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Florida Advances Bill on Tenure and Pay Reform

Legislators in Florida have advanced a bill that, if passed, would make aggressive changes to tenure law and would shift the entire state away from teacher pay based on credentials and longevity.

Rather than a formal tenure law, the state has a rather odd distinction between annual contracts for teachers that must be renewed every year and continuing contracts for teachers after year three, at which point it's harder to dismiss teachers. The bill would put all teachers on annual contracts and, after a teacher's fifth year in the district, would award such contracts only to teachers in the top two performance tiers.

It would also require all districts to set up performance-pay plans by 2014, prohibit them from compensating teachers using longevity and advanced degrees, and would dock the state aid of districts that failed to set up such plans, forcing them to make up the difference through local tax levies. The bill would require new tests for students to be developed in subjects not covered by the state's current assessment programs.

The Florida Education Association, a merged AFT/NEA affiliate, is preparing to fight the proposal tooth and nail, and it's really no wonder: This bill has practically all of NEA's least favorite elements in it, including differential pay for math and science teachers, pay based largely on student scores, and much-weakened teacher protections.

Interestingly, there are certainly some good reasons to be wary of the focus on test scores, but the quotes from the unions in a lot of the local news coverage don't mention them.

Instead, the unions are claiming that the bill "will destroy public education" (surely that phrase should be the next candidate for "it's for the kids" notoriety) and that the bill would base pay on a single test score, another NEA talking point, when it appears that such judgments would be based on growth over time.

The state's school boards association isn't happy either, the Orlando Sentinal reports, saying that the bill would basically impose unfunded mandates on districts and might even contravene existing tax law.

In any case, history tells us this bill isn't going to be an easy sell. Scholar Patrick McGuinn put out a paper not too long ago that deals with the challenges of tenure reform. In it, he notes that the last time the Florida legislature tried to tackle teacher tenure, it actually ended up strengthening some elements of the tenure law. Oops.

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