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Dade Teachers May Get Merit Pay This Summer

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MIAMI (CBS4)-If things go as planned, Miami-Dade teachers may see compensation coming their way.

The Miami-Dade school district is poised to become one of the first in the nation to launch a merit pay program — one that could propel top teachers to more than $100,000 in compensation.

The incentive money, which would come from federal stimulus funding, could be given out as early as this summer, if the plan is approved by the Florida Department of Education, according to CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald.

“As soon as the scores come out, teachers will be getting checks,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said Friday.

Carvalho anticipates 90 percent of teachers would receive some amount of performance pay. Most would earn between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars as a one-time stipend.

The top 120 teachers, as measured by student improvement, would receive an additional $25,000 stipend, Carvalho said.

“In every sector, there’s recognition for exemplary stellar performance,” Carvalho said.

The superintendent stressed that the top teachers would come from a variety of schools in a variety of communities, not just the district’s highest performers.

“It would be terribly unfair if we did not recognize great teaching at a D school,” he said.

Under the new program, teachers would be evaluated based partially on how their students perform on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests. (They currently receive more subjective evaluations from their principals.)

According to the Miami Herald, base pay for teachers would remain unchanged. But teachers would be eligible for one-time stipends if:

• Their school made significant improvement on its FCAT scores,

• They were part of a team of teachers that promoted student growth in a particular discipline, or

• Their individual students made gains on the FCATs.

The very best would receive the $25,000 on top of that.

Teachers who do not teach subjects tested by the FCATs would be eligible for money awarded to schools and teams of teachers.

Beyond that, the details have yet to be hammered out. Carvalho said school district staffers and union leaders would work together to tweak the evaluation formula each year.

“We’re flying the plane as we’re building it,” Carvalho said. “This is uncharted territory.”

The Miami-Dade district plans to finance its plan with its share of the federal Race to the Top dollars. The competitive funds were part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, and are intended to spur innovation in education.

Miami-Dade is entitled to $17 million in Race to the Top funds for each of the next four years, Carvalho said. District leaders plan to devote $14 million to merit pay. The remaining $3 million will go to teacher training and data systems.

“We realized the only morally right thing to do would be to reinvest that money back into the classroom to the benefit of teachers,” Carvalho said.

The merit pay plan won’t affect the district’s budget. Carvalho has promised not to lay off any teachers.

Upon hearing the news Friday, some Miami-Dade teachers said they were excited by the opportunity to earn pay incentives.

“Pay for performance is definitely necessary in education,” said R.J. Williams, a geometry teacher at Miami Edison. “As people, we respond to incentives. A monetary incentive is one of the best.”

Others had strong reservations.

“I understand why we needed to go forward with this. It is money going into the pockets of teachers at a time when salary-wise, we’re really suffering,” said Seth Patterson, a teacher at Whispering Pines Elementary. “But you can’t really say if one teacher is better than another based on the data that we have. There’s no validity to any of it.”
Merit pay has been a hot-button issue in Florida.

Republican lawmakers have championed performance pay as a way of attracting and keeping quality teachers.

But union leaders have fought hard to quash merit pay proposals, saying it is unfair to evaluate teachers based on student data.

In 2010, state lawmakers passed a controversial merit pay bill. But after thousands of teachers in South Florida protested, former Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the legislation.

Weeks later, Florida filled out its application for the Race to the Top dollars. In order to apply, school districts and teachers’ unions across the state had to agree to consider merit pay programs.

Unions and school district leaders in 65 of 67 counties did, and Florida won $700 million.

The Race to the Top agreement paved the way for lawmakers to pass a second merit pay bill during this year’s Legislative session. Gov. Rick Scott signed it into law in March.

That law mandates all Florida school districts move to performance pay models — but not until 2014.

Mike Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, said only a handful of big-city school districts are experimenting with merit pay. The districts that have launched merit pay programs are doing it on a smaller scale, he said.

“Carvalho seems to be pushing the envelope on a number of important reforms, and this is one of them,” Casserly said.

United Teachers of Dade President Karen Aronowitz, who helped craft the plan, vowed to study the results to see what effect merit pay has on teacher motivation and student performance.

She warned against policies that breed too much competition.

“Education, above all, needs to be a collaborative process,” she said.

Although Miami-Dade teachers will soon have more cash in their pockets, Aronowitz said state lawmakers must funnel more money to the state’s public schools. Teachers, she said, remain underpaid.

“We believe teachers should be able to have bonuses for outstanding work, but the job that our teachers do every day is worthy of just compensation,” Aronowitz said.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed material for this report)

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