A Victory

Respecting Teachers in the Sunshine State
A new law largely dismantles Florida’s unfair, tenure-based system in the public schools.
by Marcus A. Winters @ City Journal

Last week, the Florida state legislature passed sweeping changes to the state’s law for employing public school teachers. The new regime effectively eliminates tenure for newly hired employees; requires districts to evaluate teachers based in part on student performance on standardized tests; abolishes the rule that seniority determines teacher layoffs; and lets districts establish performance-based salary schedules. Former governor Charlie Christ vetoed a similar bill last year, which is one reason that he’s not a public official today (he lost in a bid for the Senate last year). Newly elected governor Rick Scott is expected to sign the bill into law soon.

Not surprisingly, public school teachers in Florida have vigorously opposed the changes, as have teachers’ unions in other states considering similar, if less comprehensive, reforms.

In short: the current system makes no meaningful attempt to distinguish between great and not-so-great teachers. Its underlying premise is that anyone who becomes a teacher is doing just fine.

But everyone knows that not all public school teachers are good at what they do. Empirical research finds wide variation in teacher quality, and further, that the difference between being assigned to a high-quality or to a subpar teacher means as much as a grade level’s worth of achievement for a student over the course of a school year. Any education system that ignores the obvious variation in teacher quality devalues teaching. Treating teachers as if they’re all identical, as the union prefers, is ultimately no different from treating them as if they don’t matter.


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