If Florida really wants to attract and retain the best and brightest teachers, replacing the Best and Brightest bonus program is a good start.
Last week, the state Board of Education backed a plan to scrap the controversial two-year-old program. The program gives up to $10,000 bonuses to teachers based in part on how well they scored on the ACT or SAT tests — which they typically took as high-school students.
The board unanimously recommended taking most of the $49 million spent on the program and instead using it for bonuses for new teachers who showed great potential or veteran teachers whose students demonstrated the highest academic growth.
Given Florida’s dreadful record in teacher treatment and pay, the state needs to do more to draw and keep high-quality educators. Florida ranks 44th in the nation for the median annual salary of teachers adjusted for cost and living and 37th in the 10-year change in teacher salaries, according to a new report from the personal-finance website WalletHub.
The Best and Brightest program was an insult to teachers, basing bonuses on past test scores that don’t correlate to the success of their current students. Lawmakers can find examples of better-conceived bonuses across the state.
Pinellas County’s school district is offering up to $25,000 in additional pay to teachers and administrators at five struggling elementary schools. The schools, some of the worst-performing in the state, were the subject of the Tampa Bay Times’ investigative series “Failure Factories.”
The series found other districts had improved learning by providing bonuses and lengthening the school day. Pinellas teachers must work a longer day, teach summer school and participate in additional training to earn the extra money.
In Duval County, private donations are being used to pay for up to $20,000 bonuses for teachers in 36 of that county’s highest-need schools. The money comes from the Quality Education for All Fund, an initiative launched with the goal of collecting $50 million in donations over three to five years.
In Alachua County, both the low pay of teachers and achievement gap for low-income and minority students are problems deserving of additional attention and resources. Alachua County Public Schools ranked 56th in the state in average teacher salaries in 2015-16 and have dropped in those rankings over the past three years, according to state figures.
While research has found that bonus programs are a way to attract and keep quality teachers at high-poverty schools, some districts have experienced mixed success with them.
At a time Florida is lagging behind most states in terms of teacher pay, raising salaries across the board would make the most sense. But if state officials are convinced a bonus program is the right way to go, the least they can do is base the money on what is happening in classrooms today rather than a standardized test taken years ago.