America’s education system is facing a crisis that will
affect our children and our future. Teachers have been leaving schools at
alarming rates with no one to replace them.
School districts across the nation face
significant shortages as retirement, increased population and poor
working conditions have pressured established teachers to leave. Additionally,
low pay and the stress associated with teaching have driven many college
students away from the profession, leaving a shallow talent pool of highly
qualified teachers. Addressing this issue is critical in improving the
education system and failure to do so will have long-lived implications.
In Florida, class size reform has led to many teachers
leaving schools and they are often replaced
by under-qualified individuals. To combat this, districts
are exhausting every option to entice teachers, recruiting from the
Midwest states and, interestingly, Puerto Rico. The majority of these shortages
in Florida are in English and the traditional
science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields.
In an effort to hire more STEM teachers, the Florida
Legislature has been working to break down barriers to entry and incentivize
quality educators in STEM fields. Currently, Florida requires new hires to take
a variety of tests over a period of multiple years, all of which must be paid
for out of pocket. This doesn’t encourage graduates to pursue teaching. A bill signed
into law during the 2016 Legislative Session exempts high-performing STEM
teachers from required extra classes if they have advanced degrees. Lawmakers
are looking at ways to extend the exemption to those with Bachelor degrees in
STEM fields as well.
Lawmakers also considered loan forgiveness for STEM teachers
last year but both the Senate and House bills
died in session. The goal was to encourage qualified college graduates to remain
in Florida and to teach a STEM course at a public school.
Experts say that while hiring new teachers is important,
keeping established teachers is crucial to ending the teaching shortage. In the
United States, teacher attrition is at 8 percent annually. Impoverished and
minority communities typically struggle the most with teachers leaving, since the
stress is often higher and wages lower.
Options like higher wages and improved working conditions
would result in a lower attrition rate and ensure that students are receiving a
high quality education. A recent
report found that creating more productive and stable work
environments led to fewer teachers leaving, especially those with staffing
issues. The report also found that by offering principals training programs to
foster positive work environments, teachers were more likely stay.
The teacher shortage
is an issue that won’t just affect our children; it will affect the direction
of this country. Without high quality teachers in the classrooms, children will
suffer, making it harder for them to adjust to college and their careers.