Florida’s parents want and deserve to have confidence that their children’s teachers have a strong understanding of the subjects they are teaching.
The state’s subject-specific teacher certification exams provide an admirable method for making sure that is the case.
But Florida also requires teaching candidates to take a second exam, called the General Knowledge test that doesn’t provide any additional assurance that teachers understand the subject they are teaching.
In fact, the General Knowledge test deprives the state’s students of access to many teachers who are experts in their fields – especially those who have previously had careers outside the K-12 schools and who would like to share their professional experience with students.
According to Tampa Bay-area journalist Katie LeGrone, more than 1,000 individuals who were already teaching in Florida’s classrooms and who had demonstrated their subject competence by earning temporary certifications were terminated in the summer of 2018 alone because they did not pass the General Knowledge test.
In her Monday op-ed (“Don’t lower the bar to become a teacher in Florida,” April 1), Kate Walsh defends the duplicative General Knowledge exam. She argues that removing the requirement for passing the General Knowledge test would allow “teachers in the classroom who can’t demonstrate the very skills they are asked to teach.”
This argument is just wrong.
Every teacher must pass a subject-specific certification test that adequately demonstrates competence in her or his field. For example, high school physics teachers must pass the states Physics 6-12 certification exam. Dropping the General Knowledge test wouldn’t change that at all.
The case of Escambia County teacher Emily Mixon, reported by LeGrone and the Pensacola News Journal, provides an excellent example of the way in which the General Knowledge test deprives Florida’s students of access to individuals with professional expertise in their fields.
After spending more than a decade in Pensacola’s performing arts community, Mixon decided to teach theater and dance at Escambia High School. She had been teaching with a temporary certificate and had been evaluated by her principal at Escambia as an effective teacher.
But last summer, Mixon was terminated because she could not pass the math portion of the General Knowledge test, which tests algebra and statistics skills.
That is, Mixon was fired because she lacked math skills that were not relevant to the subjects she was teaching. As a result, Escambia High School’s students lost access to Mixon’s deep well of professional experience in the performing arts.
The General Knowledge test is a classic example of the overregulation of a profession that is hurting that profession’s clients – in this case, Florida’s students. It is not surprising that those with a stake in the teacher regulatory apparatus would defend this test, even though there is no evidence that maintaining the test improves the learning of the state’s students.
Florida’s teacher shortage is intensifying. The Florida Department of Education and the state’s school districts are devoting resources and effort to helping teachers pass the General Knowledge test that could be used in more constructive ways.
The Legislature should pass House Bill 7061, which would provide a workaround for the General Knowledge test so that it no longer deprives the state’s students of fine teachers.
Paul Cottle is is a professor of physics at Florida State University.