House and Senate tie teacher pay raises to performance

Fla. Gov. Rick Scott had maintained for weeks that legislators would "do the right thing" and agree to give every classroom teacher a $2,500 pay raise this year. State legislative leaders had been just as insistent, saying it was unlikely they would go along with Scott's proposal the way he wanted. On Sunday, House and Senate budget negotiators settled on setting aside nearly $480 million that can be used to boost teacher pay. But the proposal will require that some of the money be tied to teacher performance instead of giving out raises to every classroom teacher. Legislators also plan to offer raises to all instructional personnel and not just classroom teachers. This is a move that could also lower the amount offered to each employee. "I think at the end of the day, regardless of how you look at it, it's going to be used for teacher salary increases," said Rep. Eric Fresen, R-Miami and chairman of the House panel that oversees school spending. Scott had made the across-the-board teacher pay raise one of his top priorities for the 2013 session. But legislators had signaled their reluctance with the proposal from the start. They maintained that it went against the idea of rewarding teachers based on student performance -- a key element of the merit pay law passed in 2011 and is scheduled to take effect in 2014. Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton and chairman of the Senate panel that oversees school spending, brushed aside concerns that school districts may not be able to quickly implement a system to parcel out the $480 million by this fall. "This is not something new for the districts," Galvano said. "We have been moving to merit-based evaluations for some time now." Melissa Sellers, a spokeswoman for Scott, contended that lawmakers still have time to change their minds and avoid a confrontation with the governor. "The governor has priorities. The Legislature has priorities," Sellers said. "There's still enough time left to determine how successful this session will be for all of us." Legislators have until May 3 to wrap up work on a new $74 billion state budget that would cover state spending from July 1 until June 30, 2014. (Andy Ford quoted) (Dawn Chapman quoted)


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Legislators need to fix teacher-performance issues

Today begins the second week of FCAT testing in Leon County which means that parents have spent plenty of time helping their children get through the jitters of making the grade on what has become the all-important measure of student progress. But there’s another group of people in school systems in Leon and counties around the state who are experiencing their own set of jitters, as the test outcomes weigh equally on their own progress reports. These are the teachers, whose own evaluations and pay could wind up tied to the performance of the students. Until Gov. Rick Scott, the Department of Education and Florida’s legislators correct a system that is full of holes when it comes to teachers’ evaluations and, ultimately, teachers’ livelihoods, the state’s education system will pay no serious dividends to students or their teachers. At the heart of the issue is the Student Success Act, backed by former Gov. Jeb Bush, hurriedly endorsed by legislators and signed into law by Gov. Scott in March 2011. The law mandates that school districts evaluate all teachers and supervisors at least once a year. The problem is that 50 percent of the evaluation is tied to student performance on annual learning assessments such as the FCAT. Almost from the beginning, this measure of a teacher’s effectiveness, value and condition of employment has been under fire. A key criticism is that, because of schoolwide testing in general subjects such as reading and math, teachers can be judged on the accomplishments of students they never taught. It’s estimated that 35 percent of classroom teachers are dedicated to math and reading, the standard bearers on the FCAT, but the remaining teachers -- in subjects such as history -- could see their evaluations affected by the overall student performance. Last week, seven teachers in Florida filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging what they say is an evaluation system that’s unfair and unconstitutional in how it is being enforced. The Florida Education Association already has a suit pending in Leon County arguing that the legislation is unfair and violates teachers’ rights. Part of the federal lawsuit is the case of Bethann Brooks, who teaches health science at a Brooksville high school. Her evaluation this year dropped from highly effective to effective, based on the performance of students she never taught. Starting next year, how well students perform on tests will directly affect a teacher’s evaluations, which means it could impact raises and even the decision of whether to keep a teacher at a school. Also at stake is how to implement Gov. Scott’s proposal to give instructional teachers a $2,500 raise in this year’s budget. Both chambers have put money in their budgets for the raises, but they insist on having it tied to teacher performance. That’s seems reasonable, but the question in Florida is what measures do you use to fairly determine how well a teacher is performing? “There are no standards,” argues Tallahassee attorney Ron Meyer, who represents the FEA. “They are not going to see that money.” We need standards and measures to determine the effectiveness of teachers, but lawmakers must revisit the current law before it leads to more confusion, distrust and an exodus of strong, capable classroom teachers who no longer want to work in Florida. That isn’t the message Florida wants to project as it seeks to create a first-class education system that can fill existing jobs and create new ones to bolster and sustain the economy. This puts finding a solution into the lap of legislators who now must take some quick and deliberate action on a law that their colleagues passed with a lack of forward thinking.


Will value-added measurement survive the courts?

