Florida’s declining teacher pipeline on the agenda for FL House Education Committee meeting today

Florida’s worsening teacher shortage is on the agenda for today’s meeting of the House Education Committee.  The meeting packet has a series of power point slides using data from the ACT college entrance exam.  That data includes student responses to questions about career plans.  The meeting packet is worth looking at.

Two of the more notable slides are shown below.



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Bay County economic development triumph opens up new opportunities for local students

Bay County business and education leaders are elated about the arrival of GKN Aerospace.  It is one more step toward building the high-tech economy that every city wants.

As Eryn Dion reported in the Panama City News-Herald, Gulf Coast State College (GCSC) and FSU’s Panama City campus played central roles in bringing GKN to Bay County by promising to provide the highly trained workforce – including bachelor-level engineers and associate-level technologists – that GKN needs to succeed.

But GCSC and FSU-PC cannot fulfill their promises to GKN and other local technology employers without well-prepared students graduating from Bay County’s high schools.

Fortunately, the Bay County School District is in the midst of a rapid improvement in preparing its high school students for STEM careers.  This year, there are twice as many students taking physics in Bay County’s high schools as there were a year ago.  In one school – Mosley High School – the number of physics students has risen from six to 35 since last year, and there are 58% more students taking chemistry.  The numbers of students taking precalculus and calculus at Mosley are up as well.  It’s an extraordinary development.

This success in Bay County’s high schools is due to a remarkable collaboration of teachers, counselors and administrators at the school level and district administrators.  FSU-PC and GCSC are also making remarkable contributions at the middle and high school levels that are tightly coupled to the district’s needs.  Even FSU’s President John Thrasher has pitched in by purchasing $40,000 worth of physics lab equipment for loan to Bay County high schools.

As if that weren’t enough, retired cardiologist and community leader Jim Cook and his wife Jana have made a $100,000 contribution to FSU-PC’s K-12 STEM outreach work, and to commemorate this FSU-PC has named the Bay County Future Physicists of Florida effort in honor of the Cooks.

Making the explosive growth of Bay County’s technology industry base sustainable will certainly require the continuing contributions of local economic development officials and postsecondary institutions.  But it will also require the determination of the district’s high school students and their parents, as well as ongoing support from teachers, counselors and administrators at their schools.  It is a heavy lift, but so far the entire Bay County community seems to be rising to the challenge.

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Montford proposal would eliminate Geometry and Algebra 2 EOC’s and likely allow districts to substitute ACT/SAT for FSA 10th grade ELA exam

Senator Bill Montford has filed a complex proposal (SB 964) to alter Florida’s K-12 accountability system that would – among many other changes – terminate end-of-course exams in Geometry and Algebra 2.  It would also likely allow districts to substitute the ACT or SAT for the FSA 10th grade English Language Arts exam – pending a determination by the Commissioner of Education that these exams are “substantially aligned with the applicable state standards”.

While Montford is a Democrat, he may be the Senate’s most influential minority member.  His experience in the K-12 system and his day job as CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents (FADSS) give him considerable authority on education issues.

Montford’s bill would also eliminate the end-of-course exams in Civics and US History.  However, it would leave the EOC’s for Algebra 1 and Biology in place.

The bill would also require the availability of pencil-and-paper versions of state tests, and would make changes in the accountability of charter high schools.

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American Physical Society releases study on recruiting K-12 math, physics, chemistry and computing teachers

The APS press release on the report is given below.  The average teacher salaries quoted here are national salaries and do not reflect the below-national-average salaries paid in Florida.

Highly Trained STEM Teachers Needed to Boost America’s Global Competitiveness, According to New Study

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 14, 2017 – The United States’ global competitiveness is at risk as the nation confronts persistent shortages of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) teachers in subjects such as physics, chemistry, and computer science. More than half of all high school physics teachers lacked certification in the discipline in 2012, for example.

As a result, students who are interested in STEM careers find themselves ill prepared to compete in an increasingly highly technical workforce. A new study by the American Physical Society, in collaboration with the American Chemical Society, Computing Research Association, and Mathematics Teacher Education Partnership, addresses the reasons why STEM students shy away from teaching as a career and offers ways to counter the trend.

