Here’s what to tell parents about post-bachelor’s degree salaries (an encore performance of Georgetown CEW’s 2015 report)

In class this week, a biochemistry major shared that she felt badly that as a bachelor’s degree grad she could not make as much as her brother, who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in communication.  To inject some facts into this discussion, I pulled up the 2015 report “Economic Value of College Majors” from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.  The report didn’t list biochemistry specifically, but Chemistry is well ahead of Communication.  My student left class happy (that doesn’t always happen).

I’ve posted a figure similar to that below before, but it didn’t include Communication.  Now it does.  Just to show how much better my student could do than her brother.


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In Florida Senate, Fewer/Better/Neither testing bill seems to eclipse Montford’s competing reform bill

Tuesday’s meeting of the Senate Education Committee meeting featured a testing policy duel between a bill (SB 926) pushed by the Foundation for Excellence in Education that promises fewer and better tests – but actually delivers neither – and a genuine reform effort lead-authored by Democratic Senator Bill Montford (SB 964).

It looks like the Foundation bill won:  SB 926 will be voted on by the Education Committee at its meeting on Monday.  SB 964 is nowhere to be found.

While maintaining all of the present components of the state’s test-based accountability system, the Foundation bill would require all tests (which now begin in February) to be pushed back to the last three weeks of the school year.  The Foundation bill does not address how to physically do this – the present months-long testing season is driven by the requirement that many of the tests be given on the limited number of computers available in the schools.  In response to calls for districts to be allowed to substitute the ACT and SAT college entrance exams for some of the state’s high school tests, the Foundation bill would also authorize the Department of Education to “study” the ACT and SAT to see if they precisely align with the state’s high school standards (Clue:  They don’t).

The Montford bill would make many substantial changes to the state’s accountability system, including terminating end-of-course exams in Geometry and Algebra 2 as well as several other non-STEM subjects, allowing pencil-and-paper versions of all state tests (which actually would allow pushing tests back to the last three weeks of the school year) and setting a lower bar for substituting the ACT and SAT for Florida’s 10th grade English Language Arts exam – “substantially aligned with the applicable state standards”.  The Montford bill also attracted a bipartisan cast of co-sponsors, including former Senate President Tom Lee and Education Committee Vice Chair Debbie Mayfield.

However, the Montford plan never got any traction in the House, where the Foundation proposal was introduced by PreK-12 Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Manny Diaz.

It is still possible that elements of the Montford proposal could be inserted into the Foundation bill via the amendment process.  We will know about that soon.

One more interesting tidbit:  The Senate version of the Foundation bill was introduced by Anitere Flores, who represents the Florida Keys.  The Keys are the home of some of the state’s leading testing reform crusaders.  That may come up during the next election cycle.

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Replace Best and Brightest with a grant program: Let Florida’s school districts be laboratories for innovation

Florida’s Best and Brightest teacher bonus program is intended to be a way to achieve statewide policy objectives – including implementing performance-based compensation of educators and recruiting more talented individuals into teaching – while circumventing the district-level collective bargaining process. The loss of local control and the selection of one narrow measurement (college entrance exam scores) to identify talented recruits have helped to drive the controversy about the program.

The loss of local control is particularly troubling – and should be for Republican legislators. The Best and Brightest program is obviously experimental and has only weak support in research on teacher effectiveness. In the program’s two-year history, there has been little overlap between the group of teachers that have received Best and Brightest bonuses and those recognized as most effective by the Florida Department of Education (the “High Impact Teacher Corps”). In addition, few district Teachers of the Year have won Best and Brightest bonuses. Teachers who have won Best and Brightest bonuses teach disproportionately in schools with affluent students – and not in schools with the economically disadvantaged students who need them most.

Is there a better way to meet the policy objectives that the Best and Brightest program was intended to address? Perhaps. How would we come up with a better idea?

Republicans (like me) are fond of devolving programs from the federal level to the state level, saying that states are the laboratories of democracy. Perhaps Florida’s state-level policy-makers should take the same approach, allowing the state’s school districts to operate as laboratories for recruiting a greater number of talented individuals into teaching and rewarding teachers for classroom performance.

Of course, this would probably not be as simple as taking whatever sum of money was going to be invested in the Best and Brightest program (it was $49 million in the present fiscal year), dividing it up using some algorithm and sending it to the districts. If the state did this, the money would likely get spent in a way that had little or nothing to do with the state’s policy objectives.

But how can we engage the experience and expertise latent in our schools and districts to address the state’s policy objectives? Perhaps a competitive grant program would do the trick.

