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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Was the Hillsborough County merit pay experiment (Gates) a failure?

From the St. Petersburg Times Gradebook

by Jeff Solochek

Wharton High School history teacher Leo Haggerty has mixed feelings about Empowering Effective Teachers, otherwise known as "Gates."

As his school's representative for the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, Haggerty has heard from coworkers who are confused about the value-added scores released this week, contributing up to 40 points to the first year's evaluations.

Some are concerned about the process, which takes student improvement data and then weights it to account for student characteristics. "It's almost delusion by confusion," said Haggerty, 58.

Others resent that, when you get right down to it, the score is based on a student test. "It's a snapshot," he said. "You might be having a bad day. Or your students might be having a bad day."

And despite all the work that went into designing the peer and principal evaluations, Haggerty contends that "no one can actually tell us what an exemplary teacher is."

The upside?

Teachers have enjoyed meeting with peer evaluators. They like the fact that it's not just the principal who observes them; it's a collaborative effort. More often than not, the principal and the peer are very close in their grading. And the new schedule, which dismisses students one hour early every Monday, has allowed for more planned learning communities where teachers can share ideas.

"I think morale is good," Haggerty said. "Last year this was all unknown. Now we are starting to get more information and it's a real comfort level."

Of course it is hard to separate Gates from other issues weighing on teachers' minds. They're just now getting used to that smaller paycheck, now that the state requires them to contribute 3 percent to their pensions. And everyone, it seems, feels pressure to perform.

"They want us to perform like rock stars, but they'll pay us like roadies," he said. "So many of my teachers are exhausted at the end of the day... And we are really scared to death about what the Legislature is going to do in January."

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