Teacher think lawmakers might have ulterior motives when they created a $44 million bonus program.
“Who are these bonuses for?”
It’s a question we heard from teachers over and over again while reporting on the new Best and Brightest Scholarships. They’re not actually scholarships — they’re bonuses worth up to $10,000 for teachers who scored in the top 20 percent of students when they took the SAT or ACT and earned the state’s top rating, “highly effective.”
Miami Republican Rep. Erik Fresen proposed the $44 million program during the legislative session. He’s said he was inspired by Amanda Ripley’s book “The Smartest Kids In the World.” In the book, Ripley found top students wanted to become teachers in Finland, South Korea and other top-performing nations. That isn’t always the case in the U.S.
Fresen’s bill went nowhere, but he managed to get the money added to the state budget despite objections from the Senate.
For many teachers, qualifying for the bonus meant tracking down decades-old test scores from the two testing companies or from the college they attended. Many teachers said they couldn’t get the records before the October 1st deadline.
It’s why many veteran teachers don’t think they bonuses were meant for them. They think they were intended for young teachers. More recent graduates can get their test scores online and first-year teachers are exempt from the “highly effective” requirement.
Miami teacher Brigette Kinney qualifies for a new state bonus program, but disagrees with the concept.
In Brigette Kinney’s design class at Ada Merritt K-8 center in Miami, one of the key concepts is editing and revising ideas after getting feedback.
Her 8th graders created role-playing games based on books they read. And then adjust the games, after watching their classmates play.
Kinney hopes Florida lawmakers will be as open to change as her students.
“I feel that legislators are out of touch with what it means to be a good teacher,” she said.
Kinney was talking about the new program called the “Best and Brightest Scholarships.” It’s not not actually a scholarship. It’s bonuses for teachers based on how they did on the SATs and ACTs. And they could get as much as ten thousand dollars.
To get the money, teachers need to have scored in the top twenty percent when they took the college placement exams. They also have to earn the state’s top teacher rating – “highly effective.”
Lawmakers in Tallahassee earmarked $44 million in the state budget for the bonuses.
But to get them, many teachers have to track down scores they may not have seen since high school.
South Florida school districts will start adding a seal to high school diplomas of students who prove they are fluent in English and another language. Ten states have approved the designation, and six Florida districts are certifying bilingual students. Advocates want Florida to pass a law as well.
The new program, which will recognize students with an award presented at graduation, was approved last month by the school boards in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. It’s still in the works in Broward County, with administrators planning to have it available by the end of the school year.
In a region that often attracts global companies, it could help boost students’ resumes, said David Coddington, vice president of business development for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, Broward County’s economic development group.
“I think to a certain extent, it’s just what international companies are going to expect,” he said. “And the fact that the school system is doing it is fantastic. It’s another tool in the toolbox for a student when they go into a competitive market to try and land a job.”
Less than one in three students in the 50 largest U.S. cities take the SAT or ACT college entrance exams. In Tampa, it’s 18.5 percent, Jacksonville 16.7 percent and Miami 14.1 percent of students. The report from the Center for Reinventing Public Education highlights a number of disparities between schools in cities and schools elsewhere.
In 50 of the largest U.S. cities, examined in a new report from the University of Washington Bothell’s nonpartisan Center On Reinventing Public Education, fewer than one in three students takes either of those tests.
The rate of taking the SAT or ACT in those cities topped out in Memphis, at just 30 percent. In three-fifths of the cities it was less than half that. While there’s a trend toward test-optional admissions at some colleges, the majority of four year institutions in the country still require one or the other.
The findings are including in a broad report by the researchers, gathering a variety of publicly available information on school performance in those 50 cities.
Florida education policies, including Common Core-based standards, testing and school grades, could be big issues in both Democratic and Republican state legislative races next year. The field could also be expanded, with all 160 up fro grabs depending on how the redistricting process works out.
And a lot more could happen to further enrage parents and teachers before they head to the polls next year.
By late 2016, the state will have released the 2015 test scores, issued school grades and calculated the component of teacher evaluations that’s based on the exams. The state also will have administered the spring 2016 exams and likely released students’ performance on those tests.
The issues are potent on both sides of the aisle. Republicans, particularly conservatives or tea party members, reject the Common Core standards as federal overreach and a threat to local control of schools. On the left, teachers’ unions and parents argue high-stakes exams have created test-centric classrooms.
Heading into next year’s legislative elections, local parent-led groups on both sides of the political spectrum plan to promote and endorse candidates who oppose the standards, tests and the use of scores to evaluate students, teachers and schools.
The results show what percentage of students in each district scored within each quartile of all Florida students taking the exams. Parents can expect more detailed scores for their students next month.
The state is now setting cut scores for the the exams, which will determine what percentage of students are meeting state goals. Eventually, the state plans to issue A-to-F grades for every public school that will include Florida Standards Assessments results.
For years, lawmakers have chipped away at a constitutional amendment limiting class sizes. They’ve added exemptions and loopholes. But a Boca Raton dad has filed a lawsuit because his son’s kindergarten class has too many students.
Kunz’s lawsuit may end up being the first test of those exemptions’ legality, education law experts say. Florida’s teachers union said Tuesday that it knows of no other case in which a parent has tried to challenge any of the various class-size loopholes in court.
But Kunz said he is focused less on the broader implications than on his own son’s classroom, where he believes both the teacher and students suffer from the larger class.
“Class sizes are important for instruction at younger ages,” he said. “(Larger classes) are bad for both the teachers and the students. All I want is to have the class size that’s provided for in the constitution.”
The Palm Beach County school board is challenging a state law after the State Board of Education overruled a decision to reject a new charter school. The Palm Beach school board argues they have the exclusive right to establish and oversee charter schools in the district.
Currently, state law allows charter schools whose applications are rejected by a local school board to appeal to the state.
In the brief filed this week, the school board argues that that law “invalidly delegates to the State Board of Education the authority to approve charter applications even though the School Board has the exclusive power to establish, ‘operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district.’”
In its brief, the school board argues that it has the authority to reject charter schools that are insufficiently “innovative.” As proof, it points to a state law that says that school boards that oversee a charter school “shall ensure that the charter is innovative and consistent with the state education goals.”
Miami teacher Brigette Kinney holds copies of her GRE scores and the state law creating the new teacher bonus program. She qualifies for the bonus -- up to $10,000, depending on how many teachers qualify -- but may not be able to compete the paperwork in time.
Miami teacher Brigette Kinney said she doesn’t always hear about school news when classes are out for the summer.
But Kinney said she didn’t learn about the bonuses until she returned to school in August — and that may have been too late.
The deadline to apply for the scholarships is Thursday. Kinney meets the requirements, but she’s not sure if her scores will arrive in time.
“I was told it would take two to four weeks to get my score, which I knew was going to be very tight” said Kinney, who teaches English and design in the International Baccalaureate program at Ada Merritt K-8 center.