A MODEST PROPOSAL

This new breed of Teabagger governors is really something special. We are fortunate to live in an era in which the political class is so committed to radical change. It's exciting. Fresh. Exhilarating. Behold one of the greatest visionaries, Florida's Governor Rick Scott. The ex-hospital executive and lipless chemotherapy patient faces an uphill battle against recalcitrant, entrenched public sector unions who stand in the way of Progress. I think he's up for the challenge. Don't you?

One of Scott's campaign promises was rapidly fulfilled on Monday when Florida's legislature passed a bill tying teacher salaries to student performance – particularly student performance on standardized tests. Teachers, regardless of seniority, may also be fired if their students' three-year average standardized test scores are judged unsatisfactory . Scott hailed the law as a way to reward the best educators in the state and to create incentives to excel in the classroom. It's a great idea. What's more, its passage bodes well for a number of nearly identical measures soon to be considered in the Florida legislature:

1. A pending bill proposes a performance-based pay system for police officers throughout the Sunshine State. If the crime rate fails to improve based on rolling three-year averages, officers can be fired. They'll all be working on year-to-year contracts without seniority benefits. Bonuses will be paid to officers who make the most arrests. Legislators believe that the new merit-based rules will encourage officers to follow the law scrupulously and suppress the crime rate for which police are responsible.

2. A proposed Senate bill will create an incentive-based salary structure for trash collectors. Since landfill space is an unwelcome expense (and rapidly diminishing resource) for municipal governments, the new rules will reward garbage men for completing their routes while using the least possible landfill volume. State Republicans believe that the law will encourage waste disposal workers to innovate and develop new means of reducing the volume of trash generated by Floridians.

3. Two radical new laws are experimenting with ways of altering the compensation structure of state firefighters. One plan, soon to be implemented in a pilot program in Bradenton, will pay firefighters for each fire they extinguish. Logically, rewarding firefighters for each fire they put out will ensure diligent work with no conceivable negative impact on the number of fires that occur. A separate program (currently testing in Opa-Locka) takes a different approach, terminating the contracts of firefighters who allow buildings to burn down or for fatalities to occur in fires. This makes sense, as firefighters are ultimately the people who control outcomes in this area.

4. House Bill 415 creates a pay-for-performance system for the Governor, State Supreme Court, and legislature. Governors will receive no salary if the state unemployment rate increases on their watch, which is fair inasmuch as Governors are tasked with determining unemployment rates. The court will pay judges by the case and terminate lower-level judges whose cases are overturned on appeal more often than average. Legislators will be paid on a similar per-bill system, with penalties for failing to meet a 500 bill per session quota.

5. Florida Gators football coach Will Muschamp, the highest paid state employee in Florida at $2,500,000 annually, will have his contract restructured to a complicated formula based on wins, time of possession, and successfully executed fake punts. Broadly speaking, Muschamp will earn roughly $100,000 per Gators victory, potentially saving the cash-strapped state over $1,000,000 annually.

6. In the event of a failed citrus crop, Florida Agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam will receive no salary for that calendar year. A successful citrus crop is the responsibility of Commissioner Putnam and his office.

7. The Florida Department of Children and Families will face budgetary cuts for each fiscal year in which the percentage of abused children in the state rises above the national average at the state level. The Cato Institute described this incentive-based scheme as the best way to guarantee a safe childhood and home environment to as many young Floridians as possible, as the FDCF will have the strongest incentives to get out there and combat child abuse.

Gov. Scott has barely scratched the surface. If the potential of pay-for-performance government is Mount Everest, the recent restructuring of teacher compensation and tenure is just a few pebbles in your driveway! By understanding all of the relevant mechanisms of causality and assigning responsibility to the appropriate actors, government can not only operate more efficiently and save money but also provide the very best services to its constituents – without exception or compromise.

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55 Responses to “A MODEST PROPOSAL”

  1. Clair Says:

    Brilliant post. It's encouraging to know that someone understands the illogical ass-hattery being applied to education in what I can only assume to be a deliberately botched attempt to "save our public schools" by scapegoating teachers. Even NPR has been giving air-time to the idea that the only way to reach the holy grail of high test scores is to bribe "good" teachers and punish "bad" ones. An easier solution would be to allow teachers to grade their own students' standardized tests. With no oversight. Or better yet, let the kids grade 'em.
    There, problem solved.

