What do Pinellas County’s “Failure Factories” tell us about the Florida Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program?

Pinellas County is preparing to tackle the problems of the five south county elementary schools that have been labeled “Failure Factories” by the Tampa Bay Times by designating several of those schools as magnet schools.  But the magnet school scheme has limits, as documented by a This American Life report on issues in the public schools in Hartford, Connecticut (I grew up in a suburb of Hartford, so the strategies implemented in response to Sheff v. O’Neill have been of interest to me for a long time)

What the kids in those five ailing schools need the most is great teachers – teachers with talent and energy who have the experience and determination to withstand the terrible pressures of working in those places.  But why would any teacher put herself or himself through the trial of working in such an environment?  Sure, some teachers want to take on the toughest challenges.  But most of these teachers have families themselves.  What can we do to help the best teachers decide that the challenge of working at the Failure Factories is worth the effort?

Pay them more.  Pay them $10,000 more per year to work at the Failure Factory schools.  For a teacher making in the $40K’s, $10,000 per year is enough to matter.

Does the State of Florida have a differential pay program for teachers that could be deployed to attract the strongest teachers to the Failure Factories?  Uh, no.  What we have instead is this:  the Florida Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program, which consists of $44 million to pay $10,000 bonuses to teachers who got high SAT or ACT scores when they were in high school (if they are new teachers or earned “highly effective” ratings in their evaluations last year – and the rating system is still, let’s say, unstable).

If the State of Florida had instead earmarked that $44 million for teachers at high needs schools (and teachers in critical needs subjects like math and science), then it could be deployed to rescue the kids at the Pinellas Failure Factories.  There is no more dramatic demonstration of what’s wrong with the new teacher scholarship program than that.

A bit of math:  Let’s say we spend $10,000 per year per teacher for 30 star teachers at each of the five failure factory schools.  That’s $1.5 million per year.  That’s chicken feed compared to the $44 million we are pouring into the Best and Brightest program.

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