Target: Florida Representative Matt Gaetz
Goal: Compensate teachers according to the degree they hold, regardless of whether it is in the same field as the subject they teach.
The goal of Florida’s Student Success Act of 2011 is to motivate teachers to focus on student results. One way the law attempts to do this is by limiting which degrees teachers can be compensated for. Florida teachers with Master’s and Ph.D degrees are only compensated for them if the field of their degree matches the subject they teach.
In theory, this makes sense, but in practice, it denies qualified teachers the salaries they should be entitled to. For example, Scott, Johnson, a math teacher at Palm Bay High, has been denied the $2,625 bonus pay for teachers with a master’s degree because his degree is in space sciences instead of math. In order to get his degree, though, he had to study math extensively and describes it as a second language in which he is fluent.
Florida Representative Matt Gaetz, one of the law’s authors, admits that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) degrees strongly overlap, so some changes in the law may be warranted. However, STEM subjects are not the only disciplines that relate to each other. Literature, history, anthropology, and other humanities are highly interdisciplinary. Furthermore, teachers with advanced degrees in curriculum and instruction cannot be paid according to their qualifications under this law because there is no corresponding school subject for their degree.
The means by which this law aims to accomplish its goals does not create incentives for teachers to focus on student success—it creates incentives for them to find employment elsewhere. Scott Johnson is doing just that. As a result, Florida students do not get the highest quality education possible. This law inadvertently harms the very student results that it aims to improve.
By signing the petition below, you will ask Representative Gaetz to amend the law so that teacher salaries account for their qualifications, thus benefiting teachers and students.
Dear Mr. Gaetz,
The goals of the Student Success Act of 2011, which you co-authored, are admirable. However, several aspects of the law create more problems than they solve. One such provision is the requirement that teachers’ advanced degrees must match the subject they teach. This may seem to benefit students and cut unnecessary costs, but it actually does the opposite of what it intends.
Firstly, postgraduate degrees often overlap with teachers’ subjects even if they are not directly related. A math teacher with an advanced physics or engineering degree necessarily must be well-versed with math, because an understanding of math is required for an understanding of physics or engineering. In addition to STEM subjects, humanities subjects also overlap. For example, degrees in anthropology or history require excellent writing and critical thinking skills, and the content knowledge gained in such a degree can greatly deepen one’s understanding of literature. Even if teachers’ degrees do not perfectly match the subject taught, they still have great potential to improve instruction. For that, teachers should be compensated.
Perhaps even more importantly, denying teachers the salaries they should be entitled to based on their qualifications creates motivation to seek employment elsewhere, and Florida students bear the consequences. More qualified teachers are more likely to provide higher quality instruction, which students will miss out on when the leave.
Please amend the Student Success Act of 2011 to either omit this provision, or at the very least, make the specifications for the degree’s relationship to the subject clearer and less strict.
[Your Name Here]