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Proposed new bill eases licensing requirements to become a teacher in Florida

Florida teacher
Posted at 10:47 AM, Feb 22, 2023

TAMPA, Fla. — A proposed new bill aims to help fill Florida classrooms with more teachers by easing what it takes to become certified and how long candidates have to prove they deserve that teaching certification.

“We have very, very good teachers and we want to keep those very good teachers in the classroom and give them time needed to hone their craft,” said first-time Senator Corey Simon, a Tallahassee Republican who introduced the bill. The bill includes provisions that would extend temporary teaching certificates for teachers from three to five years and gives aspiring teachers more options to prove they are qualified to teach.

In addition, the proposed bill lets candidates skip out on having to take and pass the mandated but controversial General Knowledge exam (GK exam) as long as they’ve earned an “effective” or “highly effective” teacher rating from their school principal two years in a row.

The changes, if approved, represent the most dramatic revisions to Florida’s teacher certification process since our two-year long, award-winning investigation first exposed its problems.

Beginning in 2016, Florida investigative reporter Katie LaGrone and photographer/editor Matthew Apthorp uncovered the frustration of current teachers and aspiring teachers in Florida who had met all the demands in the classroom but repeatedly failed to pass Florida’s Teacher Certification Exam (FTCE), which includes the GK exam. The GK portion tests a candidate’s general knowledge of core subjects, even ones an aspiring teacher doesn’t teach.

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After the state made the teacher certification exam tougher in 2015, LaGrone and Apthorp found passing rates had plummeted, forcing many districts to terminate teachers deemed effective or highly effective.

While this new proposed bill didn’t prompt any debate among lawmakers before they approved it during their first committee hearing on Tuesday, members of the public were quick to chime in.

“The solution to find people is not to lessen the requirements but increase the respect and salary for teachers,” said one concerned member of the public.

“I would hope we don’t lower requirements,” said another.

“I want to make sure I have someone who is fully credentialed and well-qualified teaching in the classroom,” said Andrew Spar, head of the Florida Education Association (FEA), the state’s largest teachers’ union, when asked if the revisions in the bill make it too easy to become a teacher.

According to the FEA, Florida’s teacher shortage remains at over 5,000 as of January, but Spar said revising teacher certification requirements is not the way to attract more teachers.

(Florida’s Department of Education disputes the FEA’s teacher shortage numbers and cites the number at 4,442, which represents 2.4% of teacher positions as of Sept. 1, 2022, according to the state agency.)

While Spar agrees with changes to the certification process that would end, for example, an English teacher being disqualified from teaching if they can’t pass the general knowledge math test, Spar is concerned the bill is still too vague to truly understand its benefits and potential ramifications.

“What we want to make sure is that we’re keeping the requirements in place that you have to demonstrate an understanding of the content in which you're teaching, you have to understand basic teaching, practices, and pedagogy. Those are things we think are vitally important for people coming into the profession,” explained Spar.

“We’re not getting rid of the exam, we’re just giving them more time,” Senator Simon said about the bill.