SB 736 gives teachers two options, retire or leave the state

From the Palm Beach Post

by Kevin D. Thompson

For the past 29 years, Sophia Youngberg has enjoyed her time as a teacher and couldn’t see herself doing anything else.

But that’s changed.

Youngberg, who turns 60 on Thursday, is seriously considering retirement after the Florida Senate last week passed an unpopular merit pay bill that will tie 50 percent of teacher salaries to the performance of their students on FCAT and other standardized tests over a three-year period. The bill, which passed by a 26-12 largely party-line vote, would also end the practice of basing layoffs on seniority, require school districts to develop assessments for grades and subjects not tested by FCAT and deny tenure to teachers hired after July 1.

The House is slated to begin debate today on the Senate bill. Democrats are expected to argue against the bill, but they are outnumbered 2-1 there as they were in the Senate. The bill is poised for a final vote Wednesday and, if passed as expected, would go to Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who campaigned in favor of the merit pay plan last fall and has said he would quickly sign it into law.

“There’s a lot of veteran teachers out there and this bill is scaring a lot of them into retiring early,” said Youngberg, a 21-year veteran at Citrus Cove Elementary in Boynton Beach. “I could do another five years, but honestly, now I’m not sure I want to.”

It’s not just veteran teachers who are thinking about retiring or leaving the state.

Jen Brown, an English teacher at Palm Beach Central High in Wellington, has been teaching for more than five years. While Brown, 27, said she loves her school and principal, she has been looking into the possibility of teaching in Canada.

“I love Palm Beach Central and I’m very happy there, but I can’t risk my livelihood over factors I have no control over,” Brown said.

Robert Dow, president of the Palm Beach County teachers union, said the state is changing the entire structure of how teachers are evaluated, paid, hired or fired without testing or piloting a program first.

“This is a grand experiment,” Dow said.

Teachers have been railing against Senate Bill 736 for months, saying it would penalize teachers who teach students who have disabilities or have a history of struggling academically. The bill, teachers say, would also force them to only teach to the test and not allow them to develop students’ critical thinking skills.

Brown, for instance, said she recently asked her students to pick a favorite character from Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck’s literary classic, and to create a poster and a Facebook page for that character.

“But I can’t do that anymore because it’s not FCAT-tested,” Brown said.

Catherine Martinez, an art teacher at Pahokee Middle, said she’s concerned about how she will be evaluated because the subject she teaches isn’t measured on a standardized test.

“Does that mean I’m going to be evaluated on how my students do on reading and math?” Martinez asked.

Bill supporters, however, say the current teacher evaluation system isn’t effective and keeps too many bad teachers in the system.

Florida Department of Education Commissioner Eric Smith said in a statement the way teachers are evaluated now is “not useful” and relies too heavily on subjective observation.

“(It) fails to connect our teachers to the work of their students,” Smith said.

The measure calls for teacher evaluations that would require districts to establish a system that rates teachers as “highly effective,” “effective,” “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory.” The intent of the bill is to pay teachers who are rated as effective and highly effective more fairly.

But teachers are concerned that if SB 736 is signed into law, many will shy away from teaching under-performing students, fearing they will lose money if they do.

At a recent school board meeting, Vice Chairwoman Debra Robinson said teachers who work with academically challenged kids should earn an “extra credit.”

Beverly Blanchette, dean of theater at Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach, pointed out that not all students test well and that a rigid, merit pay system doesn’t take that into account.

“I was one of those children who didn’t test well,” Blanchette said. “But I was able to learn. No test could have foretold where I am today and fortunately my graduation and my teachers’ pay wasn’t based on my test scores.”

Youngberg said she’s concerned that the bill will make teachers more competitive and stop them from sharing teaching strategies if part of their salaries are based on how their students perform.

“The collegial atmosphere of a school is going to be destroyed,” Youngberg said. “It’s going to be a very cutthroat environment.”

Then there’s the question of where the money will come from to pay for the reforms. The district is in a serious budget crunch and facing a $100 million shortfall.

