Early Childhood Educator Turnover Rate in Florida

Turnover in Early Childhood Education (ECE) Jobs in Florida: Overview

Some of the most important years for child development happen between birth and the age of 8, and well-trained, dedicated teachers in the field of early childhood education play one of the most important roles in this development. Recently, there has been a steady decrease in the number of early education professionals, especially in the state of Florida. According to the Florida Education Association (FEA), in August of 2021, there were 4,961 K-12 teaching vacancies, which was a 67% increase from August 2020. For early childhood education in Florida specifically, the Florida Division of Early Learning reported that for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, there were 12,609 children on wait lists for School Readiness (SR) Programs, which are designed to offer access to early education to low-income Florida families. It is crucial that Florida, including schools and legislatures, address the ongoing challenge of high teacher turnover rates so that young children in the state have their educational needs met.

The Extent of Early Childhood Educator Turnover

According to the Florida Department of Education's Identification of Critical Teacher Shortage Areas for 2022-23 report, there are several critical teacher shortage areas in early childhood education for the 2021-2022 year, including

  • Elementary Education: 751 current vacancies
  • Pre-K/Primary Education: 216 current vacancies

These vacancies are also predicted to rise in the coming year. The effect of a high teacher turnover rate can't be overstated. Simply put, a high turnover rate destabilizes the educational system, decreasing the effectiveness of both the care and education of children attending those schools, while increasing the budget costs at the same time. The teacher shortage report also shows that the high turnover rate now requires 13.8% of teachers to teach outside of their fields, which has been shown to decrease student performance. The combination of fewer teachers and retraining issues has led to more teachers leaving the field. The Florida Division of Early Learning points out that 40% of Florida teachers leave the profession in their first five years, a rate that is 15-20% above the national average.

Reasons for the High Teacher Turnover Rate in Florida

The high teacher turnover rate in early childhood education has been a long-standing problem that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The teacher turnover rate in Florida and the high number of unfulfilled teaching positions are ultimately caused by several dynamic factors, such as:

  • Florida's low rate of teacher pay
  • New teachers resigning due to dissatisfaction in the workplace
  • The COVID-19 pandemic

Compensation and the Teacher Turnover Rate

Perhaps the most important factor driving Florida's high early childhood education teacher turnover rate is educator compensation. Florida has historically low teacher wage and compensation rates. The National Education Association (NEA), which produces an annual report on teacher salaries in each state, ranked Florida low on the list for average 2020-2021 teacher salaries. Here are the bottom five states on NEA's ranking:

  • Mississippi: $46,862
  • South Dakota: $49,547
  • West Virginia: $50,261
  • Florida: $51,009
  • Missouri: $51,557

The average wage of an early education teacher in Florida also depends on the setting in which they work. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports, for 2021:

  • Preschool teachers, except special education made an average of $29,890
  • Kindergarten teachers, except special education made an average of $59,040
  • Elementary school teachers, except special education made an average of $61,510

According to the 2012 National Survey of Early Care and Education, teacher turnover rates are directly correlated with wages. Their findings show that high-wage educational centers saw a lower turnover rate compared to centers that offered lower pay. The study also found that the lowest-paying 25% of centers paid $8.17 as an average hourly wage and had an average turnover rate of 19% in 2012. The other 75% of centers paid an average of $16.73 per hour and had an average turnover rate of 12%.

The survey noted that in addition to higher pay, non-wage benefits, such as health insurance, retirement packages, and paid time off for professional development, did nothing to affect the turnover rate in most schools; however, most non-wage benefits were found in centers with higher wages. The conclusion we can draw is that the low wages for early education teachers in Florida are a determining factor for whether teachers stay in the profession or not.

Work Conditions and Teacher Resignation

Second, work conditions and teacher burnout are major causes of high teacher turnover. Work conditions that include stress, lack of respect and feeling valued, student behavior, administration issues, workload, and lack of support all contribute to why teachers resign from their positions. The NEA published a member survey on January 31, 2022, showing just how alarming the burnout rate is for teachers. Teachers ranked burnout from a somewhat serious issue (90%) to a very serious issue (67%). Such drastic numbers show the majority of teachers are facing tough working conditions, leading to burnout, which is playing a role in why states like Florida can't retain teachers.

The COVID-19 Pandemic and the Teacher Turnover Rate

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including school closures and the switch to online learning, have been a drain on teachers and schools nationwide and have added to teacher turnover rates. The NEA survey also asked members about how the pandemic had affected them and their colleagues. The numbers speak for themselves with 91% of respondents agreeing that 'pandemic-related stress' is a 'serious problem for educators.' Further, 86% of teachers stated they had witnessed more of their fellow educators retiring early or leaving the profession since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even more startling, the NEA survey indicated that 55% of teachers were considering leaving the professions sooner than they originally planned, almost double the number found in July 2020. The percentage of teachers thinking about leaving the education field was worse for Black teachers (62%) and Hispanic and Latin-American teachers (59%).

Another troubling fact the survey uncovered was that age and experience were not factors for pandemic-related turnover: Teachers under 50 (56%), 50 and up (54%), and teachers with less than a decade (50%) or more than two decades (57%) teaching are looking to quit sooner than they planned. On the whole, the COVID-19 pandemic and the disruptions it has caused have led to more teachers exiting the educational field altogether.

Ways to Reduce Early Education Turnover in Florida

There is no one-step solution to solving the early childhood educator turnover crisis in Florida. However, there are many ways to reduce Florida's high early childhood educator turnover rates at both the state and local levels.

