Worst and Dumbest, the Sequel

Representative Eric Fresen’s (District 114, Miami) much maligned “Best and Brightest Scholarship” program, which snuck into Florida statute during last summer’s extra budget session, is back and it is apparently worse than we originally knew and it’s about to get a whole lot dumber. It is the perfect example of Accountabaloney.

The bill, which Fresen claimed he dreamed up after reading a book purchased at the airport, provided bonuses of up to $10,000 to be paid to Florida public school teachers who scored in the 80% on the ACT or SAT tests they took in high school.  Current teachers also were required to be rated “highly effective” under the state’s teacher evaluation system but new teachers (who had not yet been rated for effectiveness in the classroom) could qualify for the bonus on the basis of their exam scores alone.

In March, Fresen filed HB 5011, the bill proposing the bonus, it passed the House but died in the Senate before being heard in committee. During the special session in June, it was quietly added into the budget where it escaped Gov. Rick Scott’s veto pen.

After the bill’s passage, legislators were “shocked” to learn the budget bill they had passed included $44 million for the scholarships (link here)

“State Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, called the legislation the “worst bill of the year” and an example of how the legislative process has broken down

“The bill went through absolutely no process,” Detert said. “Never got a hearing in the Senate. We refused to hear it because it’s stupid.”

Other Senate Education Committee members, also, questioned the bill’s wisdom.  (read entire article here)

“There are a lot of questions about the implementation and the wisdom of Best and Brightest. I’ve questioned it myself,” said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. “It is very misguided.”

The scholarship program was repeatedly criticized by teachers and education experts and ridiculed in the national media as a nonsensical way to attract and reward excellent teachers.  An editorial in the Herald Tribune suggested it be renamed “the Worst and Dumbest Idea Ever” (read it here). When you Google “Frequently Asked Questions FL Best and Brightest” you get “Where did this crazy bill come from?”

Does the program deserve the criticism?  Fresen claimed that “multiple studies indicate students learn more from teachers who achieved high SAT or ACT scores” and that such teachers should be rewarded.  According to a National Bureau of Economic Research study report, however, the only predictor of effectiveness is teaching experience; students of veteran teachers tend to have higher academic achievement.

If teaching experience is correlated with effectiveness, why were new teachers rewarded bonuses without need for evaluation beyond test scores?  Critics suggest the “Best and Brightest” was created to benefit Teach for America recruits (who have high SAT/ACT scores but limited teacher training) and charter schools. (See here and here). Fresen has ties to the Charter School Industry (he is a paid consultant for Civica, a firm associated with Academica, the charter school company employing his sister and brother-in-law). Charter schools, like the almost 100 Academica schools in Florida, employ a disproportionately high number of first year teachers, who might benefit from the Best and Brightest scholarship.

This legislative session, Rep. Fresen has brought back the Best and Brightest program, attaching it to HB 7043, with the intent of making the $44 million annual program permanent.  You can watch the House Education Committee discuss the bill here. (Fresen describes the bill at 20:00, be sure to watch Reps Gellar and Fullwood questions the rationality of it. In the end, Fullwood has to “agree to disagree” with the nonsense.) Fresen continues to insist that the scholarship program is designed to attract and retain high quality teachers.

Question for Mr. Fresen: Where is the evidence?

  • Where’s the proof that teachers were attracted by this program?
  • What proportion of teachers qualifying for this year’s bonus were new teachers?
  • How many of those teachers will go on to have a “highly effective” rating?
  • How many will continue teaching beyond the standard 2 year Teach for America contract?
  • How many will stay with teaching for 5 years, the period of time generally felt to be necessary to develop a high quality teacher?
  • Why renew a $44 million program indefinitely before there is any data available to demonstrate its effectiveness?

Does the program attract new teachers?  Will it improve teacher retention? No One Knows.

That’s where we are today: HB 7043 includes the permanent continuation of the $44 million/year worst and dumbest idea ever.  Where is the evidence that this will be an accountable use of public funds?  There is no evidence… It is, clearly, accountabaloney.

Today, the Herald Tribune reported three Sarasota School District employees have challenged the decision that they did not qualify for the Best and Brightest bonus. You can learn about them here. Here’s the catch:

Ron Meyer, a Tallahassee attorney representing two of the petitioning Sarasota educators, said the employees were required to file administrative complaints against the School Board instead of the Florida Department of Education because under the program, the district administers the scholarships.

“I regret that because the program’s illogical nature isn’t the doing of the school district,” Meyer said. “The district is somewhat hamstrung in having to interpret the statute in a manner the DOE says it needs to.”

We applaud these educators for challenging this “stupid” program.  We hope this will not be the only challenge to “the worst bill of the year.” We encourage the Florida Education Association teacher’s union to encourage further legal action.

As for Representative Fresen, by requiring districts to administer his “Worst and Dumbest” scholarship program thus avoiding any legal challenges, he perfectly demonstrates the amount of accountabaloney that permeates Florida’s education policy. Fresen is now asking legislators to make permanent his $44 million program that is based on conjecture.  If the program is challenged, it will be the districts’ duty to defend it.

It is time to demand real accountability from representatives, like Mr Fresen, for the continued irresponsible use of Florida’s limited education dollars. We urge you to contact your legislators and tell them, HB 7043, “The Best and Brightest” is the worst example of accountabaloney.  There are better ways to spend $44 million of public education funds.

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One thought on “Worst and Dumbest, the Sequel

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