Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.  An online newspaper


Forida Teacher Bonuses Tied to SAT Scores:
Their Own

The Florida Legislature just passed a law that will award bonuses to police officers who were patrol boys or patrol girls in fifth grade.

Not really. But what they did was equally absurd. And it could be illegal, too.

In last-minute budget horse-trading during the Legislature’s first Special Session this summer, Rep. Erik Fresen’s bill to tie teacher bonuses to SAT or ACT scores became law.

 Lawmakers appropriated $44 million to make it so. But wait: We’re not talking about judging teachers on their students’ scores. The law refers, instead, to tests the teachers took themselves — when they were schoolchildren.

Veteran teachers have been frantically unpacking dusty storage boxes in hopes of finding those decades-old test results. After all, for teachers rated as “highly effective,” scores in the top quintile could be worth up to $10,000.

Other teachers have been on the phone with the College Board to get their scores. The phone reps, though, tell them that their records only go back to 1988.

Some teachers may want to pick up the phone and call their lawyers, instead.

There’s a reason Fresen’s bill crashed and burned on arrival in the Senate during the Regular Session. It’s fundamentally unfair — if not illegal — to tie years-old test scores to performance bonuses for teachers.

Lawyers say the Florida Legislature can do what they want with their special grants, as long as it’s not discriminatory. But college entrance tests, like most standardized tests, have been roundly criticized as biased against minorities and women.

Courts have even banned use of SAT scores as a single determinant for awarding benefits. That didn’t stop Florida lawmakers, though, from using the same test as the single basis for bonuses for beginning teachers.

Cue the lawsuits.

Other lawyers wonder if the bonus — up to $10,000 for a state whose average teacher pay is $47,700 — is so significant as to not really be a “bonus” at all. Critics say that Fresen’s incentive program was designed specifically to benefit Teach for America recruits. TFA teachers are controversial in Florida because the recent college graduates often stay only long enough to fulfill their two-year commitment. Then they head for the profession’s infamous revolving door, worsening our already abysmal teacher-attrition rate.

The Legislature has tinkered with the teaching profession endlessly since passing the controversial merit-pay law in 2010. What’s to stop it from habitually bypassing local collective bargaining procedures in favor of these very hearty, very specific “bonuses”? At what point does competing for these large incentives become a “property right” for public employees, triggering the rules of due process of law?

Due process demands advanced notice. The right way to issue performance incentives is to give notice about the terms for earning the bonuses going forward. “If you do this, then you’ll earn that.”

No business in the world would seek to reward an employee for something he or she did two, five, or 10 or more years ago. A test that a professional took when they were in high school is something they have absolutely no control over now, like skin color, eye color, or gender. Lawmakers may as well be issuing bonuses for teachers who have brown eyes.

Whether lawmakers’ silliness rises to the level of illegal remains a question for the courts. It’s possible a court would deem the law fair only for future teachers who are taking the SAT or ACT now. Study up, teacher-wannabes.

In the meantime, Florida’s educators — people with one or more college degrees — are wondering whether they have time to retake their college boards in hopes of earning the new incentive.

But that defeats the spirit of Fresen’s bill, which was based on the finding that many high-performing teachers had high SAT scores as children. In other words, the obscure correlation that inspired Fresen’s cockamamie law ties back to high school performance.

And in no universe has anyone researched the correlation between professional-adult retake scores and anything else.

Julie Delegal, a University of Florida alumna, is a contributor for Folio Weekly, Jacksonville’s alternative weekly, and writes for the family business, Delegal Law Offices. She lives in Jacksonville. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Image added by the Observer

This piece was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)


Meeting Calendar
No need to be confused - Find links to agendas and where your participation is welcome.

Make a comment • click here •
All comments are displayed at the end of the article and are moderated.