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  1. Opinion

Editorial: A bad bet on tying SAT scores to teacher raises

The Legislature that preaches fiscal prudence allocated $44 million in the state budget that took effect last week to “reward” teachers for high SAT scores — not their students’ scores, their own. This is another case of good intentions being implemented with bad policy, and the money could have been better spent to promote teaching as a professional career.
The Legislature that preaches fiscal prudence allocated $44 million in the state budget that took effect last week to “reward” teachers for high SAT scores — not their students’ scores, their own. This is another case of good intentions being implemented with bad policy, and the money could have been better spent to promote teaching as a professional career.
Published Jul. 3, 2015

Florida education policy has become even odder, thanks to last-minute budget meddling by lawmakers. The Legislature that preaches fiscal prudence allocated $44 million in the state budget that took effect last week to "reward" teachers for high SAT scores — not their students' scores, their own. This is another case of good intentions being implemented with bad policy, and the money could have been better spent to promote teaching as a professional career.

Teachers are eligible for a bonus of up to $10,000 this year if they meet the state criteria for being "highly effective" and scored above the 80th percentile when they took the SAT or ACT, a test that they would have taken in high school, if they took it at all. It doesn't take a highly effective teacher to know that this is not the best way to identify and reward the best teachers.

This bad idea championed by Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, was, like so many ill-considered Florida education policies, a misunderstanding of a good idea. Fresen had read a book by education reformer Amanda Ripley called The Smartest Kids in the World. Ripley points out that it would be wise "to treat the preparation of teachers the way we treat the training of surgeons and pilots — rendering it dramatically more selective, practical and rigorous."

As an example, Ripley points to Finland, which created a high-achieving school system by valuing teachers and making the profession more prestigious. She wrote: "By accepting so few applicants, Finnish teacher colleges accomplish two goals — one practical, one spiritual: First, the policy ensures that teachers-to-be … are more likely to have the education, experience and drive to do their jobs well. Second (and this part matters even more), this selectivity sends a message to everyone in the country that education is important — and that teaching is damn hard to do. Instead of just repeating these claims over and over like Americans, the Finns act like they mean it. That message has cascading benefits. If taxpayers, politicians, parents and — especially — kids know that teaching is a master profession, they begin to trust teachers more over time. Teachers receive more autonomy in the classroom, more recognition on the street and sometimes even more pay. Without those signals, teachers suffer deep cuts that go beyond salary."

She is right. But the Florida Legislature, unfortunately, once again misunderstood the message.

It is one thing to encourage the best and the brightest to become teachers and make their profession so revered that they want to remain in the classroom. It is quite another to retroactively give teachers a bonus based on a test they took in high school. This is getting it exactly backward. In no way, shape or form are these really "Florida's Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarships," as the state budget calls them. Of course, nothing in the wording says a teacher couldn't take the SAT right now, even deep into a teaching career. Perhaps some enterprising teacher might do just that, sitting alongside a gaggle of college-bound teenagers, hoping not for a ticket to college but for a nice payday.

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In a state that values the standardized test above all, it is perversely fitting to give teachers money not for teaching well, but for doing well on a standardized test they took years ago when they were students. What does a high SAT have to do with being a good teacher now? Nothing, of course. And once again, the Legislature meddles, muddles and misses the point, spending $44 million for no good reason.

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