The University of South Florida (USF) has announced the end of their education school due to a $36.7 million university budget cut. The change will save $6.8 million over two years. They’re using the coronavirus as the reason at a time when teachers are struggling to teach students safely. This loss is a bad omen for public schools and a professional teaching workforce, not just for the State of Florida but for the country.
How many more teacher education schools will close? Who will become teachers in the future? Will there be any real teachers in the future? If Colleges of Education are not valued in a university the size of USF, will education and professional teachers be valued anywhere?
Every reputable university should have a building dedicated to preparing teachers called the College of Education. Those schools must continually question through peer-reviewed research how schools work for students and how to professionally prepare teachers to serve students. While these schools have sometimes been criticized, they have prepared many teachers well.
USF prepared teachers for six decades, and many express sadness about the school’s closure. They’re wondering why the USF administration quickly chose to close the education school after hearing about the cuts.
Without an undergraduate teacher preparation program, the likelihood of students getting teachers who have expertise in the subjects they teach in secondary, elementary, and early childhood education, special education, second language, and other area specialists dwindles. Many school districts in Florida rely on the College of Education at USF for their teachers.
USF claims it will transition instruction to a graduate program, but it sounds more like they’re handing their job over to alternative teacher preparation programs. This will never be an adequate replacement for a baccalaureate degree.
A letter from the school states:
…we are strategically reimagining and reconfiguring Education at USF from a comprehensive College of Education to a more focused Graduate School of Education with an appropriate organizational affiliation with another college such as the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences. This will allow us to continue to serve our students and communities, including our vital partners in our area school districts.
This change reflects the evolving demands of students, who are increasingly seeking alternative pathways to teacher certification outside of the traditional baccalaureate degree. Going forward, USF Education students will have an opportunity to earn teacher certification through a Master of Arts in Teaching degree which may be completed in a fifth year following a baccalaureate degree in a content area, giving Education students a competitive advantage among job seekers in the market.
While graduate degrees are vital, and many teachers work towards master’s degrees, and EdDs and PhDs, undergraduate degrees in education provide schools with classroom teachers who start with a strong foundation from which to build.
Florida needs more qualified teachers. Nearby Manatee County has 115 unfilled classrooms, and Pasco County has 111 teacher openings. Last January, 2,244 teacher positions remained unfilled across the state.
Florida also has a problem with teacher qualifications. The number of teachers who have certification in the subjects they teach is unclear. In 2016-17, The Learning Policy Institute noted that Florida’s recorded 2,111 unfilled vacancies is underreported since the State of Florida did not report counts of uncertified teachers.
It used to be imperative that a teacher in Florida have the necessary certification, reliant on teachers taking the required courses corresponding to the subject for which they were responsible for teaching. School districts and principals went through much effort to find appropriately certified teachers based on adequate and enough college coursework. Then they changed the rules.
The following reforms threaten Colleges of Education:
- Political negativity surrounding teachers. The State of Florida and other states have been hostile to teachers, public schools, and teachers’ unions. NCLB went a long way to create fast track training programs for teachers undermining teacher professionalism. Race to the Top did little to highlight teaching as a profession, focusing on a teacher evaluation system that served no purpose other than to make teachers look bad (remember when teacher names were listed in the newspaper with test scores?).
- Who wants to become a teacher? Parents currently talk their students out of pursuing a teaching career. Florida politics and the politics of the nation must change if they want a thriving future. Universities should be encouraging young people to become teachers and work towards sound preparation. A baccalaureate degree seals the deal. Teaching is a great profession when teachers are supported well.
- Education leaders who aren’t educators. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is the leader of teachers. Yet she never taught. And she is not supportive of teachers unless they teach in private, charter, or parochial schools. Those before her like Arne Duncan and Margaret Spellings were never teachers either. Spellings bragged that she was a substitute teacher. We all hope this will change in the future. Education leaders must be real educators who understand children and how schools work.
- Relying on alternative education programs. Teach for America involve college graduates in any subject who get only five weeks of training. They spend a few years in the classroom and move into high-level school administrative positions. They wind up directing teachers who have more experience and education than they do. In those positions, they push for school privatization. State fellow programs, The New Teacher Project, Relay Graduate School of Education, and other revolving door teachers are also in play. They don’t represent a real teaching workforce and we should be concerned that students are not getting the best instruction.
- The move to online learning. There’s the push for children to learn anytime, anyplace, which refers to online learning. In this scenario, students are mostly expected to teach themselves. The pandemic has almost certainly ensured that relying heavily on technology will be with us for years, even though parents don’t like it, and it’s easy to see teachers pushed out of the instructional equation. Many online programs already don’t rely on teachers, and online schools like Rocketship have those who help students with computers but aren’t necessarily teachers. Technology is a useful tool, but it will never adequately replace a teacher.
Here are the current undergraduate degree programs at the College of Education at USF. Look at them closely. They will be gone soon.
- Early Childhood Education (with ESOL and Reading Endorsement)
- Education (with ESOL and Reading Endorsement)
- Elementary Education (with ESOL and Reading Endorsement)
- English Education (with ESOL Endorsement)
- Exceptional Student Education (with ESOL & Reading Endorsements)
- Mathematics Education
- Mathematics Education with Middle School Mathematics Concentration
- Physical Education
- Science Education with Biology Education Concentration
- Science Education with Chemistry Education Concentration
- Science Education with Physics Education Concentration
- Social Science Education
Note: I earned certification to teach gifted education from the University of South Florida in the 90s. The program was superb. I enjoyed all that I learned. So like many teachers from Tampa and Florida, I share your sadness today at the loss of a great education school.