defined, that may be because they weren’t previously required for teacher evaluations, and because the unions have been resisting this kind of evaluation. If these metrics and methods for evaluation haven’t happened organically to this point, it seems unlikely that they’ll ever happen without some burning platform. Vouchers seem like a no-brainer to me as they would create a competitive market for education, improving quality and potentially reducing cost.

What do you think? Am I misunderstanding the proposed reforms? Overestimating the value of competition in education?

Write a Comment


  1. Solid essay.

    As you know I am a huge fan of the free market. I definitely think that education is a commodity, perhaps one of the most important commodities. That said, it is interesting the wages of those in education, but that is another discussion altogether.

    I have a bit of an insiders look on this and have seen the educational system firsthand from the secondary public, secondary private, alternative education, and web-based education aspects. Hence, here are a few brief and off-the-cuff thoughts.

    1. Unions
    Unions are bad for education. They are unhelpful, wasteful, and expensive. About the only good thing that they provided was protection from ridiculous litigation that a teacher may face for professional liability. However, this may be covered by the private market to the best of my knowledge.

    2. Merit-based pay
    Merit-based pay is a two-edged sword. I am all for incentivizing healthy behaviors and excellency in the workplace. However, here is what happens in practice at the public school level. The teachers with “tenure” or long-standing career get first pick of classes to teach. Under merit-based systems they elect to teach bright students who will in turn cause a de facto increase to their salary. Meanwhile many of the young, bright, and perhaps somewhat naive newer teachers get stuck with really difficult and unmotivated who often have very harsh home lives. These students perpetually underperform. Tenure and merit-based pay are indeed linked. Further, education is a tough cookie, in that, once a student has reached the secondary level there are a whole plethora of teachers that have either succeeded or failed in that students educational career. Hence, to quote Cool Hand Luke’s foil, “some men you just can’t reach.” Why penalize the present teacher for a half dozen teachers failures and laziness?

    The other problem with merit-based pay is objective assessment. We are all well aware of the relative merits of the FCAT. The problem here is when crappy veteran teacher A has all honors/gifted/AP students and sound/engaged/sharp/young teacher B gets shafted with 90% free and reduced lunch kids, a quarter of whom have parole officers, rap sheets, and who nearly none of them live in nuclear families. In this kind of system your merit-based pay has essentially reinforced the tenure system and provided a harsh barrier to entry for serious young educators. This is the exact opposite of meritocracy, it is entitlement of the worst kind.

    3. An Alternative
    One alternative might be to give a pool of money to each school’s administrator/administration to give out as he sees fit to reward innovative and engaging teachers. The principle weaknesses here are corruption, politics, and a lack of objectivity to the pay. However, it may be the least broken of all the systems. The administrator/administration might elect to create an objective rubric within that school’s context, or they may convene as an administration to decide whom merits what funds. Perhaps that administration may even have the option to not hand out any of the money if they deem that none merited extra remuneration. It is subjective (or could be) but it might be a third way between objective merit based pay and tenure.

    My 2 cents. Criticism welcome.

  2. Josh-

    After taking a few days to process this plan, I’ve come to see that there is some merit in at least the idea of merit pay. You, Mike, and I can think of at least a handful of teachers who are being paid way more than they’re worth (as Mike went to the high school that I now teach at, we can probably think of a handful of the SAME teachers). The primary contention I have in this is htat, contrary to your point, Josh, there is value in secondary students having tenure. For example, there are several well-respected, innovative, and hard-working teachers at my school who often butt heads with administration. From my vantage point, these teachers tend to have the students’ best interest in mind in these areas of contention. It would be nothing short of a travesty for quality teachers like the ones I am thinking of (a few of whom Mike probably knows, too) could potentially be ousted by an administrator who just doesn’t like them. (I’m sure that this would be the exception, that the new law would probably oust more bad teachers than good ones, but this loophole is what freaks good teachers out.) …And you may say that principals couldn’t oust such teachers unless their students’ performance was low. But you can make that happen by putting them in class of low-level, dropout prevention kids and see how these ordinarily successful teachers’ performances drop. (Mike alluded to this.)

