Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Florida insults school teachers with a $44 million absurdity

The temptation is to dismiss Florida’s Best and Brightest teacher bonus program as just another joke coming out of Tallahassee — the worst and dimmest legislation in recent memory (other than bills endorsed by the NRA ).

Except this joke is costing state taxpayers $44 million.

Rep. Erik Fresen’s ill-considered, badly planned, secretly contrived, hastily implemented misnomer distributes $10,000 bonuses to individual public-school teachers based on test scores.

No. Not what you’re thinking. Not based on the test scores of their students.

Silly you for applying logic to this process. Fresen’s bonuses are based on teachers’ personal SAT or ACT test results. Scores from back in the day. From back when they were in high school.

But only if the results of those college entrance exams, taken decades ago by the state’s most experienced teachers, were submitted by an Oct. 1 deadline — a very big if.

Bonuses go to teachers who were rated “highly effective” on their most recent evaluation and whose SAT or ACT results had scored within that year’s upper 20th percentile. Except students who took those tests before 1973 were not ranked by percentile. So much for one category of veteran teachers.

Teachers educated in other countries never took the SAT or ACT tests. Nor did many teachers who first went to community colleges then transferred to four-year programs.

No matter. Fresen’s program allows teachers to take or re-take the college entrance tests (at $40 a pop). And what old history or English teacher wouldn’t relish revisiting the math portion of the SAT?

Except taking the test anew was also futile. Mark Pudlow of the Florida Education Association said Wednesday that most of the teachers who re-took the SAT or ACT weren’t able to retrieve their test results before the Oct. 1 deadline. Nor were many veteran teachers who had taken the tests able to get their old results. Testing companies were overwhelmed by the sudden and unexpected demands coming out of Florida.

So it appears that only a small percentage of the 68,000 Florida teachers rated “highly effective” were able to submit their bonus applications. The Sun Sentinel reported that just 2.3 percent of the public-school teachers in Miami-Dade and 1.2 percent in Broward County beat the deadline.

Meanwhile, first-year teachers — on the job for barely two months now, a group yet to receive any classroom evaluations — only needed to show test results in the upper 20th percentile to qualify for a bonus. It was as if Best and Brightest bonuses had been contrived as an insult to veteran school teachers.

You might wonder how the hell something so inequitable became law. Who knows? When Rep. Fresen, a Miami Republican, introduced his scheme as HB 5011 during last spring’s regular session, his bill never even made it to a committee hearing. Yet during the special session in June, someone quietly slipped the item into the budget bill. No hearing. No debate. No chance for educators to point out its absurdities.

No one noticed as Fresen’s $44 million folly became law.