I have some experience in this, in my job as a sub for this county. (It'll remain unpublished and I won't mention any schools because that would be tacky to violate their privacy.) And I don't purport to speak for all of Florida, because I'm sure the other counties have different ways of doing things. Being a sub and taking assignments from several different levels of schools gives you a unique perspective on the range of autonomy afforded each location. (Also, being a sub means every day is baptism by fire because the SUB label attracts the absolutely worst that the kids will give, in terms of behavior.) It's not necessarily a model of all public schools being completely controlled from Tallahassee, or from Washington DC. Most of the money for public schools comes from the county level. And even the county pretty much lets each school run itself. And it has been my experience that each school is almost a separate country from the others, in terms of the culture of learning, the scheduling, and even the textbooks.All public schools are regulated by the State so they have their own benchmarks or competencies teachers must possess. If I were large in charge, I would use a variety of benchmarks.
1. Student engagement. Do your students show up for class? Do you have a lot of absenteeism? Are you interesting with your delivery? I have walked by some classrooms and a bomb could go off in the hall and they would not waiver, the teacher had them engaged with the lesson. Some, you walk by and see half the students with their heads down, sleeping.
2) Quarterly observations. Combination of scheduled and random. My State performs scheduled observations and administration does a few as well.
3) Classroom management. If a teacher is allowing the students to run wild and there are issues stemming from it, it disrupts learning. IMO, if you are sending a lot of students to the alternative behavior center (principles office), there is a problem with class room management.
4) Good curriculum and a active learning lesson plan. Students should be busy all the time. Responding to workbook type questions is not appropriate class time use.
5) Evidence of meeting learning objectives. This does not have to be exams only. You can use technology, projects, group/team work, etc.
As far as awful students, it is part of our job to turn them into good students. Each student is unique and if you get to know them, you can usually change some behaviors and meet them half way on others.
I worked in another county where I would get sub calls early in the morning and find out through the day that I was subbing for someone who called in with a hangover. Yes, teachers WILL talk in the teachers' lounge. A sub just needs to shut the hell up and listen. In this county, 95 percent of my calls are due to teachers being called out of class for some legitimate (or some ILLegitimate) meetings or state mandated inservice training. Often the teachers are on the property. In THIS county, the teachers do not take time off during the day. During lunch in the teachers' lounge, all they talk about is the job. No politics, no sports, no home life, nothing but the job. They are consumed with it, and this is in pretty much EVERY school property in the county.