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Thrasher: Time to Base Teacher Pay on Performance

TeacherAppleTN1A state senator who doubles as the head of Florida’s Republican Party opened a new election-year battle with the Democratic-allied teachers’ union on Tuesday by proposing legislation that would base teacher pay on how well students do on standardized tests.

The measure (SB 6) demands that teachers get paid based on student performance, rather than on the educators’ years of service. Schools who fail to comply with the new system will be penalized, losing a percentage of their state funds, under the bill.

“It's a bill that actually finally for the first time will reward teachers who actually demonstrate that they are achieving student achievement in their classrooms,” said sponsor Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who two weeks ago was elected chairman of the Florida Republican Party. “At least part of their reward would be based on how well their students do in any given year.”

The concept of merit pay is not new, but it has proved a controversial wedge between Republican lawmakers and the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union. A merit-pay bill failed last year, despite backing from former Gov. Jeb Bush, who now operates a private education foundation.

Several business groups have also backed the idea, including the Florida Chamber and Council of 100, which released a report in January including a range of recommendations on improving Florida's educational system.

“We have great teachers in Florida who should be able to make a lot more money based on the performances of the children in their class,” Florida Chamber President Mark Wilson told the News Service last week.

The bill may have an easy path to the floor, and has the backing of Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, a candidate for the Cabinet post of chief financial officer.

The bill's first committee stop, Education Pre-K-12, includes six of the bill's co-sponsors, led by Thrasher. The committee’s two Democrats, however, are lined up to vote against the proposal, perhaps previewing a coming fight between the two parties if it comes to a vote before the full Legislature.

Sen. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, one of those two Democrats, warned that if the state takes away teacher tenure-based pay, teachers will leave the state for more secure jobs.

“And if we insist upon tying a huge percentage of their performance to their children's performance, we will have no teachers working in inner city schools,” Wilson said. “The teachers will look to work in the most affluent neighborhoods they can.”

The state’s Education Department also has said it wants to implement merit pay – including it as a central part of the state's Race to the Top application, a bid to get a portion of $4.35 billion in federal money for education. Florida is considered to be one of the front runners for the award, which the U.S. Department of Education will likely announce later this week.

Thrasher’s legislation also would take away a portion of a school district's state funding if they don’t adopt a merit pay structure. To make up for the lost money, residents would then be required to pay a local tax. A House companion bill has not yet been proposed, but Thrasher has discussed the issue with House education leaders, who say they will likely file some sort of legislation.

The FEA, which helped finance the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial candidacy of Bill McBride, husband of current Democratic gubernatorial contender Alex Sink, quickly dug-in against the legislation

“There's a lot not to like in the bill,” said FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow. “It ravages local control of school districts.”

14 Responses »

  1. Greast Idea. I watched an interview with a teacher who'd turned around a class of "low motivation" students. The students turned from Welcome Back Kotter" status to leading calculous students in their district.

    Another teacher asked how he managed to do so wel he replied "When I come to work I can either have a good day or I can teach calculous".

    The man earned his pay- "great concept".

  2. I don't agree with the measure for several reasons, the two biggest being.

    One reason I disagree is a child's teacher is not entirely responsible for their education, the students and the parents should carry a large portion of that burden. I had a friend who taught in what would be considered an inner city school. She was a very motivated person who really cared about what she did. However, the biggest complaint I heard from her repeatedly was that parent's refused to get involved in their child's education and shoulder their portion of the responsibility. The point being, no matter how effective she was in the classroom, she always felt like she was behind the curve. With that being said, would she be penalized for her student's poor performance and receive a lesser bonus or no bonus for a situation she only has minimal control over despite her best efforts?

    The second complaint I heard from her is that she was constantly being pressure to teach the standardized test material and the students were constantly being evaluated on their progress with that material. At what point do the students actually learn and progress when they are constantly stuck on the minimums required to improve the school's standardized test scores?

    I am an adjunct instructor for a private college here in Florida. I have seen some of the end products that are coming out of the public school system, and it isn't always pretty. The question is, who shoulders the blame? The teachers in the system? Occasionally, sure. I had some less that desirable teachers. I also had some really great teachers that cared about the students. However, success in these teachers courses required us to participate in the learning process. Until the students and parents start taking their education in their own hands and contributing to the learning process, then punishing the teachers by limiting pay and bonuses is not going to be an effective way to improve the quality of students and in return improve the standardized testing scores.

  3. Finally some intelligent legislation out of Tallahassee! Glad to see John back!

  4. Giving Bonuses works. It's been proven in studies that workers perform better when they're given extra bonuses based on specific measureable performance. It's the same concept as working for tips. There should be some specific guidelines though.

    There are a couple options to make this work. If the teacher is able to keep the same students for the next year then it's a little fairer. The other option is having an inital assessment test to test students skills coming into the class then compare that with tests that test the same concepts (whatever the sunshine requirements) at the end of the year. Although there's a problem with that idea also because if the teacher is unethical he/she could tell the students to "christmas tree" the inital assessement so at the year end it seems like they made HUGE improvements. I hope there are no unethical teachers out there like that, but I've heard that christmas idea discussed by a parent as something she --a very actively involved PTA parent--would do as a teacher.