“How are they going to fund giving some teachers more money?” Youngberg wondered. “Or are they going to cut other teachers’ pay? They haven’t thought this bill through.”

Martinez called the legislation a “magic wand” bill.

“The legislature is going to touch everyone on the head and – poof! – everything is going to be perfect,” Martinez said.

But Sara Cuaresma, a biology teacher at Forest Hill High in West Palm Beach, said there’s still time to work out the kinks if the state Education Department and the local school board can work together with teachers to design a better evaluation system.

“If the state really wants to evaluate teachers based on student performance, the teachers and the DOE should do the testing,” Cuaresma said. “If we know what we really want and it’s fair, I might agree with that.”

Staff writer John Kennedy contributed to this story.

Northeast Florida, where public education died

Northeast Florida if you wanted to destroy education, knee cap the middle class and do harm to the state you have come up aces. Embrace what you have done; own it, because if we get much more of Wise, Thrasher and Scott that will be about all you do own, it’s definitely all your children will.

Congratulations Northeast Florida, you are the epicenter for the destruction of the state’s public schools. Your recent dogged insistence to vote against you and your children’s interests and for politicians that couldn’t care less about the both of you have signaled education’s death knell. When you voted for Steven Wise, John Thrasher and Rick Scott you may as well as put a stake through education’s heart and forks in our children, because they too like our schools are done.

Steven Wise is no friend of public education and this has been made more evident by his senate bill 736 or what he laughably calls the teacher quality bill. In his bill teachers become at will employees and can be fired regardless of performance. Speak up? You’re gone. The principal doesn’t like you? You’re gone. The principal’s neighbor has a nephew who thinks he might like to try teaching because it would be cool to have summers off? You’re gone. This not increased quality, is what senate bill 736 will allow to happen. It also gets rid of pay increases for advanced degrees. I hope this irony is not lost on you. In every profession we say the more education you get the better off you will be, every profession except education that is, and it also gets rid of seniority and due process, two of the long established tenants of education.

The bill is also another unfunded mandate. School districts will be required to come up with ways to finance the various teacher salary scales and all the increased testing that the bill calls for. Kids will be taught more to the test than ever because now a teacher’s job is on the line more than ever. These tests are not just going to magically appear. They will be developed and scored by educational testing companies who will drain much needed money away from schools coffers and reap millions in profits. Then there will also be teacher evaluation systems that has Michelle Rhee and others salivating. Oh you didn’t know Michelle Rhee has a teacher evaluation system. Why she does, it’s called IMPACT and it has widely been panned in Washington D.C. which means it is probably on the fast track to Florida; after all she is the darling of Rick Scott and Wise.

Steven Wise has cloaked the bill in simplistic easy to please statements like merit pay and reward our best teachers. He doesn’t mention that teachers, who may know better what’s best for them than he does are overwhelmingly against it. His bill is like giving doctors who didn’t ask for it a clump or dirt and saying it’s a cutting edge scalpel and they must use it. Wise also doesn’t mention that there is no study that says merit pay works. Not one! In fact all the studies say it is the equivalent of the luck of the draw. Teacher’s student’s success on standardized tests varies wildly as students enter and leave their classes.
Wise says he wants to improve education, my question is how? Is it by making teachers want to leave and replacements harder to attract because that is what his bill is really doing; hey Jacksonville great job in voting for him.

Then there is John Thrasher who makes no apologies for his distain, no make that hatred for teachers and their unions and he comes from St. Johns County which is the top school district in the state, thank goodness he didn’t come from a county lower on the list. Wake up St. Johns, his way of thinking is going to hurt the schools and kids in your county as well but I guess some of you didn’t think about that while shooting nine at the country club. Would Deborah Giannoulis really have been such a bad alternative? She ran on a platform of doing what’s best for our kids, Thrasher has a history of doing what’s not.

