Liz McCormick Published

About 1,000 Vacancies Exist In K-12 Schools, But A New Residency Program Could Help Turn The Tide

Teacher vacancy in the ad of job search newspaper with loupe.

West Virginia K-12 schools are experiencing a teacher shortage in all subjects, but there are five areas where that shortage is seen as critical.

Those subjects include math and science, special education, elementary education and counseling — and the shortage is felt most in southern counties, according to the West Virginia Department of Education.

Education reporter Liz McCormick spoke about this challenge recently with Carla Warren, director of Educator Development and Support Services in the WVDE’s Office of Teaching and Learning.

They discussed the scope of the teacher shortage in West Virginia along with solutions to tackle it. One of those solutions identified by the department requires that by fall 2024, every student exiting a university teaching program in West Virginia must participate in a full-year residency program in one classroom, in one school.

The idea is to create an immersive experience for the new educator and build a sense of community.

The transcript below is from the original broadcast. It has been lightly edited for clarity. 

Listen to the extended version of the interview for more of the conversation. 

Extended: About 1,000 Vacancies Exist In K-12 Schools, But A New Residency Program Could Help Turn The Tide

McCormick: We know from talking with teachers and county superintendents that many counties are experiencing a shortage in some form, but can you give us a sense of the magnitude of this issue here in West Virginia?

Warren: Sure, thank you. So, the overarching problem is that collectively as stakeholders, we are not recruiting, preparing and retaining enough qualified individuals into the profession to successfully provide equitable access to all of our students in West Virginia. There are many reasons for this, but if we look at some of the data, we see that based on the latest retention and mobility data, that 20 percent of our beginning teachers are leaving [the profession] after their first year, which is twice the national average, over a similar time period.

We also are seeing that about 32 percent of West Virginia teachers are leaving the profession within the first four years of entering the classroom. So that attrition piece is a large magnitude. And of course, we know that the financial cost to our districts is large, because when a teacher leaves a classroom, it’s about an average of $9,000 in a rural district, [and] up to $21,000 for an urban county to retrain a new teacher. So those attrition costs add up very quickly.

We know that one of our goals is to expand the number of high quality educators in our state. We are seeing that our students who are coming out of educator preparation programs in the state are well prepared to enter the classroom, but the problem is input. We don’t have enough students being recruited into the profession, for multiple reasons, to staff our classrooms.

McCormick: Do we know why they’re leaving our schools?

Warren: There are some top recurring causes, and I think it’s important to emphasize that this is not a West Virginia problem. This is a national problem. Of course, teacher shortages have been increased by COVID — that has made everything exaggerated. But of course, the low pay and benefits are an issue for West Virginia teachers. If you look at some of the new data that just came out of the Southern Regional Education Board, it shows [West Virginia], particularly [compared to] our border counties, there’s about a $10,000 difference for a teacher teaching in West Virginia and driving 10 miles to teach in Maryland. It’s the same in Virginia, it’s about a $5,000 difference. So we know that costs and benefits are part of the problem.

If we look at the national stage, we know that lack of respect and esteem for the profession is a concern for many teachers, or many students entering the education profession. And then again, back to that attrition piece, we have fewer students entering [the profession], and we have more teachers retiring.

You think about our population, we have a tremendous population that’s over the age of 50. So we have a lot of teachers exiting, and we’re not replenishing the hole in that leaky bucket.

McCormick: You mentioned the pandemic and how it exacerbated this issue that was already occurring. Can you talk a little bit more about how much COVID-19 has impacted our state?

Warren: The teacher shortage is a nationwide phenomenon, and it’s not a new phenomenon in West Virginia. There have been teacher shortages for quite a while in our area. But a research study that just came out of [West Virginia University] indicates that there are about 1,000 vacancies in our schools. And I believe, pre-pandemic, that number hovered more closely to 700.

What is very important to make sure that we understand, though, is that these are not classrooms that are sitting empty. These are not classrooms that don’t have teachers. These are classrooms that may not have a fully certified teacher. However, we are struggling currently with a substitute shortage. So what we have are teachers and principals and superintendents that are covering classrooms, they’re riding on bus routes, they’re serving food in the kitchen, they’re helping the custodian, they’re teaching classes.

We have one superintendent that shared with us that he blocks off two days a week to go into a classroom and teach a course. And COVID has, of course, exacerbated this.

McCormick: Talk with me about some of the plans and goals that the West Virginia Department of Education is looking at right now to help alleviate this problem.

Warren: Absolutely. The Educator Preparation Task Force is looking at recruitment. Part of that task force is looking more closely at the quality of educator preparation programs currently — and these would be our university programs — and also looking at innovation in education.

One of the things that the state department of education and the West Virginia Board of Education have implemented is a residency model, which went into full implementation on July 1, 2021. This says that by the fall of 2024, every student exiting a university educator preparation program will have a full-year residency in one classroom in one school. They will spend the entire year under the tutelage of a cooperating teacher.

So they’ll see the school year begin, they’ll see the school year end, and they’ll become a part of that school environment — that culture. And there is some significant research that tells us that students who are prepared through a clinical residency, remain in the school system and remain in the profession.

There’s only one other state currently that requires an undergraduate residency, and that is Louisiana. There are several master’s level residences in the country, but we feel like West Virginia is leading the nation and providing strong clinical opportunities for our teachers.