    …Which brings me to my next point: Mike had it totally right when he said that new teachers end up with the Dangerous Minds classes. (You remember my tweets from last year.) Last year I remedial classes. Several students dropped out, a few moved away (and oddly came back before the end of the year), a few were sent to jail mid-year to return with ankle bracelets and new tattoos. Here I was in my first year without even a classroom (I pushed a cart into 5 other teachers’ classrooms all over campus) in a scenario in which many teachers said I was set up for failure. Without getting into specifics, my students’ scores (which we did not get back until July) were dismally low. Is it that I didn’t try? No way. I gave it a legitimate effort. Was it that I lack the gift of teaching? I wouldn’t say so… Come in my honors classes now and you’d think I was a far more competent teacher than last year’s scores would suggest. And yet, if I were to get paid by Rick Scott’s yardstick (which is nebulous at best), I would probably be on food stamps (which Rick Scott would oppose).

    Again, I think you did a good job of constructing an argument for the idea of merit pay. The problems to me are: (a) who is constructing the plan, (b) where the money is going to come from and (c) the bureaucratic cluster-you-know-what that would be involved in coming up with the specifics of this plan (how much will teachers’ base pay be, how much will the incentive be, what if a student drops out, what if you get a student who comes in a week before the test)

    I’ll skip (a) because (though I think it’s valid) is inherently subjective.

    But with (b), the question is: (1) where are we going to come up with the money to create these tests that will evaluate teachers and (2) where are we going to come up with the money for teacher incentive. Rick Scott’s tea party affiliates would poop their pants all the way to Eustis if they saw how much it would cost to create these tests for not only math, reading, and science classes, but PE, Art, Computing for Business classes, Peer Counseling, etc.. Also, in order to have the type of money that would be an effective incentive would cause Scott to have to be far more generous towards teachers than the people he is trying to impress are inclined to approve.

    (c) As you mentioned, Josh, the Scott administration has been all but clear about the specifics of this bill. To initiate this type of whirlwind change involves much more time, effort, attention to detail, regulation, etc. (Though I haven’t talked about the voucher plan, this also falls subject to the same complications.) This kind of goes back to point (a), that is, that I don’t like this plan in part because of who is coming up with it…. it’s ironic to me that the same people who are in support of this plan (which, in all honesty, is pretty much just Rick Scott and the Republicans who voted this in), are the same people who distrust with great vitriol the same things it will take to make this plan effective: regulation, heavy government spending, etc.

    If a Barack Obama or Alex Sink had been behind this plan, I still would be skeptical, but may be open to it with a “dragging my feet” type of attitude, because I ultimately don’t feel threatened by Democratic leaders the way I do by, not just Republicans, but by the tea-party-loving Rick Scott types.

    Again, Josh, I think you did a fine job of addressing the very real problem of crappy teachers and a poor education system, but I don’t think this governor or this bill will be effective in solving that problem.

  3. Mike, your concerns about how to evaluate merit are well-founded. This is obviously a big unknown with the new plan. But here’s the thing: We may not know how to evaluate, but it is not unknowable. The LA Times took a really good crack at it, but got totally shot down by the unions. There are several years of data that are already available to begin creating a model that could be used to evaluate teachers.

    All of the issues that you mention are simply variables in the education equation. How do we create a fair way for teachers to be matched with classes? How do we create a fair way to evaluate teachers whose students show varying interest in learning and demonstrate different aptitudes? These are difficult questions, but they don’t seem particularly tricky in light of the big questions that large firms must constantly answer. “How do we beat Coke?” “When is it right to jump into the tablet PC market?” “How do we monetize Facebook?” “How can we provide meaningful search results with very little input?” If these questions can be answered, so can “How do we accurately assess teacher performance?”

    But we have to give ourselves, as a society, permission to answer that question and stop pretending that education is some sort of ethereal, incomprehensible being. Education is important – really important. But it’s also quantifiable and can be evaluated. We should have a logistics and consulting firm – BCG, UPS, IBM – work with administrators and educators to build a framework for delivering education efficiently, compensating educators fairly and improving the quality of education overall.

    This seems like a no-brainer to me, except for the following: Treating education like a business will likely offend a lot of people. Education is up on its own pedestal in America, so we treat it delicately and do a lot of hand-waving and agonizing over how to treat this hallowed institution. Ultimately, I think this attitude is hurting our education system and is a reason we’re falling behind. Education is special, but it’s also a system and could benefit from being evaluated as a business whose product is education.

