State Politics

Other states also taking steps on teacher pay

TALLAHASSEE — Floridians aren’t the only ones buzzing about performance pay for teachers.

As Gov. Charlie Crist nears the deadline to act on a polarizing bill that pays teachers when their students show progress on tests, states around the country are considering their own moves — from tiptoes to confident steps — in that direction.

What experts agree on, however, is that Florida’s proposed law — widely known as “SB 6,” for Senate Bill 6 — would go further than anything else out there.

“SB 6 would be the most sweeping statewide approach,” said Rob Weil, deputy director of educational issues for the American Federation of Teachers, which opposed the bill. “SB 6 says all in.”

Some states and school districts around the nation have already instituted programs that reward teachers for test scores, although typically on a voluntary basis. Many are simply striking laws that prohibited linking test scores to teacher evaluations.

Two states considered the sweethearts of education reform — at least by the U.S. Department of Education, which awarded them a total of $600 million — are Tennessee and Delaware, which have pledged to institute systems that would use student achievement in evaluations and decisions about tenure.

Florida fell just shy of its own jackpot in that federal grant competition, Race to the Top. Education officials here say a law that forces districts to evaluate teachers based on student learning gains would help them land hundreds of millions in a second round.

The bill would use student learning gains on standardized tests to make up half of a teacher’s evaluation, which would determine pay raises. Under the current system, teachers make more money based on factors like years of experience, advanced degrees and extra certification.

New teachers would never be able to attain tenure, hired instead on annual contracts.

Crist has until midnight Friday to sign or veto the bill; if he does nothing, it becomes law without his signature. He has received more than 109,000 e-mails, calls, letters and faxes on the subject. Nearly 58,000 of those messages opposed the bill; 2,572 supported. Another nearly 49,000 are yet unread.

Despite the vast criticism, even opponents of this particular bill say they support greater accountability in teacher evaluations and some type of pay for performance.

While U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has spoken in favor of using student test data to determine whether teachers are effective, he also emphasizes the importance of collaboration between all parties — which Florida lacks.

“There’s been a premium placed on it by the Obama administration,” said Barnett Berry, founder and president of the Center for Teaching Quality. “There will be a lot more resources out there for states and districts to begin to put these systems in place.”

The North Carolina-based advocacy organization supports performance pay.

“We are a strong proponent of doing it the right way,” Berry said.

But, he said in an interview Wednesday — and to a panel of lawmakers last week — Florida’s way this time around is not right. There hasn’t been enough transparency in how teachers will be judged, he said, and there is too much emphasis on standardized test scores.

“I’m afraid the approach that’s being taken once again in Florida will probably end up in the large graveyard of failed merit pay plans of the past,” Berry said.

Most pay-for-peformance plans have bubbled up at the district level, said Jim Hull, senior policy analyst for the Center for Public Education, an initiative of the National School Boards Association.

“This is one of the real first states saying this is how teachers should be paid,” he said.