McAuliffe Acts to Stem Teacher Shortages

Governor Terry McAuliffe is worried about unfilled teacher positions in Virginia, which numbered more than 1,000 two months into the 2016 school year and has increased 40% over the past 10 years.

Accordingly, the governor has proposed a number of palliatives to address the problem, including an executive order allowing Virginia universities to confer four-year education degrees. Currently, prospective teachers require a year of graduate school.

Other measures include putting $1.1 million in the biennial budget to automate the paper-based teacher licensure process; $1 million to recruit and retain principals in Virginia’s most challenged school districts; $225,000 in FY 2020 for tuition assistance for students pursuing a teaching degree; $100,000 over the biennium to cover the cost of tests and test preparation for minority students; and making students eligible for up to $20,000 in loans if they agree to teach two years in school districts with 50% poor kids.

“The teacher shortage is a growing crisis that we have to stop and reverse if we are serious about the Commonwealth’s economic future,” McAuliffe said in a press release. “High quality teachers are the key to unlocking the potential in our children, our Commonwealth, and the new Virginia economy and these steps will help us recruit and retain them across the state.”

“Given the cost of higher education and the severe need for additional teachers,” he said, “I believe changing [the M.A.] requirement will encourage more Virginians to pursue careers in education and will help supply more future teachers to meet the growing needs of our public school system.” 

Bacon’s bottom line: Good for McAuliffe. Once upon a time in Virginia, teaching required no more than an B.A. degree. At some point, based on the logic that more education would turn out better teachers, Virginia began requiring M.A. degrees. I have seen no evidence to suggest that a fifth year improves teacher quality. However, the five-year requirement demonstrably has imposed a major additional burden upon would-be teachers. It should surprise no one that the $25,000-or-so cost to attend college for a fifth year, plus an extra year of lost wages, depressed the number of students interested in entering the profession.

All foes of gratuitous and counter-productive regulation should cheer the governor’s executive action. As for his budget recommendations, the $1.1 million expenditure to automate the teacher licensure process sounds like an investment in more efficient administration. The other budget proposals may or may not prove to be useful, but they will cost in the aggregate less than $1 million more.

Here’s what I would like to know: Are the teacher shortages spread uniformly across the state, or are they worse in areas of concentrated poverty? Actually, I know the answer, but it would be helpful to know the details. Teacher shortages are worst at schools where poverty is endemic, and poverty is strongly associated with student behavioral issues. Young teachers get burned out teaching in classes with disciplinary problems they can’t solve, and they leave the profession in high numbers. Addressing the teacher shortage likely requires addressing the discipline problem as well, but that’s not something McAuliffe can accomplish with a stroke of the executive pen.

Update: Charles Pyle, communications director for the Virginia Department of Education, notes that state guidelines enacted in the late 1980s led to more teachers with M.A. degrees but did not eliminate four-year eligibility. Many education schools still provide undergraduate degrees as seen here (U = undergraduate).

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8 responses to “McAuliffe Acts to Stem Teacher Shortages

  1. Four years and a BA at W&M was sufficient for my wife to start her stellar career, and she picked up the MS later….the goal of adding the mandatory fifth year was indeed to reduce supply in hopes that would raise salaries. Well that didn’t work, did it? I really don’t want to think about how hard a starting teacher has to work these days, and for how few dollars per hour, and how much debt most are now carrying at graduation. Neither of my kids, having watched their mother, followed into the profession. (Too smart to be lobbyists, either.)

    As a former member of SCHEV, however, I kinda want to read that executive order because I don’t think His Excellency can just change all that with a stroke of his pen….unless a previous executive order set the requirement, which would also be dubious.

  2. Is it actually true there is a shortage of teachers? From what I am told you do not need to have a Masters… to be hired.

    Does this mean there is actually a shortage of teachers?

    In our area – near the start of school – there actually were several counties still short…and were scurrying around to get last minute.. in some cases, re-hiring retired.

    To me , one of the biggest issues is the refusal to pay a higher salary for tougher assignments.. That pretty much makes it near impossible to fill slots at the less desireable, tougher demographic to teach – schools which have a horrendous attrition rate and typically staff from newbies and cast-offs in the school system.

    The “Masters” in a lot of cases seems to qualify the teacher for a higher salary but does not actually assign the Masters folks to higher level or higher skill teaching assignments.. It’s basically just a way to increase salary – not increase the skill level per se… it’s just assumed if you have a Masters, you will be a “better” teacher..

    Let’s hear back from Steve who also has a family member doing the real job.

  3. SH: “the goal of adding the mandatory fifth year was indeed to reduce supply in hopes that would raise salaries.”
    JB: “At some point, based on the logic that more education would turn out better teachers, Virginia began requiring M.A. degrees.”

    Of these two explanations, the cynic in me says Steve’s comment reflects the real reason at the time. I doubt the MA (or is it just one post-grad year?) requirement was ever seen as an assurance of “better teachers.”

    Why is it that private schools are allowed to hire anyone who can crawl in the door (generally with a bachelor’s degree in something) and their quality is judged by their output, measured by student testing and school accreditation, yet applicants to teach in public secondary schools have to meet State-mandated “education” requirements before they are eligible for hire? Who are these requirements protecting, and why shouldn’t the entire teacher-prep superstructure be tossed out as just another featherbedding scheme?

    • I agree that Steve’s reasons — restrict supply — was the real reason for requiring the M.A. But the Virginia Education Association would never admit that was the real reason in a million years. So, they had to advance a putative reason — higher quality.

  4. A person needs some training to teach, but, as with many professions, there is clearly an effort to make it difficult for educated people to begin teaching mid-career. And yet, there are lots of very smart, experienced people who would like to spend part of their career teaching in our schools. I’d like to see Ralph Northam pick up what McAuliffe has started by opening the teaching profession to more experienced people who don’t have an education degree.

    What has also helped was the change from a completely defined benefit pension plan to a hybrid plan that allows people to teach for part of their career.

  5. As usual – I feel there is a distinct difference between the early grades teaching and the later grades.

    The early grades is not for folks with career experience in other fields It requires specific skills and expertise especially for kids with reading issues and especially for kids at-risk demographically.. low-income , one parent families.

    These positions require people who have been trained to recognize learning disabilities and know how to correct them.

    That’s WHERE the shortages are and like Acbar I’m a little bemused to hear some talk about “fixing” the “failures” of public school to educate at-risk kids in low-income neighborhoods with “choice” schools of which there are no apparent qualifications for teaching at-risk kids in addition to resistance to being held to the same performance standards.

    I’m still not sure where the Masters requirement idea came from.. It’s NOT true for schools in the Fredericksburg Area ; I’d say the majority of teachers do NOT have Masters.

    Teaching is NOT something any old Tom, Dick and Harry can walk in off the street and do – even for regular kids.. It IS a skill to be able to manage a classroom … try getting 10-20 kids as a group to sit still and listen for any length of time. It’s not for a lot of folks.. no matter how much they “know” in some content area.

  6. Until they get discipline in the classroom and kids, forget it.

  7. There is a nation wide shortage according to an August 2017 article in the WASHPOST BELOW.
    And one approach is to raise class sizes which has happened in Fairfax County where typical elementary school class sizes are around 28 when in Florida the legal limit per classroom is 20 pupils. While I served as State Sup of Schools in 1979 I read several reports indicating that there is a high correlation between class size and learning. But smaller class sizes costs more for more teachers are required. And many school districts do not have the number of classrooms to have lower class size and the numbers are there. While I am not a big fan of governors I have to say thanks to Gov Mc A.

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