“Many of the best opportunities in the United States for challenging and rewarding jobs will require mastery of subjects such as computer science and physics. Every student in every high school deserves a great teacher in these fields — but right now the teachers are simply not enough,” said Michael Marder, a physicist at The University of Texas at Austin who co-authored the study.

Companies such as Apple, ExxonMobil, and Boeing rely on employees with technical talent to provide world-class products and services, and careers in STEM-related disciplines are expected to be some of the best paid and fastest-growing during the next decades.

But too few U.S. students complete STEM degrees. One possible reason: exposure to STEM disciplines is limited during high school. In European and Asian countries, high school students often take four or five years of physics. But in the U.S., only about 40 percent of students take as much as one year of physics, and only half of those courses will be taught by a teacher who majored or minored in the discipline.

The report found a quarter of all STEM majors are “somewhat interested to very interested” in the teaching profession. But several factors keep them from pursuing teaching careers, including concerns about salaries.

Misconceptions about teaching abound, the study showed. For instance, students often believe teachers are poorly paid and teach in unruly classrooms. The truth is that they earn more money than most people think they do, and they have control of their classrooms.

Middle and high school teachers earn an average of $58,760 and $60,270, respectively, according to the study — more than the average college lecturer or instructor. Interestingly, undergraduate STEM majors underestimate teacher compensation by around $17,000 per year.

To encourage more STEM majors and graduates to become teachers, the report recommends professional societies and disciplinary departments:

  • Impress upon university faculty and advisers in STEM disciplinary departments the importance of promoting middle and high school teaching with their undergraduate majors and graduate students, and of providing them accurate information about the actual salary and positive features of teaching.
  • Support high quality academic programs that prepare students for STEM teaching and expand good models to more universities. Strong programs provide improved coursework, prevent certification from requiring extra time, and support their students and graduates financially and academically.
  • Support expansion of programs that provide financial and other support for students pursuing STEM teaching.
  • Advocate for increases in annual compensation, including summer stipends, on the order of $5,000 – $25,000 for teachers in the hardest-to-staff STEM disciplines.
  • Support programs that improve the professional life and community of STEM teachers.
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Phillip Ellis: I love my teaching job, but Florida should raise pay and lower barriers for entering the profession

Phillip Ellis graduated from FSU with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 2015, and has been teaching chemistry and physics at Zephyrhills High School in Pasco County since then.  Phillip took a studio physics class with Susan Blessing while at FSU.  

I’ve been teaching High School science, specifically chemistry and physics, for the past year. I earned my B.S. in chemistry in 2015 and after graduation decided to take the plunge into education, a path that is undervalued by many STEM majors.

I’d like to make a disclaimer before I start: I love my job. Teaching is single-handedly the most rewarding choice I’ve ever made in my lifetime. While I can’t speak for other science teachers about their work dynamics, mine have been stellar. I’m given a large amount of latitude over how I conduct my class and construct my lessons and consistently receive good feedback from my co-workers as well as the school administration. But similar to anything else, there is room for improvement. Education has low monetary incentives and a high barrier to entry. These two factors must be mitigated for Florida to overcome its science teacher shortage.

Lets start with the elephant in the room, the pay. While I certainly make enough to support my fiancé and myself while she attends graduate school, I do suffer a pay cut relative to college graduates with a similar degree and experience. It’s difficult to get someone in the profession when they have to take a pay cut. I’m not going to pretend that I understand the inner workings of a state/county budget committee. However, if the state of Florida wants to employ more high quality science teachers, getting competitive with the pay of a B.S. level science job seems like a good place to start.

A problem more specific to science teachers who do not have their degree in education is the alternative-certification programs. These are required by the state in order to get your professional teaching certificate. Although I don’t believe that these programs are in need of a repeal; they should be streamlined in order to reduce the amount of paperwork needed to become a science teacher. The first change should be to the FTCE testing requirements for topic tests. I personally find it odd that I have to pay for a certification exam for chemistry despite holding a bachelors degree in the topic. To me this feels as if the state does not value my previous education or my knowledge of the topic area. Either the test should be free to take or not required for degree holders in the subject area.