An ongoing argument raging across the country over whether student test score gains are a fair way to gauge a teacher’s skill has hit the courts. In what may be among the first of many lawsuits over the new evaluations -- which have been adopted by multiple states -- the Florida teachers union is challenging the state’s use of test scores in decisions about which teachers are fired and which receive pay raises. The Florida Education Association argues the system violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection and due process clauses. The debate over the new systems has often centered on the frequent errors in what’s known as value-added measurement, which can lead to effective teachers being misidentified as ineffective, and whether the potential problems for teachers outweigh the potential benefits for students. A new paper published this week explores both sides. Ratings for teachers based on test scores get it wrong a lot of the time. Dan Goldhaber of the University of Washington-Bothell, and Susanna Loeb, of Stanford University, review previous research that finds about a quarter of teachers are likely to be misidentified as ineffective when they’re in fact effective using the test score measures. “The error rates,” they write, “appear to be quite high.” At issue in Florida are not the error rates, but the fact that teachers are receiving ratings based on test scores of students or subjects they don’t teach. “This lawsuit highlights the absurdity of the evaluation system,” said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, in a statement.


Jeb Bush's foundation raises question about lawsuit

Folks at Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future have raised an eyebrow at the Florida Education Association's lawsuit over teacher evaluations and the Florida Legislature's bills (filed ahead of the suit) to address the complaint. The law already allowed districts to evaluate teacher performance without using test scores of students they don't teach, foundation spokeswoman Allison Aubuchon noted in an e-mail to media. The actual language states: "At least 50 percent of a performance evaluation must be based upon data and indicators of student learning growth assessed annually by statewide assessments or, for subjects and grade levels not measured by statewide assessments, by school district assessments as provided" in statute. They just didn't do that. "Districts did not have to assign school-wide results to any teacher – Florida law allows the use of AP and other tests," Aubuchon wrote. "The language moving through the Legislature ensures that they don’t do this again in the future, and that teachers will only be evaluated on the students they teach." The foundation created a "Myth v. Fact" handout on teacher evaluations as the debate continues. It offers an interesting mix of fact, opinion and philosophy that all play a role in the fight over the two-year-old SB 736 that teachers have been trying to void since it became law.


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Senate, House clash over controversial subsidized tutoring program

The fight over subsidized tutoring in the Florida Legislature has come down to a quiet confrontation set against an unlikely backdrop — a series of budget talks between the House and Senate. As the session winds down, the fate of the controversial program is being haggled over in private because of a last-ditch effort to tie reforms to the state budget process. On one side, the Florida House, backed by superintendents of the state’s largest school systems, wants to end mandated tutoring for poor students and give districts control over the money.  On the other, a Senate plan, backed by the for-profit tutoring industry, aims to keep tax dollars flowing to private contractors but also adds as-yet-undefined accountability measures. Both sides met Saturday morning but have yet to reach a deal. The sticking point in the talks is whether school districts should have the option of hiring outside tutors for their most vulnerable students — or whether they should be required to. Subsidized tutoring, or supplemental educational services, came under scrutiny in Florida following a Tampa Bay Times investigation published in February. In a series of stories, the newspaper showed that criminals were earning tax dollars running tutoring businesses and lax regulation had allowed rampant overbilling in the $100 million program. State Education Commissioner Tony Bennett, who has supported more flexibility for school districts, pledged changes while leaders of districts statewide called for an end to the program, which was designed to help poor children in failing schools. But so far this year, the Legislature’s efforts at reform have flagged.


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Scott to sign sweeping education bill

Florida Gov. Rick Scott planned to sign a sweeping education bill today that changes tough graduation standards, while also setting the stage for the University of Florida to take the lead in online education in the state. The measure was passed overwhelmingly by the Legislature and it also makes changes to everything from testing requirements to adding a new "financial literacy" requirement for high school students. The bill's sponsor, Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, maintains that the bill would create a "passport" for students and help them prepare for jobs of today and the future. The main part of the legislation would give students an ability to graduate from high school even if they don't complete tough classes in both math and science. Legislators in 2010 raised the state's graduation requirements by adding Algebra II and science courses such as chemistry and physics. The argument at the time was that it would align high school standards to the types of skills that would be needed to attract high-wage jobs in the state. But the bill sent to Scott, however, would remove those requirements, which is a position backed by school superintendents. Instead college-bound students could opt to take tougher courses and earn a high school diploma that includes a "scholar" designation. Students would also be allowed to take career education courses or enroll in work-related internships. Supporters of the measure insisted they were redesigning high school standards to give different options to students who may not be interested in pursuing a college degree. "Whether that child wants to be a brain surgeon or a Mercedes mechanic, this takes care of them," said Rep. Elizabeth Porter, R-Lake City during debate on the bill. But some of the lawmakers who opposed the bill questioned the idea behind the bill. Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, noted that students of today will likely change careers several times over their lives. He cautioned about training students for an industry that might one day be a "dinosaur." "I think we're much better off with a wide breadth of an education, allowing our students to get an education in many different subjects," Clemens said. The new measure would also remove requirements to pass end-of-course tests in biology and geometry in order to earn a diploma. Instead, the tests would count as 30 percent of a student's final grade. The measure also includes several provisions that affect Florida's public universities, including designating universities as "preeminent state research" universities. UF, which meets the criteria, would be allowed to start an online institute in 2014 that would offer bachelor's degrees online. The new "preeminent" designation would also apply to Florida State University, which would be eligible for extra money to help it attract national known scholars to the faculty. Both UF and FSU would also be given the authority to mandate that incoming freshmen take up to 12 hours of courses that could not be bypassed by taking Advanced Placement courses in high school.


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