  2. Eric O Says:

    Maybe I'm just far too cynical, but I don't see this as an attempt to help students and save the public schools at all. Instead, I see it as a means to discredit current public school educators, discourage potential future public school educators, and ultimately dismantle public education in favor of passing on more taxpayer money to private schools without the standards and requirements and with the ability to turn students away. I've worked in education in several capacities and I really wanted to be a teacher until I got in there and saw what was happening to our public education system. There are many good, hard-working educators who really care about their students, but the system just isn't set up for success. Gov. Scott's plan is certainly not the solution. I live in New Jersey, and I hope our loudmouthed, egomaniacal governor doesn't get any ideas.

  3. daphne Says:

    unfortunately Scott doesn't need his salary, and I doubt he entered politics for the money.

  4. Clair Says:

    Eric O.: I'm just as cynical as you. I called it a "deliberately botched" attempt, and I wholeheartedly agree with you that the right is trying to dismantle public education. In fact, I'll go a step further and say that they're not trying to funnel taxpayer money into private schools (since private schools are for parents who can afford to care about their kids' education). They're laying the foundation for a deeply entrenched division between the educated haves and the illiterate, easily manipulated have-nots. I, too, have worked in education for a few years and I've learned that making a fetish of grades and test scores is an easy way to discourage many students while wasting valuable instruction-time.
    What other rational explanation is there for No Child Left Behind? Someone quite cleverly thought up a way to destroy our already un-respected and underfunded education system by using the boondoggle of taking drastic measures to improve public education. It's the same idea of performance review followed by incentives and penalties, but instead of hurting only individual teachers, NCLB was designed to destroy entire schools.
    It's happening in my town right now: the school board has just passed a "cost-cutting" plan to shut down a half dozen large, poorly performing schools and bus these students to other large, slightly better performing schools in hopes that bussing kids across town to overcrowded, understaffed facilities will boost test scores. Genius.

  5. wetcasements Says:

    Brilliant.

  6. wetcasements Says:

    "Maybe I'm just far too cynical, but I don't see this as an attempt to help students and save the public schools at all. Instead, I see it as a means to discredit current public school educators, discourage potential future public school educators, and ultimately dismantle public education in favor of passing on more taxpayer money to private schools without the standards and requirements and with the ability to turn students away."

    No reason it can't be both. There are Republicans we're talking about.

    Who was that nutter in the Texas legislator a few years back who said "public schools" came from the "very depths of hell" or some-such Randian b.s.?

    America still good at a number of things. I wish "racing to the bottom" wasn't one of them.

  7. Sarah Says:

    Ah, I was wondering when you'd start talking about Skeletor–uh, Governor Scott. Daphne, he ran for governor for the same reason Meg Whitman did–the power. He's using it to screw the vulnerable. He's already rescinded restoration of voting rights to ex-felons (who would presumably be voting Democratic), and issued an order to require state employees to submit to mandatory drug testing (which (a) has already been ruled unconstitutional, like, a decade ago, and (b) provides Skeletor–uh, Governor Scott–with another means to line his pockets since conveniently enough, he owns a chain of clinics that provide drug-testing services). He's got plans in the works to gut the state Medicaid program. He turned away $2.4 billion in federal money for a high-speed rail line which would have connected Orlando to Tampa. This project was already set to begin before he was elected, it would have provided thousands of jobs, and he just canceled it–ironic considering his "let's get to work" campaign horse shit.

    I've a feeling that his administration will be very much like that of Chimpy McFlightsuit. There will be so much shit coming from out of Tallahassee that it will be impossible to keep up with it and depressing to try. The neocons and the wealthy won't care, of course, and those who do care will either become de-sensitized to the shit so that it becomes normal, or they will be ignoring it in order to maintain some semblance of their own mental health.

  8. Shane Says:

    Even if we assume the very best of intentions and that there is some truth in their causal model, neither of which are likely, this is still a bad idea.

    I had the pleasure of going to high school in Texas in the early 90's when GW was trialling NCLB at the state level. Every year we took 6 weeks (that's 25% of the school year) off from reading literature, writing essays and developing critical thinking to learn how to take the standardized test. For 6 weeks, the entire school spent the entire day filling in bubbles and learning how to eliminate multiple choice answers efficiently as possible.

