Teacher Merit Pay in Florida: Were There Any Merits?

April 16, 2010

A recently vetoed bill in Florida that would have tied teacher pay to student test performance may have at first glance appeared to introduce something into the public education system that many have criticized it for lacking: an emphasis on results. However, the wisdom of such a significant change may not be so clear.

The Florida Legislature recently passed a bill that would base a large part of teacher pay on their students’ performance on standardized tests. It would also end tenure for new teachers. After much speculation, Florida Governor Charlie Crist vetoed the bill Thursday.

In theory, such a move would have incentivized teachers to make sure their students are achieving academically. In reality, as with many government policies, there may also have been some unintended consequences.

Teachers and other opponents of the merit pay legislation protest in a walk from Lee Middle School to the CTA/OESPA office in Orlando on April 8, 2010. (JACOB LANGSTON, ORLANDO SENTINEL / April 8, 2010)

Since such merit pay would be based on improvement in standardized test scores, the degree to which these tests adequately reflect the knowledge that should be learned by students is of critical importance. Many in Florida have criticized the state’s chief standardized test, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), for not necessarily accurately assessing what students have learned. Critics, including teachers’ unions and students, have also argued that focus on such tests gives an incentive to teachers to teach solely to the test, de-emphasizing the students’ overall education. Under the merit-pay bill, the teachers’ pay would have been linked partly to their students’ improvement on the FCAT, further exacerbating the perceived problem with the emphasis placed on the much-maligned test.

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Failing Teachers Fired

February 18, 2010

Here’s a rare occurence: teachers in a failing school being fired. That’s the situation in Central Falls, Rhode Island.

The Providence Journal reports the following:

Under threat of losing their jobs if they didn’t go along with extra work for not a lot of extra pay, the Central Falls Teachers’ Union refused Friday morning to accept a reform plan for one of the worst-performing high schools in the state. … After learning of the union’s position, School Supt. Frances Gallo notified the state that she was … firing the entire staff at Central Falls High School. In total, about 100 teachers, administrators and assistants will lose their jobs.

According to the report, Central Falls High School:

… has some of the lowest graduation rates and test scores in the state … 3 percent of 11th graders [were] proficient in math in 2008 and 7 percent in 2009.

The extra work and requirements for the teachers were billed as ways to change that. However, as might have been expected, the teachers’ union rejected the plan. In a rare act of boldness, the school superintendent decided to fire the teachers for their failure. The union is, of course, protesting that decision.

In the private sector, individuals who are ineffective in providing a service they are selling have to face the consequences of failure, which can mean the loss of their job. Too often in the public sector (especially the unionized public sector), free from competition, this is not the case. This disparity has consequences for students.

* The Center for Union Facts created a Web site highlighting the problems with current teachers’ unions that can be viewed here.