MAP Merit Award Program: The Florida Legislature Strikes Again With One Of Its “Brilliant Ideas”

 

I apologize in advance. This is a LONG, yet hopefully entertaining and informative rant, I mean post.

It had to happen sooner or later.

As a public school teacher I knew I would eventually be posting my opinions on the myriad of issues affecting public education. I just thought it would be later, definitely not so soon. But it can no longer wait.

Yesterday, teachers all over Hillsborough County, Florida, instead of teaching their classes were on their classroom computers madly checking their bank accounts and online school district pay advices to see if they were recipients of MAP (Merit Award Program), Florida’s newest brilliant plan for awarding merit pay only to the best and brightest teachers in the state. This brilliant plan became law when our all-powerful, all-knowing, wise and wonderful legislature replaced their previous 6-month old merit pay plan called STAR (Special Teachers Are Rewarded). Of course not a single “special teacher” was ever “rewarded” because that “law” never got off the ground.

This newest merit pay plan is not rewarding all excellent teachers either. There is no way it could be fairly and equitably applied to all teachers in the state with so many Florida school districts electing not to participate. Imagine that. Your school board turns down money the state wants to give to you. And they do it all for you. With all its many bad decisions (Have you heard about the catfights at the Hillsborough School Board meetings? I’m rolling!), at least Hillsborough had enough sense to take the money.

The Florida Legislature has a stellar record with a string of “brilliant” teacher merit pay plans gone awry over the years. I’m not even sure I know them all, but I know the ones that have burned me.

But more about that later.

I was one of those teachers sitting at my computer yesterday frantically visiting my online banking and school district sites.

You mean you were surfing the net instead of teaching your class, Howard?

Yep! Sure was!

There is not much that can tear me away from my students. They are the best part of my school day. I thrive on teaching. I find joy in my kids faces every day. I’m not some sappy, idealistic, warm fuzzy schoolmarm; anyone who knows me would second that motion! I just love being a teacher, and I passionately teach what I believe is important to the best of my ability every single day. Not because a clipboard-in-hand administrator is conducting a “walk-through” (yes, that’s the current politically correct terminology for an informal observation) or because our former governor and cutting-edge educational reformist Jeb Bush is waving his almighty infallible FCAT test, or because a legislator or school board member is dangling a bonus award check over my head.

I teach to the best of my ability because that’s who I am and what I do!

So I was at my computer instead of teaching my class. Not to worry. My students were doing SSR (Sustained Silent Reading), one of the few educational acronyms that actually has its merits. You see, for Florida teachers it has been a looong summer with NO paycheck . . . WAIT! I stand corrected. There was that 1-day paycheck (brilliant idea) we got for reporting for the first day of teacher pre-planning on a Friday (another brilliant idea). . . because the Florida Legislature (again) passed a law that school districts could not start school any earlier than two weeks before Labor Day.

They passed this law under pressure from vocal grassroots lobbyists and parents who said it conflicted with their vacations. I have learned over the years that public educational reform, especially in Florida, always results from either political agendas or grassroots efforts. Never from TEACHERS and other EDUCATORS who know a LOT about KIDS and EDUCATION, but rather from governors, legislators, school board members, administrators, supervisors, and assorted bureaucrats and nebulous nameless faceless committees who NEVER step foot in a classroom and DON’T have educational degrees and certification, yet they pontificate their amazing ideas and dump their statutes and rulings and behind-closed-doors decisions on principals, who in turn dump them on teachers who are forced to dump them on kids. You know the trickle-down effect.

Of course as teachers we have no political clout. Our hands are tied and the DOE has our proverbial backsides in a sling. Our local teachers union, HCTA (Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association), has very little bargaining power. The 10% raise teachers got last year was the superintendent’s idea. Contractual bargaining is done in back rooms behind closed doors and then presented to teachers for ratification at the beginning of the school year. Even apparent gains for teachers are always offset by stupid (yes, I used the “S” word) pointless additional requirements for teachers. This year negotiations added twenty minutes to the school day and required high school teachers to teach an extra period, time deducted from their already minimal planning time. Why? Last year my own school converted from a 7-period day to a 6-period day, requiring all teachers to teach an additional forty minutes every day which meant forty less minutes of planning every day. Why? A few years back, the school board added five days to the school calendar. Why?

