Teacher tenure, pay overhaul clears first Senate stop
Breaking but not surprising news: The Senate's K-12 committee just passed by a 6-2 party line vote Sen. John Thrasher's proposal to overhaul the way teachers are trained, evaluated, paid and fired.
The vote was all R's voting yes and the committee's lone two Democrats -- Frederica Wilson and Larcenia Bullard of Miami -- voting no.
"In every field, there are people lacking. In this Senate, there are senators who are lacking," said Wilson, a former educator. "It's no different with teachers. We know some are not up to par. But instead of chipping the foundation of this whole system, why don't we come up with a new kind of instrument for measuring performance? 99.1 percent of our teachers are great teachers."
Thrasher, R-Orange Park, the bill's sponsor, argued that the legislation "is honoring teachers by giving them a system once and for all that shows we care about them and are willing to pay them what they deserve in the marketplace."
The proposal is supported by former Gov. Jeb Bush's education foundation and echoed in some elements of Florida's Race to the Top application. It ties half of teachers' and administrators' pay to student performance and gains, and it eliminates multiyear contracts now afforded to longer-serving teachers.
It also requires the development of end-of-year exams to be used as assessment tools.
Many educators and their organizations came to speak on the proposal -- with most supporting the notion of rewarding good teachers but warning that the bill as it stands is too punitive and sweeping and could discourage anyone from entering the teaching profession.
"To say this bill needs work is a monumental understatement," said Wayne Blanton, head of the Florida School Boards Association. "This bill does more to damage teacher morale than anything I have seen in a long time."
Pat Levesque of Bush's Foundation countered: "The quality of the teacher is the most important tool in student learning, and you can see the results three years late in students' learning. This bill will ensure ... every child, every year, in every classroom, has a great teacher."
She said the bill's salary provision, and the option to pay more to teachers in high-need neighborhoods and subject areas, "will ensure that we pay more to teachers in high-need low-income schools, and that we pay teachers whose students perform better."