He wants to end collective bargaining and destroy workers rights. He wants to do this by ending payroll deductions for unions but at the same time continue to allow payroll deductions for the United Way and other organizations and by decertifying unions that have a membership of less than fifty percent plus one. Why should multi-million or billion dollar corporations, his friends and supporters be the only one with a voice in government? In the end all his bill amounts to is rewarding his friends and silencing his enemies. Even if you don’t like unions, is this the America you want to live in? Do you want to live in a country where our corporate over loads tell us what to think and feel and limit the earning power of millions of everyday citizens; if so communist Russia would have been the place for you. This is not just a teacher battle here, this is a battle for the future of the middle class and if we are going to have one or not. Way to go St. Johns, you have just destroyed the teaching profession and public education but potentially the middle class as well, talk about a trifecta.

Thrasher and Wise are so concerned about education that instead of demanding Scott rescind his draconian budget, they develop bills that will handicap and set back the profession. No thanks guys and don’t worry about me I’ll try and get somebody to pull the knife out of my and the thousands of teachers back you just put it in.

Then there is Rick Scott, he of the 1.7 billion dollar fine for fraud who won the election with less than fifty percent of the vote, which was more of a referendum against Obama than for him. You have to hand it to him though, while spending eighty million dollars of his own personal fortune he made the election about Washington D.C. not about Florida. I get it that you don’t like Obammacare but how do you feel about gutting social services for the sick, disabled and children. How do you feel about him curtailing protections for the environment and our rivers and how do you feel about him cutting billions from our already resource starved education system? Friends we were already fiftieth in the nation. He and this is adjusted for inflation, wants to send us back to 1976 levels of school spending, you know before all the unfunded mandates and changes to education that siphoned millions away to corporate charter schools, vouchers and education testing companies.

North East Florida voted for this transplant and while hoping to create additional tax breaks for corporations and wealthy individuals in addition to the billions we already give, he seeks to balance the budget on the backs of the working poor and the middle class. Cut your own throat much North East Florida.

He won by saying he would create jobs, well the tens of thousands of teachers and government workers who are about to find themselves unemployed aren’t so optimistic about his plan. And friends we are already a low tax, pro business state without an income tax. If companies aren’t rushing here now do you really thing they are going to do so after we destroy public education, curtail government services and harm the environment?

Northeast Florida once again, if you wanted to destroy education, knee cap the middle class and do harm to the state you have come up aces. Embrace what you have done; own it, because if we get much more of Wise, Thrasher and Scott that will be about all you do, it’s definitely all your children will.

Steven Wise is no friend of Education

Steven Wise is no friend of education

Let me tell you about the months of coloration and input on the bill that Wise seems so proud of. It was the equivalent of forcing a four year old who has no love for vegetables to choose between squash and lima beans. I use a four year old in my analogy because the legislature has chosen to treat teachers like children. These same teachers when testifying who were overwhelmingly against the bill were filed in one after another only to be dismissed while another NFOE Michelle Rhee was given rock star treatment. John Thrasher perhaps the biggest NFOE around even cut off testimony, saying how many times can I hear the same thing; so much for democracy at work.

Wise says people are against teachers having tenure, well I bet they are against teachers losing their right of due process, which is what they actually have even more. He says they are for merit pay, well who isn’t, except education isn’t as simple as, fire bad teachers reward excellent ones. Study after study has shown has shown merit pay based on standardized tests does not work. It rewards the luck of the teachers draw (who is in their classes) rather than the teacher’s ability to teach. Yet Wise would have you believe differently. Do we want education policies decided on what sounds good (FCAT anyone) or tried and true research. Who should be making decisions for what’s best for kids, teachers in classrooms and parents (most of whom are likewise against the bill) or politicians who have already meddled with public schools almost to death.

Friends don’t let slick packaging and a snake oil salesmen’s tongue convince you this bill is good for education and it’s doing teachers and children a favor. It’s not on both accounts. It’s another attempt by those who hate public education to further cripple public education.

I would say urge your representative to vote against this bill except it was a done deal, regardless of what Wise would have you believe, as soon as Rick Scott was elected, it would be pointless of me to do so. Instead I urge you to remember this day the next time you are in a voting booth. Then please vote what’s best for Florida’s children.