    You’ll note I’m not getting into specifics on how to evaluate merit and I’m not responding to your proposed alternative. But that’s because I would rather leave it to the professionals, and there are many professionals who could solve this problem for us if we would stop letting politicians and unions try to work it out and enlist one of the firms I mentioned above. I don’t know anything about evaluating and incentivizing teacher performance, but I don’t need to know anything about that because there are pros who live and breathe this kind of stuff.

  4. I like what Kent had to say on this. Ironically, in my opinion, merit-based pay will cause a larger government and more spending. I have no idea what a tea-party person is, but I self-identify as a paleo-conservative with quasi libertarian tendencies. More regulation and larger government are out of the question for me.

    The libertarian part of me wonders if we just allowed people to vote with their feet which schools their children attended and capped it at each school’s relative capacity – that this form of competition would perhaps create both better schools and better students. For example, think about the competition that drives high school students to excel as students and as humans in order to go to the free market of college education. The free market nature of Universities creates competition for both students and teachers/professors. Regulated monopolies hurt incentive and competition. One of my favorite scenes in the movie “Office Space” is as follows:

    Peter Gibbons: I have eight different bosses right now.
    Bob Slydell: I beg your pardon?
    Peter Gibbons: Eight bosses.
    Bob Slydell: Eight?
    Peter Gibbons: Eight, Bob. So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That’s my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.

    In the current system, you really only have to work hard enough to not get fired… and that isn’t very hard. In our litigious society, school administration are deathly afraid of firing someone and getting hit with a lawsuit (discrimination… etc). You have to amass years long paper trails of crappy education or you have to wait until the teacher says something really politically incorrect or hits a student. Even at that, their union rep will be right there with them to challenge all accusations and make the whole firing process prohibitively painful for a school administrator. Basically, in public education, you better do all your vetting of a teacher up front before they are on a non-yearly contract.

    Also, people change slowly. An unmotivated and underperforming kid has a lot of inertia in their lack of motivation and their poor performance. This is the principle problem with Bush’s doctrine of “No Child Left Behind.” Sadly, in my view, “No Child Left Behind” is likely every child left behind. You cannot educate to the least common denominator. If/when you do the results are devastating. You will lose kids in the education process. This speaks to the need in our country for production. The Germans provide an excellent model here where students are tracked on a threefold path that roughly translates to the skill/trade track, undergraduate track, and post-graduate track. Everyone comes out with either a good education or a marketable/employable skill/trade. Germany still produces and exports goods and they have consistently outperformed other EU nations and carried the EU on their backs. Part of our problem is the American Dream. We still think that every kid can reach for the stars and be a millionaire with little effort and little pain. We still think that every kid can go to college and be a doctor or lawyer and live the American Dream. While it may be on some scale logically possible, it is entirely unrealistic to build systems and structures based on the few kids that over-perform their circumstances to rise above. We need value-added production again in the U.S. and we need a working class again. Our working class has dwindled, production/labor exported, and that working class has by and large become the entitlement class.

    58% of the U.S. budget (3.8 trillion dollars) this year will be on entitlement spending.

    33% of all income in the U.S. will come from entitlement spending. This figure is far above historical figures for the U.S. (typically this figure is 16-20%) and is even above several nations that self-identify as being socialist.

    The education problem does not rest in a vacuum. It is interrelated with all our other woes.

    I should also through some political 2 cents in here too. I think it is odd when citizens vote for politicians who deliver what they promised. Guys like Rick Scott and Scott Walker were elected on the merit of their business savvy to slice and dice budgets, make tough calls and trim fat. Barack Obama promised healthcare reform, expanded government, and monetarist Keynesian economic policy. Why are people upset when these folks make good on their platform? (I am not trying to pick on you here Kent, I have no idea whom you voted for or what your political presuppositions are – don’t read this paragraph in light of your comments – this is more of a hobby horse of mine)


  5. Kent, sticking with tenure to avoid having administrators spite-fire good teachers for disagreements seems like a really narrow use-case for abusing merit-based pay (and lack of tenure). I suppose it might happen but I’d like to see statistics or estimates of how often it might happen so we can determine whether it’s a real threat to the system. My guess is this would happen very, very rarely and so it should be a very minor consideration in the system. This could be mitigated by making sure that the administrators have incentives that would discourage them from firing their good teachers. If administrator pay is also based on teacher performance, then they would have to know that firing a very good teacher just because of a disagreement would be cutting off their nose to spite their face.

