After 8 hours of debate and public testimony, the House Education Policy Council passed a landmark education reform measure that will change the way teachers are evaluated and compensated in the state of Florida. The bill, which was backed by Republican legislative leaders, Florida Governor Charlie Crist, former Governor Jeb Bush and several influential business groups, links teacher pay increases to student test scores and puts an end to tenure for new teachers.
Under the new measure, Florida school districts must adopt a salary schedule based on four levels of teacher performance: highly effective, effective, needs improvement and unsatisfactory. The U.S. Department of Education is expected to work with teachers and compensation experts to further define these levels and the ways in which they will be measured.
Teachers will also be subject to an annual evaluation. Half of each evaluation must be based on individual student learning gains. Administrators and non-classroom teachers will be evaluated as well, but their evaluation will be based on average learning gains of students school-wide.
The legislation strictly prohibits the use of years of service when determining pay for new teachers starting in the 2014 - 2015 school year. However, teachers who currently have tenure will be allowed to maintain that status.
Supporters of the bill say that it will 'reward great teachers who prepare students in order to achieve learning gains.'
'The most important factor we can control in education is the quality of the teacher in the classroom,' said Representative John Legg (R-Port Richey), sponsor of the measure, in a published statement. 'Our common sense proposal works to make sure that every child has a quality teacher to help prepare them for careers in the global marketplace of the future. That means putting a greater emphasis on the basic building blocks of a successful education. Today Florida has taken an important step toward achieving our goal of rewarding the excellent teachers in Florida's classrooms.'
Of course, not everyone agrees with Mr. Legg. Teacher unions strongly oppose the measure, saying that the legislation has too many unknowns and could have unintended consequences. They also argue that the bill will hold teachers accountable for factors that are beyond an educator's control such as students' home life, socioeconomic status and parental involvement.
'This bill targets teachers and not just those that are underperforming,' said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union. 'It targets absolutely every single teacher in the state of Florida.'
Teachers have also been hotly protesting the bill at every turn. As of last week, the office of Florida Governor Charlie Crist received more than 2,000 letters and emails and more than 1,200 telephone calls from educators and parents opposing the bill. Hundreds of teachers also showed up to testify before the House committee against the bill on Monday.
Governor Crist, who originally supported the idea of merit-based pay, admitted to reporters earlier today that the concerns of teachers are 'weighing heavily' on him. However, there is no solid word on whether or not Crist will be influenced enough by teacher outrage to veto the bill.
The Florida bill has been a very hot topic on Twitter this week. There has been a strong - and largely negative - response to the elimination of tenure and the adoption of merit-based pay. The following are some of the most recent comments:
jackiejeep: Senate bill 6 is making me sick. Keep your stupid merit pay. I want to be a teacher, not a test technician!
MrsDDoubleU: WOW. Merit teacher pay bill passed in Florida. So STUPID!! State test scores do not determine a teacher/student success. ignorant.
Dionne_333: FL teachers are complaining about the proposed 'Merit Based' bonuses. Gee welcome to reality - you have to do a GOOD job for your pay.
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