According to Tampa Bay Times reporter Jeff Solochek, much of this past week’s State Board of Education meeting concerned Florida’s teacher shortage, which is growing, according to the Florida Education Association’s Cathy Boehme.
Jeff reported that SBOE chair Marva Johnson was particularly concerned about finding enough teachers in critical shortage areas like math and science, while SBOE member and former chair Gary Chartrand suggested a scholarship program for students who know they want to be teachers before they start college.
At least in my field, physics, the problem with the idea of a scholarship program for students who start college knowing that they want to be teachers is that there are almost no such students. I know of one recent physics graduate who knew on the day he arrived at FSU that he wanted to be a teacher (he is now teaching at Orange County’s Apopka High School). The majority of FSU graduates now teaching physics had no idea they wanted to teach physics when they first arrived on campus – they only decided to pursue teaching careers well after they had started their undergraduate studies.
Florida once had a program of financial incentives for teachers in critical shortage subject areas that rewarded all teachers in these fields – and not just the ones that knew on their first day of college that they wanted to teach. The program, called the Florida Critical Teacher Shortage Program, was effective according to a 2015 study by CALDER Center researchers. The program included a student loan forgiveness component and a component in which practicing teachers received tuition reimbursement for college courses that helped them prepare for a new certification in a critical needs subject. In addition, for a time the program included a component in which teachers in high-needs subject would receive bonuses. The entire program was terminated in 2009-10.
The CALDER Center authors, Li Feng (Texas State University) and Tim Sass (Georgia State University), found
…that the LF [loan forgiveness] component did have substantial positive effects on the likelihood an individual would remain in teaching. The effects vary across subjects and depend in part on the magnitude of payments. Positive effects were found for four of seven subject areas (science, math, foreign languages, and ESOL). Positive effects were also found for the largest shortage-area category, special education/gifted teachers, although only when payments were relatively large. We also found that the $1,200 one-time retention bonus offered to high school teachers in designated subject areas decreased teacher attrition in the targeted areas by as much as 25%.
Instead of spitballing, the SBOE should recommend to the Florida Legislature the reactivation of the Florida Critical Teacher Shortage Program. Redirecting the money spent last year on the Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program (about $230 million) – or even just the controversial $70 million part of the Best and Brightest program that is dependent on the teachers’ own ACT/SAT scores – into the resurrected Critical Teacher Shortage Program would provide substantial incentives for all new college graduates in critical shortage subjects like math, chemistry, computer science and physics to consider teaching careers. The incentives would not be limited just to those individuals who had committed to teaching four years before when they were just starting college.
There is another anomaly in the teacher supply situation that I am unable to understand – elementary education. As the figure below shows (with numbers taken from the 2018-19 Critical Teacher Shortage Area Report assembled by the Florida Department of Education for the State Board of Education) there are many subjects in which the numbers of graduates from the state’s college- and university-based teacher preparation programs are less than 50% of the demand for such teachers. There are even several subjects in which the number of graduates is less than 10% of the demand. Those subjects are Spanish, General Science, Physical Sciences (which includes both chemistry and physics) and Earth/Space Science.
But the number of teacher preparation program graduates in elementary education is 20% greater than demand. I am aware of at least one school district that was still looking for elementary teachers only a few weeks before the start of classes this fall. How could this be? Somebody should ask the new elementary ed graduates who are not taking teaching jobs why they aren’t. Perhaps that should be done before the SBOE recommends a new scholarship program for students who declare elementary education as a major on the first day of college.