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Florida Council Approves Three Merit-Pay Procedures for Teachers

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Tampa--A legislatively mandated panel in Florida last week produced three different procedures for determining which of the state's 90,000 public-school teachers deserve merit pay.

The procedures must be further refined before being presented for final approval to Gov. Robert Graham, the State Board of Education, and the legislature. But the action of the Florida Quality Instructional Incentives Council brings the state a step closer to its goal of beginning merit pay next fall.

"I think this council has taken a monumental step in creating this three-tier system," said B. Frank Brown, chairman of the council, whose 15 members include lawmakers, teachers, businessmen, school-board members, and superintendents.

The council was established by the legislature last summer when Florida became the first state to enact a merit-pay law. California adopted a merit-pay plan soon after.

"This is heavy stuff ... the first step on a long trip," said Philip Lewis, a council member and former president of the Florida Senate.

The panel's three plans--all of which could be adapted to provide local districts with several choices--use elements of merit and career-ladder plans proposed elsewhere.

One would reward teachers whose students make the largest gains over nine months on tests in language arts, reading, mathematics, science, and social studies. These teachers could receive bonuses of up to $7,400 each annually.

The second plan would reward all teachers in schools whose student bodies as a whole show significant academic gains from year to year.

No bonus amounts were set for that plan. Some of the indicators that might be used to document students' progress are attendance, college-entrance-examination scores, and the number of books read.

The third merit-pay plan creates a career ladder that would give $3,000 raises to "senior teachers" and $5,000 raises to "master teachers."

To become either, instructors would have to pass a test in the subject they teach, earn a superior evaluation, and have students whose test scores improve.

Master teachers would have to have a master's degree in the subject they teach; a bachelor's degree would be sufficient for senior teachers, the panel said.

Master teachers would also have to have 10 years of teaching experience with at least four at the senior-teacher level. Senior teachers would only have to have six years of experience, with at least one in Florida.

Teachers who achieve either level, the panel said, would have to be re-evaluated every three years to determine whether they deserve to keep those titles and the extra pay that goes with them.

The school-based merit-pay plan was approved by an 11-to-2 vote, and the career-ladder plan also received strong support with an 11-to-3 vote. The third plan, however, was controversial, passing only after Mr. Brown, as chairman, broke a tie vote.

Three teachers on the panel said they had serious reservations with the outcome. "I don't see this leading to the recruitment of better teachers or to keeping better teachers in the classroom," said Sandra Grant, a Tampa teacher who serves on the council. "It's something to work with, but it certainly is not the answer."

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