“E” is for “evaporate”: FSU’s E-series courses about to be legislated out of existence

FSU’s E-series course program, which was authorized by the Florida Legislature when FSU and UF were designated “preeminent”, would disappear under legislation nearing approval.  The E-series courses were engineered to provide an “exceptional academic experience,,,,unique to FSU among public colleges and universities in Florida” and provide a bulwark against the erosion of the universities’ liberal studies credit hour production by the growing popularity of AP, IB, AICE and dual enrollment courses in Florida’s high schools.

When FSU and UF were granted preeminence status by the Legislature, that status included the right to require “its incoming first-time-in-college students to take a six-credit set of unique courses specifically determined by the university.”  The statute also made the effort to protect the universities’ general education credit hour production explicit by saying “The university may stipulate that credit for such courses may not be earned through any acceleration mechanism pursuant to s. 1007.27 or s. 1007.271 or any other transfer credit.”

While FSU’s E-series courses were nominally intended to provide “students the opportunity to interact closely with faculty early in the student’s academic career”, in practice several E-series courses were offered online.  Even E-series courses held in a physical classroom could be large.  The maximum enrollment for non-Honors Program E-series courses was listed as 120.

Nearly all E-series courses were offered by faculty in the humanities, arts and social sciences.  No laboratory-based natural science course was ever included in the E-series portfolio.

Faculty were paid summer salary to develop E-series courses, so considerable resources and enthusiasm have been devoted to developing them.

The FSU liberal studies web site makes the funding incentives to departments participating in the E-series program explicit, saying “enrollment funding is provided at $75/student enrolled in a regular or augmented course section or at $180/student enrolled in an honors course section. The funds are sent to each College, which retains 1/3 of the total enrollment funding and allocates 2/3 of the enrollment funding to each Department.”

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Twice the privilege: Two visits with Mosley High School parents today

Over the last year, I’ve had the privilege of visiting with parents at Mosley High School several times.

Today I’m doubly privileged.  I will be visiting with Mosley parents twice today – at both 11:30 and 6:00.

Mosley has been making remarkable progress in STEM career preparation.  Chemistry enrollments are up 50% this year over last year.  Physics enrollments are up by a factor of six.  Enrollments in precalculus and calculus are up as well.  All of this is the result of tremendous effort and resolve by guidance counselors, teachers, administrators and parents, as well as students.  And it seems they want to keep improving.

I haven’t seen anything like it anywhere else.  It’s been tremendous to be present while this is happening.

Mosley High School Enrollment Rates


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Research relevant to Best and Brightest eligibility requirements from the CALDER Center: “Certification Requirements and Teacher Quality”

Here is the abstract of a paper by Georgia State University economist Tim Sass in 2011 on teachers who come to the profession through different routes posted at the CALDER Center site.  Read this or the full paper and then decide whether the Florida Senate language that would deny Best and Brightest signing bonuses to new teachers who do not go through teacher preparation programs before beginning their careers makes any sense:

Traditionally, states have required individuals complete a program of study in a university-based teacher preparation program in order to be licensed to teach. In recent years, however, various “alternative certification” programs have been developed and the number of teachers obtaining teaching certificates through routes other than completing a traditional teacher preparation program has skyrocketed. In this paper I use a rich longitudinal data base from Florida to compare the characteristics of alternatively certified teachers with their traditionally prepared colleagues. I then analyze the relative effectiveness of teachers who enter the profession through different pathways by estimating “value-added” models of student achievement. In general, alternatively certified teachers have stronger pre-service qualifications than do traditionally prepared teachers, with the least restrictive alternative attracting the most qualified perspective teachers. These differences are less pronounced when controlling for the grade level of teachers, however. On average, alternatively certified science teachers have also had much more coursework in science while in college than traditionally prepared science teachers. The same is not true for math teachers, where the hours of college coursework are approximately equal across pathways. Of the three alternative certification pathways studied, teachers who enter through the path requiring no coursework have substantially greater effects on student achievement than do either traditionally prepared teachers or alternative programs that require some formal coursework in education. These results suggest that the additional education coursework required in traditional teacher preparation programs either does little to boost the human capital of teachers or that whatever gains accrue from traditional teacher education training are offset by greater innate ability of individuals who enter teaching through routes requiring little formal training in education.

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Best and Brightest: And of course there are terrific science teachers that fall through the cracks because they never took the ACT or SAT

I heard from Florida Citizens for Science Communications Director Brandon Haught, who is teaching environmental science at University High School in Volusia County.  Brandon also served in the Marines from 1988 to 2000.  Here is what he had to say:

I have no chance of ever getting a cut of the Best & Brightest bonus. I never took the SAT or ACT. I served in the Marine Corps right after high school. Years later I started taking college classes at a community college, which didn’t require me taking those tests. I then transferred to university, once again without having to take SAT/ACT.

So, yes, I’m very frustrated with this boneheaded bonus program. No matter how great I ever become as a teacher, I’ll never get the cash reward.

And that is something else to think about.  The issue of teacher incentives is complex, serious and personal.

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Two Florida teachers express frustration about Senate’s language on Best and Brightest signing bonuses

During the last 24 hours, I have heard from two teachers in different parts of Florida about the Senate’s plan to limit Best and Brightest signing bonuses to exclude math and science teachers who do not complete traditional teacher education programs from Best and Brightest signing bonuses.  Here, edited for anonymity, is what they said:

In the math departments, we are dying in the trenches.  And there is no relief in sight.