Chris Guerrieri

Teacher bashing bill picks up steam

From the St. Augustine Record


TALLAHASSEE — Key committees in both legislative chambers gave yes votes Thursday to a proposal to partially base teacher salaries on their students’ test scores, a proposal shot down last year after teachers around the state protested that the merit pay system would penalize them.

The measure and a companion House version, would grandfather in current teacher pay plans, but set up new, merit-based ones for teachers hired after July 1, 2014. The proposals also call for an evaluation process to be set up for teachers, but they don’t spell out the details, allowing the Commissioner of Education and local school districts to work out just how teachers would be evaluated.

The Senate Budget Committee voted Wednesday to send its version to the floor — with a technical stop at the Rules Committee to be put on the calendar. The House PreK-20 Competitiveness Committee, meanwhile also voted Wednesday to forward the proposal to its next committee stop. The House bill amended its measure to put it in line with the Senate bill, so both proposals are, for now, the same.

Unlike last year’s measure — SB 6 — the new version would allow the evaluation formula to consider students’ attendance, disciplinary records, disabilities and English proficiency when evaluating teachers for merit pay. It may not, however, set different expectations for students based on gender, race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status.

Megan Allen, the 2010 Florida teacher of the Year, was among those who spoke out against the bill.

But a student’s home life, which would likely be affected by socioeconomic status, has remained a major sticking point for teachers in their opposition to the bill. Many have said that they see students who are dealing with serious problems at home, which takes their focus away from simple math and reading. Some teachers said they should not be penalized financially because their students on the testing day may have a major problem at home over which the teacher has no control.

Megan Allen, the 2010 Florida teacher of the Year, was among those who spoke out against the bill Thursday as both House and Senate committees debated the bill. Allen, who is her family’s bread winner while her husband goes back to school, said if the current proposal becomes law, she might consider leaving her Hillsborough County school, where more than 90 percent of the students receive free or reduced lunches. She said she is afraid her pay will suffer if a given class of students does not perform well because of problems outside of the classroom.

“It’s not taking into account many adult life struggles that high poverty students experience each day,” she said.

The bills would require districts to set up evaluation systems that rate teachers as “highly effective,” “effective,” “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory.” Half of those evaluations would be based on test scores. They would also allow districts to permanently put new hires on one-year contracts instead of the long term agreements that are in place now, making it easier for administrators to fire teachers.

The proposal has been backed by some high profile and politically powerful groups, namely the Florida Chamber of Commerce and former Gov. Jeb Bush’s education advocacy group, the Foundation for Florida’s Future.

The Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers’ union, has been milder in its opposition to these proposals compared to last spring, when it reacted to the bill by encouraging members to flood lawmakers offices with e-mails, letters and phone calls. But it does seem to be ramping up efforts to fight the bill as it progresses through the Legislature.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist ultimately vetoed the bill last year, citing concerns of fairness to teachers. Prior to the veto, his office said he received 65,259 phone calls and e-mails in opposition and 3,090 in support, with thousands more left uncategorized.

The bill now appears poised for easy passage though, with Gov. Rick Scott pledging his support to merit pay legislation and both House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos making it a top priority.

The assult on Florida’s teachers continues

From the St. petersburg Times, Grade Book

by Jeff Solochek

Legislation to change the way Florida teachers are paid and evaluated still misses the mark despite increased public input, the Florida Education Association said Tuesday.

The FEA — Florida’s largest teacher union — contended that the way that lawmakers want to craft performance pay plans does not take into account the complexities of today’s education system. In conjunction with the Center for Teaching Quality, the group suggested that there are other, better ways to get result-oriented reform that leads to more effective teaching.

