Florida Launches Improved Performance Pay Plan

Published June 1, 2007

Florida’s merit-based pay program for teachers, previously known as Special Teachers Are Rewarded (STAR), has been modified and now encompasses the missing components that ignited a lawsuit by the Florida Education Association (FEA) late last year.

The Merit Award Program (MAP) was signed into law by Gov. Charlie Crist (R) on March 29. It is the result of the Florida legislature’s efforts to modify the previous merit-based pay program in an attempt to satisfy all affected parties.

“The two big issues that STAR failed to address were that any kind of incentive program has to be understandable by the people it affects, and there must be some level of buy-in for the people it benefits,” said state Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Niceville).

Simpler Formula

Under MAP, participation is optional and will allow each of Florida’s 67 school districts to decide whether its teachers and administrators will be able to earn up to $4,000 each in bonuses. The bonus amount is limited to 5 to 10 percent of the average teacher pay from the district, preventing long-term teachers from having an advantage over those who are newly employed.

“STAR was convoluted, chaotic, and confusing,” said Gaetz, chair of the Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee and former superintendent of Okaloosa County schools. “MAP is straightforward, and teachers I have spoken with across Florida are able to grasp the essentials of the program.”

School districts were responsible for submitting locally developed plans by May 1 this year. In the future, those plans will be required each year by October 1.

Administrative Flexibility

Districts have the flexibility to reward as many deserving teachers as they wish, as long as each recipient is awarded at least 5 percent of the average teacher pay from that particular district.

Under MAP, testing must account for no less than 60 percent of the educator’s assessment of student performance; the better students perform on their tests, the better teachers’ overall evaluations.

The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), which measures performance in 30 percent of the courses taught in Florida public schools, will be used for evaluating teachers’ performance in those courses. The remaining 70 percent of courses that are not tested on the FCAT can be measured by International Baccalaureate exams, Advanced Placement exams, National Industry Certification exams, or locally developed, comprehensive end-of-course exams approved by the school districts.

“The remaining 40 percent of the teacher’s bonus depends on observable, specific measurements of teacher effectiveness, such as whether the teacher is using research-based instructional methods as opposed to educational fads,” Gaetz explained. “Is the teacher developing a specific plan to help a student who is struggling, and is that plan working?”

Intangible Elements

In addition, the non-testing-related 40 percent will gauge how well a teacher engages and disciplines his or her students, as well as administrators’ abilities to retain and recruit quality teachers to the state.

The FEA believes MAP is better than previous performance-pay programs, but it remains dissatisfied with what it characterizes as Florida teachers’ low salaries, ranking 29th in the nation with an average salary of $42,702, as well as the inability of bus drivers, teacher aides, secretaries, custodians, cafeteria workers, and other support staff to qualify for bonuses under MAP.

“MAP represents a big improvement over STAR because it provides far more flexibility and local control than either of its predecessors,” said FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow. “MAP removes layers of bureaucracy from the Department of Education and provides both school districts and teachers with options for this school year and future years.”

Jill Metz ([email protected]) writes from Florida.