The Florida House of Representatives is proving itself to be a pioneer in much needed education reform after passing the Student Success and Teacher Quality bill in mid-March as a milestone towards positive change.
Many big obstacles in the education system are addressed in the legislation. For starters, it eliminates Last in, First out (LIFO) in Florida. There has been a long standing policy across America that requires the teachers with the least amount of experience to be fired first when a hard economic time calls for layoffs. This is especially relevant in today’s struggling economy where schools have been forced to fire some of their best and brightest educators while holding onto seasoned teachers who may be far inferior to the newcomers. The bill states that if districts must reduce the workforce size in the future the teachers with the highest performance levels on their evaluations will be the last to go.
In addition, the bill increases parental involvement by increasing the number of notifications they receive from their child’s school. An interesting piece of the notification rule states that parents are also to be told when their child is placed in the classroom of an ineffective teacher.
The Student Success and Teacher Quality bill even addresses tenure. Tenure is limited over time by ending the automatic contract renewal of teachers regardless of their performance. Districts now have the option to look at a teacher’s performance and choose not to renew their contract.
The transparency of teacher performance is also improved in the bill. Districts are now required to publish the teacher ratings by school. Teacher names are not mentioned, but parents will now know the percentage of effective and ineffective teachers at that school.
Additionally, teachers will no longer see raises for seniority. Raises will now be granted for effectiveness. Districts will also be allowed to pay teachers more for working in high need subjects or in low performing schools. Increases in salary for holding an advanced degree is no longer allowed either, although if the advanced degree is in the teacher’s area of certification than a supplement may be provided.
Next, teacher evaluations will also include the growth in student success. At least 50% of the teacher evaluation must be based on the growth in student learning. It is important to note the word “growth” here. Teacher evaluations remain fair to teachers by measuring the growth and progress of their students and not simply the students overall achievement. Factors such as English proficiency, student disabilities, and attendance will also be considered.
The bill also recognizes that principals should not be forced to hire ineffective teachers. It may be a surprise that principals are often required to hire ineffective teachers, but it happens all the time. Principals now have a stricter interview process and are free to turn down new hires or transfers if the teacher is deemed as ineffective. In addition, holding an “ineffective” status for two years is also grounds for dismissal.
There is no doubt that this is a landmark piece of legislation that will hopefully serve as a model for states all across the country. Finally, the focus is being shifted from the interest of the teachers to the interests of the students.
State Representative Erik Fresen summarized the goal of the bill best when he said, “Our state has made great strides in the past decade to reform our education system. But now is the time to focus on student-centered reforms that identify, retain, and reward our state’s best and brightest educators and keep them in Florida classrooms where they can provide a quality education to our children.”
Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee. “‘Last in, first out’ is an outrage: Firing less senior teachers hurts schoolkids.” New York Daily News.
“Student Success and Teacher Quality Bill Passes House Education Committee.” Myfloridahouse.gov.
Florida House of Representative. Bill 7019. Myfloridahouse.gov.