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Playing to the Cheap Seats in Florida and at ED...

By Rick Hess — April 16, 2010 2 min read
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I almost titled this one “Red Letter Day for the NEA,” which would have been just as apropos. This week both Florida Governor Charlie Crist and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan put on undistinguished displays of craven opportunism when, at telling moments, they wilted and opted to preen for easy applause from the cheap seats.

The result: Two big wins for the NEA and two substantial setbacks for those who believe we need to rethink teacher tenure, evaluation, and pay, or those who believe K-12 schooling needs to stop beggaring bucks from the kids we’re supposed to serve.

The big news yesterday was Florida Governor Charlie Crist’s decision to veto Senate Bill 6. While Sherman Dorn and other commenters on my Tuesday post fairly flagged reasonable concerns about the test-fueled rigidity of this ambitious but unfortunately heavy-handed legislation, I thought the bill a crucial opportunity to start reimagining teacher tenure and pay. The right move was for Crist to sign it, with the understanding that the legislature would take the next year or two to address some of the concerns about the single-minded focus on test results, reliability, validity, sample size, and test construction.

Unfortunately, in the face of bitter pressure from the Florida Education Association, Crist folded like a cheap suit. After a week of finger-in-the-wind waffling, he gave the NEA cause for another happy dance. NEA President Dennis Van Roekel crowed, “I commend Governor Crist for vetoing SB 6 and ensuring that this harmful and disruptive legislation did not become law...We look forward to working with him in our mission to ensure great public schools for every student.” I need someone to explain to me how industrial-era wage models and lifelong sinecure for mediocre teachers are good for either educators or kids, and would dearly love to see Van Roekel’s preferred alternative legislation. Sigh...

This outcome will likely aggravate concerns about the mixed message the U.S. Department of Education sent when it touted the importance of union buy-in with the round one Race to the Top winners. It means that many eyes will turn to Colorado, where all-star freshman State Senator Mike Johnston’s bill now becomes the nation’s best shot for a legislative breakthrough on teacher quality this year. Meanwhile, smart money figures this signals that Crist, getting hammered by conservative challenger Marco Rubio in the GOP Senate primary, has thrown in the towel and will likely run as an independent in the fall. And, there’s speculation that Crist’s move might prompt former Governor Jeb Bush, who’s stayed neutral in the primary thus far, to publicly embrace Rubio. Final thought on Florida: as my pal Mike Petrilli has discussed, it’s a fascinating turn of events when Florida’s Democratic legislators can split on a voucher bill and then unanimously oppose a bill on teacher pay and tenure.

In the interest of space, let’s tackle ED later today.

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The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.