Fund Our Future: The serious and growing teacher and staff shortage in Florida is robbing our students of the opportunity to be taught by well-trained, professional educators. The best, most sustainable way to reverse this disturbing trend is to raise teacher and staff salaries to at least the national average and to restore respect to the profession.
Florida has a serious and growing teacher shortage. Districts had more than 4,000-advertised vacancies for classroom teachers in August 2018, up from 3,000 in 2017 and 2,400 in 2016. As of January 2019 —midway through the school year — more than 2,000 teaching positions remained unfilled.
With thousands of professional educators having left or leaving the job they love, Florida’s schools are experiencing a silent strike.
There are several reasons for the teacher and staff shortage:
- Pay, with Florida ranking 46th nationally for teacher salaries and education staff professionals are paid below the national poverty level
- Lack of support
- Lack of flexibility in instruction and the need to “teach to the test”
- Confusing evaluation standards
- Overcrowded classrooms
Too many politicians treat public schools and the people who work in them as punching bags. When the profession is attacked daily; when the contribution teachers make to students and communities goes unrecognized; when bureaucrats who’ve never spent a day in a classroom tell teachers how to do their job — then it becomes difficult to attract and retain dedicated and qualified education professionals.
In fact, financial website WalletHub ranks the “Best and Worst States for Teachers” Florida comes in as one of worst states for teachers, ranking 47th.
Most concerning, this shortage robs our students of the opportunity to learn and puts their safety at risk. Districts are dealing with the teacher shortages in classrooms by hiring untrained teachers with temporary certificates as well as large numbers of substitutes and permanent substitutes. Shortages among bus drivers, counsellors, school resource officers and other education staff professionals threaten the safety and well-being of our students.
A worsening problem
Without legislative action, this critical shortage will only get worse, as our schools have problems both recruiting and retaining teachers.
Fewer young people are entering the profession:
- Only 5 percent of high school students are interested in becoming teachers, according to a 2018 survey from ACT of about 2,400 students.
- Fewer young people are choosing to become teachers. The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education reports that, between the 2007-08 and 2015-16 academic years, there was a 23 percent decline in the number of people completing teacher-preparation programs.
- According to a survey by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, deans of colleges of education said the No. 1 reason for dropping enrollment numbers was the perception of teaching as an undesirable career. That perception is likely based on complaints about a lack of professional autonomy and low wages, the deans said.
Those who do become teachers are leaving the profession sooner. Forty percent of Florida’s new teachers leave the classroom within their first five years in the profession, state records show. This is 15 to 20 percent above the national average, depending on the year.
Time for action: Fund Our Future
Tallahassee politicians spend a lot of time talking about education, but precious little time talking to educators. To address the growing teacher and staff shortage crisis in Florida’s public schools, lawmakers must finally take the time to listen to the professionals who are in the schools every day doing the work to make sure our students are successful.
So far, the Legislature has failed to take attempt any long-term solutions to this crisis. Instead, we have seen short-term patches such as waiving teacher preparation requirements, promoting scripted lessons, and a reliance on failed bonus programs. These strategies have served only to accelerate teacher turnover while also weakening professional practice.
Florida’s students have suffered long enough through these misguided attempts in the Legislature to solve the shortage crisis. They deserve real, long-term solutions including:
- Increasing pay for teachers and education staff professionals to at least the national average.
- Incentivizing retention in the profession with multi-year contracts after a probationary period
- Reducing the time spent on testing and test-preparation so that teachers have time to teach and students have time to learn
- Restoring autonomy to professional educators so they can provide each student with the instruction they need instead of being forced to stick to scripted lessons
- Addressing student debt through incentive such as loan forgiveness, grants, scholarships and support for pre-service teacher programs
- Providing funding and time for structured mentoring support for new teachers
- Providing meaningful professional development for all instructional and non-instructional professionals
- Why Florida is struggling to fill more than 2,000 teaching positions, Washington Post (03/8/2019)
- State school system faces a shortage of teachers, WINK (CBS) Ft. Myers (01/23/2019)
- School districts feel effects of teacher shortage, Northwest Florida Daily News (01/19/2019)
- Florida teacher shortage: More than 2,200 jobs open halfway into school year, union says, Orlando Sentinel (01/17/2019)
- Science teachers remain Florida schools’ top need, Tampa Bay Times (01/11/2019)
- Increase in teacher resignations in local public school districts, WJAX Jacksonville (01/08/2019)
- Calling all teachers: District scrambles to fill open slots, Ocala Star Banner, (08/03/2018)
- District talks teacher, driver shortage, Port St. Joe Star, 7/26/18
- NEA Want to Reduce the Teacher Shortage? Treat Teachers Like Professionals
- AFT The Teacher Shortage Could Turn Into a Crisis