Master-Teacher Conversion Proposed

By Lynn Olson — February 12, 1986 7 min read

Gov. Robert Graham of Florida last week proposed an overhaul of the state’s troubled master-teacher program that would convert it into a five-rung career-ladder system.

The Governor said his new plan would reward more teachers and alleviate many of the morale and administrative problems that have plagued the program. Both of the state’s major teachers’ unions have filed lawsuits claiming that the program violates the state’s constitution. (See Education Week, Jan. 15, 1986.)

The Governor also received recommendations last week, prepared by his task force on professional teachers, for strengthening the state’s teacher-licensing program.

Mr. Graham formed the task force of educators, lawmakers, and community representatives in September, after vetoing the state’s teacher-certification law on the grounds that it was not stringent enough.

Although Florida’s certification process is still operating under the old regulations, no authorizing legislation is currently in effect.

Retain Objectives

Mr. Graham’s career-ladder proposal came on the eve of a deadline mandated by the legislature. Lawmakers had required the Governor to review the beleaguered program and submit recommendations for improving it by Feb. 1. If he had failed to meet the deadline, funding for the master-teacher program would have been withdrawn.

In a letter to James Harold Thompson, speaker of the Florida House, and Harry Johnston, president of the Senate, Mr. Graham wrote that the state must remain true to its goal of attracting and retaining good classroom teachers by rewarding merit.

“The specific tactics used to achieve this objective are of less importance,” he added, noting: “We cannot afford a teacher-turnover rate of 6.8 percent each year, particularly when so many teachers leaving the classroom are among the ablest and most likely to serve as role models for the profession.”

The Governor has said he still opposes placing a moratorium on the master-teacher program until it can be improved, as lawmakers had requested.

Proposals Mirror Report

Mr. Graham’s proposals mirror those contained in the report released last month by MGT of America, the private Tallahassee consulting firm hired to evaluate the master-teacher program.

The program, which was first implemented last school year, provides a $3,000 bonus to individuals who qualify for associate-master-teacher status by scoring in the upper quartile on both a subject-area test and a classroom-based performance observation. After three years, associate master teachers can qualify for master teacher.

One of the criticisms of the program has been that it forces teachers to compete against each other for portions of a fixed pot of money. Just 3 percent of the state’s teachers, or some 3,700 people, achieved master-teacher status last year.

Among his recommendations, the Governor has proposed doing away with the quota system and rewarding all teachers who meet a fixed standard. “There should be no limit on excellence in the classroom,” he wrote.

Adding a Rung to the Ladder

The Governor suggested that the first two rungs of the proposed career ladder parallel the state’s current beginning-teacher program and its professional teaching certificate. The associate-master and master-teacher designations now under the master-teacher program would form the fourth and fifth rungs of the ladder.

In addition, Mr. Graham would insert a third level to the system prior to that of associate master teacher, as recommended in the MGT report.

It was not clear last week what the connection would be between the proposed career-ladder system and the state’s teacher-certification program.

Myrtle L. Bailey, a policy analyst in the Governor’s office, said Mr. Graham would like the career-ladder designations to be an additional “quality” endorsement, with recognition and bonuses following teachers as they move from one district to another within the state.

The Governor also suggested that superior teachers be given the option of assuming additional responsibilities directly related to improving teaching, such as mentoring new teachers. Districts can ask master teachers to assume extra tasks under the rules for the current master-teacher program, but the provision has never been funded and is not included in the law itself.

‘Not a Panacea’

Mr. Graham cautioned that any incentive-pay program is not a panacea for attracting and retaining good classroom teachers. “Higher salaries, improved work conditions, career-ladder opportunities, and increased professional standards are among the strategies which ensure excellence in the classroom,” he wrote.

He also concurred with MGT’s recommendations for improving the subject-area tests and performance evaluations used to judge teachers, developing additional methods for assessing a teacher’s total performance, and correcting the program’s bureaucratic problems.

Positive Reaction

The state commissioner of education, legislative staff members, and members of the state’s education community generally reacted favorably to the Governor’s proposals last week.

“The master-teacher program has obviously not been effective,” said Paul A. Downing, manager of government relations for the Florida Teaching Profession, an affiliate of the National Education Association. “We think that the Governor is now beginning to realize that.”

Pat Tornillo, president of the Florida Education Association United, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, also commended Mr. Graham for making “significant changes in his position” and accepting the MGT recommendations. Both unions promised to work with lawmakers and the Governor this coming session to devise a workable proposal.

Michael J. O’Farrell, staff director of the Senate education committee, said politicians and businessmen still favor some type of differentiated program that rewards teachers on the basis of ability, but also believe that the current program has become unworkable.

Certification Proposals

The report of the Governor’s task force on professional teachers, which he has not yet endorsed, is likely to be the subject of heated debate this year as lawmakers strive to put together a workable teacher-certification plan.

The task force adopted the new requirements for beginning teachers proposed in the vetoed bill--a provision that Governor Graham had supported.

It also recommended that experienced teachers pass a state-developed evaluation of their classroom performance in order to be recertified every five years. To date, no state has linked a successful performance evaluation to the renewal of a teacher’s license.

The vetoed bill had called for locally developed performance evaluations, while Governor Graham had wanted a statewide evaluation form.

Task-force members rejected, however, subject-area tests for experienced teachers, which the Governor had supported. Instead, they recommended that internal, objective evaluations be included in the college courses and inservice training that teachers must take in order to be recertified.

Those requirements would be developed by new specialty-area boards, composed predominantly of educators. “One of the big complaints among teaching professionals is that they feel a loss of control of their own profession,” said Ms. Bailey. “This would be an attempt to put the control back in their hands.”

Other Proposals

Some of the task force’s major proposals include:

  • A minimum statewide beginning salary of $18,500 for teachers;
  • Creation of a career-ladder system;
  • Improved working conditions for teachers, including a reduction in the teacher-to-student ratio to 1:25 over the next five years;
  • Increased academic preparation and field experience for prospective teachers;
  • A statewide publicity campaign to educate the public about the positive achievements of teachers and the school system;
  • Increased efforts to recruit minority students into teaching; and
  • Report cards for parents indexing the conditions for teaching and learning in every school. Among other things, the report cards would assess class size and teaching loads, teacher assignments outside their areas of certification, time spent by teachers on nonteaching tasks, and the sufficiency and currency of textbooks and teaching materials.

The report included a long list of other proposals that task-force members thought might help attract and retain teachers. They noted, however, that many of the proposals need to be researched more carefully so that priorities can be set.

Legislators and members of the education community, who received the report last week, generally were not prepared to comment on its recommendations.

A version of this article appeared in the February 12, 1986 edition of Education Week