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Toward a solution to teacher merit pay

Published March 12, 2007


As a Senate committee last week took aim at an ill-conceived pay plan called "Special Teachers are Rewarded," a Broward School Board member marveled. "Thank you," Eleanor Sobel told the senators, "for stopping the STAR wars. Thank you for stopping the insanity."

This war is not over yet, but Senate Education PreK-12 Commitee Chairman Don Gaetz can be credited with bringing the combatants to the table. His "Merit Award Program" represents precisely the kind of performance pay strategy that has been embraced by responsible educators and Gov. Charlie Crist. The bonus pay would be based on student performance as well as a variety of other work-related factors.

The Gaetz plan is also a good blueprint for how to approach education reform. As he drafted the bill, he invited teachers and principals and superintendents to help craft the details. They are, after all, in the best position to understand how to measure teacher performance.

The problem now is that the clock is ticking in the current STAR war. The state Department of Education is threatening to sanction districts that don't participate this year, and the deadline is April 1. Given that both the House and Senate acknowledge the fatal flaws in STAR and are working to change the rules for next year, punishing districts this year would be gratuitous and divisive. Gaetz's bill would remove those sanctions, but it needs to reach the governor's desk quickly.

The new tone Crist has sought to establish in education is already reflected in how the Senate is handling performance pay. The truth is, many teachers still oppose the concept, but Gaetz has come up with guidelines that are fair and understandable. In doing so, he has begun to bridge an unhealthy divide between those in the capital and those in the classroom.

[Last modified March 12, 2007, 01:25:24]

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