The second warranted change to the alternative-certification programs would be to reduce the amount of explicit assignments needed to complete the program. Many of the tasks required can be learned on the job and do not require an evaluation from an assessor. For example, tasks concerning lesson plans or parent teacher conferences feel redundant considering the frequency of their occurrence and their natural tendency for feedback from the administration staff.

I strongly believe that these two changes will both lower the barrier to entry and increase the amount of incentives for high quality science teachers, in particular STEM majors, to begin teaching in Florida.

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From Mary Bahr: Treat teachers with respect and allow them to collaborate and succeed

Early this morning, I posted a request to math and science teachers to tell me how to attract more strong colleagues to their profession.  I received this essay from Mary Bahr before 11:00 am.

Mary and I served on Florida’s science standards committee together in 2007-2008.  She most recently taught at Fort McCoy School in Marion County.

I taught High School and Middle School Science, with my last 18 years in a Title One K-8 School. My background includes a Biology/Chemistry degree, and National Board Certification in Early Adolescent Science.

My school provides an excellent example of how to attract and keep math and science teachers. Teacher turnover during my career was very low. Most teachers moved because of the long commutes.

Incentives that work address how teachers are treated in the school community. In our school collaboration was encouraged and teachers took leadership roles. The administration of our school did both large and small things to encourage this. Small things included scheduling lunch so departments could eat and plan together and Principals asking teacher opinion about changes. A large example was sending groups of teachers to yearly conferences. We are not talking about $10,000 bonuses here but a few thousand dollars a year that builds outstanding curriculum and, just as important, builds teams that work together and share resources. Our science teachers attended the State Science convention for at least 15 years. We carpooled, roomed together, ate together, but usually went to different presentations , and talked on the way home about what to do next. New teachers accompanied us and the process of mentoring and supporting each other began every Fall.

But what about bonuses? My experiences varied a great deal. Our school often earned an A grade in the Florida State grading system. Sounds great for morale, doesn’t it? But, in reality, the legislature mandated that staff decide how the bonuses were distributed. This lead to conflict, not only at my school but at around the district and State. Who and what programs got how much money divided school communities and made them less effective and destroyed trust. This does not encourage an environment that recruits and keeps our most needed teachers. The same thing happened with a bonus based on test scores where excellent teachers with our most vulnerable children and lower test scores were left out. If you want to encourage science and math recruitment in public schools, you need to pay them fairly with both a fair wage and a fair distribution of bonuses.

So bonuses are a bad idea? No! In fact, I participated for many years in a bonus program that both rewarded teachers fairly and provided mentoring and support for new teachers. The State of Florida paid teachers who qualified to participate in National Board Certification and then offered them a bonus, starting at $10,000 the first year, to mentor new teachers and teach skills to their colleagues. This program or a model of it is an ideal way to offer bonuses to Florida Teachers.

In conclusion, if you want high quality teachers just start treating us with respect and let us use our skills to improve our schools alongside our all-important administrators and support staff. Do this and you will have people lining up to teach in the public schools.

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If you are a Florida math or science teacher, share your ideas about how to attract more strong teachers into your profession here.

As you may have seen in this blog earlier, I think it’s time to ask strong math and science teachers for their ideas about how to attract more people like them into the teaching profession.  I’d like to see the legislature form task forces of math and science teachers to make recommendations, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards.  (And in fact the math and science teacher shortage seems to have been lost in the debate over the shortage of elementary school teachers – for example see Senator Montford’s comments here)

So I am going to do what I can by offering this space to teachers who have ideas about how to address the math and science teacher shortage.  If you have an idea and are willing to share, please send a 500-word post to my FSU e-mail address, which you can find at the FSU Physics Department’s web site.

This blog is certainly not as visible as, say, the Orlando Sentinel or the Tampa Bay Times.  But in the blog’s eight year history it has had more than 100,000 page views.  And it has a few prominent readers.

So if you are a math or science teacher with an idea about how to find you more strong colleagues, let me know.  Let’s do what we can to get the conversation started.

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