    I am sure that these are exactly the skills that younger generations need to be the drivers of innovation that will spur our economy in the future.

  9. Mrs. Chili Says:

    Wait… Ed… is any of this satire, or is it all actually happening…? Please advise, 'cause, DAMN!

  10. anotherbozo Says:

    Clair and Wetcasement said it for me: this is eviscerates the pay-for-performance, standardized test bullshit. Somewhere Jonathan Swift is smiling.

  11. eastriver Says:

    Brillo.

  12. karen Says:

    Aside from those ridiculous policies, what scares me the most is that picture and the fact that it isn't photoshopped. Goddamn frightening.

  13. Jude Says:

    Oh, come on. You'll never get anywhere in this life by taking ideas to their logical conclusions, Ed! How dare you think things through? You know who else liked to map out the future? In five-year plans? Does that sound familiar, Comrade?

  14. Misterben Says:

    This is yet another extremely well-done post that I will be sending around to everyone I know. I've said it before and I'll say it again: lots of people would be glad to pay for the opportunity to read what you write.

  15. mother earth Says:

    @Clair, I believe they are starting to figure out that the schools that have phenomenal jumps on test scores have in fact been grading or correcting their test scores. Saw a story somewhere on the web yesterday that schools under Michelle Rhee's leadership had an highly unusual amount of erasures on their standardized test scores. And, of course, these were the very schools that had huge jumps in their test scores!!!! What a coincidence……or not.

  16. circularreasoning Says:

    Wait, is this satire or a top secret internal document from the GOP?

  17. craig3410 Says:

    The fact that the highest paid state employee of Florida is the frikkin' football coach is about 30 different kinds of wrong.

  18. Circle Says:

    Great post Ed

  19. xynzee Says:

    @Shane: all you need now are LePlague's child labour laws and bubble filling in will be the best they'll be at. They'll all be down the pit so who cares.

    I'm trying to understand a few things, eg. the citrus produce and the fire dept ones – the cop one I understand and it makes me thankful that I'm a lighter shade of pale pink brrrr! The logical conclusion is that some how these people must either become Jesus and have control over the weather, and life and death or it's about killing off these positions entirely. Because I can't see any sane person putting up their hand for a gig where you're destined to be sacked because of no fault of your own. That or there will be endless and **very expensive** enquiries to show that the firey did all that they humanly could to prevent loss of life.

  20. jon Says:

    Finally we can start firing all those PE teachers who allow for those lard-assed cretins to not run that lap around the field to start that class. Those whistles will be blaring!

  21. Geeno Says:

    @xynzee
    The Fire Department one would reward fire fighters for setting fires they could then put out to jack up their total.

  22. Zach Says:

    Nothing can go wrong with this. It's not like there's been any news recently about fudging standardized test scores to increase grant money. Oh…wait…

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2011-03-28-1Aschooltesting28_CV_N.htm

  23. John Says:

    @xynzee: "The logical conclusion is that some how these people must either become Jesus and have control over the weather, and life and death or it's about killing off these positions entirely."

    That's the point of the satire in Ed's post. Yes, there are good teachers and bad teachers, but ultimately the teachers aren't the ones taking the tests, it's the students. And teachers ultimately have no control whatsoever over the students. A child that has no desire to learn (helped along by a home environment where the parents don't give a shit either) will not perform well on tests, no matter how good the teacher is.

  24. Michel Martin del Campo Says:

    Yeah, this sounds about right. See, the problem with this kind of budget is that it assumes teachers, police, and firefighters are in complete control of the things they do. I'm not saying we shouldn't expect teachers and other public servants to do a good job, but that expecting them to get perfect results with only their hard work while not accounting for things like disinterested parents, arson, abusive parents, and criminal activity is near-sighted.

    Well, I pretty much said the same thing on my own blog, but that's the gist of it:

    http://randomology.org/2011/03/love-the-teacher-hate-the-job/

  25. Southern Beale Says:

    These are excellent suggestions! How about a pay-for-performance based system to encourage the private sector to hire more workers? Here's how it works: the taxes businesses pay are tied to state and county unemployment rates. The higher the unemployment rate, the higher the tax. If unemployment rates fall, so do business tax rates. It's only logical, right?

