K-12 Debacle Update: Richmond Teacher Shortage

Richmond Superintendent Jason Kamras in happier days. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

The Richmond Public School System is facing a teacher shortage after 25% of the system’s teaching staff resigned at the end of the 2021-22 school year. RPS is trying to fill 176 positions before the school year starts in August, reports WRIC television.

RPS has formed a teacher retention task force and is partnering with teacher residency programs at Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia State University, Superintendent Jason Kamras told the School Board Monday.

Kamras proposed offering incentives worth up to $10,000 for new teachers, including $6,000 for relocation expenses and another $4,000 for teachers filling critical shortage fields. The money for incentives and recruiting would come from the federal stimulus fund. If the shortage is not resolved when the school year starts in August, said WRIC, the school will hire substitutes, deploy staff not currently assigned classrooms and adjust class sizes.

“We need to create incentives to keep and track experienced teachers,” Kamras said Monday night. “We are in a moment that requires extraordinary steps to meet extraordinary circumstances. That’s why I am moving forward with these incentives to help close the gaps over these next few weeks.”

Bacon’s bottom line: When 25% of your teachers resign in one year, you’ve got a serious problem. Resignations are high across the state, but that 25% figure might be unprecedented. Throwing huge wads of money at the problem might address the shortage this year, but that strategy is good only as long as the federal stimulus funds last.

Of Kamras’ ideas, redeploying administrative staff to teaching positions sounds like the best one. Fewer administrators, more teachers — a win-win proposition!

Like all Virginia schools, Richmond has been chronically short of teachers this time of year. This is not a new problem. It’s just gotten worse. In a functional school system, superintendents would seek to address underlying problems by asking why teachers are deserting in droves. Is the problem pay or working conditions? Repeated surveys indicate that teachers are most frustrated by the latter. What specifically frustrates them, and can the unhappiness be addressed?

Here is the problem with Richmond and many other Virginia school systems: superintendents, school boards and teachers unions are captive to a left-wing paradigm for how the world works. Above all things, they blame “systemic racism” for what ails the schools, even now, after years of implementing “anti-racist” policies. Besides that evergreen explanation, they have two new things to blame: the disruptions caused by COVID and right-wing activist parents inserting themselves into school curricula and badgering teachers.

Of course, Kamras and his ideological ilk were the ones who insisted that the schools switch to remote learning, so they should be held accountable for that. As for disruptive conservative parents, they aren’t much in evidence in Richmond. City voters went 77% for Terry McAuliffe last year, and I doubt that many among the 23% who favored Glenn Youngkin have kids in Richmond public schools. In any case, conservative agitators have been notable by their absence in Richmond school board meetings.

Although I have seen no school-by-school breakdown of the teacher shortages, anecdotal evidence suggests that teacher resignations are highest in high-poverty schools. Teachers are weary of the breakdown in order (some fear for their physical safety), they’re frustrated by the unwillingness of many children to learn, they’re dismayed by the widespread practice of social promotion, they’re discouraged by their interaction with parents, they are restive under administrators who think the way to foster learning is to micro-manage them and demand more paperwork, they don’t feel the administration has their backs in disputes with students and parents, and they’re generally burned out from overwork.

Rather than addressing these real problems, school boards around Virginia have focused on implementing “progressive” ideologies on matters of race and gender. Drawing from news headlines just today: conservative Hanover County is building “no gender” bathrooms in its new John M. Gandy elementary School, and in conservative Bedford County, parents are roiling over a planned drag-show performance at Jefferson Forest High School. The left blames conservative parents for creating the controversies, but there can be no denying where these cultural “innovations” originate — not from the parents.

Meanwhile, as attention focuses on these cultural effluvia, academic performance continues its sickening plunge. We’ll see the full extent of the damage in August when the Virginia Department of Education publishes the results of the Standards of Learning (SOL) exams from this spring.

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51 responses to “K-12 Debacle Update: Richmond Teacher Shortage”

  1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    You state that repeated surveys show that teachers are most frustrated by working conditions. You then assert that the main problem is that “Superintendents, school boards and teachers unions are captive to a left-wing paradigm for how the world works.” Following that is the laundry list of your familar complaints. My question: Do we know what the surveys actually revealed about teacher complaints or are you just superimposing your view as to what you assume are the conclusions of the surveys, based on your ideological framework and the input from one or two teachers?

