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Teacher pay should be performance-based

Recently there's been a significant amount of debate surrounding the proposed legislation regarding Senate Bill 6 and House Bill 7189. The focus of this legislation shifts compensation toward rewarding excellent teachers for student learning gains versus the current structure that focuses on teacher longevity.

The bill would require school districts to adopt performance appraisals for teachers and school administrators to evaluate performance in the classroom. Beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, performance appraisals will be based on student learning gains and other factors relating to the instructional practices used by the teacher, including knowledge of the subject matter and classroom management.

This bill does not require that a teacher bring students to grade level if he or she receives the students two to three years behind grade level. Rather, it evaluates and rewards the gains that a teacher makes with students over a year's time. Learning gains are to be measured by existing assessments statewide. School districts have the next three years to develop or acquire end-of-course assessments to measure learning gains in subjects and grade-levels not tested by these examinations.

The bill also authorizes school districts to financially encourage teachers to take on the greater challenges in our education system. The bill requires school districts to provide incentives for high-priority schools and critical shortages areas, such as math and science, in order to better prepare all students to be successful. By providing incentives for teaching in high-priority schools and critical shortage areas, we will be able to continue decreasing the gap between the highest performing schools and the lowest.

The current system categorizes teachers as either successful or unsuccessful. However, in 2008-2009, 99.7 percent of teachers received a "satisfactory" evaluation, yet 50 percent of high school students, 35 percent of middle school students, and 30 percent of elementary students did not make a year's worth of progress (and 60 percent, 40 percent and 30 percent, respectively, were not reading on grade level).

The status quo clearly is not working when it comes to determining which teachers are helping our students make the learning gains that they need to be successful.

This common-sense approach maintains teacher salaries at present levels, so no teacher will see a salary reduction under this plan. But performance increases will be focused on allowing school districts to recognize and reward excellence in teaching by establishing a performance-based appraisal system for increases in compensation.

The bill revises contracts for teachers hired on or after July of this year, introducing one probationary contract and up to four annual contracts. By establishing yearly contracts, school districts can continue to reward its teachers, now with raises based on classroom success, as well as remove those teachers who are not providing an opportunity for their students to learn. Current teachers are grandfathered-in under this system. The bill does not eliminate tenure for the current 175,000 Florida teachers.

The bill creates a performance fund for purposes of implementing the requirements of the bill, including performance pay, performance appraisal systems, and end-of-course assessments. The performance fund equals 5 percent of the state, local and federal FEFP funds. The bill sets aside more than $900 million a year that must be used to raise salaries for teachers in high-poverty schools, teachers of subjects that are in high demand, and teachers whose students are making learning gains.

My two children and I are proud products of Orange County Public Schools, and I would never do anything to jeopardize future generations from attending the world-class education opportunities we have here in our community. I recognize that a quality K-12 education program is vital to the constituents of District 38. As your state representative, one of my top priorities has been ensuring that all students have access to a high-quality education that will enable them to succeed alongside the best and brightest — not just in the U.S., but also around the world.

Due to my committee assignments, I will not be able to cast a vote on this important legislation until it is on the House floor, but I will continue to give input to my fellow members as the bill progresses.

—Florida Rep. Bryan Nelson