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Monday, March 21, 2011

If the merit pay bill is so great for teachers, then why are teachers against it?

From the Orlando Sentinel

By Leslie Postal

Florida's 170,000 public school teachers face a near seismic shift in their professional lives with passage of a far-reaching merit-pay bill.

The plan, pushed by Republican legislators, overhauls how teachers and principals will be hired, judged and paid, putting Florida at the forefront of a controversial national movement to hold teachers more accountable.

What is the purpose of this bill?

Supporters say it embraces a key educational truth — that quality teachers boost student performance. They say Florida's current system gives satisfactory evaluations to about 99 percent of its teachers, making it impossible for districts to know who is really helping students make academic gains. The new system, they hope, would allow districts to weed out bad teachers and financially reward top-performing ones.

How much could a top-notch teacher earn?

The bill doesn't specify. But the Florida Department of Education has put together a hypothetical salary schedule showing what a teacher could make. It shows that after five years on the job, a teacher on the new plan could be earning nearly $67,000 — some $27,000 more than a fifth-year Orange County teacher now earns.

But is there any money to pay for such raises?

Public education faces budget cuts in the coming year, and many think the economic picture will remain gloomy for several more years. So local administrators say there likely will be no money for merit raises anytime soon. Educators also fear the overall cost of the merit-pay plan, $1 billion by one estimate. Their fear is that much of those costs would fall to local school districts, though Florida's $700 million Race to the Top federal grant will pay for some of the needed work.

Does research show merit-pay plans boost student performance?

Not necessarily. Several studies, most recently one from Vanderbilt University, have found that performance pay for teachers alone doesn't boost student achievement.

Who is opposed to this plan?

Many teachers, the Florida Education Association — the statewide teachers union — and many Democratic lawmakers are opposed. Besides the high cost, they're not convinced the new system can fairly judge teacher performance. The union is threatening to sue the state. In its view, the bill interferes with teachers' rights that are spelled out in Florida's constitution. Those rights include bargaining over salaries and terms of employment and also with local schools boards' rights to control employment.

What are the big changes?

The bill creates a new teacher evaluation system that relies heavily on student growth on standardized tests to judge teacher quality. For new teachers, it also ends tenure-like job protections and creates a new performance-based pay system. And it ends the last-hired, first-fired policies found in many districts.

How will the new evaluation system work?

Half of teacher evaluations will be based on their classroom practice, and half will be based on their students' test-score data.

How will that happen?

The state will develop a complicated, "value-added" system to judge how teachers affected student growth on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and other state-created exams. Such a system would use up to three years of student test-score data and aim to take into account factors outside a teacher's control, such as a student's attendance or disability.

What about those who don't teach FCAT-tested subjects?

The bill requires districts to develop tests for other subjects, with help from the state. It allows for other alternatives for some teachers, such as using school-wide data or "learning targets

Will the value-added system favor teachers who work with high-performing students?

No, state officials say. The system uses students' past performance to predict current performance. Then it aims to judge a teacher's contribution to students' actual results.

When would this new system kick in?

The FCAT-based portion is to be ready in the 2011-12 school year and the rest by 2014.

How will teachers be rated once the test-score data is analyzed?

All teachers would be judged "unsatisfactory," "needs improvement/developing," "effective" or "highly effective." Teachers would need to show a certain amount of student growth to earn the top two ratings.

Would all teachers be evaluated under this new system?

Yes. But new teachers — those hired after this coming July — would face more consequences.


Teachers hired after July 2011 would be judged and paid based on the new system. They could get raises only if they were rated "effective" or "highly effective."

What about teachers already on the job?

They, too, would be judged by the new evaluation. They could lose their jobs if they have several years' of poor evaluations, but they would retain the right to fight dismissal.

What kind of contract would new teachers have?

Teachers hired after July 2011 would get annual contracts. They would not earn the tenure-like protections that Florida teachers typically have gotten after three years.

So districts would have different pay plans for teachers based on date hired?

Yes. For current teachers, they would maintain current pay plans that typically give raises based on years worked and degrees earned. By 2014, they would need to develop a performance pay plan to give new teachers raises based on success on the new evaluation system.

Could current teachers switch to the new performance pay system?

Yes, if they want, but they would have to give up their current contracts and the job protections embedded in those. or 407-420-5273.,0,6178771.story?page=2

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