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      The suddenness of the high attrition seems to indicate a sudden change. Pay has not suddenly dropped. So, it seems reasonable to assume that something other than pay is causing the “rush to the exits”.

      I personally think the fallout from COVID is likely the root problem. I was speaking with my youngest son’s principal (10th grade) in the Spring. He told me that my son’s school was experiencing a much higher rate of discipline problems than before COVID. Beyond that, he said that in his conversations with other principals the issue was widespread. In addition to discipline problems I think we all know that at-home learning was chaotic and students did not progress at the expected rate when the schools were shuttered.

      I’d also guess that the “great resignation” opened up a lot of positions that teachers find potentially appealing – outside of teaching. One of my responsibilities at my current employer is to run our electronic marketing operation. That responsibility includes looking at our corporate website, seeing which companies are visiting and noting which web pages on our site they are viewing. I see a lot of accesses from public school systems. They all go to our “Careers” page. Since we require college education (or, at least, some college) I don’t think it’s the students looking for jobs.

      If you are a college educated teacher looking at a huge dropoff in educational progress (due to COVID), not making much money, a long way from vesting in the retirement plan during a time when there are a lot of good jobs open … you consider your options.

      Fortunately for Richmond and other jurisdictions – Joe Biden’s coming recession will take much of the wind out of the employment sails. A steady teaching job might look pretty good in a few months.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        mostly true stuff….

    2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      What is the ideological framework from which you challenge Jim’s interpretation of the teacher resignation data, Dick.

      How do you explain that tsunami of teacher resignations since the children returned to in-school learning?

      I honestly want to know.

      We can believe the resignation numbers.

      But we never will have employee exit survey data that we can believe.

      What does it profit a teacher on a school system exit interview to tell the truth if she despises her supervisor and the way the school is conducted? – nothing.

      What does it profit her to lie if:
      – she needs a letter of recommendation for her next job; or,
      – perhaps wants to retain the option return to teaching in that district at some future point? Potentially a lot

      Bottom line: Few employees tell the truth in job exit interviews.

      So arguing over the reasons for teachers leaving is left to attempts at correlation, because we will never have good data on causation.

      But teachers certainly are leaving in record numbers. So we have to make changes to retain and attract them.

      The teachers unions say it is all about money, because their ideology will not permit them to look elsewhere for causes.

      Well, teachers are resigning while pay is going up.

      Readers can, and surely will, continue to disagree on the causes for teachers leaving.

      I have offered changes in the system to give Virginia public school teachers more choices of teaching and learning environments in which to teach. And not coincidentally, more teaching and learning environment choices for parents.

      I believe everybody wins under those circumstances? What do you think?

      1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        I am not trying to use an ideological framework to explain the large number of resignations. Jim referred to surveys and then seemed to try to connect the results of the surveys to his familiar list of deficiencies. I was just trying to determine if he had actual survey results that led to those conclusions or if he was superimposing his viewpoints on the surveys.

        There would be a way for Richmond or any school district or educational organization to attempt to ascertain why teachers were leaving , other than exit interviews–anonymous surveys. In fact, this presents the Youngkin administration a golden opportunity to show whether its criticisms during the campaign and the first months of the administration were on target. It could obtain a list of non-returning teachers from each jurisdiction and send each teacher a survey to be completed anonymously and mailed back. The data compiled from such a survey could be invaluable.

        Personally, I think the explanation put forth by Don Rippert above makes more sense than any put forward by either of the two ideological camps.

        By the way, I tend to agree with your alternatives although they are not new; they exist at some level today. However, I have the same reservations as others expressed concerning the separate school for the “disrupters”.

        1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
          James C. Sherlock

          Thank you.

          My own take is that the great resignation centers around student discipline (academic and behavioral), and absenteeism issues, and the options in the job market, which puts you, me and Don in the same camp.

          The difference between progressives and me – correct me if I am wrong – is that I see the ways that the schools, under laws passed during the Democratic Restoration in Richmond, to work around those problems with progressive solutions as causal/exacerbating factors:

          – homework, class participation and tests don’t count rules as in Albemarle County;
          – no SOLs;
          – no out-of-school suspensions or expulsions, replacing them with multilevel restorative justice practices that keep bad actors with the good kids.
          – pronoun rules with suspensions and firings for teachers who don’t comply;
          – schools getting into the transgender kids assessment business;
          I could go on.

