By Charles M. Harris, Chairman
The teacher at the front of each classroom is an absolute cornerstone of a strong education system. And a strong pre-kindergarten through college or technical school system is the backbone of a thriving economy and community. These are interconnected, and that makes the recent decision by the University of South Florida to close the College of Education and end undergraduate teacher education so incongruent to the goals of this community and USF’s own stated goals.
The future of the College of Education at USF directly connects to the unwavering commitment of the Pinellas Education Foundation to elevate high-quality instruction to accelerate student achievement. As a coalition of business and community leaders, we collaborate with local partners to advance student success and better prepare them for the world beyond the classroom. Critical to classroom success is the quality of the teaching.
Purely from an economic vantage point, USF’s College of Education has an established history of preparing high-quality teachers. At a time when there is significant focus on whether universities are graduating students with employable skills, we know that a teaching degree leads to a job.
Preparing teachers to serve our community is paramount for Tampa Bay’s growth and stability. Local education leaders report that between 20 and 30 percent of new hires are graduates of USF. In recent column in the Tampa Bay Times, local superintendents worried that this source of well-trained new teachers will be eliminated.
A vibrant undergraduate education program makes sense for the Tampa Bay area, and for Pinellas County, specifically. Students who graduate from USF and accept teaching positions in the county become entrenched in the community.
What’s more, graduates of USF remain in our district at a higher rate than many other districts. They buy cars, buy homes and become active participants in the local economy. A thriving public education system, fueled by excellent well-prepared teachers from USF, will also spur more businesses to come to the area. It’s a win all-around: for students, teachers, schools, USF and the economy.
USF – an outstanding state university on the rise in national rankings – clearly cares about economic stimulus. The university places a high premium on seeing its graduates enter the job market soon after graduation. Many majors simply cannot compare with the immediacy at which College of Education graduates are recruited into the work place.
It is not just about filling a vacancy. The College of Education at USF is one of the best. A recent study by National Council on Teacher Quality gives USF an ‘A’ in classroom management and a ‘B’ in clinical practice, coupled with a previously awarded ‘A’ in Early Reading – the best scores of any higher-education institution in the region. With such a high-quality undergraduate program, why wouldn’t USF look for solutions other than closing a College of Education that means so much to the community?
Recently Inside Higher Ed reported, “Florida’s K-12 population is growing, and local school districts – some of the nation’s largest – hire their teachers straight out of (USF).” The article also references the significant shortage of teachers in the state, according to the Florida Education Association. The reality is, there are many teaching jobs available in Pinellas County, and other districts. The demand for certified teachers is only increasing. There’s no question that the loss of the College of Education at USF will be a detrimental blow to our students, schools and, ultimately, our economy.
We agree that the College of Education at USF must be reimagined, but true innovation must be informed by the perspectives of local school districts and economic impact. We implore the leadership at USF to not only reconsider the decision to close the College of Education and end undergraduate education programs, but also to work collaboratively to develop a new strategic pathway forward. Through partnership USF can, no doubt, be a thriving College of Education, a national model for teacher preparation and a premiere institution for research.
Editor’s Note: This blog was featured as an Opinion column published in the November 15, 2020 edition of the Tampa Bay Times.