Florida Legislature’s education reform initiatives ignore the most important issue – recruiting and retaining strong teachers

The highest priority for any K-12 reform initiative should be recruiting more strong teachers into classrooms and then making sure they stay there.

Unfortunately, the Florida Legislature’s recent reform packages – HB 7069 last year and the various proposals in the pipeline this year – implement nothing that has proven effective for increasing the number of strong individuals teaching Florida’s students.

The teacher recruiting and retention centerpiece of last year’s HB 7069 was writing the Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program into statute.  The program had already been in place for two years through the magic of budget language, so it now has a three-year track record we can examine.  The Best and Brightest program awards bonuses of around $7,000 to teachers if they meet two criteria.  The first (and most controversial) of the two criteria is to meet a minimum score on a standardized test like the SAT, ACT or professional school exams.  But the second – to earn a “highly effective” rating on the school district’s teacher evaluation rubric – isn’t particularly reliable, either.  Teacher evaluation rubrics and the percentages of teachers who earn “highly effective” ratings vary strongly from district to district – as shown for 2016-17 in the figure at the bottom of this post (data from the always excellent Florida Department of Education website).

But the strongest argument against the Best and Brightest program as a teacher recruiting tool is that it isn’t working.  During the three year history of the Best and Brightest program, the supply of new high school math teachers (those who can teach Algebra 2 and higher) has dropped by about a quarter.  If the Best and Brightest program were working, that number would be increasing and not decreasing.

Legislative leaders seem to have even less interest in recruiting and retaining strong teachers this year than last year.

This year’s primary focus seems to be on expanding the state’s lightly regulated scholarship programs for sending K-12 students to private schools.  As the Orlando Sentinel documented in its “Schools Without Rules” series last fall, teacher quality has not been a strength of the state’s scholarship programs.  The Sentinel’s journalists found teachers and even principals who had not earned bachelors’ degrees teaching in schools that enroll students with state scholarships.  It seems unlikely that will change this year.

As before, any improvements in teacher recruiting and retention will have to originate at the district level.



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