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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Another diversion



Welcome again to the Teachers Corner, where The Gradebook is offering educators the chance to talk about issues important to their profession and, hopefully, where a conversation will take place. Today's guest blogger is Lynne J. Webb, president of the United School Employees of Pasco. She offers her take on Special Teachers Are Rewarded, the state's controversial teacher performance pay law. Check tomorrow's Weekend Interview, too, for Sen. Don Gaetz's take on the program.

"Most everyone agrees paying teachers more is important, but Florida's latest performance pay plan is not the way. From the beginning, STAR has drawn opposition and criticism from teachers, superintendents, school boards, the public and media because of its hasty implementation, top-down design, lack of validity, over reliance on FCAT-type tests to measure student achievement, and artificial quotas.

Why should anyone be surprised?  Every merit and performance pay scheme in Florida has failed miserably and created deep divisions, distractions and distrust. And none have helped recruit and retain teachers. STAR, in fact, is having the opposite effect. A first year teacher recently wrote, 'If this is what the state wants to do, then I want to quit teaching. There is so much more to judging a teacher than a state-mandated test that the kids have to take.'

STAR has also served to distract from the important focus of true education reform and has strained labor relationships. Here in Pasco and around the state, STAR has created showdowns between school districts and unions as bargaining teams feel the pressure to meet the March 1 deadline or face the loss of lottery dollars and STAR funding. Plus, state law still requires districts to institute a STAR-like performance pay plan even if they do not participate in STAR or miss the deadline. To add insult to injury and a little more pressure, the DOE recently deemed that all existing performance pay plans, including Pasco's, are unacceptable. Sure, lawsuits have been filed, and litigation is pending, but the wheels of justice turn slowly, leaving it up to legislators to provide some relief.

Indeed there is much legislative interest and activity around the subject, and well there should be! Teachers, students and the public deserve for the legislature take a long hard look. Performance pay can't be a substitute for reasonable pay; it must be one component in a total compensation plan.

Improving the base teaching salary should be the first focus of the legislature. The $147 million appropriation for STAR could have provided every Florida teacher with a $500-$600 salary increase and raised the average teacher salary in Florida one-tenth of the way to the national average. Florida still needs to hire thousands of new teachers. Pay teachers well, and they will come and stay. The next step should be fully funded, valid and collaborative performance-based-pay plans with no artificial quotas. Such a plan could profoundly impact the quality of public education."

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[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 9:14am]


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