States are Fast-Tracking Credentials to Tackle the Teacher Shortage

Educators and classroom support staff are in demand, with states nationwide scrambling to hire and retain the positions. Some states are tackling the problem by easing credentials and partnering to streamline certification processes.

Teachers are leaving the profession at a concerning rate nationwide, and hiring new education staff remains a significant challenge, including in Maryland. Combined with the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, local education agencies (LEAs) are facing a perfect storm scenario around the country — so much so that the ongoing issue has even caught the attention of Congress.

Policy analysis website Stateline recently reported on the issue:

Nationwide, teacher shortages are just as bad as in Virginia, particularly in very rural or low-income inner-city school districts. A working paper from Brown University “conservatively” estimated that as of August 2022, there were 36,000 teacher vacancies across the United States.

Tackling the problem by fast-tracking credentials

States are trying a variety of innovative policies to streamline the process of getting teachers into classrooms. One popular method is to fast-track teacher credentials. For example, Virginia — with approximately 3,500 full-time teacher vacancies — has partnered with a for-profit online teacher credentialing company:

Faced with alarming teacher shortages, Virginia last month agreed to partner with a for-profit online teacher credentialing company, hoping to get more teachers into classrooms faster and without the higher tuition costs of traditional colleges and universities.

Such companies pledge they will get a candidate teacher-ready in about a year. The iteach program includes online courses, after which candidates are placed in classrooms, with some supervision and the agreement of the school districts.

The iteach program is currently working in 11 states, and about 12 states nationwide have relaxed teacher credentials, and more are considering doing so. This approach is not without criticism, however:

The states hope the new paths to certification will help ease the shortages, but critics argue those who take the programs are not as well trained as traditionally credentialed teachers and will do a disservice to young students.

But critics contend that iteach and the other programs that turn out teachers quickly are not subject to the same requirements and depth of instruction as teachers who go the traditional path of four undergraduate years, sometimes at least a year getting a master’s degree, and many months of student teaching under nearly constant supervision by a trained teacher.

Arizona has taken a different approach, enlisting “temporary teachers”:

Some states are pressing “temporary” teachers into service. Arizona last year allowed substitute teachers to take full-time positions to address the teacher shortage in that state. In addition, a law passed last year allows Arizona teacher candidates working toward a college degree to teach at the same time.

Maryland tests a variety of policies

In Maryland, local school districts have tested and implemented a combination of policies to address the state’s ongoing shortage of educational professionals. Several school districts have attempted to address the state’s teacher shortage via financial incentives like retention and hiring bonuses, while others have increased minimum pay for school support staff. Others have adjusted school calendars to incorporate more administrative days off and teacher wellness bonus days.

School staffing challenges were also a topic of concern during the 2022 legislative session, during which several initiatives to boost hiring and retention of school staff were considered, and one bill was passed to provide support staff with $500 bonuses in fiscal years 2023 and 2024 and to study the issue of staffing shortages and pay.

Read the full Stateline report.