I say the answer to those “whys” is that the legislature and local school board want to squeeze teachers dry. They can’t bear the thought of treating teachers as valued commodities, or paying teachers at the level of any degreed professional in the secular world, nor can they understand the concept of attracting talented people to the profession with great benefits and generous salary package. They couldn’t care less what teachers think. They tighten the screw every year with added testing and documentation, an ever-increasing work load, and budget cut threats. All this from a state with both an “educational” lottery (that’s another story) and tourism sales tax revenues like no other. Yet the teacher shortage grows greater every year.

I’m trying to stay focused, but as I write I keep being reminded of so many issues that I can’t help but mention. If this were a Florida Writes! expository essay (yes, the ones I teach) I would not earn a 6 for sure for lack of FOCUS.

You teachers should go on strike!

LAUGH OUT LOUD! Florida teachers can’t go on strike because it’s illegal for teachers to strike in the Sunshine State. Thanks, Jeb! Your legacy still haunts us.

Okay. As I started to say several paragraphs back . . . I had a stack of unpaid bills sitting on my kitchen counter from going three months without a paycheck. So I needed that merit pay bonus BAD!

You mean you don’t get paid year round?

NO! Polk School District next door pays teachers once per month year round, but not Hillsborough. Now stop trying to distract me and lead me down another educational issue rabbit trail.

The funny thing was that nobody knew yesterday who would be getting the MAP award. It was a BIG SECRET! Funnier still, some teachers didn’t know anything about it, even teachers who got the one-time payment, because you couldn’t apply for it. It was awarded based on a percentile derived from a mysterious formula based 40% on your annual evaluation (let’s hope your principal likes you) and 60% on your FCAT scores (lets hope you weren’t assigned the low group last year).

Unless, of course, your subject area wasn’t tested, that is. Such is the case with teachers who teach science and social studies, two content areas not tested on the FCAT. Those teachers were awarded based on their students’ reading scores.

You mean teachers were awarded merit pay based on scores in subject areas they didn’t even teach?

YES!

So why the sour grapes, Howard? Because you didn’t get it?

No, I got it. I’m just ticked because of my well-deserving, dedicated colleagues who didn’t get it. Like them, I’ve been a victim of unfair bonus payments in the past.

During the 2000-2001 school year the “powers-that-be” had another brilliant plan . . . to give a bonus payment to science teachers. Science happened to be a teacher shortage area that year. Many sixth grade teachers are certified in elementary education, which means your principal can assign you to teach any subject area at your grade level. So, as a reading/language arts/geography teacher I was out of luck. I looked on as my equally certified colleagues got a bonus check and I didn’t. You could say I know how it feels to be left out. It’s demoralizing. It’s devaluing. It’s discrimination.!

But there’s more to the story. Shortly after the bonus checks were distributed to the science teachers, I was walking down the sidewalk and happened to pass one of the science teachers on my team. He reached over and put five twenties in my hand. This teacher was already high on my list of great people, and with that single act he soared to the top.

So are you going to give any of your bonus money away, Howard?

Maybe. Even though I spent it all paying bills, I would be willing to pay it forward. If all the teachers could band together and find a way to distribute our bonuses equally with all the teachers who were overlooked, I would do it.

