Florida lawmakers have passed a bill that gives teachers in the state bonuses based on their scores on the SATs and ACTs — and some stand to receive as much as $10,000.
The new program is called the "Florida's Best and Brightest Scholarships." But to receive the money, teachers need to have had a score in the top 20% when they took the placement exams for college. Along with that, they must have the state's top teacher rating of "highly effective." The goal is to attract more top-scoring students to choose teaching as a profession. John O'Connor of WLRN Public Radio reports that $44 million has been set aside in the state budget for the bonuses.
The problem is that teachers have to find the scores that, in many cases, they have not seen since high school. Many teachers did not hear about the bonuses until they returned to their schools in August, which meant many had only a month to find their scores and submit them. ACT and College Board were unaware of the new "scholarship" and were unprepared for the deluge of score requests.
Both companies announced that their tests were designed to determine if a student is well-prepared for college, not to determine which test-takers would make good teachers. Rep. Erik Fresen (R-Miami), chair of the House education budget committee, came up with the idea for the bonuses and says he got the notion when he read a book about education called The Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley. He discovered that in Finland and South Korea, top students want to become teachers.
But some teachers never had to take the SAT or ACT, and there are also many teachers who were foreign-born and never took the tests. Others took the test before the companies even started doing percentile scoring.
So far, over 1,400 South Florida teachers have applied for the bonus. If over 4,400 teachers qualify statewide, the bonus will be less than $10,000. Also, the department is not going easy on the teachers who are applying.
"The law specifies October 1 and does not give (the Department of Education) the flexibility to change the dates," department spokeswoman Cheryl Etters said.
Scott Travis, writing for the Sun-Sentinel, says Karen Phillips, a fifth grade teacher at Country Hills Elementary in Coral Springs, thinks the idea is "ridiculous" but will take the bonus if she can get it. Kathi Gundlach, president of the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association, said the program was not well-planned, but she was still encouraging teachers to apply. The Florida Education Association announced that many aspects of the program are unfair and added that the many obstacles teachers have faced are being duly noted.
Phillips said that her SAT scores were delivered to her by way of her school district this week. Since the rules said that photocopies could not be submitted, her original 1970 report, displayed in a little green booklet of around 13 or 14 pages, was all she had. She was not sure whether it would be accepted or not.
"To be truthful, I don't know if they're going to accept it. It doesn't look like anything from the 21st century."