    For your a, b, c:

    a) Who is constructing the plan? In my comment to Mike I covered this. The short answer is business analysis and consulting firms who specialize in creating exactly this kind of methodology.

    b) 1) Where’s the money come from? I think this is much cheaper than you anticipate. My guess is that, relative to the overall education budget for Florida, the cost of developing a methodology and metrics for evaluating teachers’ merit would be a trivial cost. The infrastructure and bureaucracy for administering the process are probably mostly in place, and most of this would likely be handled electronically (possibly by an objective third-party company) or by current school administrators using web-based tools (I have a lot of experience with tools that do exactly this, and they are increasingly cheap and easy to set up).
    b) 2) The teacher incentive money could theoretically come out of the same pot it comes out of for paying annual increases now. The whole argument that we should switch to merit-based pay implicitly assumes that this would be useful because tenure-based pay increases are putting that money in the wrong place (viz, a lot of teachers getting pay raises just because of their tenure probably shouldn’t be if we look at their actual merit). So the incentives for good teachers would be reallocated money from the “tenure-increases” money currently being spent for standard, lock-step pay increases based on tenure.

    c) You don’t trust the Scott administration. This might be the most difficult point for me to respond to because I’m more focused on economics than politics, and this point is entirely political. But I would say that you should not blindly discard a Scott plan for the same reasons you should not blindly accept an Obama plan. And you already mentioned that you agreed with the HSR decision, so I know you’re not just blindly accepting Obama’s plans. If it’s a good plan, it’s a good plan.

    As far as all the bureaucracy, time, effort, regulation you mention for both the switch to merit-based pay and vouchers, I don’t think this is really a discussion about creating NEW bureaucracy so much as refocusing the current bureaucracy on a better methodology. The bureaucracy that’s currently in place is extremely ineffective, and I see these changes as potentially making that same bureaucracy more focused and effective.

    You’ve mentioned a couple times that it’s “just Rick Scott and the republicans who voted this in”. The first two years of the Obama presidency could be described as “just Obama and the Democrats” voting things in, but I don’t recall you being upset about that. So the issue doesn’t seem to be the slant or partisanship, but that it’s not YOUR slant or partisanship.

  6. Mike-
    I wish I could go back to the time when I didn’t know what a tea-party person was either. If you don’t know, though, I can explain: They’re caricatures of fiscal conservatives (some of whom I strongly believe use their economic/political convictions to cover up latent racism***) and bring to the table a palpable vitriol for public sector employees. (Granted, I understand the urgency to cut spending, we’re in an economic pickle to say the least, but those who are at the helm of this movement seem to be more interested in making Washington an atmosphere in tune with the Jerry Springer show than they are in making the type of political/economic concessions that would actually help our economy…. granted, my Democrats aren’t really conceding, either… so, in all honesty it’s frustrating all the way around.)

    Acknowledging the existence and identity of the tea party is important in understanding the complexities of all budget-cut issues issue as (a) they’re really the ones in charge of this debate across the country and (b) Rick Scott is going out of his way to cater to them. …All of Rick Scott’s policies/rhetoric is aimed at those supporting the narrative of extremely small government. He stopped using the state-funded private jet designated for the governor to save the state’s money [I’m pretty sure he’s using a private jet he already owned himself.] Earlier this year, when Scott delivered his budget, he didn’t do so in Tallahassee like every other Florida governor ever, he did it in Eustis, a Tea Party stronghold.

    To comment on your point about the adversarial reaction of public officials to doing what they said they were going to do, it’s really simple in my case: I didn’t vote for Rick Scott; I didn’t want him to do what he is doing now.

