Rep. Stargel: Florida deserves 'a great teacher in every classroom'
The teacher tenure debate has reared its head in Florida, with Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, leading the charge. Her bill to extend the number of years before a teacher can earn tenure, expand performance pay options and other related changes comes to its first stop in the House this afternoon.
Stargel contends in a guest post to the Gradebook that her effort is in line with President Barack Obama's plans for education reform, and suggests that Florida should do no less. [The Gradebook welcomes original guest columns on Florida education issues. E-mail your contributions to email@example.com for consideration.]
Here's what Stargel has to say about her proposal:
"This session, Florida has an unprecedented opportunity to create a world-class workforce that will attract investment and high wage jobs, and help return our economy to a path of prosperity for the long term. Elected officials from both sides of the aisle agree that great teachers produce great students.
"In his speech on [March 10], President Barack Obama said, 'From the moment students enter a school, the most important factor in their success is not the color of their skin or the income of their parents; it's the person standing at the front of the classroom.' In fact, research confirms effective teaching is the most important factor in determining a student’s success in school. Policy experts at the Education Trust, Stanford University and the University of Tennessee confirm that good teachers accelerate student progress, and produce student gains almost four times greater than the least effective teachers in the system.
"To transform education in Florida, I filed House Bill 1411 — the 2009 Teacher Quality Initiative. The initiative is a comprehensive approach to raising student achievement by ensuring a great teacher in every classroom.
"The bill strengthens existing laws to guarantee that educators with harder teaching jobs get competitive pay. Teachers in low-income schools and those teaching subjects experiencing teacher shortages should be financially rewarded for taking on more difficult responsibilities. Under my bill, they will.
"The bill also modernizes teacher certification by enabling exceptional candidates to serve as teachers. The law provides new avenues for teacher certifications to veterans who earn credits under the program Troops to Teachers and top college graduates who participate in Teach for America. These wonderful programs will tap some exceptional people who want to teach in Florida.
"I believe that the more parents know about their child’s education, the better that education will be. We want to encourage parents to be involved. The bill allows parents to make the best decisions for their child’s education by providing them with information on student achievement and teacher quality in their local school district.
"The most discussed component of the legislation is its reform of tenure. Currently, a teacher only needs to work for three years to earn tenure for life. What other profession provides this type of job security?
"My bill gives superintendents and principals more flexibility by providing the ability to offer annual contracts to teachers, for up to seven years, and then a series of 5-year contracts as opposed to the current employment contract for life. These new contracts would only apply to teachers hired after the bill takes effect.
"This is not a partisan issue. President Barack Obama expressed similar intentions on this issue in his speech on March 10 stating 'states and school districts [should take] steps to move bad teachers out of the classroom' and that he rejects 'a system that rewards failure and protects a person from its consequences.'
"Florida has some of the nation’s best teachers, and this bill won’t affect the vast majority of teachers. However, there should be no debate that to ensure a quality education for our children, ineffective teachers need to be identified, offered ample opportunities to improve and if improvement doesn’t occur taken out of the classroom.
"We are at a tipping point. The economy is in shambles and America’s education ranks below many other countries. If our education system is going to return to prominence and ensure we produce workers that can compete internationally we must move past what failed us in 20th century and look to reforms that have proven to work.
"Now is the time to give our schools, parents and students the leadership, effective teachers, rigorous curriculum and the tools they need to provide the best education possible."