  26. Jack Says:

    I wouldn't so much mind merit-based pay if states gave public school teachers the resources necessary to achieve these higher test scores. Look at what Geoffrey Canada has been able to do in Harlem with the poorest of the poor students. The problem is that it requires considerable funding and a comprehensive approach that incorporates both child and parent. Under such a system, it would be hard to justify retaining teachers whose students drastically fall below average for the rest of the school. Of course, Republicans will never provide such vast resources, so it's fallen on nonprofits to create charter schools to mimic Canada's program.

    Also, that photo of Scott is terrifying and will haunt my dreams for years. Thanks, Ed.

  27. displaced Capitalist Says:

    I think Clair has it when she said:

    They're laying the foundation for a deeply entrenched division between the educated haves and the illiterate, easily manipulated have-nots.

    The GOP wants to create a slave-class that is mindlessly fanatical to the ruling party. First step: vilify education.

    It worked for Pol Pot, what can go wrong?

  28. Vinny Says:

    The Governor looks just like the mars attacks aliens.
    http://blogs.sundaymercury.net/weirdscience/mars%20attacks.jpg

  29. Ally Says:

    Hopefully no one who works for Fox reads this because it won't be satire to them. Great post Ed. I'm surprised no one has brought up the idea of kids deliberately failing these exams to oust a teacher who took away their ipod touch last month. If this goes across the board, I think test scores will plummet even more. I don't want to sound like granola, yuppie pto mom, but our children need to know we have confidence in them. And yes, filling in bubbles and answering multiple choice questions is an essential skill for success in one's adult life.

  30. bb in GA Says:

    Why not put it on the positive side? More Money, if your students raise their scores. That's the capitalistic way…

    Ahem…I'm not very good looking either. It hurts when you bust the Gov's Chops because he ain't exactly a Cherokee Rose.

    Presumably (?) most readers here slant Left. Your side often proclaims their gentleness and sensitivity and broad mindedness and tolerance and …

    Y'all letting me down here….

    //bb

  31. Matt Says:

    @Sarah: One better – he wants state employees to do more drug testing, which he just HAPPENS to own a major provider for…

  32. The Man, The Myth Says:

    No time to read all comments, but Ed, are you sure this isn't real? It sounds like perfectly good proposals to me! How will garbage men encourage Floridians to use less garbage?

  33. Sarah Says:

    "Ahem…I'm not very good looking either. It hurts when you bust the Gov's Chops because he ain't exactly a Cherokee Rose.

    "Presumably (?) most readers here slant Left. Your side often proclaims their gentleness and sensitivity and broad mindedness and tolerance and …

    "Y'all letting me down here…. "

    Really, bb? Public education in Florida is about to be destroyed (which will leave hundreds of thousands of kids with no viable alternatives other than becoming criminals, since they can't afford private school or pass the entrance exams therein), and THAT'S what you want to criticize?

    Oooo! Hey! I found proof of sexism against Sarah Palin from your buddies on the right! Behold:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2UZZV3xU6Q&feature=player_embedded#t=168s

    Buried within that trailer is a clip from Fox News in which Greta van Susteren asks Ms. Palin whether she's had breast implants. Whether Ms. Palin has or not, I can't imagine what relevance breast implants could possibly have for a vice presidential candidate, unless she was considered to be on the ticket as a "sexual accoutrement." So. Unless you want to show me proof that Ms. van Susteren received a reprimand from her superiors at Fox News, one can only assume that they were complicit in this disgusting and derogatory display of sexism and unprofessionalism on a news network which is well-known for its politically conservative slant. Furthermore, we can expect that you won't be whining when liberals point out the real reason why Ms. Palin was chosen for the 2008 Republican ticket (although those liberals shouldn't be as vulgar as the liberal who made the original comment).

  34. bb in GA Says:

    Ms Sarah:

    I apologize for my many shortcomings and lack of seriousness 'on point'.

    //bb

  35. jwm Says:

    "If the crime rate fails to improve based on rolling three-year averages, officers can be fired. They'll all be working on year-to-year contracts without seniority benefits. Bonuses will be paid to officers who make the most arrests."

    So wait, cops are supposed to make a lot of arrests to get paid. More arrests, more pay.

    The crime rate is supposed to go down though, meaning the cops are supposed to make less arrests, or they get fired.

