Despite graduating with a degree in sociology, Katie Davis is in her fourth year teaching math at the Einstein School.
Her principal defends Davis’ position at the Gainesville school, saying the one-time volunteer was exceptional and had tremendous math skills.
Davis is a familiar case at Florida’s D and F schools, where educators are likely to find themselves teaching classes outside of their expertise.
The Florida Department of Education’s 2013-2014 “Identification of Critical Teacher Shortage Areas” report reveals about 7.2 percent of teachers in D schools are teaching out of their fields. At F schools, it is 7.3 percent. The statewide average for all schools is 4.6 percent.
Reading, math and science are among the subjects with a critical shortage of educators certified to teach these classes.
For some of these subjects, school districts are placing teachers in subjects outside of their expertise, instead of hiring new ones.
The Einstein School, a charter school for students with reading or language disabilities, is classified as a low-performing school. It received a D in 2012 and an F in 2013, according to Florida Department of Education records.
Of the 40 public schools in Alachua County, nine are classified as low performing in the report.
Beverly Finley, a human resources supervisor for Alachua County Public Schools, said the issue is not prominent in Alachua County because the schools listed in the report are elementary schools, with the exception of Hoggetowne Middle School.
“This would be more of a middle school or high school issue,” Finley said. “We make every effort not to put our teachers out of field.”
James Goode, the supervisor of teacher recruitment for Hillsborough County Public Schools, stressed his county’s awareness of the issue. Hillsborough County, the eighth-largest school district in the nation, has 30 low-performing schools out of its 266, according to the report.
Principals must request out-of-field assignment for teachers and receive approval from human resources, according to the Hillsborough County website.
Being an out-of-field teacher is not particularly difficult, but not just anyone can fill the position, Goode said.
Teachers in Hillsborough County must hold a certificate in order to teach an out-of-field subject.
However, full certification is not immediately required. Out-of-field teachers must also earn at least six semester hours toward an out-of-field certification per year or pass the Florida Department of Education Subject Area Examination.
The problem of out-of-field teaching is not due to the lack of training or education on the part of the teachers, according to a National Center for Education Statistics study. The issue is teaching subjects they do not have a background in.
Nikolai Vitti, the superintendent of Duval County Public Schools, said out-of-field teaching is a problem throughout the country, especially in larger school districts in Florida. Duval County had 27 low-performing schools out of 192.
Vitti said that statewide stressors on out-of-field teachers could be misinterpreted. The problem is significantly higher in middle and high schools, but he does not believe out-of-field teaching specifically contributes to a school’s low grade.
He believes it comes down to the quality of the teacher. He said expanding the county’s certification-training program is one way to close the gap of teacher shortages in these areas.
Vitti said he wants to see more flexibility and funding at the state level for teachers to demonstrate their competency, and show that their students are high performing regardless of whether or not they are teaching in their field.
“I think sometimes being in-field, if you will, is overemphasized,” Vitti said. “There’s no question that nowadays, in order to be certified … it’s a matter of taking some classes, and I’m not quite sure if those classes can fairly be linked to raising student achievement.”
Christine Aurelio, the principal at the Einstein School, said Davis was an exceptional volunteer with “tremendous math skills,” so she was hired.
“If I felt I needed a math teacher with better skills and better teaching ability, I would have hired one,” Aurelio said.