I never would have thought that cutting back on a bad idea would make it even worse.

If you are a teacher and would like to add your comments, send them along.

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Trying to fix Best and Brightest: How an important issue got lost in a parliamentary maneuver


Bay County School Board Chair Ginger Littleton had spent most of Monday and Tuesday this week with the district’s lead teacher recruiter, Sharon Michalik, talking with students in FSU’s studio physics classes about teaching careers.  Those visits had gone well.  Nothing went wrong on the trip to Tallahassee until Ginger tried to talk to the Florida Senate’s PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee about the Senate’s bill for modifying the Best and Brightest teacher bonus program, which would undermine recruiting of strong teachers in subjects like chemistry, physics and upper level math.  The subcommittee’s chair, Dana Young, cut Ginger off almost as soon as the words “physics teachers” made it out of her mouth because the committee had backed itself into a scheduling corner by inserting its response to the House Schools of Hope proposal into its Best and Brightest bill.

The students Ginger and Sharon visited at FSU were not students in the university’s “traditional” teacher preparation program, called FSU-Teach.  The state’s traditional teacher preparation pipeline isn’t even coming close to meeting the demand for teachers in biology, chemistry, physics and upper level math.  So Bay County (like many other Florida districts) recruits individuals from outside that pipeline – new college graduates with degrees in fields like physics, retiring or career-changing engineers, and even retired military personnel (because Bay County is home to a large Navy research lab and Tyndall Air Force Base).

In fact, Ginger and Sharon had dinner with four FSU physics students on Monday evening to talk about teaching careers, and the subject of the Best and Brightest teacher bonus program came up.  After all, the undergraduates in the dinner group – all of whom easily exceeded the 80th percentile ACT or SAT score required for Best and Brightest eligibility – can expect starting salaries of at least $50,000 once they complete their bachelors’ degrees (and the graduate student who attended is likely to start at $100,000).  The starting teacher salary in the Bay District Schools is presently $34,500, and even the remarkable $5,000 “signing bonus” that the district’s teacher union agreed to – and several other financial incentives Sharon Michalik described to the students she met during her visit – can’t close the salary gap.

During the last two years, the Best and Brightest program has provided signing bonuses of about $7,000 or $8,000 to new teachers who looked a lot like those students that Ginger and Sharon had dinner with on Monday.

But if the language in the Senate’s Best and Brightest bill, SB 1552, makes it into law, those physics students that dined with Ginger and Sharon will no longer be eligible.  The reason?  The bill would restrict signing bonuses to students who graduate from Florida’s traditional teacher education programs.   The language would also keep career-changing engineers or retiring military personnel from receiving the signing bonuses.  For a state that built its teaching corps with the help of some of the nation’s most progressive alternative certification policies, this is inexplicable.

With the Senate’s Schools of Hope response now wedged into the chamber’s Best and Brightest bill, it’s quite possible that Senators will refuse to discuss any further the STEM teacher recruiting issue that Ginger tried to raise.  We will know soon if the conversation that Senator Young promised to have with Ginger “after the meeting” will happen.  It hasn’t yet.


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Senate’s Best and Brightest bill would lock most new high school physics teachers – and many other new math and science teachers – out of program’s “signing bonuses”

For all of its faults, the Best and Brightest teacher bonus program does have one laudable goal at its core – to recruit a larger number of talented individuals into teaching in Florida.

In Florida, many talented individuals – including most physics teachers – enter the teaching profession without going through a traditional teacher education program.  Instead, they complete alternative certification programs – quite often during their first few years of teaching.  This has been true of all of the recent FSU Physics Department graduates who have entered teaching, and I am aware of several other young math and science teachers who have entered the profession through this alternative certification route.

During the last two years, the Best and Brightest program has paid “signing bonuses” to new teachers with SAT or ACT scores at or above the 80th percentile.  That has provided at least some incentive for recent graduates of my department to enter teaching.

But language in the Senate Best and Brightest bill, SB 1552, would eliminate those signing bonuses for physics teachers and others who start teaching right after graduation without completing a teacher education program first.  The key language is in lines 96-97 of the current bill.  If a new teacher has not been “a recipient of the Florida Prepaid Tuition Scholarship Program” or “completed the college reach-out program”, then the new teacher must “Be a Florida college or university graduate of a Florida teacher preparation program.”

There is research on the effectiveness of alternatively certified teachers in Florida schools (from Georgia State’s Tim Sass), and this is what it says:

Of the three alternative certification pathways studied, teachers who enter through the path requiring no coursework have substantially greater effects on student achievement than do either traditionally prepared teachers or alternative programs that require some formal coursework in education. These results suggest that the additional education coursework required in traditional teacher preparation programs either does little to boost the human capital of teachers or that whatever gains accrue from traditional teacher education training are offset by greater innate ability of individuals who enter teaching through routes requiring little formal training in education.

The Senate language flies in the face of this research result.

The Senate language would also undermine school district teacher recruiting efforts – like Bay County’s – that rely on attracting teachers who have not gone through traditional teacher education programs.

And it would undermine my own efforts to recruit strong students into physics teaching.  FSU has not graduated a physics teacher through its “traditional” teacher education route since 2012.  The three recent FSU graduates I am aware of who are now teaching high school physics were impacted through their experiences either as students or instructors in my department’s Studio Physics Program.  Their successors would be locked out of Best and Brightest signing bonuses by the Senate language.

The removal from the Senate bill of those 13 words requiring completion of a teacher education program might save efforts like mine and Bay County’s.





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