Report revives teacher pay controversy
By STEPHEN HEGARTY, Times Staff Writer
The controversy over a performance pay plan for teachers has been revived, with a report from the state's own education research group recommending the plan be scrapped.
"These programs . . . have been difficult to design, difficult to ensure fairness and difficult to fund over time," the state's Council for Education Policy, Research and Improvement concluded in a draft report.
Teachers and school districts have complained of such problems since performance pay was proposed.
But this latest criticism is surprising because members of the council are appointed by lawmakers and Gov. Jeb Bush, who supports performance pay.
"This was done totally independently," said William Proctor, executive director of the council. "There are lots of things in there that are good ideas, and I couldn't tell you they coincide with anyone else's view of the world. It's a thoughtful piece that reflects what we heard out there."
The report placed John Winn, deputy secretary for the Florida Board of Education, in the difficult position of criticizing a report from a group that works closely with the board.
"I see no substantiation here," Winn said. "No advantages and disadvantages. No research.
"This doesn't seem to be a policy research product," Winn said, emphasizing a phrase that describes the council's mission.
Winn defended performance pay as a way to reward good teachers, and pointed out that the law requires that school districts devise a plan but allows some latitude in designing it.
The report recommends repealing the law and forming a task force to craft a model for school districts.
Many of the other recommendations are ideas Education Secretary Jim Horne has discussed in recent months. For instance, the report calls for establishing a uniform minimum salary level for Florida teachers. It also calls for establishing a system in which accomplished, experienced teachers are rewarded with higher pay.
Florida lawmakers have proposed performance pay plans several times but were met with resistance. Last year, a plan was postponed after lawmakers learned that most school districts had not set aside money for it.
The current plan, part of the 1999 A-Plus Plan, takes effect this year. But the new report says that "preliminary reports indicate that district procedures are cumbersome and that many teachers are rejecting the program."
The program calls for up to 15 percent of a school district's teachers to earn 5 percent of their salary based on performance. That performance must be based largely on student academic progress, and the state's Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is the primary measure of student learning.
Many educators consider the plan divisive and a way to diminish the influence of the teachers unions.
Teachers in some schools have decided not to participate in the program.
"It seems so arbitrary," said Vivian Muley, a kindergarten teacher at Seminole Elementary in Tampa. "How can you pit one teacher against another?"
Muley was one of dozens of teachers at the school who signed a petition saying they wouldn't participate in the program.
The petitioners said they "disagree that teachers should have to give up any percentage of their salaries to finance bonus pay for a few peers."
"The reliance on the FCAT is what kills it," said Jade Moore, executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association. "Tying someone's pay to FCAT results is just a bad idea."
The council's report raised similar concerns.
"Both teachers and administrators have found it challenging to measure specifically what teachers contribute to their students' learning," it said.
The report, titled Florida Teachers and the Teaching Profession can be found at the Web site for the Council for Education Policy, Research and Improvement at www.cepri.state.fl.us/index.htm. Click on "This Month" and then "Committee on the Teaching Profession."
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From the Times state desk
From the state wire