Among its recommendations:

•”Local districts should have the flexibility to create a fair, equitable and educationally sound system for student learning and teacher effectiveness.”
•”The state and local districts should include teacher leaders in the decision-making process.”
•”State and local districts should create teacher development systems that incorporate performance pay.”
•”Get base pay right. Without a competitive base pay, it will become increasingly difficult to recruit teachers and retain them.”
“If SB 736 is enacted as proposed, thousands of effective Florida teachers will be falsely branded, resulting in unfair decisions about pay and employment, potential lawsuits and, worst of all, lost educational opportunity for tens of thousands of the state’s schoolchildren,” said Barnett Berry, CEO of the Center for Teaching Quality. “Teaching is far too complicated to make high-stakes decisions about individual performance based on one standardized test, administered once a year. Only highly trained peer evaluators — for which SB 736 does not provide — should determine which teachers are more effective than others. And those evaluators should use a variety of measures to do so, taking into account all the key elements of good teaching.”

The House and Senate versions of the bills are slated to be heard in committees again tomorrow. Several teacher organizations are trying to get people to go testify against the legislation. The Florida Department of Education, meanwhile, announced this morning the selection of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt as a consultant to help create teacher and administrator evaluation systems.

Teacher hating bill picks up steam

This was a done deal the second Scott was elected despite Wise’s claims of inclusveness. -cpg

From the St. Petersbug Times Gradebook

by Jeff Solocheck

The Senate’s version of legislation to change the way Florida schoolteachers are paid, evaluated, contracted and certified won approval from another committee Tuesday morning.

After nearly two hours of discussion and testimony, much of it similar to what we heard a week ago at the Pre-K-12 Committee, the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Education Pre-K-12 Appropriations voted out SB 736 on an 8-1 vote, with only Republican Paula Dockery opposed.

Members praised sponsor Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville, for crafting a better bill than last year’s SB 6 and for being more inclusive in writing it. But some also cautioned that the bill needs more work before they’re willing to back it on the floor.

“The current way it is today is unacceptable for Florida public education,” said Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who also is head of the state’s superintendents organization. He argued that the bill takes away teachers’ confidence that they will have jobs regardless of their performance, and said it relied on evaluations that don’t even exist.

“A tremendous amount of change is coming to Florida K-12. It’s long overdue,” Montford said. “I believe we as a Legislature can do better.”

Even Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, suggested that improvements are necessary. But she suggested that the kinks could be worked out over time, saying that this legislation is “the next major logical step in education reform,” building upon the state’s A-Plus system.

Questions remain over how to pay for raises, for instance, and how the bill jibes with other endeavors such as Race to the Top. And the House version has yet to emerge.

The big bussiness takeover of Florida Schools

From the St. Augustine Record

by Kathleen Haughney

TALLAHASSEE — As Gov. Rick Scott backs away for now from a push for an expanded school voucher program, former Gov. Jeb Bush’s education foundation has begun quietly circulating draft legislation that may serve as the Legislature’s template to massively expand the number of charter schools throughout the state.

Scott’s budget team this week preached the governor’s belief in school choice, saying the Scott wanted to expand virtual school offerings, allow more students to transfer from failing or sub par schools and create more charter school opportunities. Meanwhile, Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future has brought forth a plan that would allow colleges and universities to open charter schools without school district approval and set up a system for the per-student funding to follow the student and not be tied to a school district.

The governor and the foundation got a high profile push this week from former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, who made her name by promoting school choice and firing teachers she deemed failures. Rhee, who also serves as an informal adviser to Scott, was in Tallahassee this past week to lobby the Legislature on an education reform issues, particularly expanding school choice and abolishing teacher tenure.

“We have to be putting policies and laws in place that don’t hamstring charters … that create the right environment for them,” Rhee told reporters. “And if Florida can do that, I think you’re going to attract more and more of the high quality charter providers into the state.”

Charter school expansion may be an easier route for Scott to test the waters of school choice expansion.

State Sen. Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville, who chairs the Senate’s Prek-12 Education Committee, is open to the idea of charter school expansion, noting that the Kipp Charter School in Jacksonville has been relatively successful.

“Sometimes, they have a little bit more flexibility than the school districts, but I think they’re going to be in this game,” Wise said. “And we’re going to try to work with them as best as possible.”

