Teacher Vacancies and COVID-19
The teacher shortage hit an all time high in 2020 when teachers across the country made the switch to remote learning. The pandemic created new challenges for educators and innovators alike to find solutions for the nationwide 44% of districts that reported difficulty filling vacancies. Since 2018, this number has only increased, making access to certified teachers more challenging.
As many schools are on the brink of crisis, districts in Oklahoma are reinstating retired educators, while institutions in Virginia and South Carolina report high rates of teacher burnout. Unattainable expectations, switching to remote learning without proper technology, long working hours, and low salaries in southern states are the main contributing factors to early-retirement and teachers changing professions. High teacher turnover rates in impoverished districts coincide with fewer instructional days, reducing students' access to quality instruction and ability to build on previous knowledge. Thus, more substitutes without certifications are hired in low-income districts as short-term solutions to a growing problem, further reducing education quality and increasing the education equity gap.
Supplementing unqualified and uncertified teachers to schools not only harms student achievement, but disproportionately impacts students of color. On average, low-socioeconomic districts across the country receive 16% less funding per student than districts with less poverty. A 2016 study from the Learning Policy Institute reported that schools with a higher concentration of minority students had four times as many uncertified teachers in the classroom. As teacher vacancies follow an upward trend, underserved districts are compromising on certification requirements, maintaining a chronic cycle of inequitable education by placing fewer experienced instructors in classrooms.
Underprepared teachers and short-term substitutes have higher turnover rates in high poverty schools, resulting in greater education gaps due to fewer instructional days and learning flow disruption for students. The expense of teacher turnover rates also negatively impacts districts which could be investing this money into student learning and improving instructional equipment. Teachers with proper training are more equipped to handle challenging problems and individually approach students with varying solutions according to their educational needs. However, providing incentive for certified teachers to stay in districts and build rapport with students requires higher salaries.
In order to succeed at the same level as students at well-funded schools, more resources are required to “catch students up.” A recent framework developed by the Texas Education Agency proposed seven key factors that are critical to student and teacher success. Of these seven, an increase in teacher quality was directly linked to an increase in student achievement:
Teacher quality focuses on the need to recruit and retain effective teachers while supporting and enhancing the knowledge and skills of current staff with job-embedded professional development. Over two decades of research has demonstrated a clear connection between teacher quality and increased student performance.
What is the solution to reducing intradistrict funding disparities and providing equitable education? Though policymakers have attempted to address funding inequity between districts, differences in access to resources, tutors, and high-quality teachers still persist. The Learning Policy Institute noted that three factors contributed to high rates of turnover including preparation, school leadership, and compensation. Supportive administrators and environments that foster professional development and provide sufficient payment for teachers have higher rates of retention. In addition to this, “Teachers who are well-prepared and well-mentored are much more likely to stay in teaching, as well as to be effective” notes Carver-Thomas of the George Lucas Educational Foundation. In other words, teachers with certifications are more equipped to adapt to student needs and improve comprehension through long-term assessments, where uncertified short-term subs are less equipped to perform these tasks. Thus, short-term solutions continue to foster education inequity.
Virtual education by thoroughly experienced, certified teachers could be the solution to reducing teacher vacancies. Proximity Learning has been a leader in virtual K-12 education for ten years and provided high quality education to over 300 schools. To ensure this process and reduce cost, virtual teachers may administer instruction to multiple classrooms at a time. Innovative solutions that prioritize student comprehension and equity over quantity indicate efficiency and benefit the majority when the “measure of teacher success is determined by student success.”