On the first day of school, a friend’s grandson walked into his classroom. There was no teacher. The same thing happened on the second day. The children were merged in with another group, clearly violating the class size limit. His teacher was supposed to be bilingual which gives a clue about what is happening with the teacher shortage.
Every year schools face at least some vacancies simply because it is difficult to predict exact numbers of children who will enroll. With last year’s legislative mandate that parents can choose any school, prediction of the number of teachers needed is more difficult. To confound the issue even further, many teachers are now retiring. They enrolled in a five year DROP retirement program and will receive incentives to retire this year. We also hear that teachers are disgruntled at the direction education reform is moving. For all of these reasons, the State monitors our teacher workforce to identify shortages.
I looked at partial data. It appears the K12 student population has not changed much this year. The projected increase statewide is about 36,000 students out of 2.8 million. A Gainesville Sun article reported that there were just over 26,000 students enrolled in Alachua County which is down a little from last year. Some schools in the district had teacher vacancies, but only a ‘handful’ more than last year at this time. By the end of the week, things should be back to normal. It does not sound like a crisis here. What about other districts? Orange and Hillsborough expect several thousand more students. We can find teachers, just not always those in specialty areas.
States must report critical shortage areas by discipline and geographic area to the federal government. For 2015-16, these disciplines had critical shortages:
2015 – 2016 Statewide Academic Disciplines or Subject Matter
- Exceptional Student Education
- Hearing Impaired
- Visually Impaired
No critical need geographic areas in Florida were identified in the report.
The Florida Department of Education has a report on its website that clarifies the real issue facing the state–appropriate certification. The Department ranked 2015-16 critical shortage areas by the number of certified teachers needed versus the number of positions available:
- English 115/478
- ESE 372/849
- Reading 107/463
- Foreign language 18/80
- ESOL 12/59
- Science 118/462
- Math 138 /502
New hires in 2013-14 not appropriately certified included: overall by area: PreK 17%; English 10.99%; Reading 9.05%; ESE 7.5 %; Science 4.3%.
While Florida is not as in dire straits as other states may be, those children sitting in classrooms without teachers need to be served. The state is expanding online education as one alternative. The other is to provide more access to teaching through alternative certification.
The Florida DOE announced the Teachers of Tomorrow program which is the first private, non university program to earn approval. College graduates with a 2.5 GPA may qualify. Prospective teachers must pass a general knowledge test and develop a strategy with the company to achieve certification during a novice year of teaching.
Charter schools are very vulnerable to teacher shortages. Their attrition rate is two or three times higher than in traditional public schools. Their salaries and benefits tend to be lower than in traditional schools. Most of their staff teach out-of-field.
On first glance, it seems that Florida has more than enough qualified people who could teach but choose not to. The solution is obvious but more expensive than the state is willing to support. Florida teacher salaries was ranked 45th by the National Education Association in 2012-13. Critics argue that is does not cost as much to live in Florida as in other states. While there may be some truth to that assertion, talented potential teachers are not buying it. They have other choices.