“There’s not enough ink and paper in the world to describe all of the problems with the system,” said Jeff Wright, who oversees public policy advocacy for the state teachers’ union, the Florida Education Association. “There are so many moving parts, none of which have been validated.There is no way to fix the evaluation system we have short of starting from scratch.”
The issue has already boiled over in Pinellas County. When the school system debuted its evaluation system (sans the pay component) last year, teachers were confounded by the results and protested loudly. Superintendent Mike Grego said he would revisit the program and consider asking lawmakers to make changes.
The Florida Education Association is lobbying to have the merit-pay program put on hold or launched as a pilot program until the kinks are resolved. The school boards association has put forth a similar idea: try merit pay in two small, two medium and two large districts, and study the results.
“If there are problems floating around the teacher evaluations, it is imperative that we delay it,” said Blanton, the executive director.
Gaetz conceded that the 2014 launch had become mired in challenges.
“When the Department of Education tries to micromanage a process like that, it turns into the Okefenokee we have now with value added,” he said, referencing the swamp on the Florida-Georgia border. “The Department of Education overcomplicated what could have been and should have been a simpler system.”
Still, Gaetz believes can get gone. And House leaders are even more adamant about sticking to the timeline.
The bill proposed by Flores, a Miami Republican, assuages some concerns. The proposal ensures that teachers in non-core classes, such as social studies, art and music, are evaluated based only on students they teach.
So far, the bill has the support of the union and former Gov. Jeb Bush’s education think tank, two organizations that rarely agree on policy. It passed 8-0 in the Senate Education Committee and 13-0 in the House K-12 Education Subcommittee.
“Hallelujah,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala. “We’re saying we can measure performance for everybody.”
Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat and CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, called the measure “a good beginning.” But he said the Legislature must still address other issues, like whether teachers will be prepared to teach the new standards required by the Common Core.
“I’m very concerned about the timeline,” Montford said. “Trying to get this all in place by the deadline is going to be demanding.”
Lawmakers will have one more session to tweak the program. But Montford cautioned against making significant policy changes so close to the launch date.
“If we are going to change it, this is the best time to do it,” he said.
Herald/Times staff writer Tia Mitchell contributed to this report. Miami Herald staff writer Kathleen McGrory can be reached at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.