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By Mc Nelly Torres
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

Merit pay for Florida’s public school teachers is in place after two years of protests.

In 2010, former Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a proposed merit pay measure during his Senate campaign in response to widespread protests from teachers and supporters.


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But in March, Gov. Rick Scott signed a similar bill into law that links teacher pay to classroom performance. The new law will establish a statewide teacher evaluation and merit pay system by 2014, do away with tenure for new teachers hired after July 1, 2011, and the use of long-term contracts. It also eliminates teachers’ due process and collective bargaining rights.

But Florida teachers are not backing away.

In September, the Florida Education Association filed a lawsuit against the state contending that the law is unconstitutional because it substantially changes how teachers are paid and evaluated while denying instructors their right to collective bargaining, the Associated Press reported at the time.

Regardless of what’s happening at the state level, performance pay for teachers has been part of the Obama administration’s ambitious education reform agenda. And this became clear as the administration launched the $4.5 billion Race to the Top grant program two years ago, which required states to come up with new ways to grade teachers and tie student performance to paychecks. Florida won the competition in the second round, securing about $700 million in federal money.

In fact, the Sunshine State leads the nation in instituting merit pay. Florida is among 25 states using student scores on standardized exams as the foundation to evaluate teachers and set pay — and it is the only state requiring merit pay statewide.

“Florida has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to the merit pay issues,” Michelle Exstrom, education program principal at the National Conference of State Legislatures, told the AP. “And I think a lot of states have looked at Florida’s struggles and said, ‘You know what, it’s not clear cut how to make this work.’ ”

Though merit pay has been debated for years, evaluating teachers is not an easy task and no one has come up with a fair formula to measure teacher performance.

The state’s new formula, criticized for its complexity, will initially measure teacher performance using Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) scores, with plans to use other tests in the future. It would rate teachers on four performance levels, from unsatisfactory to highly effective. Student test scores would account for 50 percent of the evaluation, regardless of student growth and an in-person evaluation for the other half. Top-performing teachers can get permanent salary increases while those rating near the bottom for two consecutive years can be let go.

The system doesn’t take into account students’ race, gender and socioeconomic status — despite evidence that such factors are linked to student achievement.

And as Florida faces more budget cuts that will likely affect public education, it’s unclear how the state will pay higher salaries to teachers who perform well.



7 Responses

  1. Dave

    This will not last any longer than the other unsuccessful merit pay programs that have emerged over the last 30 years or so in Florida. If this monster ever gets funded at all.

  2. Mc Nelly Torres

    With all the cuts in public education, do you think the legislature will fund this new mandate at all? School districts, especially large ones like the ones in South Florida, are having problems meeting the class-size amendment, another unfunded mandate.
    What are your thoughts about that one?

    Thanks for reading.

    Mc Nelly Torres
    Associate Director
    Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

  3. Ben

    Merit pay is so cool. I mean, what other profession pays its professional practitioners on the basis of the performance of an eight year old on a one-time test of basic skills. You’ve gotta love Floriduh!

  4. Ben

    The performance pay plan adopted in Florida is seriously flawed in many ways. It is an unconstitutional infringement upon public employees’ rights to collectively bargain for salaries and working conditions. It violates the rights of teachers who currently hold continuing service contracts – erroneously referred to as “tenure” – by allowing school boards to move “less effective” teachers (as defined under the new and bogus assessment paradigm) to annual contract status and then to fire them without due process. It establishes yet another unfunded mandate that local school boards cannot afford. While its misleading title (the “Student Success Act”) implies that it is a student-centered plan, it is actually insidious legislation that furthers republican political dogma. It is anti-teacher and anti public education. It continues the sixteen-year republican agenda of discrediting, defunding, and eventually starving out public education in the interest of allowing corporations to establish for-profit schools and throwing open the state’s treasury to their greed.

  5. Paula Bleakley

    Florida’s merit pay plan is seriously flawed. The only reason the republican legislators back it is to get out of funding public schools. As a primary grade teacher my performance will be judged by the scores of third graders on the FCAT. And this is the kicker–EVEN IF I NEVER TAUGHT THOSE STUDENTS!They have no plans to track the FCAT performance of students that I did in fact teach. Pretty crazy…

  6. Mc Nelly Torres

    Got any tips for us? Please e-mail us at info@fcir.org or go here, https://fcir.org/submit-news-tip/.

    If you have any tip regarding education, feel free to make it to my attention. You can also following me on Twitter @WatchdogDiva.

    I’m interested in public education funding so if you have any news ideas, go ahead and send them. Thanks for your comments.


    Mc Nelly Torres
    Associate Director
    Florida Center for Investigative Reporting


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