Rep. Erik Fresen, FL House


Florida symbolizes the unbearable ridiculousness of school reform.  The “Best & Brightest” is a $10,000 bonus that new hires can earn immediately if their high school SAT or ACT scores were above the 80th percentile.  Veteran teachers can’t get the cash until they earn a “highly effective” rating based on student test scores AND prove they ranked in the top 20% with their own ACT or SAT scores.  All this must happen before the October 1st deadline.

From the start, the $44 million dollar Best and Brightest Incentive bill by Rep. Erik Fresen was an oddity. It died on its second committee reading in the House and was DOA in the Senate. Normally, that would have been fatal but Florida legislators are famous for damning procedure to pass whatever they want. So the Best & Brightest was tucked into Florida’s 2015-16 budget and became law.

Aside from Fresen, there was little love for this bill. Seasoned Republican Senator Nancy Detert called the Best and the Brightest, “the worst bill of the year.”  She added that, “the bill went through absolutely no process, never got a hearing in the Senate. We refused to hear it because it’s stupid.”

What drove key legislators to pass a dead idea? Since new teachers get a huge payday just for producing SAT/ACT scores above the 80th percentile, Teach for America is an obvious benefactor. The extra $10,000 will bring these largely non-union teachers, who take the job for 2 years, closer to a $55K salary.  Teach for America shares a chummy relationship with Florida’s reform-minded legislators who allocated the group $5 million dollars in Florida’s 2014 budget and similar amounts in previous years.

Fresen, who insists that the Best & Brightest will attract smart new teachers, is blind to the fact that ACT/SAT scores are not a predictor of professional success. ACT executive, Wayne Camera, told the Tampa Bay Times, “In our view, there would seem to be other measures of academic performance, more recent than ACT scores, which would better reflect teachers’ skills and competency.”

Back in the day, before Ed Reform took root, Florida paid around $10,000 to teachers who passed the rigorous National Board Certification. The state’s pro-education reform politicians stopped funding that incentive when education policy lobbyists, including former Gov. Jeb Bush, decided Board certification was too costly and does not impact student success.

Even more important, Universities such as prestigious Georgetown are no longer requiring ACT or SAT scores for admission.  A growing list of 180 universities has made these tests optional.  They believe a student’s academic record is a much more reliable indicator of success than a single test such as ACT or SAT.  Can’t the same be said about teachers? So, is the Best & Brightest meant to bolster the politically connected College Board and the flagging credibility of  its SAT test?

It’s hard to say which is more ridiculous – The notion that teachers should be paid rather large sums for their teenage test scores, that new teachers should have a better chance at the money than career professionals or the lore about how Fresen “got the idea” for the Best & Brightest.

Apparently, after reading “The Smartest Kids in the World” by Amanda Ripley, Fresen felt Florida should mimic other countries and erect barriers to becoming a teacher, a bar exam of sorts. That Fresen sees his SAT/ACT score hurdle as an effective “carrot” and not a bad policy is alarming.

The real problem is that pulling a notion out of a pop culture book to justify an unfair policy that favors   Teach for America buddies and inexperience over professional educators just isn’t very impressive. It’s lazy and lacks imagination.  Like Sen. Detert said, it’s “stupid.”  The Best & Brightest, like so many education reforms, is one heck of a $44 million dollar piece of ridiculousness.