    Yossarian: Whoo… That's some catch, that Catch-22.
    Dr. 'Doc' Daneeka: It's the best there is

  36. grumpygradstudent Says:

    I've been teaching on school reform this week for my urban problems class. Family background explains about 60% of the variance in student outcomes. Teaching explains 10-20%. Good teaching can make a big difference, sure, but even the best teachers are just fighting an uphill battle to correct for our collective decision to ghetto-ize poor, minority communities and to systematically errode their economic chances and public services.

    Bad teachers should be fired. Fine. But if that is such a magic bullett, why do most non-unionized charter schools suck just as much as unionized public schools?

    The next time I hear somebody utter the words, "you're just throwing money at the problem," I'm going beat them to death with their own shoes.

  37. acer Says:

    Gov. Batboy.

  38. Xynzee Says:

    @Geeno: hadn't thought about institutional arson.

    Having tried my hand at teaching — several reasons why I gave it a pass — I can honestly say that one thing that can really make a difference is a very organised and supportive upper management structure within the school and one that helps new and/or substitute teachers. Most of the time it's about discipline for people's little brats… erm darlings.

    I spent a couple of weeks working at a school in one of Sydney's more disadvantaged areas (burnt out Govt housing across the street) how ever the upper admin was dedicated to helping the kids to succeed, which flowed down and as a newbie I felt supported and could get help w situs. Part of the discipline practice was making kids come and appologise to teachers they'd been disrespecting. This school was the exception. Most schools would let kindergarten kids swear at teachers and not do anything about it. In the teaching rooms you could feel the difference. At one school I got attitude and grief for asking for the key to the teacher's toilet.

  39. g Says:

    http://images.wikia.com/indianajones/images/e/e2/Death_by_face_melting.jpg

  40. William C Wesley Says:

    And when investors fail to invest properly and scams bankrupt the economy I guess we'll see aggressive bailouts to keep them in line……..and when all these policies succeed in corrupting teachers and firemen and police who will be left to fire the tea party members who then wield absolute power over anyone without a billion or so?

  41. Tim H. Says:

    I'd agree with grumpygradstudent, businesses with "rockstar" compensation schemes where 2% takes home 90% of wages should step up and take their share of the blame. Only leaning on teachers is a half-assed approach to the problem. BTW, if the arrest quota thing is set into law, Orlando is just going to love the effect on tourists, as traffic tickets become a cost they must allow for.

  42. unclemike Says:

    "The next time I hear somebody utter the words, "you're just throwing money at the problem," I'm going beat them to death with their own shoes."

    Thank you, ggs. I've been a proud public school teacher here in CA for over 20 years. We've *never* thrown money at our educational problems. What we've done, collectively, is continually ask our public schools to do more and more with less and less.

    When was the last time at your job that you had to ask your customers for donations of copy paper and pens? 'Cuz I do, every year, ask for donations from parents so that I can do my job.

    It ain't right.

  43. Notorious Ph.D. Says:

    [landed here via Historiann, and repeating my comment from over at her place:]

    A truly excellent post. I

  44. Notorious Ph.D. Says:

    .. am only puzzled at why Florida nurses seem to be getting a pass. Should we not track how many patients are getting better vs. dying on their shifts, and reward or penalize them accordingly? And think of the money that counties and municipalities could save if we hired non-union contract labor for more mundane tasks like inserting foley catheters?

  45. Mackeyser Says:

    C'mon, you guys didn't know Rick Scott was the abino bat from Ace Ventura 2?

    Anyway, as someone raising children in FL, lemme just say that if you think that picture scares the crap out of a person, imagine how is policies are looking to us trying to live here.

    His entire Governorship is like an arsonist playing with a lighter… monologuing while we hope SOMEONE comes to save the day before he drops the lighter or gets bored and just burns it all down and laughs.

    My only potential consolation is that I have serious doubts that he can go four years without committing a serious felony. Then again, do serious felonies even matter for politicos anymore?

  46. Dan Says:

    He looks like Mark Metcalf as the Master in Buffy.

  47. Z Says:

    Brilliant post … I hope of course these things aren't in the works, but I hope the post is republished far and wide, I'm going to Tweet it or something.

  48. Mike P Says:

    I certainly hope ole Rick has enough time left on his mandate to sucessfully increment his ideas! Just how might a tourist be able to help as he visits the wonderful state?

  49. Han Kolosky Says:

    Excellent, keep doing you hot the idea