Union officials aren’t weighing in yet on potential charter school legislation. A Florida Education Association spokesman said the teachers’ union has generally been in favor of charters in theory, but that it would not favor a system where per student funding left a school district to follow the student to a charter school.

A line in the foundation’s draft legislation reads, “Charter school students shall be funded without regard to whether the student’s home address lies within the school district sponsoring the charter school.”

The mixed up Florida legislature gets’s it wrong again.

They greet controversial former D.C. Education Chancellor as if she is a hero, while most superintendants and teachers in Florida can’t get their phone calls returned or e-mails read. They listen intently to her as she spouts her anti-teacher rhetoric even though it is based on unfounded data or practice because it reaffirms what they already want to believe.

Jacksonville’s own Steven Wise, no friend to public education is leading the charge for Ms. Rhee’s education deforms. He says he worked to avoid the problems that Senate Bill Six had last year but after listening to his glowing praise of Rhee (he called her a movie star) who he had address the entire legislature and the lip service he gave to teachers a few hours of committee time, it is hard to imagine that he didn’t already have his mind made up.

Before the legislature runs head long into dramatically altering the way teachers are paid instead of just listening to Rhee’s demagoguery they should do some research. Study after study has said merit pay based solely on testing does not identify the best teachers. It shows what teacher got the luck of the draw. It doesn’t work.

The legislature is also seeking to strip away from teachers what they mockingly call tenure but what is actually due process. Here in Jacksonville that means that after three years of service teachers can’t just be fired for any reason, which is what could happen in the future if Rhee and the legislature get their way.

Then finally before she took her limo to her private jet she also endorsed the proposed 5% pay cut to be given to all teachers, not the best paid group to begin with, to pay for their pensions. I get it we need pension reform but in this economy when many teachers are little more than pay check to pay check, is the right thing to do to take away five percent of their money. The millionaires that make up the legislature seem to think this is acceptable.

We want reforms, okay, but let’s make our reforms based on sound research not because a woman who was on Oprah thinks it is a good idea.

We want to streamline the process to get rid of bad teachers let’s do it but let’s not strip the good teachers of their right to due process and let’s insist that principals and districts use the procedures in place n meantime.

We want pension reform, okay, let’s roll it out slowly so we don’t hurt the thousands of teachers here in the state to much. Then at the same time lets close the tax loopholes which which only benefit a select few that see the Florida coffers looted of billions.

It’s hard to imagine the Florida legislature getting it more wrong, it is like the purposely want to hurt teachers and through extension public schools and children. Instead they should be working with teachers to find out what they need to help our children.

Please let your legislator know that, not punishing teachers, is what you want them to do.

Merit Pay: Public Input on Friday, Bill Submitted on Monday

Et Tu Brutus? I am not optimistic. -cpg

From the Orlando Sentinel

By Leslie Postal,

Florida teachers would be judged on their students’ growth on standardized tests, and new teachers would be paid based on that test-score data as part of a new merit pay bill filed today in the Florida Senate.

Sen. Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville, chairman of the Senate’s education committee, filed the “Race to the Top for Student Success” bill.

It is the first merit pay bill filed for the 2011 Florida Legislature session but is similar to plans floated in the past few months by both the Florida Education Department and an education advocacy group.

Wise, whose committee took public comment on the issue Friday, has said he hopes this year’s debate on how to improve schools by changing how teachers are evaluated and paid would be less contentious than last year’s.

The controversial bill lawmakers adopted last year was vetoed by former Gov. Charlie Crist and widely criticized by educators.

“We’re not here to beat up the teachers, we’re not here to beat up the administrators, we’re here for student success,” Wise said at Friday’s meeting.

The new bill, SB 736, would grandfather in current teacher-pay plans but set up new, merit-based ones for teachers hired after July 1, 2014.

The bill would require that at least 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on student test-score data — preferably three years worth. The data would be filtered into a new system that could take into account factors outside a teacher’s control, such as a student’s absentee rate, the bill says..

Teachers would earn one of four designations — unsatisfactory, needs improvement, effective and highly effective.

Under the new pay plan, they would get raises only if they earned one of the top two ratings.