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Monday, December 13, 2010

Rick Scott and his teacher less education team

From the Orlando Sentinels editorial page

There's a reason why the state Legislature's teacher merit-pay bill wasn't on the now veto-proof Legislature's to-do list when it was busily overriding Gov. Charlie Crist right and left a few weeks ago.

Senate Bill 6 had become poison, a result of miscalculations by the Legislature and the measure's champion, state Sen. John Thrasher.

Not least among those mistakes was leaving public school teachers largely out of the loop, especially when the bill was in its formative stages. The backlash took many of the bill's supporters — including this editorial board — by surprise.

If teachers felt snubbed then, they might want to avert their gaze from the list of Rick Scott's appointees to his education transition team. The governor-elect has made no secret that he wants to retool the public school system, though, as with many of his other priorities, he's been stingy with details.

His transition team, however, says a lot. At least a half-dozen of the 21 appointees come from the world of alternative education, like charter schools.

There's a K-12 superintendent and a Florida Virtual Schools history teacher, but the teachers responsible for educating Florida's 2.6 million classroom students weren't invited to the party.

Mr. Scott did, however, find room for a management consultant from a firm "specializing in establishing strategic direction and bridging the gaps between planning and execution." Third-graders throughout Florida can breathe a sign of relief.

Demonstrating an appreciation for the allure of star power, Mr. Scott also brought along Michelle Rhee, the goddess of education reform and former head of Washington, D.C., schools. Ms. Rhee has some good ideas and a willingness to shake up the status quo, but we question whether she'll have much time for Florida now that she's launching a nonprofit reform group with a fundraising goal of $1 billion. The fish she plans to fry are much bigger than Florida.

It's understandable why Mr. Scott would want new voices with new ideas to change the way Florida educates children.

It's also understandable why Mr. Scott wouldn't want to include representatives of Florida's teachers unions, whose interest in reform is grudging even on a good day.

His mistake would be failing to invite the state's 165,000 public school teachers to the table. If reforms like merit pay and loss of tenure take hold, they'll be the ones expected to implement change and live with the consequences. They're also the ones who understand — a lot better than consultants with a knack for business-world clich├ęs — what goes on inside Florida's classrooms.

Surely there's a sharp, reform-minded public school teacher out there who would fit into Mr. Scott's team, someone who would signal teachers that Mr. Scott's plans aren't a rerun of Senate Bill 6.

We sense, however, that neither Mr. Scott nor Mr. Thrasher is grasping this. Mr. Scott last week declared his support for school vouchers, which he calls "education savings accounts." By either name, they've been ruled unconstitutional in Florida. And Mr. Thrasher sounded more combative than collaborative at a recent conference in Washington, warning he would "run over" unions that get in his way.

Mr. Scott and Mr. Thrasher are brimming with confidence in their ability to flatten just about any constituency, if that's what they call governing.
That kind of steamroller, short-term strategy won't yield long-term gains. Just ask the Democrats in Congress. Reformers need Florida's public educators as partners, not enemies.

That's the lesson to learn from last session's merit-pay mistakes.,0,7746944.story

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