  5. Sound good stuff! Taught 27 years and you wouldn't believe the endless, time consuming,"new" programs and tests to supposedly improve things. One time in the late 1990's we were required to modify our teaching plans to satisfy five different programs. (Usual life expectancy of a "new" program was about two years.)
    Looks like more of the same ole stuff: Buncha tests and programs made up by the overly schooled and under educated Phd (Piled Higher & Deeper) "professionals"
    Like the cut funds to under performing schools - kinda like suspending a kid for skipping!
    Ah well..........

  6. This will be unfair to teachers working in more challenging positions/schools and to teachers who's students do not (and should not) take standardized tests such as Kindergarten teachers. Bonuses for teachers based on performance are a great idea, but they must be intelligently and fairly determined. We have not yet seen such a proposal come from politicians yet.

  7. I arrive at work in the morning at 7:30AM. I leave work in the evening at 7:30PM or 8PM. I spend the day writing lessons, making copies, teaching classes, cleaning desks, lending pencils, taking attendance, disciplining students, contacting parents, attending meetings, monitoring buses, editing assignments, writing passes, and doing a myriad of other tasks.
    On top of that, I deal with students who do not bring their most basic supplies to school. I referee student fights and conflicts. I refer students to guidance when they have home or peer issues. I either chaperone and/or attend student activities like sports and plays.
    I do not mind any of the above because it is all part of my job. What I do mind is how outsiders will claim that I 'do not care' about students. I want the best for all of my students. I was even asked to be a pallbearer for a student who passed away last year.
    It worries me that my efforts are not truly reflected on testing. I teach social studies. There is no FCAT for my subject area. I am concerned that teachers' performance is impossible to be measured if there is no standardized test for those classes that are not on FCAT.
    As for all subject areas, I believe that learning gains must be made for us to have a better workforce. The problem is that our main goal seems to be to punish teachers when we educators are working longer hours to better serve the community. As for the sweathogs who learned calculus, I am glad for them. I wish that we all can reach students who often do not want to be reached and to also reach parents who treat schools like a babysitting service.
    Besides, tying pay to performance smacks of a backdoor way to spend less on overall teacher salaries.

  8. When all students come into the schools with the same advantages, then it would be fair to reward teachers based on student performance.

  9. teachers already do not earn enough for what they do. to cut their salary in half would cause mass exodus, they have responsibilities as well and if they cannot make it here like anyone else they will look for alternative means, meaning many will leave, so now subs will teach the classes?? really good stability??

  10. Where to begin... Unless you have actually spent time in the classroom you really should not comment. This bill will kill teachers helping out teachers. You will be taking away all other subjects from the classroom except for the ones being tested. I teach first grade and I already teach 2 hours of reading a day and 2 hours of math. 1 hour of Language arts, sci., or s.s. and whatever time is left over is spent at specials and lunch. If this bill gets passed nothing will be taught but reading and math in first grade. Any fun lessons will be thrown out the window. Our 1st graders will be even more stressed out because their teacher will be stressed out. Students get passed at times based on something called placed. Placed means you didn't actually make it to the next grade, but you were put there. Then us teachers un top of everything else we are teaching have to get them up to speed. So you are going to base how good of a teacher I am on how my students do on 1 test that they take in April. Am I even done teaching in April? NO. If this bill gets passed FL will lose a lot of qualified teachers because they will look for jobs else where that will support them.

    • I HAVE spent time in the classroom. Let me start by saying I'm a former teacher. I agree with this plan if it's carried out correctly. The key would be to phase it in and immediately RAISE the pay for high performing teachers. I like the idea of standardized tests for classes. I taught Honors Geometry in a poor school, and most of the kids didn't even belong in that class. The administration made it nearly impossible to fail kids, so we had to teach down to a lower level than we should have. The good kids didn't get the education they deserved. Honors Geometry kids in other schools got a better education because my school was afraid to fail kids from an Honors class!!! The idea of pay-for-performance makes perfect sense, but it may be a disaster once the politicians get done with it.

      You want to fix the public education system? ABOLISH UNIONS!!!

  11. Dear Sir or Madam:

    I am interested in serving on a teacher accessment advisory board. Please send a mailing address so that, when requested, I can forward a resume..

    In my opinion, the most difficult part of Mr. Thrasher's much needed program is how to effectively access teacher performance and evaluate student growth and progress-- especially in the fine arts.

    I served as coordinator of Admissions and Scholarships at the Kent State University School of Music for several years and, in that capacity, developed a program which made it possible for talented black students who did not meet minimum academic and/or performance entrance standards to be admitted to the School of Music-- ON SCHOLARSHIP.

    In this program, students would be admitted to the School of Music; however, in addition to the basic schedule of classes, they were required to take specific remedial classes as needed. The students admitted to this modified program realized from the onset that they might need an additional semester or year to complete their undergraduate studies. In my opinion the key to success of this program was that they could be on a regular music scholarship and that they had to meet the same exit standards of "regular admit" music students. Having the same exit standards insured that they would be adequately trained and, upon graduation, have an equal opportunity to become successful in their chosen careers.

    Thank you,

    Richard Jacoby
    Emeritus Professor of Music
    School of Music
    Kent State University