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Schools amplify inequity with failed solutions to teacher shortage

Virtual teachers can serve in-person or virtual classrooms around the country at the click of a button, providing the quality education that all students deserve
By Evan Erdberg, President and Founder, Proximity Learning
May 16th, 2022

Virtual teachers can serve in-person or virtual classrooms around the country at the click of a button, providing the quality education that all students deserve

We’re racing against a ticking clock to resolve the teacher shortage for our students’ futures as the number of unfilled positions at schools and districts hits record levels.

Every unfilled staff vacancy at a school means that students are not receiving a high-quality education, which has a resounding effect on outcomes. One study shows that 10 additional teacher absences per year lead to 1.2 percent and .6 percent of a standard deviation decrease in math and English test scores, respectively. This principle applies to core subjects, which give students a solid foundation for academic and career success, and enrichment classes, which expand their skill sets and understanding of the world.

The teacher shortage is even more detrimental to students in underserved districts, where teacher absences tend to run higher than the national average of 11 days per year.  

But there has been a solution in front of us the whole time: live-streaming teachers can serve in-person or virtual classrooms around the country at the click of a button, providing the quality education that all students deserve.

Failed solutions

Desperate to solve the teacher shortage, schools are trying everything they can, including pleading for parents to volunteer in classrooms. Meanwhile, state governments are trying to help, sometimes by taking actions that have been frantic, extravagant, or misguided. Tennessee offered free apprenticeships to would-be teachers. New Mexico recruited National Guard members.

Perhaps most alarming is the trend of schools lowering certification requirements for people willing to teach. An AAEE survey found that 16 percent of the teachers hired in the past year did not have traditional preparation and were either emergency hires or had non-traditional preparation.

Urban schools had the highest percentage of teachers with non-traditional preparation hired in the past year (18 percent compared to 13 percent in rural schools and 8 percent in suburban schools). It is a chronic inequality: urban students have access to fewer experienced instructors in classrooms, and their education suffers.

The practical, effective solution

Unlike these failed solutions, virtual teachers can alleviate the main challenges to staffing classrooms:

  • Geography/Location

Almost a quarter (21.8 percent) of schools surveyed by the AAEE cited their undesirable location and demographics as a reason for their difficulty hiring teachers. For virtual teachers, this is a non-issue—they can provide instruction from anywhere in the United States. Moreover, they can move between schools and districts freely. One virtual teacher can handle a class in a rural school in Montana at 10:00 a.m., another in Newark, New Jersey at 1:00 p.m., and yet another in Texas at 3:00 p.m. This flexibility can go a long way toward relieving the teacher supply crunch schools have been battling.

  • Qualifications

The AAEE survey found that almost a third (31.5 percent) of districts hired teachers who did not have traditional preparation, because of a shortage of education majors in colleges. Virtual teaching allows schools to draw from a national pool of qualified candidates rather than being limited to the area around them. Schools could even choose teachers with expertise outside the schools’ usual curriculums, giving students expanded access to elective courses.

Our students deserve stable, equitable learning to set them up for future success. Rather than resorting to outlandish solutions, which may only deepen the inequity and inequality that has plagued schools, school officials should accelerate their switch to utilizing virtual teachers. Either for in-person or virtual classrooms, the talented virtual teachers standing by across the country can help solve the teacher shortage and usher in better days for schools and districts.

About the Author:

Evan Erdberg, President and Founder of Proximity Learning, has over 16 years of online K-12 and higher education human capital management experience. Prior to Proximity Learning, Evan was the director of Teachscape, managing one of the largest implementations in the country of principal certification and teacher evaluation systems that incorporated student data.

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