Florida Governor Crist’s veto

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Apr 23, 2010

I was in Tallahassee, Florida’s capital, last week on the day that Governor Charlie Crist vetoed what is known somewhat famously—or infamously—as Senate Bill 6. The controversial bill would have instituted a system of performance pay for teachers and changed and loosened up the traditional tenure system.

Speculation abounded around the Capitol building as Crist vetoed the bill about his motivations for doing so. Most attributed political calculations to his decision whereas a minority believed that although Crist had historically said he would support such a measure, because of the way this bill had emerged and become so contentious or because of its particulars, he made a judgment on the merits that this was not the best way forward to achieve education reform for students.

As we’ve written in Disrupting Class in Chapter 8, when there is little agreement about how the world works or on what the goals are for schools, performance pay and financial incentives actually have very little effect in creating change; instead only using power tools—like the ability to hire and fire, promote, issue fiats, and the like—will work. It is therefore unlikely that the bill’s changes in performance pay would have had its intended effect. The provisions that would have given leaders more power to hire and fire teachers based on performance, however, would have been quite helpful in moving the ball forward so vetoing this bill is a lost opportunity.

Although Crist’s veto likely ends Florida’s chances I’d imagine at receiving Race to the Top money in the second round, Floridians and school reformers should not despair completely—and they ought to realize sooner rather than later that, as Bill Tucker wrote, the fastest growing local education agency (LEA) in the state has had many of the reforms contained in Senate Bill 6 for years: “no teacher tenure, annual contracts, and merit pay.” That LEA is one of the bigger disruptive innovations we’ve seen in K-12 education—the Florida Virtual School—and it has (1) an environment in which stakeholders agree on the goals and how the world works, (2) low teacher turnover, and (3) many more applications than there are spots to join its teaching ranks each year.

Despite all this, some of the same people that were despairing about Crist’s veto are currently threatening to cut back on Florida Virtual School’s successful program!

More generally, many in the state continue to not realize the broader opportunity that online learning has not to be just a small part of the education system in the future, but to be a transformational part for both Florida and the nation. Rather than fight the big fights that set everyone back and make for great political theater, let’s instead focus on where we can make tangible progress for students and advance the true opportunity for meaningful innovation in education.

Michael is a co-founder and distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute. He currently works as a principal consultant for Entangled Solutions.