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Q & A on Florida's Senate Bill 6

As the effort to overhaul teacher pay and contracts surges ahead in Tallahassee, reaction to the legislation has reached a fever pitch.

Many teachers condemn SB 6 as an assault on them and public education. They accuse proponents of mounting a disinformation campaign to obscure the truth about the bills.

Backers fire right back, saying opponents have their facts wrong on everything from the performance pay proposal to the contract criteria.

The answers lie somewhere in the middle, with many key items left vague and to be resolved by the State Board of Education, a future incarnation of the Florida Legislature and local contract negotiations. Some are calling it the "trust me" bill.

Here are a few key points of contention:

Could teachers lose their jobs without any recourse if this bill passes?

Yes, if they were hired on July 1, 2010, or later. That's when they would be placed on a one-year probationary contract, during which time they could quit or be fired without cause. After that, a teacher would be placed on one-year contracts. School officials can decide not to renew a contract for any reason during this time. To qualify for a sixth one-year contract, a teacher must have been evaluated as "effective" or "highly effective" in two of the preceding three years.

What about teachers hired before July 1, 2010?

They're safe as long as they can demonstrate "effective performance" in four of the five years leading up to renewal of their teaching certificate. Certificates are renewed every five years. A teacher who can't demonstrate "effective performance," would see the certification expire and would have to apply for reinstatement. The bill also would add "poor performance as demonstrated by lack of student gains" as a definition of just cause for purposes of dismissal.

The bill would establish four new evaluation categories: "unsatisfactory," "needs improvement," "effective" and "highly effective." What do they mean?

They're tied to learning gains made by a teacher's students. But like the term "learning gains" itself, they are not defined in the bill. The State Board of Education would set the details.

How would teachers be paid under such a system?

Current ones would see what they earn now become their new base salary. Teachers hired on July 1 or later would be paid a base salary to be negotiated by the local school district and teachers association. All teachers would be able to get "increases" for student performance, which would go into their base salary. They also could get annual "adjustments" for specific circumstances such as working in a "high priority location," teaching in a "critical teacher shortage area," or taking on additional academic responsibilities. These terms also are undefined.

What about the claim that teachers would have half their pay based on student test scores?

That provision appeared in the first version of the Senate bill, but has since been removed. The new version says that, starting in 2014, at least half of a teacher's annual evaluation must be based on student learning gains. The overall evaluation would be used to determine if teachers make any money above their base salary. (First-year teachers would be evaluated twice.)

How would districts pay for this?

They would have to set aside up to 5 percent of their entire budget starting in 2011 for performance and differential pay increases. Districts could use leftover money to develop tests to determine student gains. They would lose any unused money.

How would the districts figure out if the teachers' students made learning gains?

They would use existing tests for some courses such as the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test or advanced placement exams. For courses with no such current assessment, districts would have to create end-of-course exams that adhere to the state's curriculum standards. It's not clear whether there would be pretests, too. The State Board of Education would develop specific guidelines.

What else would the learning gains be used for?

To determine whether the state's schools of education are producing teachers who get acceptable academic performance from their students. Continued approval of these programs would be contingent upon the learning gains.

Will teachers be competing with each other to achieve gains regardless of their students' abilities?

Not necessarily. The bill makes clear that student learning would be evaluated among students in the same course taking the same test. So it's unlikely gifted children would be compared to children with special needs. The bill also provides that all teachers are eligible for raises based on student gains, suggesting they would not be vying for a limited fund. Still, there's no specific language in the bill on this point.

Would a teacher's years of service and degrees count at all?

The bill prohibits using either to set a base salary schedule. It also phases out bonuses for teachers receiving National Board certification. An amendment that passed through the Senate would permit school districts to use degrees as a factor in part of a teacher's performance evaluation. In practice, this would mean teachers would not get extra money just for having an advanced degree, but could benefit from having a degree directly applicable to their instructional field, if it's negotiated into their contract.

Will principals be affected?

Yes. Their evaluations will also be tied to the academic performance of students in their schools.

When would all of this take effect?

In the 2014-15 school year for most of the provisions.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Q & A on Florida's Senate Bill 6 04/03/10 [Last modified: Saturday, April 3, 2010 7:48pm]

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