A recent Florida state education policy that allows U.S. military veterans to teach without a college degree, has been met with criticism and concern.
The Military Veterans Certification Pathway, enacted by the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE), permits veterans who have not yet earned bachelor’s degrees to attain a five-year teaching certificate from the department, granted they fulfill certain requirements.
These requirements include the veteran in question having served a minimum of 48 months of military service with an honorable/medical discharge, having earned a minimum of 60 college credits with a 2.5 grade point average (GPA), and having received a passing score on a Florida subject area examination for bachelor’s level subjects.
The pathway opened as of Jul. 1, 2022. An online application is available.
Dr. Katherine Norris, chair of the department of Curriculum and Instruction at Howard University, said that school districts are in urgent need of teachers.
"I think that, right now, we're in a really critical time in teacher education and in the teacher profession,” Norris said. “And I think that the school districts are scrambling to try to find ways to get teachers in the classroom.”
Dr. Daniel Eadens, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Higher Education at University of Central Florida said that this pathway could help fill empty teacher spots across the state.
“It appears logical to act swiftly and even do something very different right away in this challenging shortfall. Many teachers are retiring or leaving the field now, so the vacancies and gaps are likely to expand,” said Eadens. “Providing a temporary teaching certificate to military veterans with at least 4 years of service, halfway or more towards a bachelor's degree, and requiring them to get a passing score on a Florida subject area examination, could really help in a short-term and potentially long-term if they go on to become fully certified. Many are well aware of the pride, mission driven focus, and professionalism the military instills into its members. Most veterans develop strong work ethics, some have clean backgrounds, and some even have secret clearances, and most are probably well-grounded and possess positive values.”
Still, Norris has concerns about the quality of teachers this effort will produce.
“As a teacher educator, I'm concerned about making sure that we don't compromise our teacher education program and our students in our K-12 institutions by putting anybody in front of them, because I think what will happen ultimately, are the children that are mostly impacted by this will be BIPOC children or children in high poverty areas,” she said. “We really want to be critical, and we want to make sure that we're paying attention to what's happening and that we don't compromise what's happening in front of our classrooms.”
Eadens said that he understands the concerns.
“Traditional teacher preparation programs, for the most part, are invaluable and provide outstanding products," adding that students are taught "to differentiate instruction to meet the modifications and accommodations of special needs students and second language students, and economically disadvantaged students."
Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of the United Teachers of Dade, said that this new policy was downright harmful.
“It’s actually going to hurt education because when you have unqualified people educating children, the repercussions of that miseducation are actually going to be much greater than if you actually wanted to tackle the problem,” she said.
Norris said a better way to deal with the teacher shortage, “other than putting people that are not ready and not prepared properly,” in the classroom,is to address the root issues that are making teachers leave the profession in the first place.
“We have spoken to a lot of teachers and a lot of teachers can tell you what are some of the things and some of the reasons why they're leaving the classroom,” Norris said. “So, we have to address things like overcrowded classrooms. We have to address the finances, the pay, and the salaries of teachers and those sorts of things before we can begin to even solve what this issue is."