As I said in a recent post, the teacher evaluation landscape is changing rapidly, and nowhere does accountability pressure mean more than in the "reform"-friendly state of Florida.
Michelle Rhee has concentrated efforts of her organization Students First in states like Florida that have policy climates supportive of sweeping reforms. A recent post on StudentsFirst's website notes that
With these key education reforms becoming a reality in Florida, policy makers across the country will be looking to the Sunshine State for lessons and guidance on how to improve schools nationally. We at StudentsFirst hope to help.
And "help" they have. Florida lawmakers passed what state Rep. Erik Fresen (R-Miami) called "one of the boldest sessions regarding education policy," a statement that appears to be justified given the large number of education bills Gov. Rick Scott has signed. Among them are measures to increase charter school autonomy, expand vouchers to pay for private school, ease class-size limits, and expand online learning.
Most significant, though, is Senate Bill 736 (see PDF FAQ from FEA), which requires districts to develop four-tier evaluation systems that base 40-50% of ratings on student learning data (including FCAT scores when applicable). University of South Florida professor Sherman Dorn has an analysis of SB 736 that focuses on the potential legal challenges that might be mounted against the law, which is worth a read. Dorn notes that the reliance on test scores is based more on political fetishes than research, and wonders how it will affect teaching in performance-oriented courses such as band, which traditionally do not have paper-and-pencil end-of-course exams.
There are also measures in the law that tie pay to student test scores, end LIFO layoffs, and effectively eliminate tenure for new teachers. Sweeping indeed.
I applaud the moves to end LIFO (last-in, first-out, AKA seniority-based layoffs) and implement a four-tier evaluation system, which are both long overdue. I'm concerned, though, that the heavy reliance on ill-defined student test scores is not going to do anything helpful and will create perverse incentives and fruitless upheaval.
I want to provide a platform for discussion of what these changes mean and how they are being rolled out, since what's happening in Florida is happening elsewhere (if at a slower pace). Since I neither live in Florida nor know very much about the state of education policy there, I'd like to invite comments on SB 736 from educators who work in Florida. Because some of these issues may be sensitive, I will protect the identities (as requested) of anyone who contacts me. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share what you are seeing and experiencing as these reforms unfold.