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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Hillsborough among finalists for Gates Foundation merit-pay grants

TAMPA -- Hillsborough County school officials are taking their shot at millions of dollars in teacher development funds from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In an email to district employees this week, superintendent MaryEllen Elia said the district was among 10 finalists for a grant to overhaul its teacher evaluation system. The foundation has earmarked at least $500 million for the program.

Elia said the foundation was seeking districts willing to develop new, comprehensive measures of teacher effectiveness; provide more money and responsibility to teachers who earn tenure; and put effective teachers where they're needed most.

"Gates shares our vision of finding new ways to identify and reward effective teachers without being bound by the way things have always been done," Elia said.

Officials said the foundation will fly Elia and members of the district's leadership team and teachers' union to Seattle on Aug. 5 to present their proposal.

The foundation has earmarked at least $500 million to support school districts that develop data systems and use merit pay to reward teachers with demonstrated effectiveness at improving student learning. In a speech last fall, co-chairman Bill Gates said he was surprised all school districts don't operate that way.

"It’s astonishing to me that you could have a system that doesn’t allow you to pay more for strong performance, or for teaching in a particular school," he said, in a speech on the foundation's web site. "That is almost like saying 'Teacher performance doesn’t matter.' And that’s basically saying: 'Students don’t matter.'"

According to published reports, Gates also told private audiences last fall that his foundation would encourage districts to find ways to get rid of ineffective teachers.

“If their students keep falling behind, they’re in the wrong line of work, and they need to move on,” he said.

Other school districts vying for the funds include Palm Beach, Denver, Atlanta, and Prince George's County in Maryland, according to the Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis.

In her email, Elia said Florida legislators had failed to work with teachers and build evaluation systems from scratch when they designed Florida's Merit Award Program, which is based on students' standardized test or exam performance and supervisor evaluations. And she suggested more such mandates are on the way in the years to come.

"Our nation’s schools are changing; we can be one of the districts that shapes the change or we can be one of the districts that implements new directives 6 to 8 years from now," Elia said.

Tom Marshall, Times Staff Writer 

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:23am]


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