What you should know about the Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program
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What you should know about the Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program

The budget passed by the Florida Legislature and signed by Governor Scott last month left many Floridians scratching their heads, but a particular line-item that funds bonuses for teachers with high test scores has been especially puzzling.

The line item establishes Florida’s Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program, and we’ve received a number of questions from teachers about it. As the district prepares to implement a process for applicants, we want to answer some of the questions we’ve received from teachers so far.

What is the Best and Brightest Scholarship?

Florida’s Best and Brightest Scholarship Program was established as a $44 million line-item in the 2015-2016 Florida Budget to be spent providing salary bonuses of up to $10,000 to teachers with high SAT and ACT scores.

What are the qualifications of the program?

To be eligible, a teacher must have scored at or above the 80th percentile on the SAT or ACT (as measured by when they took the test) and have been evaluated as highly effective on their most recent summative evaluation. First year teachers who do not have evaluations may qualify based solely on their test scores.

How much will the scholarships be worth?

The bonus will not exceed $10,000. The legislature budgeted $44 million dollars for the program, so if more than 4,400 teachers in the state qualify, the amount of each bonus payout will be reduced.

Is the scholarship program recurring?

No, the program was only funded for this year, and there is no guarantee that it will continue to be funded by the Legislature in the future.

What should I do to claim a scholarship?

You will need to request official copies of your SAT or ACT test scores from the agency that administered your exam. There will likely be fees associated with retrieval of archived scores, and the turnaround on archived scores may vary.

You can learn more about requesting SAT scores here and ACT scores here.

Please remember that the School District is still awaiting information from the Florida Department of Education, so you should not submit test scores to any District employee or office until you have received official instructions.

What is USEP’s position on the scholarship program?

USEP is communicating with district staff and will monitor the process throughout the year. Bonus payout amounts are determined by the state and are not subject to negotiation.

USEP is constantly seeking ways to improve compensation for teachers and SRP, and does not discourage teachers from applying for this scholarship. With that said, we do not believe that this scholarship program achieves the outcomes it aims for. We’re dubious of claims asserting a correlation between a teacher’s performance on a standardized test taken when they were in high school and their current abilities as an educator, and we certainly don’t believe that tying a teacher’s sometimes decades-old test scores to their current salary is fair or logical.

Despite the name, we also don’t think the program targets all of Florida’s best teachers. Plenty of the state’s highly effective teachers lack test scores that would qualify them for scholarships. Many have made meaningful advancements in their professional abilities by pursuing advanced degrees in education or by becoming certified with the National Board. These teachers undoubtedly stand among “Florida’s Best and Brightest,” yet due to the narrow eligibility criteria of the program, they will not qualify to receive a scholarship.

We’re also troubled by the Legislature’s continued obsession with standardized-testing. There is minimal substantial evidence suggesting that test results–either of students or teachers–are a significant indicator of teaching effectiveness. As researchers have long pointed out, test results are attributable to a range of factors–they reveal as much about the test-taker’s socioeconomic conditions as they do about the performance of their teacher.

Ultimately we feel that this program proves yet again that our state’s lawmakers are not interested in seriously considering the important issue of teacher compensation, something that is especially disappointing considering that our teachers are some of the lowest paid in the country. When it comes to compensation, our state’s educators deserve meaningful and fair legislation, not more standardized testing gimmicks.

How can I learn more about the program?

You can start by reading about the program in the Senate’s conference report on the budget. The pertinent passage is in 99A on page 27:

http://flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2015A/2500A/Amendment/234572/PDF

The program has been the subject of numerous news articles across the state and nation. Here are just a few:

Washington Post: Florida’s kooky new plan: giving bonuses to teachers with high SAT/ACT scores

Tampa Bay Times: Questions abound for new program that rewards teachers based on SAT and ACT scores

Sun Sentinel: Teachers may get $10,000 bonus for high SAT scores

The Gradebook is reporting on the topic regularly. The most recent post about the program is here:

http://tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook/florida-teachers-get-instructions-how-to-seek-bonuses-tied-to-sat-act/2238910

And as always, you should closely read and save all communications you receive from the District on the topic. USEP will continue to follow this issue closely and keep members informed of any significant developments or information.

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