Fla. Districts Seek Teacher Performance-Pay Funds

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In a last-minute scramble to get a piece of a $147.5 million teacher performance-pay pie, all 67 school districts in Florida have submitted plans under the state’s program.

As of mid-December, only a quarter of the state’s districts had submitted plans for the new Special Teachers Are Rewarded, or STAR, initiative, which will award bonuses for the first time at the end of the 2006-07 school year. But the rush to meet the program’s Dec. 31 deadline could be for naught, since the state’s largest teachers’ union has challenged the constitutionality of the program in court.

A 2003 statute requires all Florida districts to have some type of pay-for-performance plans, but only those that meet the detailed requirements of the STAR program will get money from the state to support the teacher bonuses. Some districts simply submitted their current plans, according to officials at the Florida education department, despite warnings from the department that none of those plans meets all the requirements of the new law.

Florida Pay-for-Performance Plans

Under Florida’s Special Teachers Are Rewarded, or STAR, program, school districts are required to give 25 percent of their teaching staff’s cash bonuses of at least 5 percent of their annual salaries. These criteria are used to determine the recipients of bonuses in three districts’ approved STAR plans.

Combination of:
• Points based on students’ pre- and post-course scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and other standardized tests.

• Points based on the results of each teacher’s performance review. The review includes discipline, knowledge of subject matter, planning and delivery of instruction and use of technology in the classroom, ability to evaluate instructional needs, family involvement, and adherence to state, district, and school policies.

Teachers with scores in the top 25 percent earn bonuses.

Only teachers who have “exemplary” or “exceeds expectations” ratings on their performance assessments for the given school year are eligible. The assessment includes management of student behavior, communication, presentation of subject matter, planning and delivery of instruction, adherence to policies, and leadership, among other factors.

From that group, the top 25 percent of staff members, based on pre- and post-course scores on FCAT and other standardized tests, receive bonuses.

Combination of:
• Points based on students’ pre- and post-course scores on FCAT and other standardized tests.

• Points based on the results of each teacher’s performance assessment. The assessment includes instructional organization and development, presentation of subject matter, communication, and management of student conduct.

Teachers who score in the top 25 percent receive bonuses.

If the department does not approve a submitted plan, the district has until March 1 to revise it. The Florida Department of Education, the first level of review, has approved 16 plans. Four plans—from Hillsborough, Citrus, Calhoun, and Brevard counties—have received final approval from the state board of education.

Department officials said last week they had not had enough time to review the remaining 47 plans.

Meanwhile, the Florida Education Association, an affiliate of both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, filed a petition in state court in Tallahassee last month asking the Florida secretary of state’s office to strike down the law.The petition claims that the legislature violated the state constitution when it created the STAR program in a proviso to an appropriations bill last spring, rather than through separate legislation. Major policy changes included in the STAR program, such as eliminating collective bargaining and establishing criteria for evaluating teachers, can be made only through general law, the union contends.

Latest Challenge

The challenge is the latest in a history of attempts by the 130,000-member union to block performance-pay systems in the state. ("Florida Union Challenges Teacher-Bonus Program," Oct. 4, 2006.)

“The legislature, through a proviso to an appropriations act, may not amend or alter statutory law. … Nothing done by the legislature in the 2006 STAR plan proviso to the 2006 General Appropriations Act would be unconstitutional if it had been provided for in general law,” the Dec. 13 petition reads.

The department of education has dismissed the petition as little more than an attempt by the FEA to block a program that it doesn’t support.

“Any major change in practice takes time to gain acceptance, and FEA is no exception,” Florida Commissioner of Education John L. Winn said in a Dec. 13 press release responding to the challenge. “It is unfortunate that [the FEA] launched yet another attempt to prevent the state’s best teachers from being rewarded for their efforts.”

In order to take part in the performance-pay program, districts must set up pay systems, in conjunction with their local teachers’ unions, that reward the “best-performing” 25 percent of their teachers with cash bonuses of at least 5 percent of their annual salary. Teachers will be evaluated based on the academic progress of their students, which is to be measured by comparing their pre- and end-of-course results on standardized tests, including the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT.

Secondary-level science and social studies teachers can be evaluated by student results on subject tests, relevant FCAT scores, or by comparing their course material with state subject standards. Teachers in other subject areas, such as art, music, and physical education, can be evaluated using FCAT scores this school year, but districts must develop their own evaluation tools for those subjects for the 2007-08 school year.

Progress Measurements

The state education department has provided districts with formulas for measuring student progress in non-FCAT areas for the 2006-07 school year and plans to launch a free clearinghouse of end-of-course tests in subject areas that are not included in the FCAT.

“I believe that the availability of an end-of-course-assessment clearinghouse has paved the way for full implementation statewide,” Mr. Winn said in the press release.

The requirements of the STAR proviso give districts and unions little say in how their plans will look, the FEA argues. It is far more specific in its requirements than was its predecessor.

“The department wants [the plans] to look just like the model they have in mind,” Mark Pudlow, the union’s spokesman said in an interview last month.

The union, while not opposed to performance-pay plans per se, has taken the position that they should be generated at the local level, with input from all interested parties, rather than imposed by the state government.

“Each of our local affiliates has a plan and has been working collaboratively for years to develop a plan that is sustainable, fair, and easy for teachers to understand,” FEA President Andy Ford said in a position paper on the issue.

Vol. 26, Issue 18, Pages 14, 18

Published in Print: January 10, 2007, as Fla. Districts Seek Teacher Performance-Pay Funds
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