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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Teachers finally involved in education plan?

To me it stills seems punitive and doesn't address the real problems we are facing. -cpg


The teacher pay debate that rocked Tallahassee last spring is back.

Already, legislation is being drafted that would overhaul the way teachers are evaluated and paid, and do away with tenure.

But unlike its predecessor, which led to student sit-ins and teacher sick-outs, this bill is finding widespread support from educators and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Even the teachers' unions are willing to consider it.

So far, the reaction has been warmer.

``It's a very thoughtful bill,'' said state Board of Education member Roberto Martinez. ``It creates sufficient reform, but does so in a way that's not trying to steamroll anyone.''

However, Karen Aronowitz, president of the Miami-Dade teachers union, is skeptical.

``We have merit pay programs in our schools,'' Aronowitz said. ``We've signed on to major grants to work on this together. To have it legislated from afar takes value away from the work we're doing.''

The proposed bill establishes broad guidelines for hiring, firing, evaluating and paying teachers. It allows the details to be hammered out by local school districts and unions.

Half of teacher evaluations would be based on three years of student data -- such as scores on the FCATs, the new end-of-course exams, norm-reference tests or Advanced Placement tests. The system would look at student growth rather than raw scores, and would account for factors including poverty and student mobility.

Teachers' evaluations would determine at least half of their pay raises. Teachers who do not receive strong evaluations would get smaller raises, and over time the lowest performing teachers would be weeded out.

Teachers would also be rewarded for working in high-need schools or in subject areas where there is a shortage of teachers.

In addition, high-performing teachers would get credit for advanced degrees, certifications and specializations -- a provision not included in Senate Bill 6.

Teachers already in the system would have the option to give up their tenure in exchange for the higher pay and salary incentives.

``It's critical that we get this right,'' said Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, who oversees Teach for America in Miami-Dade.

Studies show teacher effectiveness is the strongest predictor of student achievement.

In fact, improving teacher quality through pay incentives has been a key part of the White House education reform agenda.

The Obama administration set aside millions of dollars in stimulus funds for states and school districts willing to try new ways of evaluating and paying teachers.

One of the key ingredients to obtain a portion of the $4.35 billion in Race to the Top funds: basing a portion of teacher pay on student achievement.

Florida lost in its first try. But in August, Florida was named one of nine winners. Its share: $700 million.

Smith, the education commissioner, said he would like to see the state's merit pay legislation based on the Race to the Top application.

``It has support from multiple stakeholders,'' he said.

In a few weeks, Crist will be leaving office. But Gov.-elect Rick Scott's education transition team has indicated it also wants a merit pay plan.

And in an e-mail to The Miami Herald, former Gov. Bush called it ``vital for Florida to continue providing a quality education for every student and closing the achievement gap.''

So it's likely state lawmakers will revisit the issue when the Legislative session begins in March.

``We have to tweak the way we measure success,'' said state Rep. Erik Fresen, who sits on the House Education Committee.

But Ford, the head of the Florida Education Association, cautioned lawmakers against moving too quickly.

``I'm hoping they move slower than last year and provide an opportunity for people to have real and meaningful input.''

``We're open to looking at paying teachers differently,'' said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association.

``It's really about how you develop the plan.''

Last spring, educators complained the state Legislature, in an effort to be seen as a leader in education reform, was cramming through changes affecting their pay without any input from them.

This time, educators, parents and union leaders have contributed to a proposed bill that would reward the state's top teachers with merit pay.

Among the differences in the bills:

The old: Known as Senate Bill 6, it was based half a teacher's evaluation on student performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

The new: Allows end-of-course exams, Advanced Placement tests and tests developed by local school districts to be factored in, too.

The old: Did not address evaluating teachers in subjects such as music and art.

The new: Allows local school districts to develop tests in these areas.

The old: Was based only on student learning gains.

The new: Also accounts for the poverty rate, attendance rate and the number of times a student has switched schools.

The old: Had one salary schedule for all teachers.

The new: Has different salary schedules for teachers in critical shortage areas like math and science, or in low-income schools.

The old: Did not factor in advanced degrees.
The new: Would factor in advanced degrees.

The old: Would have had teachers working under one-year contracts.

The new: Would award three-year contracts. After each contract, school districts could choose to retain or fire a teacher, with or without cause.

``We really have moved a long way'' from a year ago, state Education Commissioner Eric Smith said.

Last spring, the governor's office logged more than 100,000 calls from teachers, parents and students opposing Senate Bill 6. Thousand of Miami-Dade teachers took a personal day off to protest the bill, and Broward teachers led after-school rallies. They said the bill relied too heavily on student test scores to calculate teacher pay without taking into account other factors, such as whether the teacher worked in a low-income school or with special needs students.

Even supporters of merit pay acknowledged the process to create last spring's legislation lacked collaboration and transparency.

Calling the legislation ``significantly flawed,'' Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed SB6.

But he also said he supported a performance-based pay system and urged educators and lawmakers to start over -- working together -- to develop a new plan.

Crist put together a group of teachers, superintendents, parents and union leaders, headed by Miami-Dade schools chief Alberto Carvalho, to develop a game plan everyone could support. Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's FUture drew upon that in crafting the new proposal.

The new legislation is still a work in progress, said Jaryn Emhof, a spokeswoman for the foundation, but a draft of the proposal is being circulated.


  1. I do hope they figure out a way to take in consideration special needs children/teachers. My mother is a special education teacher (ESE) and though some of her children she teaches do okay on the FCAT, the majority of those students do not pass or come close. It isn't for the sake of trying their hardest, but because of the inclusion teaching now, they are weighed so heavily on meeting standards which even the "normal" child has a hard time achieving. It isn't fair to those students and especially the teacher if their pay is going to be mainly considered based on their children's performance on the FCAT. What is even sadder is most ESE teachers have a passion for teaching children who have special needs, such as my mother, when other teachers wish "those type of students" were not in their class. I say that in quotations because I personally have heard it from the mouths of teachers myself. It takes a special teacher to teach special needs children and do it passionately, which should be rewarded and not penalized because their students cannot possibly make a good FCAT score.

  2. I am an ESE teacher and am first hand experiencing the perils of inclusion. For some it's working for some it is a disaster.