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What Leadership on Education Reform Can Do for Kids: Florida as a Model for Success

April 07, 2011 posted by Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush was the governor of Florida from 1999 to 2006. His aggressive reforms in education set a tone of urgency to improve Florida's public schools, acting as the foundation that today's legislators built upon with last week's legislation. He remains active in education reform serving as chairman of the Foundation for Florida's Future.

Florida's new law to modernize the teaching profession – the Student Success Act – is based on common sense reforms, backed by both research and bold leadership. Great leaders result in successful students in our public schools. Anyone who has had a great teacher can attest to that, but research confirms what we already knew intuitively. Students with great teachers learn more than students with ineffective teachers – up to four times more!

Given that, Florida legislators this year crafted a bill that maximizes learning by rewarding those who are integral to the process — and everyone benefits. Students will gain the knowledge and skills to succeed in school and life beyond the classroom. Great teachers will finally gain the financial recognition for their incredible efforts to ensure every student learns a year's worth of knowledge in a year's time. Florida's taxpayers will get a better return on their investment in education and an educated workforce will attract investment that produces high wage jobs and ultimately prosperity. It is a win-win-win.

The new law requires an objective measure of teacher effectiveness, based on state standardized tests that measure student learning. Fifty percent of a teacher’s evaluation will be based on whether students' have more knowledge and skills at the end of the school year than they did at the beginning. These evaluations combine a healthy balance of student learning data and valuable peer feedback to aid all teachers as they develop professionally.

Additionally, under this bill the policy of "last-in, first-out" is ended. No longer will schools faced with staff reductions be forced to disregard effectiveness in the classroom and give pink slips to new teachers first. In the future, teacher retention will be based on effectiveness in the classroom, not simply years served. Florida can now ensure the best teachers remain in the classroom.

For the first time in Florida, teachers will be evaluated, paid, and retained based on how much their students learn. Under the law, Florida’s most effective teachers will be rewarded for their excellence in teaching. Rather than ignoring a teacher’s effectiveness, the salary schedule will now reward it. Teachers who are rated as effective and highly effective will earn raises that build their base salaries.

Teachers accepting the most challenging positions in low-income or failing schools will earn more. So will teachers of high-demand subjects, like math and science. Our greatest, most fundamental challenge is to prepare all students for success in college and the workplace. All children, regardless of race, family background or language barriers, can learn.

By establishing meaningful annual teacher evaluations, an innovative pay structure and modernized contracting, Florida is now in a prime position to attract and retain the best educators. A skilled workforce of educators will provide the high quality education our students need to succeed.

The Student Success Act is a major victory for Governor Rick Scott in his first year in office and culminates more than two years of work by dedicated and bold leaders in the Florida Legislature. Their perseverance in the face of fierce opposition is a model of principled leadership for lawmakers around the nation.

Many states across the nation are considering similar proposals to modernize the teaching profession. Every state is faced with a choice: continue the status quo or join Florida in creating a dynamic and highly-skilled workforce of educators.

Topics: Measuring Student Achievement, Teacher Quality, Rewarding Effective Teaching, Teacher Evaluation