Florida, given C-minus, still scores above most in teacher assessment

Published: Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 1:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 1:43 p.m.

WASHINGTON Most states, including Florida, are not doing what it takes to keep good teachers and remove bad ones, a national study found.

Florida, though, is doing better than most. Although grading out at C-minus, Florida still ranked among the top 15 states in the study released Thursday by the National Council on Teacher Quality. Only Iowa and New Mexico require any evidence that public school teachers are effective before granting them tenure.

"States can help districts do much more to ensure that the right teachers stay and the right teachers leave," said Kate Walsh, president of the Washington-based nonpartisan group.

Hiring and firing teachers is done locally in more than 14,000 school districts nationwide. But state law governs virtually every aspect of teaching, including how and when teachers obtain tenure, which protects teachers from being fired.

Tenure is not a job guarantee. But it is a significant safeguard, preventing teachers from being fired without just cause or due process.

Nearly every state, including Florida, lets public school teachers earn tenure in three years or less, the group said. In all but Iowa and New Mexico, tenure is virtually automatic, the study said.

States were given letter grades in the study, earning a D-plus on average. The group gave its highest overall mark, a B-minus, to South Carolina, saying the state does better than any other at allowing ineffective teachers to be fired.

"Overall, Florida has done a good job in meeting some of our goals, but there is significant room for improvement in several areas," the report says. "Florida stands out for requiring an annual evaluation for all teachers that is primarily based on student performance."

The report also cites Florida's merit pay system as a model although only a handful of the state's 67 school districts participate. Florida's Merit Award Program provides bonuses for top teachers based mostly on how well their students do on standardized tests.

Those two factors resulted in a grade of B for teacher evaluation and compensation, one of six major areas covered by the study. Florida received in C in four other areas: meeting No Child Left Behind teacher quality objectives, teacher licensing, state approval of teacher preparation programs and alternative routes to certification.

Florida, though, received an F in the final area: preparation of special education teachers.

"The state places no limit on the amount of professional education coursework that its teacher preparation programs can require of special education candidates, resulting in program excesses," the report states.

Florida also fails to ensure prospective special education teachers get subject matter preparation relevant to elementary and secondary education.

The National Education Association, the biggest teachers union, said job protections shouldn't be blamed for keeping bad teachers on the job. The Florida Education Association is an NEA affiliate.

"No district-union contract in America states that bad teachers can never be fired from their jobs," said Segun Eubanks, NEA's director of teacher quality. "Yet too often, district-teacher union contracts are blamed for inadequate, ineffective and misused teacher evaluation systems."

Eubanks said teacher firing should be part of a broad evaluation and support system developed in cooperation with teachers, either through unions or teacher groups.

That argument jibes with the study, which said that states are sorely lacking when it comes to evaluating teachers.

Only 23 say new teachers must be evaluated more than once a year. Nine states don't require any evaluation of new teachers.

The study says states do little to keep teachers on the job, even raising barriers in some cases.

The study also wades into a growing controversy over whether teachers should be held accountable for their students' progress.

It said just 15 states, including Florida, require a look at whether kids are learning when teachers are evaluated. In addition, the study gave poor ratings to 35 states that don't explicitly connect bonuses or raises to evidence of student achievement.

The NEA and other unions and teacher groups argue there should be multiple measures of teacher performance along with student achievement.

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