In an interview with The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board, Gov. Scott brushed aside criticism that the state’s emerging teacher evaluation system is too complicated and imprecise. While gung-ho on the measuring half of the equation, he was noncommittal on the crucial second half of any merit pay plan: pay.
In fact, though he ranked public education as a top priority and even offered rare praise – “I think traditional public schools do a great job” – Gov. Scott would not promise to spare education in next year’s budget. “My goal is that the state funding for education at least stays where it is.” This week, House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, all but said that the Legislature will cut the education budget.
Per-pupil funding for public schools fell by about 8 percent in this year’s budget. Even if state funding remains the same, districts could take a big hit because they are exhausting reserves from the federal stimulus. Last week, Palm Beach County School District Chief Financial Officer Mike Burke warned of a $52 million gap, even if the Legislature holds spending at current levels. The district this year used $49 million in stimulus money held back from previous budgets and relied on a few other non-recurring revenue items, such as money from land sales.
So the state would need to kick in more just for schools to stay even. But Florida likely will face a $2 billion shortfall, and health care and education are the state’s biggest budget items.
When the Legislature approved merit pay last spring, supporters touted it as an end to “teacher tenure.” The evaluation system, which is being phased in and will be fully in place by 2014, relies heavily on FCAT scores. The state Department of Education, in conjunction with consultants, is developing the “value-added” equation that supposedly will isolate an individual teacher’s impact on a student. To do that, the equation must take accurate account of such things as parental involvement, deficiencies in the student’s prior education and disabilities that can affect learning.
Such an evaluation system, proven to be valid and reliable, does not exist. Even FCAT scores, perhaps the most objective part of the evaluation, are insufficient to the task. There are no FCAT tests for such subjects as history and foreign languages. Florida is developing end-of-course tests in all subjects, but the state will start making decisions on teacher retention and pay long before the evaluation system itself is tested.
Gov. Scott said he will be asking, “How do I constantly improve the merit pay system?” That’s of little consolation to teachers dismissed under early versions that inevitably will be flawed. Gov. Scott also said the evaluation system “will absolutely work,” and “I’m very comfortable that rewarding effective teachers works.” In fact, no credible study has shown any educational benefit from merit pay for teachers.
Even if the state can come up with a fair evaluation system, a merit pay system without “pay” wouldn’t be fair. And Gov. Scott admitted that, “It’s going to be very difficult” for the state to find money to reward teachers. Florida is heading for a “merit pay” system that can’t recognize merit and can’t afford pay. Backers are gung-ho. No wonder teachers aren’t.
– Jac Wilder VerSteeg,
for The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board