Florida Senate bill is attack on teachers

According to a proposed bill in the Florida state Senate, teachers will no longer have tenure in the upcoming school year, and it would introduce so-called merit pay.

According to the bill, SB 6, “Classroom teachers hired in a Florida school district on or after July 1, 2010, would be employed under the revised probationary and annual contracts. In effect, professional service contracts would not be given to any classroom teacher hired on or after July 1, 2010. This gives school districts greater flexibility in meeting student instructional needs by retaining effective teachers and removing poor performing teachers more quickly and cost-effectively.”

What does that mean? Well, beginning July 1, 2010, each new classroom teacher would be hired under a probationary contract that may not extend for over 1 year. The teacher may be dismissed without cause or can resign without violating the contract, leaving the teacher with no legal recourse. After the probationary period, the teacher would then be offered a one year contract under which dismissal or renewal can be with OR without cause.

The bill goes on to state “An annual contract may only be granted for the sixth year of teaching and thereafter to a state-certified classroom teacher who was approved by the school board for a contract and whose performance is rated effective or highly effective in at least two of the preceding three years by the performance appraisal, based on objective student learning gains and Florida’s Educator Accomplished Practices. In effect, the school district would make the determination whether to renew an annual contract in its discretion, rather than the contract automatically renewing.”

The bill may sound hunky-dory, but the effect of this bill will be devastating to teacher morale and hiring. What makes the matter critical is that pay will be constituted by greater than 50% on student learning gains. In other words, the teacher will be paid based upon how each individual student in that teacher’s class performs, instead of at a school wide gain or performance.

As the bill itself states “Districts may not use time-served or degrees-held in setting pay schedules. Instead, student outcomes would have a potentially significant effect on compensation. Effective teachers would be paid more, while those that are unsatisfactory or in need of improvement would be paid less. The State Board of Education would define student learning gains in rule.”

In practice this will set teacher against teacher, classroom against classroom and will have the possibility of minorities and lower income classes given to poorer performing teachers.

According to this bill, beginning in 2014-2015, more than 50 percent of a classroom teacher’s performance would be based on learning gains of students assigned to the teacher. For other instructional personnel and school-based administrators, more than 50 percent of their performance must be based on the learning gains of students assigned to the school. “Student learning gain thresholds would be set in State Board of  Education rule. Personnel may not be rated as effective or highly effective if students fail to demonstrate learning gains.”

This bill should be seen for what it is; a union busting bill. A teacher would not get an annual renewing contract until the sixth year, but the school districts make the determination whether to renew at its discretion.

The implications of this bill are clear. Tenure will no longer be an accepted part of the Florida school system and pay practices. Any collective bargaining agreement could be denied. Florida public employee statutes don’t seem to help public workers. It “authorizes the public employer to unilaterally control” under collective bargaining: wages, hours and terms and conditions of employment, because of “managerial” consideration.

We must gather together and stand with the Florida teachers and demand withdrawal of this language from the bill and insert positive and affirmative collective bargaining guidelines that can lift up both teachers and students.

Photo: Florida teachers discuss changes that need to be made to improve education during 2008 presidential campaign. http://www.flickr.com/photos/barackobamadotcom/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


Robert Scott
Robert Scott

Robert Scott is a freelance writer and photographer. He has been a community, political and peace activist for almost 30 years. Robert loves reading philosophy, especially Wittgenstein, and plays well with others.