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Poll: Teachers who perform poorly should be easier to fire
57 percent of the public polled believe educators are underpaid
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A new poll shows most Americans are frustrated over the difficulty in getting rid of bad teachers, while most also believe teachers are underpaid.

The Associated Press-Stanford University poll found 78 percent think it should be easier for school administrators to fire poorly performing teachers. Yet overall, the public wants to reward teachers. Fifty-seven percent say they are paid too little, with just 7 percent believing they are overpaid and most of the rest saying they are paid about right.

Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said some of the views may stem from tenure laws, such as those in Georgia, which are seen as a hindrance to firing low-performing teachers.

The laws exist to protect good educators from being let go for personal or political reasons. They also came before districts had effective qualitative evaluations for school employees, Dyer said.

Last year, the Obama administration began programs such as the $4 billion "Race to the Top," which gave money to 11 states and Washington, D.C., in exchange for promises of innovative reforms to raise student achievement and improve graduation rates. Part of the requirements for getting the money included a teacher performance pay program and better use of student achievement data to make sure teachers are doing their jobs.

Georgia was named one of the winners for the federal Race to the Top grant competition in August. The state was awarded $400 million to share among districts that opted to accept the money, including Gainesville and Hall County.

This year, Dyer said Gainesville has implemented new teacher and administrator evaluation programs, CLASS keys and LEADER keys, which will eventually determine pay-for-performance standards. The school system piloted the programs last year.

"As learning is improving in classrooms, test scores are also improving and becoming more stabilized," Dyer said.

In January, the 26 Georgia school districts that are part of Race to the Top will have their first concrete meeting about pay for performance, Dyer said. Many of the details are still unknown.

"We'll look at value-added measure and the next steps for Georgia," Dyer said.

Value-added measure is the analysis of test scores to measure how much a student has learned in a teacher's class. She adds that districts will have input about any changes.

The poll, released Tuesday, also reported that half those polled say teachers' salaries should be based on their students' performance on statewide tests and on the evaluations they receive from local school officials.

About one in four say pay should be determined solely by school administrators' ratings, while under one in five say salaries should be based only on how well students do on statewide testing.

While eager to send bad teachers packing, just 35 percent say a large number of bad teachers is a serious problem in America's schools. In contrast, more than half are critical of parents and federal, state and local education officials. And 55 percent say the inability to recruit and keep good teachers is a problem.

People in the poll were closely divided over whether teachers should be allowed to strike, with just more than half in favor.

The AP-Stanford poll on education was conducted Sept. 23-30 by Abt SRBI Inc. It involved interviews with 1,001 adults nationwide and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

Associated Press contributed to this report.