Increased Compensation and Benefits

First, one way to reduce teacher turnover is to increase teacher salaries and wages. As Florida simply has too few teachers to fill available early education positions, higher salaries can attract new candidates. Here are a few of the other benefits of increasing teacher pay:

  1. It encourages potential teachers to view teaching as an appealing profession with good pay.
  2. It discourages current teachers from switching to new industries due only to better pay.
  3. It encourages teachers to teach within struggling, low-income areas that they might typically avoid.
  4. It discourages teachers from taking on a second job, mostly as their income from teaching is enough for them to live well.

Further, because high pay keeps teachers teaching, it also helps to improve classroom behavior and student academic support as teachers are better able to focus on their teaching and creating relationships with their students.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness

Additionally, according to many education experts, student loan forgiveness could help educator retention. Florida first passed the Critical Teacher Shortage Student Loan Forgiveness Program into law on October 15, 2002. Over several years the state modified the law three times before repealing the law on May 11, 2011.

The three areas the teacher shortage program covered were:

  • Loan forgiveness for teachers in specific areas with high teacher shortages
  • Reimbursed tuition for teachers who chose to work in shortage areas
  • Provided a single-year bonus if a certified high school teacher taught a designated subject

The National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research investigated Florida's Critical Teacher Shortage Program for "hard-to-staff" areas and found many reasons for such a program to remain in place. Their conclusions were:

  • The loan forgiveness program decreased teacher loss in high-need areas
  • The higher the payouts the greater the effect on teacher retention
  • A more significant chance a teacher would be certified for a high-need area
  • There was no difference between the quality of teachers who got a tuition reimbursement and those who did not

By investing in programs like this, which Florida ended, is one way to incentivize new teachers to teach and stay in Florida.

Targeted Teacher Recruitment Efforts

Teacher recruitment is another way Florida can begin to reduce teacher turnover. The FEA points out that teacher recruitment potential in Florida is weak. Their study shows that just 5% of students have shown any desire to become teachers. Likewise, the critical teacher shortage report found that there are not enough graduating education majors in Florida to fill current open positions and replace teachers who have retired or left their position for other reasons. This report also states that only 3,300 students studying education graduated to become teachers in 2020.

What is the most prominent reason for the decrease in teaching program students? An ACT survey showed that of 2,400 high school students, only 5% expressed interest in becoming a teacher. Some of the top reasons why students weren't interested in pursuing a career in teaching include:

  • Teaching didn't pay well
  • No opportunity for career development
  • Lack of respect for teachers
  • The focus on only "teaching for the test"

To attract and retain teachers, states like Florida as well as colleges must change the perception of prospective teachers have of the profession. The ACT survey concluded that the best way to recruit teachers was to make efforts to increase wages, educate students on the different subjects and areas a teacher can work in, and inform them of the other benefits and compensation packages that come with teaching.

The High Turnover Rate and Reducing Burnout

One way to ensure teachers don't suffer from burnout is to offer them support starting on their first day in the classroom. Often, new teachers feel as if they are provided little external support as they adjust to being in the classroom. This often dampens new teachers' enthusiasm for the job as they struggle with the responsibility of managing a classroom on their own, developing their teaching strategy, and navigating their new careers.

Teacher Induction Programs

A strategy for offering support for new teachers is adopting the model of teacher induction programs, which are comprehensive programs that might include things like:

  • Pairing new teachers with mentors who are veteran teachers
  • Workshops focusing on professional development
  • Feedback on performance
  • Training on assessment, using technology, and instruction strategies
  • Orientations that introduce the new teacher to how the school and school district operates

These programs have been shown to cut turnover rates and help keep teachers in the classroom.

Principal Involvement

Another similar way to reduce turnover is to encourage principals to get involved in training their new teachers. Supportive principles are especially useful in helping new teachers adjust. By getting involved in new teacher training through observations and offering beneficial feedback, principals can help teachers grow and refine their teaching skills.

Mental Health and Wellness

Schools themselves can play a big part in helping to retain teachers and alleviate burnout. The first step, of course, is listening to teachers and reacting to their needs. There are many ways schools can promote wellness and improve teachers' mental health, such as:

  1. Encouraging teachers to set boundaries, which might mean not answering emails on the weekend or in the evening
  2. Decreasing administrative responsibilities, such as paperwork
  3. Allowing teachers to take breaks, whether that means setting aside time in the day to take a walk or having another teacher take over the class for a few minutes
  4. Priotizing mental health wellness through programs, activities, and awareness
  5. Giving teachers actual free time for lesson planning, grading, and collaboration with other teachers

By creating supportive school environments, teachers are less likely to feel burnout as they know they can turn to their school for support.

Provide FTCE Test-Related Elementary Education Training

Last, to improve Florida's teacher turnover rate and increase teacher recruitment it is crucial to help teachers prepare for the Florida Teacher Certification Examinations (FTCE) and to also help cover the cost of becoming a certified teacher. A great way to increase the number of early education teachers is to offer low-cost FTCE practice tests that help teachers pass their certification exams so that they can get in the classroom quickly without having to re-rake their FTCE exams.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you become an early education teacher in Florida?

    To become an early education teacher in Florida, you must earn a bachelor's degree, complete a teacher preparation program, and pass the required Florida Teacher Certification Examinations (FTCE).

  • What is a teacher turnover rate and why is it important?

    A teacher turnover rate reflects the number of teachers who leave the teaching profession altogether or leave they school the work at. Teacher turnover rates are important as they help us understand what areas are suffering from teacher shortages and where we need to concentrate on hiring teachers.

  • Why does Florida have a high turnover rate for early education teachers?

    Florida has a high turnover rate for early education teachers for several reasons. First, Florida offers teachers one of the lowest salaries in the country, and teacher salary has been proven to affect teacher retention with higher pay encouraging teachers to stay in the profession. Like teachers in other states, teachers in Florida have suffered from burnout, some of which was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to teachers leaving the field.