A weekend interview with...
state Sen. Don Gaetz. A former superintendent of Okaloosa County schools, this Republican lawmaker now chairs the Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee, where even as a freshman he's leading the conversation on state education policy. State education reporter Ron Matus talked with Gaetz at length about teacher pay. Here's the transcript (again, edited slightly for length):
Q: What’s your take on performance pay as a concept? And then what's your take on STAR?
A: I believe in performance pay. I believe there ought to be a distinction drawn between those who do their very best under whatever circumstances - in some cases, very difficult circumstances - and those who do just enough to get by.
Q: And STAR?
A: It wasn't debated. It wasn't subjected to a committee process, to testimony, to review, to analysis. It was added as proviso language and tacked on at the end of the session. It was a good idea. But that's not the way to do it.
Q: At the end of the day with the Legislature, are we going to have a dramatically different performance pay plan?
A: Well, I can only speak for myself. But based on my informal conversations with some in the Senate, and some in the House, I think there's an understanding that the STAR system was poorly designed and that it is inherently flawed ...
Q: Is it likely at the end of the day that student performance will still be the primary factor?
A: Sure. It should be. It should be. I'm a parent. When I send my children to school, it's important that the school grounds are really neat. It's important that the building is well maintained. It's important that there is good discipline. It's important that there is a school nurse. It’s important that there are opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities. It's important that there is good morale. It's important that the food in the cafeteria tastes as good as it can given, you know, institutional food. It's important that they send home a weekly newsletter. All those things are important. But the reason I send my kid to school is to learn.
Q: So this idea that there should be all kinds of things in the formula for performance pay - you’re not buying that?
A: I think that a locally developed plan may take all kinds of things into account. For example, you may have a school district that says, look, we know, based on our experience here, that one of the key drivers in student performance is to ensure that our reading courses are based on real research, that we have research-based reading methodologies, that we're not using open court reading, that we're not using whole group instruction, that we're not using break out sessions where we send the kids who have learning disabilities over in the corner and give 'em curriculum lite. We've figured out that you've got to have a research-based approach to teaching reading. ... So we'd like to make sure that in addition to FCAT scores and AP scores and SAT scores and ACT scores, that we also weigh performance pay to include some analysis or some observation that teachers are doing those things ... But at the end of the day, you can't have one of those deals where the operation is always a success but the patient dies.
Q: At the end of the day, do you really feel like you can get a majority of teachers, or somewhere close to a majority, on board?
A: I don’t think the question is, can you get a majority? I think the question is, can you give schools and school districts permission to go through the debate locally? The debate about what to be included in a performance pay system ought to be happening around the table at the school advisory council meeting and at the faculty meeting. At every school.
Q: As flawed as STAR may be, has it not been good at least in the fact that we’re talking about teacher quality more?
A: Well, Martin Luther said, that if the devil didn't exist, the church would have to invent him. And if there is an advantage in the STAR system, it is that the debate has been joined.
Q: So we're finally talking about whether teachers should be measured in some way, talking about teacher quality and who's better and who's not?
A: Absolutely. I think that’s a very healthy place to be. ... I think that Gov. Bush took us to the edge of the promised land. And now we need to cross the river. And when we cross the river, it'll be to a place where our best teachers, and our best teaching, is honored, and respected, and rewarded. And where teachers and teaching that are not the best can be helped, can be coached, can be encouraged to be better.
For a teacher's perspective on STAR, click here.