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Florida Begins Planning To Forestall Shortage of Teachers

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Copyright 1982 Shortages of mathematics, science, and vocational-education teachers already exist in Florida, as they do nationwide, the commission said, but "less recognized are approaching shortages of teachers of foreign languages, elementary education, and exceptional children."

Although not certain what tactics will be most effective, the state board has asked the department of education and other state institutions to devise a plan to forestall the shortage, according to a spokesman for the state education department.

National surveys of teacher-education programs, as well as recently released cen-sus data, suggest that a national shortage of teachers may occur in several years.

In the south, Georgia has had a shortage of teachers in many disciplines for the past several years. The state's education department has been recruiting teachers from school systems that have been laying off teaching staff--Boston, for example. Currently, Georgia schools report an estimated 5,000 unfilled teaching positions for the 1982-1983 school year.

Similar measures may be necessary in Florida, the report notes. "We anticipate that Florida school districts will need to recruit teachers more aggressively from outside our state."

State education officials have also suggested creating a centralized statewide listing of open teaching positions. Currently, teachers must apply to each individual district, according to education department officials.

In many states, high percentages of the teachers now teaching science and mathematics are not qualified to do so.

The Florida commission, however, warned that to hire people who are not qualified simply to increase the number of teachers would be to "lose the ground which we have gained with so much difficulty." Within the past few years, the state has adopted several measures--including teacher-competency tests and a "beginning-teacher program"--to improve the quality of the state's teachers.

'Alarm and Dismay'

"We would view with alarm and dismay efforts made to suspend or eliminate those measures [designed] to improve the quality of instruction available to Florida youth," the commission's report stated.

Rather, the 24-member panel suggested, education officials should take steps to make standards higher and at the same time find ways to make teaching a more at-tractive profession. Among their recommendations:

Teacher salaries in Florida need to be increased sharply and the increases should be a matter of high priority to the state. The state is now in the third year of a five-year plan to raise teachers' salaries to the upper quartile nationally. That effort, however, may not be enough.

The public image of teachers needs polishing, and "the prestige associated with teaching [should] be raised to the level it deserves."

The state board of education should help correct the misconception that there are surpluses of teachers in all fields, which probably discourages students from entering the profession.

Florida should reinstate scholarship programs to help attract talented young people to teaching as a career.

The board of education should conduct a study to see if large numbers of teachers are leaving the field prematurely. If so, the projected shortage will become more serious.

--S.W.

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