Less than a month after unveiling a radical plan to do away with teacher tenure in Florida public schools, Senate Republicans have stripped the plan of two of its most offensive ideas, including demands that school districts base more than 50 percent of teachers' salaries on student performance. But the legislation still is a largely punitive measure that goes too far in stripping protections from teachers and undermining local control.
The Senate is poised to vote on SB 6, which envisions a future where any teacher hired after July 1 has no guarantee of a job year-to-year. That would make it far easier to get rid of a teacher without having to endure laborious discipline proceedings. Teachers could find their contracts simply not renewed the next year. The bill also offers a form of merit pay that would enable high-performing teachers to earn more far more quickly than their lower-performing counterparts.
Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine and the bill's sponsor, contends abolishing tenure would help school districts shed their most ineffective teachers while encouraging strong performers. During the Senate's debate Tuesday, he referred to Hillsborough County's effort to establish a performance-based salary system as an example of what he is trying to achieve. But Thrasher's plan differs in two key ways: Hillsborough is not attempting to abolish tenure but trying to ensure it is awarded only to quality teachers. The school district also received $100 million from the Gates Foundation to help teachers meet those new higher standards.
Under Thrasher's plan, school districts would be required to dedicate at least 5 percent of their state money toward a performance-pay system that rates each teacher annually as either highly effective, effective, needs improvement and unsatisfactory. More than 50 percent of the assessment would be based on student performance on standardized testing — including several end-of-course exams the state has yet to devise.
Starting in 2014-15, those ratings would be the sole factor in determining each teacher's annual raise. The ratings would also be used to deny renewal of a teacher's certificate if the teacher was not rated effective or highly effective by their school district at least four of the five prior years.
Florida needs to find better ways to reward good teachers and show bad ones the door. But this bill would put even the best teachers on permanent defense to hold on to their jobs. Despite its improvements, it remains a sledgehammer when what is required is a scalpel.