Best and Brightest teacher bonus plan in the Florida House takes a bad idea and makes it worse.

Update (Thursday evening):  The House passed its Best and Brightest bill this afternoon with only two Democrats voting yes.  The Senate’s version will have its next committee stop next week.

Last year, the Orlando Sentinel’s Leslie Postal pointed out that teachers who are rewarded through Florida’s controversial Best and Brightest teacher bonus program are disproportionately teaching in affluent schools rather than in low-income, high-needs schools:

Florida teachers who benefited from the state’s controversial “best and brightest” bonus plan are more than twice as likely to work with students from more affluent families than with youngsters living in poverty, an Orlando Sentinel analysis has found.

The bonuses have highlighted a long-standing problem: That Florida’s best teachers are often not in the classrooms that most need them. The bonuses also have failed to help with what state educators say is a long-standing goal of equally distributing “excellent educators.”

The $44 million Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program was created last year, with the first bonuses distributed by April 1.

There was one bonus-winning teacher for every 954 students in a high-poverty Florida school this year, the analysis determined. By comparison, schools with students from more affluent homes have one “best and brightest” teacher for every 398 students.

This afternoon, the Florida House will vote on a bill to expand the Best and Brightest program, which has been controversial in part because it uses a teacher’s own ACT or SAT scores to determine eligibility.  The bill would expand the program in two ways.  First it would require teachers to have ACT or SAT scores in the 77th percentile or higher instead of the 80th percentile the program required in its first two years.  (The provision that would allow teachers to qualify using GRE, LSAT, MCAT and GMAT scores is irrelevant – making the 77th percentile on those exams is much tougher than making the 77th percentile on the ACT and SAT.)

Second, the House proposal would expand the program to principals.  To qualify, principals would have to employ lots of teachers who qualify for the Best and Brightest program.

The House bill would do nothing to address the disproportionate representation of Best and Brightest teachers in Florida’s more affluent schools.  So it is certain that the principals who receive Best and Brightest bonuses will also be disproportionately located in affluent schools.

It is mind-boggling that Florida’s House of Representatives has forged ahead with the expansion of a teacher and principal incentive program that mostly ignores the needs of Florida’s most challenged schools.

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