Before I wind this up and post this rant, let me quickly run through the list of Florida merit pay nightmares I have endured:

1) It all started for me in the late 1980s when I applied for the Florida Master Teacher program. A couple of my colleagues who had masters degrees had applied for it and earned it. Since I didn’t have a masters yet, I couldn’t apply. Then for some reason the legislature changed the rules, and I was able to apply. My principal conducted a formal observation in my classroom, I videotaped a lesson, and I took a subject area standardized test. Some time later I received notification that I had attained Master Teacher status, and I was awarded the annual merit pay bonus. Wooo Hooo! I had qualified as a master teacher and I would be receiving the bonus merit pay every year! That is until the Florida Legislature decided THE VERY NEXT YEAR to no longer fund the Master Teacher program.

2) Then there was the BEST (Better Educated Students and Teachers) Career Ladder program. This was former Florida Speaker of the House Johnnie Byrd’s baby. He’s from my hometown and I taught one of his daughters years ago. Again, I didn’t like the premise of singling out teachers, but it was legislated, so I took advantage of it and applied directly for a position as a Mentor, the highest rung in the ladder. Although the program did not get off the ground until midway through the school year (go figure) I compiled a professional portfolio, making sure to include copies of my published books, and interviewed with a school level committee. I was selected as one of four mentors in my school. We were sent to trainings in the summer. We were given agendas to present to the faculty, and our administrations had to schedule us for fewer classes to allow for mentoring periods. Oh yeah, and I was paid a half-year (since they started late) bonus check and everything was cool. I had been proclaimed a Mentor. Except that the legislature decided not to fund their own law the very next year. Burned again! Last I heard the BEST program was still law. You mean the Florida Legislature can pass a law then turn around and decide to not fund their own law? Apparently we have to honor and obey their laws, but they don’t have to.

3) Then I learned about National Board Certification for Teachers, a way for teachers to earn additional pay if they applied and earned certification first for jumping through all of the proverbial hoops of portfolios, videotapes, and final exam. When I attended the informational meeting, the first thing out of the presenters mouth was, “Of course there is no guarantee that NBCT will continue to be funded. That was all I needed to hear. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on ME! So I didn’t pursue the NBCT path and, . . . it has continued to be funded for many years now. So, with reluctance, I made application to do my National Boards this year. Help me keep my fingers crossed.

4) For the past two years I have made application for Performance Pay, another merit pay plan we have in Hillborough County. It has been in place for several years, and I had seen the box to check on my annual evaluations, but I didn’t know anything about it until my current principal encouraged us to make application even though it required more work for her. Apparently, our former principal had communicated the information in a faculty meeting (I must have been absent), but he never encouraged it. Application requires compiling (another) portfolio and getting an outstanding rating on our annual evaluation. Last year was the first year I received any money, and I have qualified for it this year, but no money yet. We shall see.

Let me conclude this treatise by saying that I have always been vocal at the school level regarding these issues. Although I am not a troublemaker, anyone who knows me knows that unlike many teachers I run my mouth constantly, speak out openly, and share my views with anyone who will listen including administration, colleagues, parents, friends, and when appropriate, even students. Last time I checked this was America. We have First Amendment rights guaranteed by the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and that includes Freedom of Speech. Other than an unanswered letter to Jeb Bush, this is probably the first time I have put my views on educational issues in writing and published them in a public forum. But our rights also include Freedom of the Press.

I used to say, “I tell it like it is,” until the “way it was” changed in my opinions. Now I just say, “I tell it like I see it.” Please feel free to respond to this posting by clicking the comments link below. Although all comments are moderated, I promise that all views presented (even those contrary to mine) will be posted unless of course they are rude or personal.