    ***My point about latent racism in the Tea Party may be a bit tangential, but it’s important… we see the manifestation of latent Tea Party racism in the group’s effort to desegregate schools in North Carolina. (See:

    It would be unfair of me to imply that all Tea Party members are inherently racist (Clarence Thomas’ wife [a white woman] is a major Tea Party organizer, and obviously she isn’t racist), but this racism is a real problem that the Tea Party leaders have not sufficiently addressed.

    …Mike, I hope that this explanation of the Tea Party doesn’t come off as (a) patronizing to you [you may have been exaggerating when you said you didn’t know what a Tea Party person was] or (b) a total rant. I don’t like the Tea Party people in part because I’m so diametrically opposed to them politically, economically and socially. While I do understand that the federal and state governments need to tighten their belts, as a state worker I hold strong reservations about how apparently eager these people are so eager to cut my salary, benefits, future pension, etc. I wish that all conservatives (or paleo-conservative quasi-libertarians) could be as diligent as you have been in your manner of thinking about our country’s economic crisis and the way that we should address teacher pay structures in light of, though not in knee-jerk reaction to, that problem.

    I think you’re right about my fear of good teachers being ‘spite-fired’ as an overreaction, and you bring up a good point about administrators not ‘spite-firing’ good teachers because their pay is, in part based on those teachers’ performances.

    I do think that you’re really underestimating how much it would cost to implement this plan. (And it sounds like Mike would agree.) If you’re correct and this plan wouldn’t cost a lot more money to implement than Rick Scott and company were collectively bargaining for (pun intended), then my teacher union emails were way off. (My teacher’s union emails said that the test would costs billions of dollars to come up with… though I’m smart enough to take those emails with a big grain of salt.)

    With regard to the incentive money coming from a pot of money that annual increases come from now, I’m pretty sure that these funds don’t come from the state level, they come county-by-county depending on local property tax dollars (which have been in an historic decline). …You should also know that Seminole County has not given out their promised experience-based raises in four consecutive years, it’s hard to see the merit pay working out any differently.

    …Also, the bill as it is will not go into effect for currently employed teachers, but for teachers in Florida who have not yet been hired. Current teachers are grandfathered in to the old tenure system. So the current bad teachers we know and don’t love will not see this as a threat, it can, however, promise to weed out future crappy teachers. But will it deter potential new/young teachers who feel such a pay scale will be too volatile to try out. (A lot of that depends on what the base pay for first-year teachers will be without the merit pay, which I assume will be decided county-by-county.)

    …To address your last point, Josh, you’re right: I am politically biased. Though I would disagree that the first two years of the Obama administration has been “just the Obama and the Democrats”, there is a reason I vote the way I vote and why I (kind of) trust the politicians I (kind of) trust. I didn’t decide to start voting Democrat with the flip of a coin, there’s a long history of Democratic leaders being more willing to support teachers and Republican leaders being more willing to cut funding to education.

    Though you could rightfully contend that this current pattern of teacher-Democrat relations hasn’t brought about an effective school system in America, the Republican party will have to prove itself trustworthy before it can expect teachers to be on board with their ideas on education reform.

  7. Kent,

    I’d be interested see you interact with my ideas about translating some of the German model (hauptschule, realschule, and arbitur) to the U.S. and the idea of applying the free market nature of Universities (even public ones) at least to secondary education.

    [As I write this, I suppose in theory the free market nature of the Universities already exists at the secondary and primary levels with private schools.]

    I don’t mean to hijack this thread… but I kind of wonder why we think it is the government’s responsibility to educate. The idea of public education is actually a quite young idea. It dates back to Jean -Jaques Rousseau. As a subset of both his anthropology and political philosophy he posited that the state was the wisest entity of society in that it was the sum total of all of the knowledge of its citizens. Some have criticized his fathering and neglect of over a dozen bastard children as a personal undercurrent to the employment of the state to educate (historian Paul Johnson in his book Intellectuals). I think in our society we just assume that it is the state’s responsibility to educate when for all but the last 150 years or so, it really hasn’t been. Rousseau was profoundly impactful on the godfather of American education John Dewey. In my opinion, a lot of what ails our education system can be traced back to Dewey. At one point, over 2/3rds of all administrators were under his tutelage. Dewey’s educational philosophy comes from a combination of Rousseau’s political and education ideas combined with the pragmatism of William James. Without delving too deep in all of these different ideas, models, and paradigms… I am a bit disturbed by the worldviews from which these ideas, models, and paradigms germinated and grew.

