While the astronomical summer still has more than a month to go, the real summer to families all across our state ends this week. It is back to school time!
As Florida’s schools see students returning to class this week, I will once again ring an alarm bell about a very serious public policy problem: the increasing shortage of qualified teachers in every classroom.
Recent estimates indicate as many as 10,000 positions are lacking a certified full-time qualified teacher, up from only 5,000 two years ago. Several years ago, I was invited to address a meeting of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. At their meeting, I pointed out some of the then-current data we had developed at the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida (ICUF). We were seeing indications of shortages of teachers, especially in the math and science areas but also for different specialties and grade levels in our more rural counties. The leaders from those areas agreed with my assessment; however, what surprised me at the meeting was how many urban county leaders spoke up saying they had the same problem. They expressed a wide range of variables that were having an effect on recruitment. One example from our largely urban communities was a heightened cost of living. It was difficult to recruit graduates when it was even more difficult for them to find affordable housing at the starting salary levels. The causes might be different but the realities are the same. We seek higher levels of performance but increasingly we have openings, substitutes, and teachers teaching out of fields of expertise.
We at ICUF saw the clues for this trend developing around 2009-10 and the subsequent years by recognizing the output of degrees in education in Florida’s colleges and universities began a steady decline around that time. Back then, we also found out that more than half of Florida’s certified teachers had degrees from non-Florida schools. We were filling slots by people moving, not necessarily bad, but worthy of deeper exploration. Districts were having a tough time in recruitment but they also found great difficulties in retention.
In 2001-02, I chaired a study for a state board titled Florida’s Teachers and the Teaching Profession. When I reread our report now the issues remain the same, although enlarged in many cases. Then we spotlighted retention as a major problem for many school districts. Teachers were graduating, being certified, and then leaving the profession after 3-5 years. Turnover is likely still a problem but I am not able to research that now but perhaps later it will be included in an analysis of where Florida stands. It would not be hard for the state to examine both recruitment, and turnover and retention issues.
I am a semi-retired consultant at this stage of my life, so I am not sure my words of concern will resonate in the right rooms. However, if we expect Florida to continue to flourish it would behoove our state to take the lead and rework that twenty-year-old study. This is a national problem too but it is a great opportunity for Florida to step up and seek workable solutions. We need the best instruction now if we want to be the best tomorrow. We need it in every school and every classroom in our state. We also need to find out why we are losing our teacher talent and our teacher pipeline. We will need at least a chunk of tomorrow’s best and brightest to choose to share their talents, energies, and knowledge with my grandkids and all of Florida’s kids. Our future depends upon it.
I wish all those who have already chosen this path and are making teaching both their profession and career all the best in this coming year. When the morning bells ring this week we also need to recognize the alarm bells are ringing too.
Dr. Ed Moore served for many years as the president of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida (ICUF) and has served in both the legislative and executive branches of Florida government. Prior to ICUF, Dr. Moore was staff director for Policy, for Worker’s Compensation, for Medical Liability and for Public Safety and Security in the Florida House of Representatives. Dr. Moore also worked in the private sector for 21 years and has experience in areas ranging from multi-state commercial development and utilities, public safety, mental health, corrections, education at all levels, to higher education.
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