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Sarasota Thursday, Apr. 15, 2010 7 years ago

Our View


Imagine if every job in America granted tenure. And imagine if every employer used the same system Florida’s public education has used heretofore dealing with subpar teachers.

Heaven help us.

America’s economy would be worse than France’s. Worse than Italy’s. Worse than Greece’s. Our competitiveness, innovation and quality would plummet. Unemployment among young adults would soar.
We would not be a superpower.

This is not hyperbole. Each of those countries’ economies cited above is held captive by strong, socialized unions whose missions first and foremost are to protect their members’ jobs. Their focus is not on the customer.

All of the above is why Florida Senate Bill 6 — the anti-teacher tenure, pay-for-performance education bill — is good in concept and deserves Gov. Charlie Crist’s signature to make it law.

The bill has its problems, some of which we’ll cite. But its attributes outweigh its faults.

To begin with, it’s useful to go back to the beginning — the earliest relation between employer and employee in a free market. In that arena, employer and employee have total freedom to agree on what the employer is willing to pay for a task to be completed and what the employee is willing to accept to perform that task. In a free world, that is their business; no one else’s.

What’s more, in that free-market arena, the employer and employee reach a mutual agreement on expectations — how the job should be performed and the results to be expected. If they aren’t met, the two likely will part ways. Conversely, in most of these arrangements, employers also learn that if they offer incentives to employees for exceeding expectations, they’ll get better results. Likewise, the employee will receive higher rewards. Everybody wins — the employer, the employee and most important, the customer.

This is the way it should be in education. Delivering educational instruction to students is no different than, say, a safety-training company delivering instructions to a team of employees in a manufacturing plant. If the instructor is competent and effectively can motivate and instruct the employees to avoid accidents and mistakes, everybody wins. The employer cuts his cost of production because of fewer errors and is more efficient and profitable; employees are more efficient and are more secure; customers receive better products; and the training company builds a loyal customer base that attracts more customers. Market based, incentives and measurements.

This is the thinking in Senate Bill 6.

Another concept in it is the oft-used bromide: You can’t manage what you can’t measure; it’s accountability.

So the Legislature (the employer) is now saying to the teachers (the employees): It doesn’t matter as much as it did whether you have 10 master’s degrees and 20 years of teaching experience. What matters are results. Are you, the teacher, motivating your customers to learn and are you effective at boosting their knowledge? And this will be measured each year on the basis of your students’ scores on standardized tests. If they show consistent, year-over-year improvement, Florida teachers will keep their jobs and be rewarded with higher compensation.

Welcome to the real world. This is the way it works in the private sector. And the Legislature — in spite of the protests from the teachers, teacher unions, Nanny-statists and public employees — should be heralded. Unlike most efforts in state and national capitals, this is a reform that goes farther and wider than typical government in the margins.

To be sure, there are flaws in this reform. Like all laws, it will have its not-yet-seen, unintended consequences. Two are likely to be short-term teacher turnover and shortages. Accountability scares people.

Others will be increased bureaucracy in Tallahassee and increased tensions between the state education infrastructure/Legislature versus school board/district administrators.

Senate Bill 6 adds to the record-keeping required in school districts and the reporting to the Florida Department of Education (see box). This will cost more money. No one knows how much.

But the biggest flaw is in the whole structure of Florida’s public education system.

It makes sense that he who has the money calls the shots. But when you have 140 lawmaker/politicians in Tallahassee setting policy in Florida’s public schools in the minute detail that they do, the likelihood for mischief, disasters, bureaucracy and waste are unavoidable.

What’s worse, we have a system in which accountability is grossly misplaced. While the Tallahassee politicians set all of the rules and procedures and control the money, voters believe their elected school boards are responsible for the way schools are operated and taxes imposed. This works great for the lawmakers. They can blame school boards and district administrators for the failings in Florida’s school districts — even though the laws they passed and the tax rates they set are at the root of education evils.

Government is best closest to the people. Managing the education of our children from Tallahassee and Washington is a guarantee that taxpayers will get exactly what we’ve received — mediocrity at best, and that’s being generous.

Pay-for-performance and accountability are great market-based ideals. Let’s hope wishy-washy Charlie Crist let’s these private-sector concepts into our schools.

+ How about silent majority?
So let’s get this straight. Susan Chapman’s probing Police Advisory Panel, a creation of the City Commission, has now heard from three segments of Sarasota — Newtown/blacks, Park East/Hispanics and the homeless.

The way the Census figures it, African-American/blacks make up 12% of the city’s population; Hispanics make up 15%; and the homeless in Sarasota and Manatee in 2009 (according to the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness) numbered 4,008, which would be nearly 8% of the city’s population. It’s probably closer to 5%.

Altogether, these three groups represent 32% to 35% of the city’s population.

Which means the Police Advisory Panel hasn’t heard a peep or sought to hear a word from the overwhelming silent majority — 65% of the city’s population and the largest taxpaying segment of the city.

Guess they don’t count.

We said months and months ago, when the Police Advisory Panel was formed, that it would be a colossal waste of time. Nothing to date gives any indication it will be anything but that.

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