Research says that the Florida Critical Teacher Shortage Program worked. So redirect the Best and Brightest money to reinstate it.

At the September meeting of the State Board of Education, the Board adopted a legislative budget request that called for discontinuing the much-maligned Florida Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program, which awards bonuses to teachers based on two dubious metrics – the scores they earned on the SAT or ACT when they were in high school themselves, and their ratings under the state’s capricious teacher evaluation program.

The SBOE LBR proposed that the money presently being spent on Best and Brightest bonuses be directed to a new program that would be used to recruit and retain strong teachers for math and science and for the state’s neediest schools.  According to the Orlando Sentinel, two board members – Vice Chair John Padget and former Chair Gary Chartrand, asked for a more detailed proposal from the Department of Education leadership.

But the issue was not addressed at the board’s October meeting.  There is now a bit of suspense about whether it will be addressed at this week’s November meeting, which is the last for Vice Chair Padget.

Of course, it will be the Legislature that approves any plan having to do with Best and Brightest, and a Board recommendation would be only that – a recommendation.

With that background, here I make my own recommendation:  The Legislature should terminate the Best and Brightest Program and use the money ($49 million this year) to instead reinstate the Florida Critical Teacher Shortage Program, which was terminated in 2010 but which a recently published study demonstrated was effective in reducing attrition among teachers in critical needs fields despite the modest funding allocated to the program.

One primary component of the program was loan forgiveness (LF) that provided up to $2,500 per year of forgiveness of undergraduate loans and up to $5,000 per year for graduate school loans.  The total loan forgiveness that an eligible teacher could accumulate over a period of years was $10,000.

The program also provided tuition reimbursement (TR) for taking courses that led to certification in a high-needs area and retention bonuses for teachers in designated shortage areas.

The results?  Here is the authors’ summary:

Exploiting variation in program coverage across time and across subjects, as well as variation in the generosity of payments, we find that the LF component did have substantial positive effects on the likelihood an individual would remain in teaching. The effects vary across subjects and depend in part on the magnitude of payments. Positive effects were found for four of seven subject areas (science, math, foreign languages, and ESOL). Positive effects were also found for the largest shortage-area category, special education/gifted teachers, although only when payments were relatively large. We also found that the $1,200 one-time retention bonus offered to high school teachers in designated subject areas decreased teacher attrition in the targeted areas by as much as 25%.  

There is also evidence that the TR program increased the likelihood a teacher would become newly certified in a high-need area. Teachers receiving TR in the current or prior year were more than twice as likely as nonrecipients to become certified in a high-need area.  

Our findings suggest that educational subsidies, particularly ex-post LF for early-career teachers, can be effective tools at promoting the retention of teachers in high-need areas. Similar to the prior work by Clotfelter et al. (2008), we find that relatively modest payments of $500 to $1,000 per year can reduce attrition in some high-need subjects, although in some subjects, such as special education, only payments on the order of $2,500 per year appear effective. The efficacy of direct payments to teachers appears to be more cost-effective than loan subsidies. A one-time bonus of $1,200 reduced teacher attrition more than loan repayments of comparable magnitude.

For legislators who like to talk about supporting evidence-based strategies to address Florida’s most serious needs, this is a golden opportunity.  Here is a program that worked in Florida and which was terminated in the recession budget meltdown.  For newly named House Education Committee Chair Michael Bileca, House Speaker-Elect Richard Corcoran, Senate President-Elect Joe Negron and their colleagues, this should be a slam dunk.

Really, it should.

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