Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Gov. Crist Takes A Stand

Last week Florida Governor Crist vetoed Senate Bill 6 which was the first bill in the country to use a "merit based system" to determine teacher salary (follow the link for the news story). This bill based teacher salary on student performance as opposed to advanced degrees and years in the classroom. This bill also took away the possibility of tenure for new teachers.

There is idea that the only thing a public school teacher has to do to reach tenure is to show up for a couple years, fill out some paperwork. Then they will get tenure and never be able to be fired. Because of a lack of a merit based pay scale teachers in America are not motivated to do a good job which is why we have problems in our education system.

Let me clarify a couple things. If you are teacher who has tenure, you can be fired. Teachers on tenure tracks often have different evaluations than non-tenured teachers but they do have them and if tenured teachers slip in the job performance they can be fired. I've seen it happen.

As a non-tenured teacher every year I have more formal and informal evaluations than friends of mine who work in engineering, sales, publishing and non-profit charity work. The only people I know who are evaluated as often as me are my friends who are graduate students.

Now these evaluations are usually done by a principal or at the high school level a department head. Before these observations a meeting occurs before hand in which the teacher and administrator discuss the lesson and things that the principal is looking for in the teacher's instruction. The administrator observes the teacher teach and then there is a debriefing meeting.

These evaluations mean something; they just aren't put away in a file. They are looked at when districts decided whether to rehire teachers and they do measure the quality of work that teachers do. This is why when people talk about a merit-based teacher salary system, I'm a litle puzzled because it actually exists. If you are doing a great job, you are asked to come back, and you get a raise. There's your merit pay. And if you don't do a fantastic job your contract is not renewed.

I know this for a fact because I have teachers friends who have been not had their contract renewed, who basically have been fired.

Here’s the thing, I agree that student performance should be considered when evaluating teachers but it shouldn’t be the only thing. For example, let’s say that all third graders should know their times tables. If a group of student’s doesn’t than the teachers pay is reduced. Yeah, this will make a lazy teacher work a little harder to get their kids to learn but what if a different teacher has a classroom in which two of the students are mentally retarded. A teacher working really hard with these students may only get these students to learn basic addition facts. In Florida’s plan there is no accommodation for taking these special needs students into account. That's not only unfair to teachers but also their students.

As of now how much test scores are considered in evaluation is up to the district and in all of the 5 districts that I student taught or worked in as a teacher have taken into account student test scores in evaluating teachers.

For me this isn’t about politics. Governor Crist made a decision that was logical and reasonable. He wants a bill that not only takes into account students with special needs but gives more independence to districts to evaluate teachers. And really is created more bureaucracy at the state level going to help schools at the local level?

Are there teachers out there who have mediocre principals that let them slide by doing horrible work? Yes and I’m sure these teachers are scared of being held accountable for what they do. But those teachers I believe are symptoms of mediocre administrators or principals who have unreasonable work loads. Think about it, if you go to a restaurants and the wait staff is incompetent, the manager is the one to blame, they hired them and set the expectations, same thing with a school.

I’ve never met a teacher who actually feels this way, who is against a merit-based system because they don’t want to work harder. We are just worried about its effect on the students and having an evaluation system that not only holds teachers accountable but also helps teachers improve as educators so that we can better serve our students.


  1. Kingsley - Generally, I agree with your post. I think tenure is a strange concept (what other industry works that way?) and I think merit pay is a good idea, assuming it's executed in a way that truly takes the teacher, the class, the school, etc. into account - similar to your multiplication tables example.

    However, although you have several formal/informal evaluations throughout the year, from what I know, I think you may be an exception. My mom spent 30+ years teaching, and some years didn't have a single observation.

    Additionally, I'm not a teacher; most of my friends aren't teachers. But I would argue that we're evaluated on a near daily/daily basis.

    Using "I" loosely here: If I do something wrong, I'm called out IMMEDIATELY. If what I'm doing doesn't contribute to the bottom line, drive forward business objectives or I fall behind on a deadline, I am in trouble. And when it comes time for official reviews people remember the little things; that impacts whether I will get a raise or a promotion. And tenure? Not an option.

  2. You make a good point about your mom. I think it's important to consider the multiplicity of teacher's experiences in public schools. I'm only talking from my own experiences, because that's all I can speak to. And in no way am I trying to generalize about all schools.

    There are many people like yourself who are evaluated more often and in a much more stringent way than me. The way raises and promotions work in your company may benefit students is something that's important to consider.

  3. Thought of you when I saw this story on NPR today: Is Teacher Tenure Still Necessary?