Physics teacher recruiting in Florida and the nation: A reference for the #iteachphysics chat on March 17

The National Society of Black Physicists will be hosting an #iteachphysics Twitter chat on Saturday, March 17 at 10 am Eastern Time.  Here is a compilation of information on physics teacher recruiting in Florida and the nation that can be used as preparation for the chat.

Teacher Supply and Demand in Florida

A few fast facts about high school physics in Florida:

  • In fall 2017, 44,057 Florida public school students were enrolled in physics classes.  That includes 22,098 in Honors Physics 1, 8,501 in non-Honors Physics 1, and 7,812 in AP Physics 1.  For comparison, there were 203,000 12th graders in Florida’s public schools this past fall.  
  • The Florida Department of Education estimates that in 2016-17 there were 214 advertised openings for “Science-Physical” teachers.  That category includes chemistry and physics teachers.  
  • In 2014-15, Florida college- and university-based teacher preparation programs graduated 37 teachers in the “Science-Physical” category.
  • In 2016, 84 individuals took Florida’s teacher certification exam in Physics for the first time.  41 of those first time exam-takers passed.  212 took the Chemistry exam for the first time, of whom 142 passed.
  • Florida’s State University System awarded 190 bachelors’ degrees in Physics in 2015-16.  

Each year, the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) compiles a report for the State Board of Education (SBOE) in preparation for the Board to designate Critical Teacher Shortage Areas.  These reports lump chemistry and physics into a single category called “Science-Physical”.  The 2017-18 report included a “Projected Number of Vacancies for 2016-17” (which for “Science-Physical” was 214) and the “Number of Students Completing Teacher Education Programs in 2014‐15” (which for “Science-Physical” was 37).

We can define a shortfall parameter to be the difference between the number of vacancies and the number of program completers as a percentage of the number of vacancies.  For “Science-Physical”, that number would be 83%.  In the figure below, I plot the shortage parameter (as a negative number) or the corresponding surplus parameter (as a positive number) for fifteen certification categories.  “Science-Physical” has the third largest shortage parameter – behind Spanish and General Science.


By the way, the SBOE selected seven categories as Florida’s Critical Teacher Shortage Areas for 2017-18, and “Science-Physical” was not one of them.

It is important to mention at this point that Florida has been one of the leading states in the nation in implementing alternative certification programs (for a description, see this paper by CALDER Center and Georgia State University economist Tim Sass).  There are many routes through which an aspiring high school physics teachers can pass.  However, all of those routes pass through the Florida Teacher Certification Examination (FTCE) for Physics.  The FLDOE posts the numbers of individuals who take the FTCE subject exams for the first time and the percentages who pass on their first attempt.  Keeping in mind that the passing rate for the Physics exam hovers around 50%, the reader can see the numbers of individuals passing the FTCE Physics and Chemistry exams from 2013 to 2016 on the first attempt below.  The graph provides an idea of the time evolution of the numbers of teachers entering these subject areas.


As alarming as the physics numbers are, the numbers for the state’s Math 6-12 certification – required to teach Algebra 2 and above – are even more alarming.  They show a steep decline in the number of new high school math teachers.


We take a look at national issues below, but there are reasons to believe that the situation in Florida is worse than average for the nation.  As the APS report “Recruiting Teachers in High-needs STEM Fields: A Survey of Current Majors and Recent STEM Graduates” says, salaries are an issue.  New physics bachelor’s degree graduates are in high demand in the private sector workplace, with starting salaries that are equivalent to those of engineering graduates.  Average public school teacher salaries in Florida are extraordinarily low as shown below, where they are compared not just to a selection of other states (taken from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)) but also to salaries taken from the 2015 Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce report “Economic Value of College Majors”.


Florida may also have some structural issues in its teaching profession that other states do not have.  The NCES published the map shown below of the percentage of teachers in each state who were inexperienced – in their 1st or 2nd year teaching – in 2012.  Florida’s 23% number jumps off the map.


It’s also worth mentioning that high school physics in Florida is weak and in decline.  Our 2015 survey of state departments of education showed that the rate at which students enroll for high school physics in Florida public schools is well below the national average.


And…since the time those data were collected, Florida public high school physics enrollments have declined by 8%.

National Physics Teacher Issues

As Tara Garcia Mathewson reported in her recent Hechinger Report article “One reason students aren’t prepared for STEM careers? No physics in high school”, the physics teacher shortage is not just a Florida issue – it is a uniformly national issue:

According to the American Association for Employment in Education, physics is the only discipline that has a “considerable shortage” of teachers in every region in the country — edging out other hard-to-staff subjects such as bilingual education, math, chemistry and all types of special education.

The APS report “Recruiting Teachers in High-needs STEM Fields: A Survey of Current Majors and Recent STEM Graduates” provides some insights about the concerns undergraduate students majoring in physics, math, chemistry and computer science have about entering the high school teaching profession.  These concerns are presented in a graphical summary below:


The number one concern – by a wide margin – is “Uncontrollable or uninterested students”.  “Low pay” is cited, but it is a secondary concern.