Tag Archives: Rick Scott

Economics, Student Accountability and Teacher Pay

(Originally published by Florida Voices)

Is Rick Scott really our next education governor?

In his proposed 2013-’14 budget, Scott suggests that Florida classroom teachers receive an across-the-board $2,500 raise. He sent a letter to the chairman of the state Board of Education for presentation at the board’s Feb. 25 meeting outlining the plan, which would cost a hefty $480 million. The governor also recommended spending an additional $14 million for teachers’ classroom supplies.

It’s easy to be cynical about such announcements. Scott proved to be a virtual nemesis of rank-and-file teachers over the past two years, cutting the state’s education budget and supporting the elimination of teacher tenure. Political realities have set in, and he seems amazed people don’t love him for the job he’s doing. In the wake of fellow Republicans’ drubbing in the last election, Scott suddenly faces the prospect of a very tough re-election, likely against now-Democrat Charlie Crist.

So Scott’s about-face could be his attempt to woo voters, especially teachers, with a kinder, gentler side.

In his letter to the education board proposing pay increases, he said they would be a way “to strategically invest in statewide priorities that will encourage job creation for generations to come.” In other words, he’s justifying the raises on the same grounds that got him elected – an appeal to job creation. He also said in the letter that the state’s teachers earned the raise because of Florida’s improvement in one national review and rises in test scores and graduation rates.

Even assuming those results are sound, they owe no thanks to Scott’s policies, but never mind. I offer another reason for raising pay for all teachers: simple economics. Does anybody in our owned-by-the-Chamber-of-Commerce, free-enterprise-forever state legislature believe teachers are exempt from one of economics’ basic rules – that talented workers will follow higher pay? If we want to know why our public-education system fares poorly compared with other states, could it be our best teachers run to other states that pay more?

Here’s another reason to support higher pay for teachers. In its zeal to ferret out whom they believe to be lazy, indifferent or incompetent teachers, our legislators put the blame for poorly performing schools on the wrong side of the equation. It’s students who ought to be held accountable, as they were in the past.

When I attended public school, the common assumption was that if a kid brought home a bad grade, it was because he was lazy, indifferent or incompetent. The onus was on students to take personal responsibility – there’s a Republican phrase for you – for their educations. It was not the teacher at fault when a student brought home straight Ds. When did we start assuming the blame lay with a bad teacher?

But of course that is not the political mantra these days. Reports are that legislators are cool to Gov. Scott’s proposal for across-the-board pay increases because they favor instead – wait for it – merit increases. Never mind that teacher and school evaluations based on test scores are increasingly proving to be failed policy.

Scott in his letter touts teachers as “the cornerstone of educational success.” He’s right, of course, but who is listening? Not the tea party or even the legislative leadership. Not teachers themselves, after the way he treated them in the past.

The same political fear that drove Scott might actually get through to enough legislators to give Florida’s teachers boosts in pay and morale. But Rick Scott shouldn’t expect anyone who supports public education to tumble over themselves rushing to thank him.

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Don’t Tell Us What to Study, Daddy Scott

(Originally published by Florida Voices)

Question: What do novelist Kurt Vonnegut, Animal Planet host Jeff Corwin and evangelist Billy Graham have in common? Answer: They studied anthropology in college.

This is more than a curiosity because some in Florida’s political leadership believe that degrees in the social sciences are worthless. The degrees that lead to jobs, we are told, are the ones in science, technology, engineering and math – the so-called STEM disciplines. Degrees in the liberal arts and social sciences, not so much.

Gov. Rick Scott drew attention to anthropology’s supposed uselessness in two separate interviews in October. “It’s a great degree if people want to get it. But we don’t need them here,” he said. We don’t need Billy Graham here in Florida? Really?

Scott wants to redirect state higher education funds to privilege the STEM degree programs, convinced that technology-related degrees are our economic salvation. There is scant evidence for this, but even if there were, why would a governor from a party that supposedly wants to keep its nose out of citizens’ private lives compel them to study a particular field? And why is someone who would trust the free market with everything from prisons to pharmaceuticals unwilling to let the market guide students’ decisions?

Scott’s office recently pointed to a database compiled by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce that correlates degree majors with unemployment rates. It’s true that liberal arts (7.4 percent) and general social science (8.2 percent) majors have relatively high unemployment rates. But consider some of these unemployment numbers for a sampling of other majors: math, 5.0 percent; music, 5.2 percent; economics, 6.3 percent; counseling psychology, 5.2 percent; computer engineering, 7.0 percent; art history, 6.9 percent.

The numbers show you’d be better off studying psychology or music than economics and about the same studying art history as computer engineering

Vonnegut, Corwin and Graham are good illustrations of a key feature of human nature: Our destiny is not fixed by the college degree we earn. They applied their degrees or changed their vocations in ways that suited their interests, something people have been figuring out how to do for centuries without the oversight of the state.

An undergraduate degree is often little more than a launching pad that enables us to pursue our interests as they mature. Imagination and flexibility are the keys to finding a vocation, which writer Frederick Buechner has described as “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

In my own case, I got a degree in computing science, went to work in the IT department of an oil company and hated it. Eventually, I found my way into journalism.

And consider the degrees of some of the state’s political leaders who are so keen in redirecting students into STEM fields: Presumptive Senate President Don Gaetz got a degree in religion and political science; Speaker of the House Dean Cannon got his degree in journalism; and Scott got a degree in business administration.

A job is different from meaningful work. How many people have had the miserable experience of being forced to study a discipline for which they were neither suited nor interested because of a parent’s threat: I’m paying for this education, and you’ll study what I say.

It doesn’t work any better for a daddy governor to tell people what to study. Scott comes from a party that constantly complains about the nanny state, and the role doesn’t become him.

The state should lay off the behavior modification and let people study everything from art to zoology. Don’t worry. We’ll figure out what we want to be when we grow up.

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