At the halfway mark, it appears that this year’s Florida Legislature will not do anything to improve math and science education in the state.
There were at least a few small opportunities for progress, but hopes for even those small steps are fading fast. Here’s a roundup:
STEM Teacher Loan Forgiveness (SB 290, HB 15): The very modest proposal to forgive $16,000 of student loans for teachers in STEM subjects who serve for eight years has not made any progress in the House. The Senate version, which is moving ahead, was further watered down by stretching the loan repayment – which only occurs after a teacher has served eight years – over four additional years. But with the House version moribund, it probably doesn’t matter what’s going on in the Senate.
Exempting STEM master’s degree holders from teacher education requirements for permanent certification (SB 432, HB 189): This very simple proposal would grant permanent certification to any STEM master’s degree holder who earns a “highly effective” teaching rating – presumably in a single year – without the widely reviled (in the science community, anyway) teacher education courses now required for permanent certification. The problem is that at least some of those hated teacher education courses provide some really important training. Like this: Why is the traditional lecture model ineffective for most students? This is something that most STEM master’s degree holders really need to find out about. The House bill quickly advanced to the House floor, where it is awaiting action. However, after passing the Senate PreK-12 Committee easily, the Senate version has become stuck – waiting for a hearing in the chamber’s Appropriations Subcommittee on Education.
Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program (SB 978, HB 7043): I’ve been pushing differential pay for teachers in critical needs subjects like math and science and for those teaching in high-needs schools for a long time. The Best and Brightest program, which provides $10,000 bonuses for certain teachers, could have been the way forward on recruiting strong teachers for those two priorities. Instead, it is the differential pay program from Hell. The program rewards teachers who earned a high SAT/ACT score when they were in high school themselves (Although they can take the test again! Isn’t that nice?) and who earn a rating of “highly effective” on the state’s chaotic teacher evaluation system. (Want to see how chaotic? Read this from this morning’s Orlando Sentinel.) It is a leadership priority in the House, and in HB 7043 it is welded to the highest priority of the Chair of the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee (performance-based funding for higher education). So Best and Brightest, which had a rocky test ride this year, will undoubtedly be enshrined in the Florida Statutes, despite the almost comic level of frustration displayed by Senators about the program.
High school computer programming education (SB 468, HB 887): Senator Ring’s attempt to raise the profile of computer programming education at the high school level by allowing students to substitute computer programming courses for the now-required foreign language courses when applying to public universities in Florida has attracted (not surprisingly) fierce opposition from foreign language education advocates. And the bill’s requirement for high schools to offer computer programming courses has prompted Senator Montford, among others, to point out that such a requirement would likely result in some other high school courses being cut. In contrast, the House bill would just ask for a study of the issue for a year. However, the House bill opens the door to allowing computer programming courses to substitute for math and science courses in university admission requirements – a bad scheme that has been enacted in other states. But since the Senate and House bills are not on the same page at all, it’s unlikely that anything will happen.