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Lawmakers reconsider teaching bonuses
Published December 16, 2007
GAINESVILLE - Facing a growing budget crunch, lawmakers are beginning to question a $70-million annual program that pays 10 percent bonuses to teachers who earn certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
The nonprofit agency reviews teacher-submitted portfolios of instruction methods and then tests them on their subject area knowledge. The board estimates the process takes one to three years.
A Florida study commissioned by the board earlier this year was unable to link national certification to student performance. That conflicted, though, with results from another study in North Carolina.
"We found very little evidence that, on average, the board-certified teachers were better at boosting test scores," said Florida State University economics professor Tim Sass, who conducted the Florida study. "I think at a minimum it certainly gives people pause to think 'Is this the best way to spend those funds in terms of trying to reward better teachers?'"
The chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee that writes budgets for Florida's public schools said the panel will look into the bonus program during the Legislature's 2008 session.
"I just want to make sure we're getting good results in terms of young people doing better," said state Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville.
Lawmakers are under pressure to find ways to reduce spending throughout the budget because of shortfalls in anticipated tax revenue. They already have cut $1.1-billion from the current budget and are looking at another $2.5-billion reduction for the next budget year and the rest of the current budget year, which ends June 30.
Neither Sass nor a Duke University researcher who co-authored the North Carolina study could explain why they came up with different results, but each said his study was scientifically conducted.
"We would say that those who are board certified are having better success in raising students' performance," said Charles Clotfelter, a professor of public policy studies, economics and law at Duke. "Whether it's the board certification process and not just the type of people they are was not determined."
The national certification bonus is 10 percent of Florida's average teacher salary. This year that's $3,820. The certification lasts 10 years, during which the bonus is available every year.
Florida led the nation with 1,675 teachers obtaining certification this year.
Besides the annual bonus, Florida pays 90 percent of each teacher's $2,500 national board assessment fee and a $150 stipend for portfolio expenses.
No analysis, though, has been made of how national certification compares to an advanced degree or to the state's $147-million merit pay program, which differs from one district to another but requires all such bonuses to be based mainly on student test scores.