Teachers want in on the merit pay discussion

Since Senate Bill 6 was shot down by Gov. Crist in April, educators are sharing teacher evaluation ideas

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  • | 1:51 p.m. July 1, 2010
  • Winter Park - Maitland Observer
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Florida's applications for the Race to the Top competition have sunk to the bottom with many Orange County public school teachers.

The applications propose changing the way teachers in the public school system are evaluated to include some form of merit pay, even though Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a merit-pay system proposed in Senate Bill 6 in April. Unhappy with these terms, several teachers have come up with their own alternatives.

"Education is not a business," said president of the Orange County CTA Mike Cahill, who is concerned about competition being created among teachers. "Teachers have to work as a team. Businessmen and politicians need to stay out of education and let educators do the education part."

Part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Race to the Top is a competitive grant program designed to reward states improving in the four education areas described in the ARRA: enhancing standards and assessments, improving the collection and use of data, increasing teacher effectiveness and achieving equity in teacher distribution and turning around struggling schools, according to the U.S. Department of Education website. Awards are granted in two phases.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced on March 29 that Delaware and Tennessee were the winners of grants in Phase 1. Applications for the second phase were due June 1. Florida's first application proposed merit pay for its teachers. It was revised for Phase 2, but still included provisions for merit pay. This time, the teachers unions are on board.

Cahill and Colonial High School Principal Paul Mitchell said the current system of recognition money, in which a school is awarded a sum of money as a whole for student achievement and is able to split it as it sees fit, is fairer than a merit-pay system.

"We're producing a morally driven product," Mitchell said. "It's not like we're producing a product like General Motors or building a houseā€¦ and it's very difficult to quantify what counts as a learning gain. All students are different."

Senior Executive Director for Human Relations Carol Kindt said Orange County Public School teachers are evaluated based on student assessment, communication, continuous improvement, critical thinking, diversity, ethics, human development and learning, knowledge of subject matter, learning environment, planning, role of the teacher and use of technology.

The introduction of merit pay would make a percent of a teacher's salary based on student achievement on standardized math and science tests.

If the status quo must change, Cahill said, he'd like to see the teachers be the ones to put some kind of performance pay package together. He signed the Race to the Top Phase Two Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) at the school board meeting on May 11 representing the local teachers' union.

With Florida public school teachers' salaries for 2008-2009 already more than $7,000 below the national average, according to the National Education Association, Cahill said he wants the government to bring the teachers up to the average salary before he'll be willing to talk about things beyond average.

Elton Wright, second vice president of the Orange County CTA and fifth-grade teacher at Pinewood Elementary, has thought of an alternative that supports Cahill's view. He suggested the merit-pay system be used for bonus pay to see if it's effective or not, instead of potentially decreasing teacher salaries.

"If you do it as a form of a bonus on top of the salary we have now, then you have an opportunity to work out the kinks," Wright said.

Wright's son has been labeled Trainable Mentally Handicapped and hard of hearing, limiting his learning ability. Wright said his son's teachers would be of particular concern because special education teachers can't fairly be held to the same standards as traditional teachers.

"Can I get mad at the teacher if he can't write a five-paragraph paper?" Wright said. "No, I can't, because I know where my child stands. So why would I want a teacher to be under such scrutiny and stress?"

Race to the Top is a $4.35 billion Federal program. About $3.4 billion is still available for Phase 2, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Winners of the second phase of the competition will be announced in late August or early September, according to the U.S. Department of Education website.


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