Romano: Florida is losing teachers, one test at a time

Published September 19 2016
Updated September 19 2016

(The following statement is based on research by an educational institute.)

Being a teacher in Florida stinks.

(The next statement is an extrapolation based on that first statement.)

Being a student in Florida is about to get worse.

Mind you, these are not cold, hard facts. They are more like observations in the wake of a comprehensive study done by the Learning Policy Institute that predicts America will soon have a teacher shortage.

Essentially, the research shows that 1) student enrollment is growing 2) teachers are fleeing 3) incoming college students are not interested in majoring in education.

Add that up, and you can see why the institute suggests we're on the verge of a coming crisis. Already, there are headlines about states scrambling to fill vacancies with unqualified or uncertified teachers.

So how does Florida fare in this study?

Somewhere between pitiful and pathetic.

Research indicates Florida has some of the most inexperienced and unhappy teachers in the nation, which isn't really a shock since the state Legislature has been micro-managing schools for years.

Now, maybe you don't care if teachers are unhappy or not. That's your prerogative. But here's the problem:

How does Florida expect to provide a quality education to its children when state policies have made teaching such an unattractive occupation?

"I don't know why anybody would be scratching their head and wondering why we're heading toward a teacher shortage,'' said Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association president Mike Gandolfo. "You can't treat people like crap for years, and then wonder why they all left.

"I can't find anybody who has been a teacher less than five years who envisions doing this the rest of their life.''

The surveys clearly point to a major dissatisfaction for teachers in Florida: high-stakes testing and its ramifications.

Nationally, the percentage of teachers worried about job security due to testing is 12 percent. In Florida, it's 25 percent, the second-highest in the nation. Florida also has the second-highest percentage of teachers who feel they do not have classroom autonomy.

So perhaps it's no coincidence that Florida has more than double the national average of non-certified teachers, and has more inexperienced teachers (defined as first- or second-year) than any state in the nation at nearly 29 percent, according to the study.

Even worse, the national trend is that somewhere between 20 to 30 percent of inexperienced teachers quit before they reach five years. That kind of turnover can be costly both economically and academically.

"It has a huge impact on student achievement,'' said Desiree Carver-Thomas, one of the report's authors. "When you have that kind of churn, with teachers coming and going, students don't perform as well. And what's unfortunate is it's not just the students in that teacher's class. Research has shown that kind of movement creates a general instability at a school.''

Not so long ago, Florida lawmakers became obsessed with a high-stakes testing system that would theoretically weed out ineffective teachers.

Apparently, they never stopped to consider that their policies might also chase away a good percentage of effective teachers uninterested in planning an entire school year around a standardized test.