For more information on the current merit pay situation in Florida, click the following links:

Florida DOE MAP Program

Tampa Tribune article: Teachers, Administrators ‘Excited’ Or ‘Disappointed’

HCTA: Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association

MAP Merit Award Program FAQs (pdf)

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Published in: on September 1, 2007 at 1:05 pm  Comments (10)  

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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. OK. Lets take a minute to look back on the picture of the capital you have posted…..Does it remind you of anything?? Because thats what its all about. Those in blue suits with red tie’s waving their “capital” around without a care or concern of who they slap in the face. Excuse me Mr. Legislator, Im not impressed!
    Howard, So much of that goes right over my head bacause I dont get the “system”. I do know, SOMETHING IS NOT WORKING. When you have a child that loves to read at the beginning of the school year & loathes it at the end due to “accelerated reading” it should not take someone with a teaching certifate to see something is screwed up! HELL-O!
    Strangely, the thing that stood out the MOST in this post is that its illegal for teachers to strike??WTF!!! What country am I in???
    Grassroots level, I totally get. The problem is we, as parents dont know where to start. Seems too BIG, that scary “capital” waving around. If somehow teachers could teach parents baby steps on where to start? Thats really the only way anything can change. We dont do , because we dont know.
    But hey, look on the bright side. We have our first gay Governor, at least the “capital” will be well groomed!!
    PS> All of my slang, misspelling & bad punctuation are to blame on my teachers. They were too busy with bureaucratic BS to actually teach!

  2. Okay, April, now it’s my turn to roll! I am truly laughing out loud!

    To clarify for my other readers, few though they currently may be, April grew up in Tallahassee, attended Florida High at FSU (not USF), Godby High, and probably Leon High, too. They had a hard time finding a school to fit her. I think she ended up at Maranatha during the time she wasn’t suspended. April went on to work at DPR and the Silver Slipper. She was famous around Tally, and she even got her picture in the paper!

    On a serious note, teachers who were too busy creating paper trails to teach thank you for your observations.

  3. I agree with all your post says. I taught at the high school level from 1988 – 2001 and thank God was not faced with all the paper work that you elementary and middle school teachers have to complete. I also taught in Polk County and got paid year round. I too was one of the science recipients. In spite of all the foolishness our state has gone through I am thankful for the program they allowed me to use. The state paid for my last 3 years of college and the “loan” was “repaid” with only a few years of service. I enjoyed teaching as well and also felt under paid. Of course I was single. I don’t know how anyone can support a family on a teacher’s salary.

    You deserve all the merit pay they will give you, however they give it to you, whenever they give it to you.

    P.S. Didn’t April go to Florida High at FSU and not USF?

  4. I stand corrected, Carla. Florida High was at FSU and not USF. I guess a little of April’s “dex” snuck in there. I will make the correction in my comment now.

    Thanks, Sister!

    I’m glad the state repaid your loan. They sure didn’t pay mine. Of course, I wasn’t a Secondary Science major. They were more valued than we Elementary Ed. majors were. Of course, it’s a good thing I didn’t major in Science. My class would be the pits, and my students and I would both hate it!

  5. All I can say is BRAVO! Please forward to all the legislature!

  6. Howard, I am loving the blog. Thank you for writing it. I am glad you got the MAP money; you deserve it. Enjoy it.

  7. This is my first time in ever to respond to a blog.

    I am an elementary art teacher in Central Florida and love my work. I have been teaching since 1992 and did receive the STAR bonus for this past year, although I was quite surprised. My surprise was due to the fact that, although I also put my all of my being into teaching an entire elementary school (600+ students last year, and that is a small number in this district) “to love learning about the visual arts as well as to love learning through the visual arts”, while trying to effectively cover the state standards (yes, we do have those too) , I did not expect strong scores on their tests. The test items for my subject area in this district were so poorly constructed and marginally valid that I was certain the highest percentage score would be 40%, and that would have been from the stronger readers.(The school in which I serve is approximately 55% free and reduced lunch and represents what I would consider a good cross section of ethnic monority groups.) Many of the items on the art exam were art trivia which a highly literate adult might not be able to guess correctly when playing Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit. Also, keep in mind that we see our students for 40 minutes per week for a maximum of 36 times a year, and that is a best case scenario in this district. That was last year, this year we have grown and I will see the each class a maximum of 30 times, not even once each week, unless they have a field trip, program or other special event for which they will “only be missing art”.

