Sunday, July 11, 2010

Merit pay arrives for teachers — but some aren't happy

About half of the state's poorest-performing schools are giving bonuses to educators whose hard work has paid off — if, for example, their students' test scores have gone up and their schools' letter grades have improved.

Some of the first rounds of bonuses, which vary in amount from county to county, will be distributed in the coming weeks. A lot of teachers have to wait for the release of school grades later this month and for school districts to finish analyzing data from the recent Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores, which arrived about a week ago.

Although merit pay is a contentious issue — teachers are used to being compensated based largely on their years of experience — these new bonuses are a key piece of the Department of Education's latest school-accountability program. Low-achieving schools were told last school year they had to start tying a part of their teachers' pay specifically to their work performance.

Dozens of schools failed to meet the new rule, but the state is giving them a break because of continuing financial woes. Also, district leaders are realizing that negotiating merit pay with local teachers unions can be difficult and time consuming.

Some educators are disappointed that some districts' bonuses are much smaller than others'. For example, teachers in Orange and Polk counties will receive $1,000 and those in Osceola can earn as much as $2,000.

Meanwhile, the Duval County school district is offering bonuses as high as $5,000, according to an informal survey of districts by the Orlando Sentinel.

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