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Miami Teachers Call in Sick to Protest Merit Pay Bill

9:35 AM, Apr 12, 2010 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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Remind me. What is it that happens when you transparently call in sick with a fake illness for most jobs?

Miami-Dade schools are open Monday and parents are told their kids should come to class as usual, despite hundreds of teachers planning to call in sick to protest controversial legislation that would overhaul teacher pay and tenure.

At John A. Ferguson Senior High School in West Kendall Monday morning, the teacher parking lots weren't as full as usual.

"There's nobody at school,'' said 17-year-old Stephanie Barrios. "Everyone's being relocated to the cafeteria and gym.''

She said a two-page handout listed the number of absent teachers on Monday -- about 180 out of 600, Stephanie estimated.

The bill passed the Senate and House, and is now in Gov. Charlie Crist's hands, but teachers' union opposition is predictably loud and active. Here's what the bill would do:

The proposed law, which passed the House of Representatives 64-55 and the Senate 21-17, would base half a teacher's evaluation on progress that students make on tests, most of which have not yet been developed. If the students improve, educators could earn more money.

The current system rewards teachers based on years of experience, advanced degrees and extra certification.

Some students are also protesting the bill, skipping out on the classes their teachers aren't bothering to teach to demand those teachers get guaranteed employment at ever-increasing wages. Glad the kids are learning the right lessons about employment.  Our friend Katherine Mangu-Ward, over at Reason, has a great piece on the ubiquitous education problem with American public education— "Teachers simply don’t believe that it should be possible for them to be fired—not by a principal, not by a superintendent, not by anyone."— and its possible antidote, Superintendent Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C. Rhee has been locked in an epic battle with teachers' unions for years, trying to reform one of the worst-performing school districts in the nation. Her ideas shouldn't be controversial, but they are:

In July 2008, Rhee revealed her opening gambit with the teachers union: She offered the teachers a whole lot of money. Under her proposal, educators would have two choices. With the first option, teachers would get a $10,000 bonus—a bribe, really—and a 20 percent raise. Nothing else would change. Benefits, rights, and privileges would remain as they were. Under the second option, teachers would receive a $10,000 bonus, a 45 percent increase in base salary, and the possibility of total earnings up to $131,000 a year through bonuses tied to student performance. In exchange, they would have to forfeit their tenure protections. To make good on her financial promises, Rhee lined up money from private donors; she has been close-mouthed about their identities, but The Washington Post has reported that likely contributors include Bill and Melinda Gates and Michael and Susan Dell.Says Rhee: “I thought, this is brilliant. Everybody talks about how teachers don’t get paid enough; I’m going to pay teachers six-figure salaries! I’m going to pay the best teachers twice as much as they are currently making. Who could not be in favor of that? But people went ballistic.” Getting incentive pay required giving up near-absolute job security. “That,” she says, “is when the crap hit the fan.”

Is D.C. the last chance for school reform (while Congress isn't killing the city's successful, pilot voucher program to serve unions, that is)? Rhee has been more stalwart than most in resisting Miami-style opposition from unions, which means her success is an important gauge for the possibility of reform everywhere. Read the whole thing.



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