The K-12 Subcommittee of the Florida House of Representatives is laser-focusing on elementary school reading, a subject in which the state is among the best in the world despite the recent stagnation in test scores. (See the Tampa Bay Times article on the subcommittee’s efforts here)
However, the subcommittee has not yet paid any attention to middle school math, in which Florida is below average and plummeting still lower according to the recently released 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Why? It’s hard to say, but it might be worth trying out this hypothesis: Every teacher can read. So the subcommittee’s agenda includes more professional development for teachers and a greater degree of communication with parents. And the subcommittee’s strategies might help.
In contrast, many middle school math teachers have weak math skills themselves, according to a landmark 2011 study by researchers at Michigan State University. So the task of improving middle school math achievement in Florida wouldn’t just involve training the existing middle school math teaching corps in improved pedagogical techniques. Instead, it would require the recruiting of a whole new generation of strong math students into teaching careers. And that would be expensive. Florida’s present teacher recruitment strategy, which was once described to me as “we do accountability now” by an education staffer, would not be sufficient to attract the large numbers of strong math teachers needed to fix the state’s middle school math problem. Instead, the state would have to come to terms with the fact that the people they need in middle school math classrooms are being offered $50,000 salaries upon receipt of their bachelors’ degrees, and that the gap between that salary level and the sub-$40,000 salaries K-12 teachers are getting to start is a significant hindrance to recruiting.
And it isn’t just our conservative state leadership that would balk at paying starting middle school math teachers $50,000 per year. Teachers’ unions would complain that math teachers shouldn’t be paid more than, say, English teachers because it would (in the words of yet another education official) “make the English teachers feel bad.”
So there are considerable obstacles to stopping Florida’s bleeding in middle school math. We can only hope that our leaders can find the fortitude to do what is necessary.