Missing Persons

In January of 2016, the Virginia Department of Education (VaDOE) released a legislative study focusing on the shortage of qualified teachers in Virginia’s classrooms. In the three years since the report, additional studies have been commissioned and meetings convened to further consider the economic, demographic and geographic characteristics of teacher recruitment and retention challenges within the commonwealth.

A report by the Virginia Advisory Committee on Teacher Shortages in October 2017 prompted former Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order recognizing the shortage as a “growing crisis” threatening Virginia’s economic footing. McAuliffe’s emergency measures increased funding for recruitment efforts and expanded some forms of tuition assistance for prospective teachers.

Gov. Ralph Northam has maintained a similar emphasis on the shortage, signing bills in his first year in office that streamlined aspects of the teacher licensure process and outlining plans to boost the previously proposed pay raise for teachers from 3 to 5 percent, acknowledging the widely held view that one of the primary factors contributing to the shortage is low teacher pay.

Virginia is, in fact, in the lowest third of states in average teacher pay but it’s not alone in dealing with a teacher shortage.

Nationally, the retirement of baby boomers combined with modest but steady increases in K-12 student enrollment have contributed to shortages in many states. The shortage is exacerbated by a constriction of the pipeline into the field and high rates of attrition for beginning teachers. According to a 2018 study by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), the number of people completing teacher preparation requirements from 2008 to 2016 fell by 23 percent. Of those who do complete the requirements, an increasing number never enter their own classrooms. And many who do enter the classroom leave the profession within five years.

Salary, working conditions and inadequate support are the most frequently cited reasons for truncated teaching careers in both urban and rural settings, with geographic isolation a factor identified by rural teachers, especially those without a prior connection to the rural community in which they taught.

In Virginia, the legislative attention to the issue has somewhat obscured the challenges related to adequate regional distribution of qualified teachers. Virginia’s overall population growth is projected to place it among the 10 most populous states by 2040, but the growth patterns are decidedly regional. According to projections by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, the 19 Northern Virginia counties and cities that make up the VaDOE’s Region 4 will grow in population by 48 percent between 2010 and 2040. In contrast, the 12 local school divisions that make up Southside’s Region 8 are expected to experience a 1.2 percent decline in population in that 30-year span.

Longwood and its College of Education and Human Services are working to help our school division partners address these challenges:

  • We are actively working with high schools to expand “grow-your-own” programs like Virginia Teachers for Tomorrow.
  • Faculty are working closely with the admissions office on targeted recruiting of potential teachers.
  • We are in the process of developing a middle grades exploratory curriculum aimed at feeding into high-school dual-enrollment offerings like Teachers for Tomorrow.
  • Our longstanding partnerships with community colleges are being leveraged in new ways to expand teacher-preparation pipelines, and we are offering transfer students with associate’s degrees a viable path to licensure through some of the streamlined aspects of the new Civitae core curriculum.
  • At the request of some regional school partners, we will be expanding professional development programming that will focus on facets of new-teacher induction that have been empirically shown to reduce attrition and increase the likelihood of long, productive teaching careers.

Research has consistently shown that the quality of a child’s education is highly dependent on the capabilities of her or his teachers. The shortage of qualified teachers, in all its regional forms, represents a challenge that all Virginians should consider as critical. 

About the Author

David

Dr. David Locascio

Dr. David Locascio is an associate professor of education and associate dean of the College of Education and Human Services. He joined the Longwood faculty in 2004.

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