Imagine this: The Legislature appropriates $50 million to a grant program that is intended to recruit strong teachers – perhaps primarily targeting high needs schools and critical needs subjects, as the State Board of Education recommended last year. And then it asks the districts to write innovative proposals for meeting these objectives. Such an exercise would engage all 67 school districts. With such a broad base of expertise and experience addressing the issue, it’s likely several (or maybe many) terrific ideas would result. Even the district teachers’ unions would get involved, because at least some of their members could benefit if a district’s proposal were funded.

Perhaps half a dozen or a dozen school districts would have their proposals funded, and then the real experiment would begin. Which projects actually result in the district having more success in recruiting more strong individuals into teaching? Which projects result in better student achievement? And which of these projects could be replicated in other districts? Maybe a successful project in a rural district could be ported to other rural districts. Or a successful program in one of the state’s megadistricts could be replicated in other megadistricts.

Are districts – being tightly tethered to local teachers’ unions – even capable of setting priorities like those the State Board of Education set out? Yes. Bay County is giving substantial signing bonuses ($5,000) to new teachers in some math, science and special education fields (as well as Latin). Pinellas County is trying salary supplements for high needs schools. Some districts – and their teachers’ unions – are willing to spend substantial amounts of their own money to experiment.

But the bottom line is that it is much more likely for good ideas to bubble up from Florida’s school districts than it is for a few legislators, staffers and bureaucrats to come up with the best answer in Tallahassee. The Legislature should take advantage of all of the innovation horsepower available at the local level by abandoning its Best and Brightest plans and instead initiating a grant program for the districts.

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Message to the Downtown Panama City Rotary Club at today’s meeting: Considerable progress in Bay County high schools, more work to do

A few of the slides from my talk to the Downtown Panama City Rotary Club today can be found below.  At the very bottom is a picture of the attendees learning some atomic physics – I was using plasma discharge lamps with hydrogen and neon, and of course those glasses are diffraction gratings.

A few additional notes:

When I was asked by the Club President how I ended up spending so much effort in a place 100 miles from home, I said three words that everybody in the room instantly understood – “Ginger summoned me”.

And yes, the fried chicken at the St. Andrew’s Yacht Club where the club’s lunch meetings are held is really that good.







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Florida trails Alabama, Georgia in average teacher salary, according to NCES

Average teacher salaries are from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES).  The spreadsheet is here:


The link is here.



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From the Center for American Progress: “What Do People Know About Excellent Teaching and Learning?”

This week, the Center for American Progress posted a piece by Ulrich Boser that examined whether Americans in general and parents in particular know what effective teaching practices look like.  In general, the answer is no.  And that has important ramifications for efforts to improve teaching and learning.  Below I have reproduced several excerpts from Boser’s piece.  But of course you should read the original.

It’s a set of questions that nags just about every parent with school-age kids: Does their child’s teacher employ good instructional practices? What are educators doing to help their kid learn? Is the school using effective programs and approaches?

There’s a problem, though, because it turns out that most people do not have a robust sense of what effective teaching looks like. Indeed, most Americans believe various myths about the nature of teaching and learning, and large swaths of the public support instructional practices that are ineffective or even hurtful to learning.

False beliefs about teaching and learning are a problem that goes far beyond the classroom. Myths about learning also prevent thoughtful efforts at school reform. For instance, if large segments of Americans believe in passive forms of learning, then they won’t support initiatives to make learning more active and engaged….

The public underestimates the amount of knowledge and practice that it takes to become an accomplished teacher. More than 40 percent of respondents believed that teachers don’t need to know a subject area such as math or science if they have good instructional skills. In other words, much of the public believes that a great middle school math teacher can easily become a great history teacher—that a “great teacher can teach any subject.”….

Most people have a hard time recognizing richer, more active forms of teaching and learning. Within the learning sciences community, there’s now a clear consensus that more active forms of learning promote richer understanding. Researchers from across the field argue that more engaged forms of education—such as quizzing, explaining, or teaching others—produce much better student outcomes and a deeper grasp of material. As psychologists Richard Mayer and Logan Fiorella argue, learning is “generative.”

The evidence on this point is so overwhelming that some researchers, such as Scott Freeman at the University of Washington, refuse to do any more studies comparing active forms of learning against less active forms of learning. If you’re an educator and “you refuse do active learning, it raises an ethical question,” Freeman says. “It’s like a doctor giving you a less effective drug. You’d think it’s an issue of malpractice.”

But in the present research, the public appeared skeptical of this approach to learning. In fact, the public showed a lot of support for more passive approaches to learning. For instance, almost 90 percent of respondents believed that “[r]ereading is a highly effective approach to learning,” though research suggests that the approach is not all that effective. Many also believed that highlighting is a successful approach, but again, studies show that the strategy is not that effective.


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Teacher salaries in Georgia and Florida: A comparison of district averages

The district average teacher salaries in Florida shown in the plot below are available on the Florida Department of Education web site.  Those in Georgia are available at the Atlanta Journal-Consitution web site.


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