    I was also dismayed when our PE coach, who is one of the best, did not receive the award. But I had bills to pay, a daughter in grad school in NYC, so didn’t give him 5 twenties. Also, I was quite surprised to hear a friend who was not required to give a questionably valid test, but who is auxiliary faculty, i.e. SLD pullout, that she did qualify for the bonus.

    Finally, I agree with your comments and felt that those monies should have either been spread to all instructors for an additional pittance of a raise or to enhance facilities and supplies at schools which serve the lower socio-economic groups.

    I wonder how our effectiveness as non-reading and math teachers will be assessed the next time.

    An aside: I have a terrific principal and wonderful colleagues. Often, by our administrators and colleagues, art, music, and p.e. teachers are referred to as a “non-classroom teachers”. I’m still trying to figure out what that place I teach in is called if it is not a classroom. “Non-grade level” would less insulting. (At this time I will spare you all my other “soap boxes”.)

    Thanks for listening.

  8. It’s about time someone told the story as it exists, and I really enjoyed reading yours. Yes, I was one of the teachers who received the merit pay, but I’m with you. It is as unfair as it gets, especially for newer teachers. In our county the monies were distributed by giving teachers 5% of their annual pay. So, teachers with seniority got the bulk of the funds. Thus, you could teach basket weaving or hairdressing and receive $1500 more than an academic teacher whose class showed the prescribed learning gains. One of the teachers commented that the incentive was based on age not effort, and I had to agree. No, I’m not one of the young ones. I’m just one person who thinks people should get paid based on their accomplishments not their age.

  9. It has been awhile since anyone commented, but I still hope someone will read this.

    It is June 4, 2008 and on June 30 of this year I will be retiring from my position as Director of Testing for the Duval County Public Schools (Jacksonville). I am retiring early (at 58) because I believe the following:

    1. We are doing our children harm by over-testing them.
    2. I am a participant in doing them harm by supporting Florida’s testing program.
    3. I cannot claim moral superiority over the guards at Buchenwald, if I plead that the authorities are aking me do it.

    Supporting evidence:

    1a. Our district elected to participate in the Merit Award Program. The plan that we adopted requires a pretest and posttest for each secondary subject, and also for Art, Music, and PE at grades 2 and 5.

    1b. The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) from the previous year serves as the pretest for some subjects, where Reading or Math skills are relevant.

    1c. All other subjects require two test administrations. Consider a typical high school sophomore taking eight courses during the year. She will take FCAT SSS Reading, SSS Math, NRT Reading, NRT Math, six subject area pretests (English and Math pretests are the previous year FCAT), eight subject area posttests, and four End of Course tests (one in each academic subject area). Do the Math: that is 22 formal, machine-scored assessments, plus eight teacher-made final exams and you get 30 formal tests per year.

    1d. We have given approximately 1.3 million district-scored tests this year, plus group and individual assessments of children in grades K through 2.

    I propose that we set aside one day of the year for instruction, if we can find one not already committed to administering or preparing for another test.

    2. My office distributes test materials to and collects these materials from the schools. These include the FCAT, CELLA (English Language Learners), and ECHOS and DIBELS (Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screener, or FLKRS).

    3. We scan, score, and report the assessments described in item #1 above. None of these instruments have been validated, so we really don’t know if they are serving their official purposes.

    Enough is enough! I am going back to the classroom next year.

  10. Howard, I do believe I saw a few ROS in your blog! (You would think I taught you how to write – I will do my best here.) Thank you Jesus, that I teach in Virginia where I don’t have to jump through those hoops – I would be out of my mind. The raises are equal across the board – steps and raises apply to all, I teach because I love it passionately, if I chose to do “extra” I am paid a stipend, my students’ scores have nothing to do with my pay (we call our state assessment SOL – Standards of Learning, and I could go on about that as well,) I get paid all year long (an option if chosen) – and I am making about $7,000 more annually than I did (or would) in FL! AND I GET SNOW IN THE WINTER! COME ON UP!


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