April 15, 2010

Misinterpretations of Crist's veto, and where to go next

I suspect that a number of observers will spin Charlie Crist's veto of Senate Bill 6 to the point where the representation doesn't come close to reality. By a quirk of timing, I was in Tallahassee today talking with legislators and staffers in the morning. In other words, I was at Ground Veto. Yep: I came, and Charlie caved. No, that would be a post hoc fallacy, even if his veto message used the same word (overreach) that I used to describe the bill. Wait: he used a hyphen (over-reach). Or maybe I don't own the term, and the idea had been floating around the state for the last few weeks, including in newspaper editorials, and it was one of the options available for a governor vetoing the bill. So I can't claim credit as being the person who killed the bill, though I was one of thousands who contacted Crist in the last week.

In the meantime people are spinning this as the Event that Destroyed Florida Education, or the Victory of the Union(s), or the Resuscitation of Crist's Senate Campaign. Maybe one or all of those labels is true, but I doubt more than one is. (To calculate the probabilities, we need to use quantum spin dynamics, a new field that melds political science with nuclear physics.) Whoa, friends, and maybe you should take a step back. Here are the reasons why Crist vetoed the bill:

  • Thousands of Floridians from both major parties contacted Crist to urge a veto.
  • His sisters who teach probably told him they hated the bill.
  • The Republican legislators and former Governor Bush who were pushing the bill had largely sided against him in the primary against Marco Rubio.
  • Crist prefers consensual processes.

Crist's veto kills this particular bill, in this form. It does not signal a victory of teachers unions over performance pay, and it does not mean that the Florida Education Association will oppose either performance pay or alternations in the process leading to due-process protections. In fact, if you're on Facebook and "friends" with Andy Ford (he's a nice guy, and the ironic quotation marks are about FB, not Andy), go ahead and see what anti-SB 6 groups he joined... and which he didn't. If you're a reporter, go ahead and talk with Commissioner Smith and ask him to repeat the first thing Ford said at discussions about Race to the Top.

Where do we go from here? It depends largely on whether the FEA executive cabinet will support Andy Ford in negotiating with other stakeholders and politicians, on what the administrator and school board associations push for, and whether the business groups or the Republican sponsors of SB 6 are willing to negotiate in good faith. Here are some obvious questions that don't correspond with any hypothesized litmus tests:

  • Can the key parties agree that a performance-pay framework can exist?
  • Can the parties agree that a performance-pay framework cannot force budget cuts to current operations?
  • Can the parties agree on a performance-pay framework that addresses student outcomes on a "pass a smell test" basis but does not depend on blue-sky assumptions about assessment for students with disabilities, English language learners, and every subject in the curriculum?
  • Can the parties agree that teachers should not automatically receive continuing-contract status (with due process protections) without a more serious evaluation than usually exists (i.e., by default after three years regardless of the scope of evaluation)?
  • Can the parties agree on the scope of personnel contracts that can be negotiated at the local level?
  • Can the parties agree on what due process protections are workable for experienced teachers who have demonstrated effectiveness in the classroom?
  • Can the parties agree on what must be part of teacher evaluations and the range of options for those evaluations?
  • Can the parties agree on what constitutes a proof of concept for their pet ideas?

Disclosure: I am a 14-year member of the United Faculty of Florida and thus a member of FEA. I am firmly convinced that if you are a Florida teacher and want a future with no performance pay, and if you somehow persuade your local and state leaders to agree with you, you will be at the policy table... as the meal. I am equally convinced that if you are Jeb Bush or one of his close friends and want a future with no job security for teachers beyond a single year, you will succeed... in turning a great number of people who would otherwise agree with you into political enemies. And if you think that there can either be a future in state education policy with no high-stakes tests or a future in state education policy where there is a quantified high-stakes test for every subject and grade level... well, I'm not legally licensed to give my opinion of that response.

In other words, many of the questions above have yes as an answer, but only if people who would otherwise hold extreme positions are willing to work on problems rather than positions.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein on April 15, 2010 8:54 PM |