    I suppose in some ways the market has voted a bit with its feet for many of the public schools to fail. If the wealthy and bright vote with their dollars to send their sharp children to the best private school, that school district was just deprived of both a bright student and the tax dollars for their head count.

    Lake Brantley High School made a ton of money off me. I passed 17 AP exams, earning that school $600 per exam. If I had been home schooled or private schooled they would have lost out on both my head count and those AP bonus dollars. Further, I was not on free/reduced lunch, so I was less of a drain on taxpayer dollars.

    I see problems on both sides of the aisle when it comes to education reform. From the left, more money and more regulation don’t seem wise. From the right, I think their is a lack of understanding of what teachers face on a day to day basis. No Child Left Behind was a pipe dream from the outset and a stupid doctrine.

    To quote Cool Hand Luke:
    “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach, so you get what we had here last week which is the way he wants it.”

    Point blank, some students just don’t want to learn. Some are beyond the point of no return, others perhaps not, but the amount of energy to expend in trying to reach those disenfranchised is quite difficult on a ROI basis.

  8. It seems a lot like the Tea Party is being used as a straw man here, and I don’t think that helps move this discussion forward at all. “They’re caricatures of fiscal conservatives…” who are trying to “…cover up latent racism.” “…they’re really the ones in charge of this debate across the country and Rick Scott’s going out of his way to cater to them.” So, to summarize: The Tea Party is a racist joke that is pulling all the strings of Rick Scott’s administration, so we can discount anything done by his administration.

    This is a classic straw man argument:

    It’s a little offensive to me because it marginalizes my personal opinion and independent thoughts, and is also just false. I don’t know a thing about the Tea Party, I don’t affiliate with it, and my 2,000-word essay on education reform stands totally independent of the Tea Party or Rick Scott. So I think I’ve already shown that the discussion is worth having. Propping up the Tea Party as a foil to swat down in lieu of actually discussing reform is a cop-out and it’s not productive. Friedman was writing about education reform and vouchers long before the Tea Party existed – how was the Tea Party controlling this debate in the 1970s?

    While I’m sure bureaucrats could find a way to spend billions of dollars trying to figure out how to evaluate teachers, I can’t imagine that it would actually cost that much if done by a professional firm. I would expect it to be millions, at most, and I’d think we were wasting money if it went into tens of millions. I think the unions are using these giant cost numbers as a smokescreen. See page 7 of this document* –

    – for a summary of Florida’s Public Education Spending in 2003-2004. Total spending was $17.6 billion. So we’re saying it’ll cost $2+ billion to figure out how to evaluate teachers? A minimum of more than 10% of all expenditures for 2003-2004? The word “billion” in this context is totally absurd. *I don’t know anything about this document or its author. I do know I had a really, really hard time finding information on Florida’s education expenditures, though.

    I mentioned in my original essay that the economy is a factor in determining teacher pay. It sounds like I may have overestimated the unions’ ability to mitigate that factor since Seminole county hasn’t given experience-based raises in four years. This is how it should be, though. Over the past three years, my pay has DECREASED by 7% and I was unemployed for five months. Unemployment nationally has risen to almost 10%. The economy has been tough on everyone, and it would be weird if teachers weren’t part of “everyone”. Property taxes are also in decline because of the economy. It may be frustrating for teachers to miss out on experience-based raises, but it makes sense.

    Mike, the discussion about the need for public education is a valuable one and it should be had. I don’t really know how it will get started, though. There are too many people and entities who exist as a result of public education, and who will defend it to protect their own self interests. We’re having a very difficult conversation about how to simply change the way we evaluate and pay teachers – I can’t imagine how convoluted a conversation about supplanting public education would be.

    I think the root cause of this problem is that we’re forgetting the purpose of education. Education is supposed to educate… STUDENTS. It doesn’t exist for teachers, to employ them, to provide a comfortable living for them, or to take care of their retirement. Teachers exist to educate students. Students don’t exist to provide jobs for teachers. That’s why my opinions all focus on how we are evaluating the quality of education students are getting, and allowing students to choose their educators.