At last: A serious proposal to improve education for low income students in Florida

If you want to attract professionals of extraordinary skill to a particularly difficult and taxing task, you have to pay them enough to make it worth their while.

Every businessperson knows this.

So why has it taken so long for this idea to make it to Florida’s neediest schools?

According to the Tampa Bay Times, a school turnaround expert who has been hired by the Pinellas County School District has formulated a plan to address the needs at the district’s five “failure factories”.  The plan includes paying teachers up to $25,000 more than teachers at other district schools.

Paying excellent teachers more to work at high-needs schools is not a new idea (for example, see this discussion of a charter in New York City that pays teachers $125,000 per year).  But differential pay of this magnitude is new to Florida.

The idea of serious differential pay to work with the neediest children should not be limited to Pinellas County.  There are schools throughout the state where similar strategies should be adopted.

And I would argue here (and have often done so in the past) that a similar strategy should be adopted to address Florida’s underachievement in math and science.  Florida’s middle school math program is in crisis.  The state’s proficiency rate on the 2015 NAEP 8th grade math test was 26%, well below the national rate of 33% and – more shockingly – well below Florida’s rate of 31% on the 2013 exam.  Middle school students who fall below the proficiency line in mathematics are probably out of the game for STEM careers, which are the most economically promising careers of the future.

Let’s sketch out a strategy for addressing the state’s middle school math crisis in a very narrow way.  Say we pay new college graduates with bachelors’ degrees in math and strong teacher education credentials $10,000 more per year to teach math at middle schools with free and reduced-price lunch eligibility rates of 60% or more.  Such a strategy would target the state’s single most urgent statewide educational issue at the state’s needier middle schools.

Florida should have addressed the issue of attracting more strong teachers to the state’s neediest schools and critical needs subjects like math and science a long time ago.  It’s encouraging that the issue is finally being addressed – at least at a few schools.

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