As a physicist, I enjoy seeing an answer to a difficult question leap off a graph.
When I look at the graph of how Florida’s NAEP performance at the proficient level compares to that of the nation (reproduced above from an earlier post), a conclusion jumps right out: The state desperately needs more highly qualified science teachers at the middle and high school levels.
Since I haven’t seen any school district officials quoted in the media saying that we are desperately short of biology teachers (while I have seen those comments about physics teachers – see this from the St. Augustine Record, St. Pete Times, the Naples News and the Orlando Sentinel), I’ll conclude the big push has to be for chemistry and physics teachers (and physical science teachers for middle schools).
And what is being proposed to address this? Perhaps this from the report of Governor Scott’s education transition team, chaired by Foundation for Florida’s Future Executive Director Patricia Levesque:
Allow postsecondary institutions to provide incentives to high quality math and science, engineering and technology (STEM) majors to move into teacher education programs, through tuition breaks, or scholarships and loan forgiveness programs, and possibly incentives to institutions to support expanding these programs. Creating partnerships with school districts in low performing and rural schools should be encouraged and incentives provided. The ultimate incentive to students to enter these fields is to increase compensation in these areas once they enter the teaching profession. Superintendents and school boards should find ways to provide differential compensation for these professions. The Higher Education Coordinating Council (HECC) should identify the best practices several colleges and universities have already demonstrated and propose ways to scale these efforts and other public and private colleges and universities.
That’s right – leave it up to the universities and school districts to come up with incentives.
Florida Statute has authorized the possibility of differential pay for math and science teachers for years. I am not aware of a single Florida school district that has implemented it.
And do universities have resources to provide free education for future science and math teachers? If so, I’m certainly not aware of it.
The experiment suggested by the education transition team has been done. It failed. If the State of Florida wants to address the shortage of chemistry and physics teachers, it has to do so from the state level, as Georgia has done.
Anything else is just talk.