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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FSU really is Florida’s Business School


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Best and Brightest teacher bonus plan in the Florida House takes a bad idea and makes it worse.

Update (Thursday evening):  The House passed its Best and Brightest bill this afternoon with only two Democrats voting yes.  The Senate’s version will have its next committee stop next week.

Last year, the Orlando Sentinel’s Leslie Postal pointed out that teachers who are rewarded through Florida’s controversial Best and Brightest teacher bonus program are disproportionately teaching in affluent schools rather than in low-income, high-needs schools:

Florida teachers who benefited from the state’s controversial “best and brightest” bonus plan are more than twice as likely to work with students from more affluent families than with youngsters living in poverty, an Orlando Sentinel analysis has found.

The bonuses have highlighted a long-standing problem: That Florida’s best teachers are often not in the classrooms that most need them. The bonuses also have failed to help with what state educators say is a long-standing goal of equally distributing “excellent educators.”

The $44 million Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program was created last year, with the first bonuses distributed by April 1.

There was one bonus-winning teacher for every 954 students in a high-poverty Florida school this year, the analysis determined. By comparison, schools with students from more affluent homes have one “best and brightest” teacher for every 398 students.

This afternoon, the Florida House will vote on a bill to expand the Best and Brightest program, which has been controversial in part because it uses a teacher’s own ACT or SAT scores to determine eligibility.  The bill would expand the program in two ways.  First it would require teachers to have ACT or SAT scores in the 77th percentile or higher instead of the 80th percentile the program required in its first two years.  (The provision that would allow teachers to qualify using GRE, LSAT, MCAT and GMAT scores is irrelevant – making the 77th percentile on those exams is much tougher than making the 77th percentile on the ACT and SAT.)

Second, the House proposal would expand the program to principals.  To qualify, principals would have to employ lots of teachers who qualify for the Best and Brightest program.

The House bill would do nothing to address the disproportionate representation of Best and Brightest teachers in Florida’s more affluent schools.  So it is certain that the principals who receive Best and Brightest bonuses will also be disproportionately located in affluent schools.

It is mind-boggling that Florida’s House of Representatives has forged ahead with the expansion of a teacher and principal incentive program that mostly ignores the needs of Florida’s most challenged schools.

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FSU’s Studio Physics Program continues to progress with renovation of new SCALE-UP classroom


The new SCALE-UP classroom being renovated on the 3rd floor of Carothers Hall.

The capacity of FSU’s Studio Physics Program will expand this fall with the opening of a new 81-seat SCALE-UP classroom on the 3rd floor of the university’s Carothers Hall.

The newly renovated classroom will join two other SCALE-UP classrooms – one a 72-seat room in HCB and the second a 63-seat room also on the Carothers 3rd floor – in FSU’s science studio inventory.

The new renovation project was prompted by strong demand for the two existing SCALE-UP classrooms – and not only for studio physics classes.  Several of the Physics Department’s large lecture classes have switched their recitation meetings to a group problem-solving format that resembles studio-style instruction.  In addition, the College of Communication and Information and the Department of Computer Science compete with the Physics Department for time in the SCALE-UP classrooms, which are controlled by the university’s Registrar.

The competition for class time in the existing SCALE-UP room was so intense last fall that one of the weekly class periods for a Studio Physics course was held in a large lecture hall because neither of the SCALE-UP classrooms were available.

FSU’s Studio Physics Program serves about 250 students each semester.  The program is based on the now-iconic combination of classroom design and pedagogy developed by Robert Beichner at North Carolina State University which has been adopted by more than 300 colleges and universities around the nation.  Student learning gains are measured each semester, and the results are consistently world-class.  The Studio Physics Program has been well supported by the university’s administration since its inception a decade ago.  A national task force cited the Studio Physics Program when it selected FSU’s undergraduate program in physics as one of five national models for a report published late last year.


FSU’s first studio classroom, located on the 3rd floor of HCB.



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