Fixing the Teacher Pipeline
State and local news articles about teacher shortages appear on at least a weekly basis. They’re not evenly spread through schools, but particularly in high poverty and rural areas, they can be extremely serious.
The situation looks like it’s getting worse.
In August of 2022, a systematic examination of teacher shortages from the Annenberg Institute at Brown University looked at each state across the nation, finding 35,000 vacancies and 163,000 positions held by unqualified teachers. Updated data on vacancies this August upped the vacancy number to 49,000 – 35% higher, as reported in the Washington Post.
There are lots of reasons for the shortage, including a high burnout and turnover rate among teachers, lower pay than other fields that require similar levels of education, and plentiful complaints about school culture, diminishing respect for the profession and heightened safety issues.
One clear problem is that the pipeline for teachers is not keeping up with demand – a topic covered in a report released in mid-September by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission in Virginia.
A chart in the JLARC report shows how the pipeline of newly licensed teachers simply can’t replace those that leave the profession in that state.
One pipeline barrier is very simply the cost of preparing to be a teacher – especially when compared to salaries that trail other fields that require similar levels of education. A survey that was part of the JLARC study found that 73% of new teachers who came through traditional preparation programs cited at least one cost item (such as tuition, fees or the cost of licensing tests) as a “moderate or significant barrier” to completion.
Another problem cited in the report is the state-specific Virginia Communication and Literacy Assessment (VCLA) that can provide an early and frustrating block to someone who wants to be a teacher. “Failure to pass required assessments such as the VCLA is a top reason that individuals are unable to enroll in and/or complete preparation programs, according to the report, which notes that the test hasn’t been updated since 2007. It also questions whether some of the test elements are necessary for all teachers – such as copy-editing skills for a math or physical education teacher. An average of 630 test takers fail to pass each year.
A few of JLARC conclusions provide helpful insight on solving the pipeline problem. New teacher apprenticeship programs provide a way to provide a paid classroom experience, utilizing federal workforce dollars. Virginia is not alone in trying out this promising approach. In an October article about The Top 10 Education Trends for 2023, The National Council of State Legislatures noted that at least 16 states have “enacted or proposed legislation to support registered teacher apprenticeships.”
Scholarships also help relieve the expense of teacher preparation programs, though in Virginia and many other states, the scholarship dollars fall very far short of need. Residency programs are another approach that have potential but are currently limited by cost and capacity. In Virginia, they provided placements for “just under 100 individuals,” in School Year 2022-2023.