[Susan notes: I like the first part of this letter but not the second. I'm against all bonus plans.]
Published in Orlando Sentinel
It seems that Florida Education Commissioner John Winn is afflicted with the same myopic view of public education from which Gov. Jeb Bush suffers. Both hope to foist a nifty-sounding program called "Effectiveness Compensation" that ties teacher salaries to their students' performance on the FCAT onto public education's already beleaguered teachers.
Winn calls this program "the strongest model in the nation" for performance-based pay for teachers.
If they succeed in pulling off this devious plan, they will have destroyed the fairest method of paying teachers that now exists: salaries tied to years of service. And that is their real goal. It is just another attack on the unions that negotiate salaries for teachers and the teachers themselves, who are underpaid and overworked.
Performance-based salary is a good theory if you are selling cars, insurance policies or production units in which the one who sells the most gets a bonus because he or she has made a huge profit for the company. But it doesn't work in public education. Why?
Students are not uniform units that enter classrooms. One teacher may find herself in a class with 15 regular students and five Exceptional Education students with varying exceptionalities. Another teacher may have a class of 15 Exceptional Education students and five below-grade-level students who have been administratively assigned to that grade.
One teacher may have an entire class of gifted/talented students, all with IQs of 130 (plus or minus 3 points), who look at the FCAT as just an inconvenient interruption of their usual routine of higher level learning.
Either increase teacher salaries across the board to retain them and entice new teachers to come into the profession, because Florida needs 32,000 new teachers next year, or face even greater losses of teachers.
A simpler bonus plan would be to give each student in a class a placement test at the beginning of the year and a post-test at the end of the year. Give the teacher $100 for each subject in which the child has improved at the end of the year. Let's see: There's math, reading, writing, science and social studies. A teacher could earn $500 for each student in class who improves. Twenty students showing improvement could earn a teacher $10,000 in merit or bonus pay and not even include the mysterious FCAT results in the bargain.
This bonus money, combined with a teacher's salary step, would provide real retention and increase recruitment. It would be the "strongest model in the nation" if it weren't for guys like Bush and Winn.
They don't believe teachers or students are worth that kind of investment.
Bill Archer of Daytona Beach is a counselor with Volusia County Schools.