Efforts to reward highly effective teachers are understandable. An expression comes to mind, however, about a road to….being paved with good intentions. We need to know where the road leads. The Tampa Bay Times published an article this morning that delineates flaws with the teacher bonus selection process. Of the state’s 172,000 teachers, Forty-two percent of Florida’s teachers earned ‘highly effective’ ratings in 2014; of these 5,200 qualified for bonuses of $8,500 each. Some who appeared to be qualified were left out. No one received the $10,000 initially promised. The amount of money the legislature allocated did not cover the cost. We should know where the money went. There may be unintended consequences. This program needs fixing.
To qualify for these bonuses, teachers must have scored in the top twenty percent on their college entrance exam and have earned a ‘highly effective’ teacher evaluation rating. Other highly effective teachers with lower college entrance scores or whose scores were not available, did not qualify for bonuses. Teachers with high college entrance scores who do not earn a highly effective rating miss out on bonuses.
It would be helpful to evaluate the bonus program to determine which teachers in which schools are selected for the ‘Best and Brightest’ awards. I have questions. The first concern is over the teacher evaluation system itself. In response to concerns about the negative impact of over testing in schools, the 2015 legislature reduced the weight given to a teacher’s evaluation from students’ test score gains from fifty percent to a third of the total evaluation. The reduction was in recognition of the assertion by the American Statistical Association and others, that these test score gain systems were invalid. Thus, teachers who work with students in various ‘at risk’ categories may be disadvantaged by the achievement struggles of their students. If these teachers are penalized financially, it would seem probable that many would choose to teach where students tend to be more successful.
The goal of encouraging highly qualified and effective teachers is laudable only if it is equitable. The public and teachers need to know the demographics of the schools where the “Best and Brightest” teach. If this bonus policy has the unintended consequence of creating even more inequities among schools and districts due to lower average achievement related to the socio-economic characteristics of schools, then bonuses simply support teachers in schools whose students are expected to be successful.
It appears that the new federal education legislation removes requirements for teacher evaluations based on student test score gains. State legislatures will have the authority to specify requirements for their own teachers. Florida’s legislature will be able to eliminate the test score gain requirement. It can encourage the ‘Best and Brightest’ to help those who need help the most. They can reduce the over emphasis on testing in districts due to state regulations that teacher evaluations in every subject at every grade use test score gains. This is the crux of the testing problem confronting our students and our schools.