A breathtaking vision for Duval County’s neediest schools

“Breathtaking” is the only word I can think of to describe the ambition and vision represented by the Quality Education for All (QEA) project being undertaken by a partnership of Duval County Schools and the Community Foundation of Northeast Florida.

According to the Florida Times-Union, QEA has raised $36 million from private donors that will fund substantial – as large as $20,000 – incentive payments to high-performing teachers and principals who work and succeed in 36 of Jacksonville’s most difficult schools.  The Duval County School Board will vote this week on whether to accept the first $15 million grant from QEA.

Even with the incentives, it is difficult to find enough strong math and science teachers immediately.  So the district is implementing two other strategies that focus on these subjects.  First, the district will deploy about 100 Teach for America teachers to teach these subjects in the program’s middle and high schools.  While most TFA teachers leave after two years, it has been shown (most recently in Miami) that students in TFA-led math classes learn more than students in other math classes in high-needs schools.  Second, the district will initiate a four-year residency program for new teachers in STEM fields.

The long-term success of the Duval program will depend on the sustainability of the private funding stream, and that is probably the program’s greatest weakness.  It would be much more comforting if a public funding source were available to sustain the program and others like it.  But nobody – not school districts, not the State of Florida, and not even the education reform community – seems to have any interest in public funding of substantial pay incentives either to attract strong teachers of all disciplines to high-needs schools or to attract more strong mathematicians and scientists into secondary-level teaching.

But maybe – just maybe – the success of the QEA program will compel Florida’s K-12 establishment to take significant pay incentives seriously.

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