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Senators Show Up for Michelle Rhee, Leave for Bill

February 8, 2011 - 6:00pm

While Michelle Rhee got most of the attention during her presentation Wednesday at the Senate Education PreK-12 Committee, it is the legislation discussed afterward that will have the most lasting impact on Floridas education.

Most of the reporters and senators, some of whom are not even on the committee, left along with the controversial former chancellor of the Washington, D.C., School District, leaving just three senators to deal with legislation that will tie teacher pay to performance.

Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, who chairs the Education Committee, filed Senate Bill 736 last week, which would create teacher evaluations that would determine their salary and in some cases, whether they remain employed as a teacher.

The evaluations would be developed by the Department of Education, but would be based on a value-added method which would take into account the learning progress of the students in their classrooms over a three-year period.

At least 50 percent of the evaluation would be based on student progress. External factors beyond a teachers control, like student attendance, discipline, disability and proficiency in English are to be taken into account in the evaluations.

Although the exact formula for the evaluations hasnt been determined, the outcomes are. The evaluations are to give teachers grades of highly effective, effective, needs improvement and unsatisfactory. New teachers can also be given a grade of developing.

Teachers rated as highly effective would receive a raise greater than they would normally receive under their districts annual increase. An effective teacher in the same district would get a raise of between 50 and 75 percent of the highly effective teachers raise.

The bill would also eliminate tenure for teachers hired after July 1, 2011. Those hired after that date would be given one-year contracts. Districts would be barred from renewing the contract of a teacher who received two unsatisfactory evaluations in a three-year period or three needs improvement evaluations in a five-year period.

Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, tried to lengthen the time of the contract extended to teachers to three years, but his amendment to the bill was shot down by Wise and Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, the only other sitting member of the committee present at the time.

If you have a teacher thats well into the career ... I would suggest to you that the teacher needs a level of comfort rather than a one-year contract, Montford said, adding that the majority of teachers in Florida would be rated highly effective or effective.

I would agree with you that the vast majority of teachers would receive favorable evaluations. I dont believe we should stray from our focus of keeping and rewarding our best teachers. I believe in the language as it stands, Benacquisto said.

Wise said that a committee vote on the overall bill scheduled for Wednesday would have to wait at least until Thursday, in order to give other legislators the opportunity to fully vet the bill.

Reach Gray Rohrer at or at (850) 727-0859.

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