In one of the dumber attempts to improve education and reward good teachers, Florida has instituted a plan that will grant teachers a bonus of up to $10,000 based on the ACT or SAT scores teachers earned back in high school.
Yeah, you read that right. If you teach in Florida and can provide official proof that your SAT or ACT score was in the top 20% for the time when you took it—regardless of how long ago that was—you will be given ten grand on top of your regular salary. You also have to be rated as “Highly Effective” on your last teacher evaluation. (You can read one Florida teacher’s analysis of this program here.) And if that isn’t idiotic enough, Florida teachers have to be in the top 20% in both parts of the SAT (Math and Verbal) regardless of what they teach. As one English teacher explains in another article, although she earned a perfect Verbal score back in the day, her math score isn’t high enough to claim the bonus; in order to qualify, then, she would have to re-take the SAT math portion and score better than four out of five current high school students taking it. And, no, nobody has explained to her how a good SAT math score would show she is a worthy of a bonus for teaching English.
Then there are the problems in tracking down scores from decades ago. Now, I’m compulsive enough that I easily found my old scores—I took both the SAT and ACT my junior year in 1974 before graduating high school in 1975—but many people don’t hang on to stuff like that all their lives, and the testing companies don’t necessarily keep records of everybody forever. (Before you assume that my scorn for this bonus program results from the sour grapes of one who wouldn’t have qualified, I was in the 97th percentile for the ACT on national norms, and 96th on verbal and 92nd on math for the SAT in 1974. And given how ludicrous this program is, I’m thinking of applying for the $10,000 even though I’ve been retired for three years and never taught in Florida). I also wonder about Florida teachers who took both tests, but only qualify based on the results of one of the two; do they get the ten grand? Maybe five?
Finally, there has been some speculation that administrators have been told to limit significantly the number of teachers who are rated the needed, “Highly Effective.” Might legislators be trying to avoid the embarrassment that will ensue when many more teachers qualify for this stipend than they have budgeted for in the law? So not only is the test score criteria of questionable value, but teacher evaluations might be compromised in order to make sure there aren’t too many teachers who make the grade, regardless of how good they are. In short, the whole program is a laughable mess.
I’ve gone over my aversion to merit pay several times in the past (see “Socialism, Capitalism, and Public Education” for my most recent analysis), but this doesn’t even make sense using merit pay proponents’ typical argument that the best teachers should be rewarded with higher compensation. There’s little-to-no correlation between standardized test scores and the quality of a teacher, especially when you separate teachers’ performance from when they took the test by as many as thirty-five years in some cases. Think of how many better ways Florida could have spent the $44,000,000 it has budgeted for this program! What next—increases based on parental reports of teachers’ toilet training prowess as toddlers or cash for spousal testimony teachers never leave the cap off toothpaste tubes?
I’m all for better pay for teachers, but the goal should be to increase everyone’s pay in order to make sure the best people go into and stay in teaching. Stunts like this just show how cavalier those in charge can be since nobody believes these increases will be around very long and even fewer accept that this program will put the money in the right teachers’ pockets. According to Education Week, Florida has 175,609 teachers with an average salary last year of $47,950 (that data can be found here). Doled out evenly, that $44 million would give each teacher a mere $250 raise, which shows the level of commitment of the Florida legislature. Even more telling, the budgeted funds will be exhausted after only 4,400 of those 175,609—or 2.5%—have collected their $10,000 SAT/ACT top score bonus. Wouldn’t you think that rewarding those in the top 20% would require money for roughly 20% of all teachers? Even assuming that top test scorers don’t go into education in the same proportions as other professions, you’d have to plan for at least 10% of all teachers qualifying, wouldn’t you? And will that money be available forever? How much will the Florida legislature increase that budget as new top-20% teachers get hired?
All in all, this is a goofy program that is underfunded with no clear plan for its long-term application, designed to give the appearance of actually doing something to reward the best teachers. For better ways to improve public education, check out the e-book, Snowflake Schools, excerpts of which can be read here.