Education

Their high school test scores are paying off. ‘Best and Brightest’ teachers in Manatee each rake in $7K

In this file photo, Rep. Richard Corcoran, then the House redistricting chairman, smiles on the floor of the House of Representatives, Aug. 7, 2014. Corcoran has been a strong advocate for the teacher bonus program.
In this file photo, Rep. Richard Corcoran, then the House redistricting chairman, smiles on the floor of the House of Representatives, Aug. 7, 2014. Corcoran has been a strong advocate for the teacher bonus program.

A selection of Manatee teachers have been dubbed among the state’s “Best and Brightest” and will take home bonuses of almost $7,000.

The Florida Department of Education is rewarding 131 Manatee teachers with bonuses of $6,816 each this spring as recipients of the state’s Best and Brightest Scholarship Program. The controversial program will distribute roughly $49 million to 7,188 teachers who had high college-entrance SAT or ACT scores and were rated “highly effective” in their annual teacher evaluation.

This year’s bonuses are based on the teachers’ 2015-16 evaluations and scoring in the 80th percentile or higher in whatever year they took the SAT or ACT. Teachers will receive their money by April 1, according to the DOE.

Included in the Manatee group of 131 are 13 first-year teachers who earned the bonus solely based on their college-entrance exam test scores.

Best and Brightest has been touted by lawmakers as an incentive to attract Florida’s smartest students into the teaching profession, but it has come under fire for relying on a teacher’s test scores — often dating back decades — as a metric for a sizable bonus.

Susan Bischoff, a fourth-grade teacher at William H. Bashaw Elementary School, was one of the district’s bonus recipients. While she is happy about the cash, she is questioning the legitimacy of using her test scores from the ’90s as the basis for a sizable bonus.

“The whole thing is kind of bogus, but I am very glad to have the money, believe me,” Bischoff said. “I don’t agree with how this bonus is done, but if people are going to hand me money, I’m going to apply for it.”

Bischoff took her ACT exam in 1996 as part of her collegiate studies to become a teacher. She scored a 32, which put her in the top 20 percent of test-takers in 1996 — and, when she receive a highly effective rating last year, qualified her to receive the bonus more than 20 years later.

Among similarly sized districts, Manatee ranked solidly in the middle for the number of teachers receiving bonuses. Sarasota had 218 teachers qualify, while Osceola had 66, Marion had 66 and Lake had 39.

Braden River engineering teacher Gil Burlew also received a highly effective rating, but he did not qualify for the bonus because his SAT scores from the early 1970s were not high enough.

“You’re telling me that after 42 years, you will evaluate my SAT or ACT scores? That is almost a slap in the face,” said Burlew. “Whoever thought of that idea to assess people must be someone who did really well on that score because, what the hell, that’s not a way to assess.”

The Manatee Education Association, which is the union representing district teachers, is not a fan of Best and Brightest, either.

“There is no data or research that says the prediction of what you can do in college has any connection with how good of a teacher you can be,” said MEA President Pat Barber. “Our position is that that money could be used for better purposes.”

Braden River High School, with 12 teachers receiving bonuses, had the highest representation in the county.

Ryan McKinnon: 941-745-7027, @JRMcKinnon

Number of teachers from surrounding districts dubbed the “Best and Brightest”

  • Hillsborough: 533
  • Manatee: 131
  • Pasco: 260
  • Pinellas: 96
  • Sarasota: 218
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