The number of new teachers fully certified to teach the highest level high school math courses in Florida (and therefore earning the state’s “Math 6-12” certification) is dropping quickly. Many high schools are already filling the gaps left by the shortage of Math 6-12 teachers with teachers having the less rigorous “Math 5-9” certification, which is really intended for those teaching in middle schools. Math 5-9 teachers cannot teach courses above the level of Geometry, so in some cases schools are left scrambling to find teachers to cover courses in Algebra 2 and Precalculus.
But there is hope that the decline can be reversed if there is determination to do so at the state or local levels. In January, the American Physical Society released a report on a survey of college students around the nation majoring in chemistry, computer science, math and physics and of recent graduates in those disciplines who are presently teaching at the high school level. One of the primary conclusions of the report is this: Math majors generally have more interest in teaching careers than computer science and physics majors (chemistry majors have about the same level of interest as math majors). And among those four disciplines, math majors would respond most strongly to incentives such as scholarships, loan forgiveness and salary increases.
There are already a few local incentive efforts underway in Florida to attract students with strong math skills into the teaching profession. One is the Jacksonville Teacher Residency Program. Another is Bay County’s bonus program for teachers in critical shortage areas.
But it’s clear that more districts – or perhaps the state – will have to start incentive programs to reverse the decline.