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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Hard vs. soft: Which sort of ed reformer do you prefer?



TAMPA -- It has become quite the education reform parlor game lately in Florida.

If you had to pick a new style of leader to push through the coming changes in teacher evaluation, merit pay and tenure, would you pick the scorched-earth variety supposedly practiced by former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee? Or the collaborative, let's-hold-hands-and-work-together variety preferred by Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia?

Both leaders have been named to Gov.-elect Rick Scott's education transition team, amid a whispering campaign apparently aimed at vetting possible successors to Commissioner of Education Eric J. Smith if -- and it's a big if -- the state Board of Education decides on a change. (For what it's worth, Rhee said on Monday that she doesn't want the job.)

Today the Palm Beach Post editorial board weighed in, casting a strong vote for Elia.

"Dr. Rhee, who took on the nation's worst school system, is a celebrity reformer," the paper writes. "But Ms. Elia is an actual Florida reformer. The lesson from her school district is that teachers will agree to evaluations and merit pay. They don't like to be bullied. They do like to be asked."

Elia shared some thoughts at Tuesday's Hillsborough School Board meeting about her appointment to Scott's transition team. She didn't mention Rhee, of course, but she did take a crack at defining the central issues.

"Efforts to improve student assessment and teacher evaluations are critical, and we’re in the middle of it now," Elia said, alluding to her district's seven-year, $202-million reform effort with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

"Everything isn’t going to go smoothly," she added. "People are nervous. But in the end we will make it through this together, because we worked to make it happen.

"Unfortunately, that isn’t the approach that is taken across this country in many places," Elia said. "So we need to work very hard – I assure you I will – (to make sure) that our new governor understands the importance of working collaboratively so that at the end of this, our students win."

[Last modified: Wednesday, December 8, 2010 5:12pm]


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