Bills to make it easier to fire Florida teachers
A sweeping plan to make it easier to fire bad teachers and put a bigger spotlight on teacher quality is headed to the Florida Legislature.
The plan, a priority of one of former Gov. Jeb Bush's education foundations, would essentially gut teacher tenure, a status encoded in state law that gives teachers special protections against being fired.
Instead of permanent "professional service" contracts, teachers would get short-term contracts – annual contracts for the first 10 years, then five-year contracts after that, according to draft legislation obtained by the Gradebook. The plan would only apply to new teachers hired after July 2009, and would not affect the 170,000 teachers currently in the system.
"The one component that is the most important piece of a child's education, in my opinion, is the quality of the teacher," House sponsor Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, told The Gradebook. "We can pass a ton of reform, but if we don't have a quality teacher in front of the classroom it doesn't matter what the Sunshine State Standards are or anything else."
The immediate reaction from the state teachers union foreshadows what is sure to be a bitter fight. Florida teachers are already chafing under a test-heavy accountability system, salaries below the national average and dramatic state budget cuts, said union spokesman Mark Pudlow.
"And now on top of that you have the idea that we want to take away rights from teachers?" he said. "What kind of message are we sending to the people who educate our children?"
The same bill would put teeth into an existing state law that requires school districts to come up with plans to boost the pay of teachers at high-poverty schools. Another provision would require the state Department of Education to report how many teachers in each district oversaw "declines in student performance" over several years.
- Ron Matus, state education reporter