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Judge dismisses FL teachers’ union gripe against performance evals

By   /   May 8, 2014  /   News  /   No Comments

AP file photo

STUDENT SUCCESS: A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Florida’s teacher evaluations are legal, but the implementation has been shoddy. In this 2011 AP photo, Gov. Rick Scott signs the bill that giving teachers merit raises for performance.


By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It’s Teacher Appreciation Week in the Sunshine State, and to celebrate a federal judge ruled against a federation of Florida teachers’ unions Tuesday.

The ruling centered on a matter near and dear to union hearts and wallets — teacher evaluations.

Education reformers might call the decision a moment of student appreciation.

It’s a bitter pill for the Florida Education Association, a 140,000-member organization, and the National Education Association, which together sued the state more than a year ago alleging constitutional violations of due process and equal protection.

U.S. District Court Judge Mark E. Walker disagreed.

“The evaluation policies further the state’s legitimate interest in increasing student learning growth,” he wrote.

Walker also noted that, while legal, those same evaluation polices are shoddy in terms of implementation.

“The unfairness of the evaluation system as implemented is not lost on this court. We have a teacher evaluation system in Florida that is supposed to measure the individual effectiveness of each teacher.”

The problem, not uncommon to government fixes, is a one-size-fits-all solution in which the performance grades of physical education and art teachers are tied to standardized test results, measuring student learning in areas unrelated to the tests.

“This lawsuit highlights the absurdity of the evaluation system that has come about as a result of SB 736,” FEA president Andy Ford said when the lawsuit was filed. Senate Bill 736 is the Student Success Act, a phrase Ford and other opponents don’t like.

“Teachers in Florida are being evaluated using a formula designed to measure learning gains in the FCAT math and reading tests,” he added.

Passed by the Florida Legislature in 2011, the evaluation system is tied in part to a three-year student performance review of Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test — or FCAT — scores. Those scores amount to half of the performance measures relating to teachers and administrators. The other half is based on varying criteria such as leadership and classroom practices.

Reform-minded lawmakers want the evaluations to form a basis for merit pay, which they say will reward high-performing teachers and create financial incentives to motivate others to excel. Proponents say the result should have students benefiting while teachers earn more money.

The FEA has generally opposed merit pay and other efforts to reform the unionized pay system. The group released a press statement after the ruling in which it vowed to continue to fight the evaluations in court.

“While we’re disappointed that the judge didn’t agree with all aspects of our federal challenge, we’re encouraged that he was troubled by the evaluation procedures and we look forward to continuing this legal challenge,” Ford said.

Florida’s Student Success Act, in which teacher evaluations are a cornerstone, has the support of Michelle Rhee. Rhee became a national education figure after an award-winning documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” showed the challenges she faced trying to improve Washington D.C., public schools.

“This landmark bill recognizes that teachers are the most important factor in schools when determining a child’s success,” said Rhee. “We applaud Florida for its adoption of bold and comprehensive education measures that put students first.”

Contact William Patrick at [email protected]


William Patrick is Watchdog.org’s Florida reporter. His work has been featured by Fox News, the Drudge Report, and Townhall.com, as well as other national news and opinion websites. He’s also been cited and reposted by numerous state news organizations, including Florida Trend, Sunshine State News and the Miami Herald, and is a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Florida Press Association. William’s work has impacted discussions on education, privacy, criminal justice reform, and government and corporate accountability. Prior to joining Watchdog, William worked for the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, Fla. There, he launched a legislative news website covering state economic issues. After leaving New York City in 2010, William worked for the Florida Attorney General’s Office where he assisted state attorneys general in prosecuting Medicaid Fraud. William graduated magna cum laude from Hunter College, City University of New York. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife and three young children.