My op-ed posted yesterday on State Impact Florida looked at the results achieved by a charter middle school in New York City that pays teacher salaries of $125,000 per year. The school’s most dramatic results are in math, where students learned 5.6 years’ worth of math in their four years at the school (grades 5-9). I posed this question: If this school is the answer to Florida’s middle school challenges, would we be willing to accept it and set up similar schools here?
It’s worth noting that middle school math is a particular problem for Florida. On the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), only 31% of Florida 8th graders tested “proficient” or above, while the national rate is 35%. According to a study performed by Michigan State University researchers, American middle school math teachers are weaker in math skills themselves than the teachers in nations with which we compete. Salaries for starting teachers in Florida are considerably lower than those for new bachelors’ degree grads in fields like math, physics or engineering. To dramatically improve the performance of Florida’s middle schoolers relative to the nation, we will probably have to make a commitment to raise salaries for math teachers to levels that will make the profession attractive to students with strong math skills.
We don’t need to pay middle school math teachers $125,000. After all, it would only take a salary of $71,000 to buy the same standard of living in Tampa as $125,000 does in New York City. But it’s clear that $40,000 – the top end starting salary in Florida – just will not do.