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Michelle testifies before Florida Legislature

February 10, 2011

Yesterday in Tallahassee, Michelle Rhee testified before Florida State's Senate Prekindergarten-12 Education Committee and later in the day, its House Kindergarten-12 Competitiveness Subcommittee. She spoke about how to support and keep the best teachers in the system, as well as a proposed performance pay structure.

The Senate's Pre-K-12 Education Committee is scheduled to vote later today on a bill (SB 736) that would elevate the status of teachers by identifying and retaining the most effective teachers.  

Here are a few excerpts from Michelle's testimony:

Research tells us that teachers are the most powerful school influence on student achievement in our classrooms, and most of us would be hard pressed to imagine where our own lives would be without their influence. We value the profession by holding them to high expectations for what they can achieve with their students, rewarding them for their success, and surrounding them with colleagues of equal striving and excellence.

There are a number of reforms states can implement to value the profession of teaching by focusing on their impact on student achievement, and I am happy to share a few that I believe are most important.

I strongly support performance pay to reward the most effective educators. However, in most professions employees expect these rewards to come with high accountability for their work. Legislators in Florida could choose to bring teaching in alignment to other professions in a number of ways, such as having teachers agree to higher accountability in accepting performance pay, possibly through revisions in tenure.

I was encouraged to learn about Florida’s recent efforts to eliminate tenure. It just does not put students first, and with federal due process laws in place, tenure is no longer necessary to sufficiently protect teachers from arbitrary dismissal. Whether you are able to eliminate it or otherwise redefine it to separate tenure from personnel decisions, Florida can be one of the first to disempower this outdated practice that has no correlation to improved student achievement.

Of course, having tenure does not mean a teacher is ineffective. However, most teachers are granted tenure within just a few years. Once a teacher has tenure, in most states that teacher essentiahas a job for life regardless of performance, making the practice of tenure a barrier to separating teachers are ineffective and unable to improve.

As much as we must acknowledge and reward effective educators, more parents and educators agree than disagree that it should be virtually impossible for an ineffective educator to remain in the classroom. It is incredibly frustrating to most teachers that it is not. Our policies must reflect that even after just one year, an ineffective educator can set a child behind for years to come. This also puts a greater burden on subsequent teachers who are working their tails off to catch that student up while advancing their other students to higher levels. As Stanford economist Eric Hanushek’s study on teacher quality indicates, even if we replace just the bottom six percent of teachers with average teachers, we will see dramatic results in student achievement. Tenure makes it very difficult to do even this.

One teacher wrote to me this echoing this sentiment:

“Florida has a state full of frustrated teachers, bogged down by a thick layer of unnecessary and wasteful bureaucratic oversight. Florida teachers need the freedom to judge what is best for their students [and] professional development that will best help them teach our standards to their specific student populations.”

Teachers believe so much in what they do that they are hardest on themselves, and we have to respect that when we talk about accountability. We have many problems to fix in public education, and focusing on teacher quality does not mean we believe teachers are the problem in public education. Far from it. Rather, they are our most powerful part of the solution.

Click here to download Michelle's full House testimony.

Click here to download Michelle's full Senate testimony.