It’s baaaaaaaaaaaack! Despite withering criticism from teachers and the Florida Senate, the House Education Committee is attempting to write Best and Brightest into statute

The Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program is back – included in a Proposed Committee Bill being considered by the House Education Committee this week.  (See the Orlando Sentinel report here)  The withering criticism of the bill leveled not just by teachers but also by Senators doesn’t seem to have discouraged House education leaders from trying to make the program permanent.  

That isn’t to say that there isn’t a place for a teacher bonus program that is well-considered and well-designed.  The father of the Best and Brightest proposal, House Appropriations Education Subcommittee Chair Erik Fresen, cited author Amanda Ripley as his muse for the program.  Ripley made a few positive tweets about the program, so I sent her the following letter to talk about what Florida’s education problems really are and what we really need to address them.  She did not respond, but I’m sharing the letter with my readers (both of them) again.

Dear Ms. Ripley:

I’m writing about your tweet regarding the Florida Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program. I responded (twice, actually), but this subject deserves more than 280 characters.

During the last few decades, Florida’s public schools have done a remarkable job improving the reading achievement of its students despite these students’ socioeconomic challenges (the state’s free and reduced lunch rate is significantly above the national rate). However, teacher turnover at high-poverty schools still tends to be higher than at schools with more affluent students, and low income students still tend to do more poorly in reading achievement than higher income students.

Furthermore, the achievement rates of Florida’s students in math and science are either at the national average or below on NAEP. The lack of focus on math and science also shows up clearly in Advanced Placement results. Florida is among the nation’s leaders in AP exams on social science, world languages and English. In math and science, the state is only average despite the significant fiscal incentives for AP success built into the state’s education budget.

So here are two problems that I claim can be addressed by constructive policies on differential pay for teachers. First, we need strong, experienced teachers to persist at high poverty schools. Second, we need to attract more strong math and science students into teaching.

The SAT-based Florida Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship program that was recently enacted will not directly address either.

It would make much more sense to pay teachers $10,000 annual salary supplements to teach at schools where the free and reduced lunch rate is 70% or above (the state’s rate is 58%). It would also make more sense to pay $10,000 annual salary supplements to teachers who hold bachelors’ degrees in math or the physical sciences where average starting salaries for new bachelors’ degree grads are $50,000 per year or above. (For comparison, starting teacher salaries in Florida run between $35,000 and $40,000)

The $44 million that we will spend on the SAT-driven Florida Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program in 2015-2016 could have done a great deal to address these two issues. It’s a shame that this money is being misspent instead.

Paul Cottle

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