          Progressives think conservatives’ position on those issues not only antediluvian, but call us radicals when we point out that all of the progressive received wisdom from Richmond on K-12 education came under that recent Democratic restoration.

          So nothing written here will change the wall of separation between conservatives and progressives. Both sides are fighting for people in the middle.

          In that environment, I try to find solutions that have some chance of bi-partisan support. I give up some ground in my personal policy preferences to seek that middle ground. Those are the only laws and regulations with promise of stability. I think you are in that same camp.

          The progressive interregnum in Richmond wrote laws in sand. The windstorm is coming.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            You spend a lot of time on Richmond schools as has Bacon “Here is the problem with Richmond and many other Virginia school systems: ”

            I don’t think comparing Richmond to NoVa or RoVa is useful.

            Richmond is nothing like Fairfax or even Henrico or Chesterfield although there are schools in Henrico and Chesterfield that border Richmond that has similar issues.

            I’m AGOG that ya’ll seem to have no clue why teachers are leaving – after spending the better part of two years impugning them nonstop in BR.

            Over and over and over in BR – teachers have been blamed from everything from unions, to in-person/remote, to CRT, to masking, to “grooming” and assigning “obscene” books and that’s just the short list.

            How many blog posts and times have teachers been called leftist and “woke” in BR ? Seems like almost a daily occurrence sometimes.

            So then we speculate about WHY they are resigning in droves – looking all around and can’t see why, a real puzzle!
            great googamooga!

      2. YellowstoneBound1948 Avatar

        Unassailable, unimpeachable reasoning. Thank you.

  2. Lefty665 Avatar

    Is the problem pay or working conditions? The answer is likely “Yes”.

  3. Cynthia  Phillips Avatar
    Cynthia Phillips

    Multiple surveys, interviews have said that people quit the jobs they love because of working conditions, and micromanaging bosses. some might be able to put up with one or the other but not both. family women who were teachers quit long before they should have because they became babysitters and disciplinarians. between the problem kids, the way over the top paperwork and the feeling admin didn’t back them, they said they weren’t teaching much and TEACH is what they wanted to do..

  4. James C. Sherlock Avatar
    James C. Sherlock

    Yet, when we offer systemic changes to make the teachers jobs more rewarding and give them choices of what type of public school in which to work, the left feigns outrage. https://www.baconsrebellion.com/want-to-retain-teachers-give-them-choices-within-the-public-school-system/

    If not outrage, we get pop-sociological tripe like:

    “Those who are poor have much worse outcomes per decision than those who are not.”

    “A child whose parents are not well educated and poor has far less “free will” than kids of well-educated , economically secure parents.”

    I could not make that up.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Says Mr. fount of knowledge about govt: 😉

      actually a real name for it : “economically disadvantaged”


      as in like “free will” will get a kid without lunch a “free lunch”

      so yeah, why is the govt giving away stuff to kids if the kids can just exercise their “free will” to get it?

      or some folks who claim Success Academies are designed for kids whose “free will” won’t get them into a good school.


  5. Bubba1855 Avatar

    “deploy staff not currently assigned classrooms and adjust class sizes.” Say it ain’t so Joe…what? i have to go back into the classroom…BTW, are admin jobs in a similar situation? I doubt it.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      In Spotsylvania, they are re-deploying paras as classroom teachers..

      don’t get me wrong, a good para is worth their weight in gold primarily in assisting the classroom teacher but what will the paras do if they become the classroom teacher?

      Oh wait.. how about we use administrators to replace the paras?

      1. Matt Hurt Avatar
        Matt Hurt

        I know paras that would be wonderful classroom teachers. I also have known fully endorsed teachers who were not.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          to note – they’re only converting paras that are actively engaged in the process of getting degree/license.

  6. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    “Rather than addressing these real problems, school boards around Virginia have focused on implementing “progressive” ideologies on matters of race and gender. ”

    Ya can’t argue with the Republicans on the high road because you will never find them there.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      it’s an amazing narrative… for sure..

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Notice how Bacon’s the only one still talking about it? Voting is done and everyone else has moved on from the campaign stunts. It’s like the guy who doesn’t get the joke. Waiting to pick up on the next election cycle theme.

  7. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    Message for Glen Y. Are you paying attention to this? The teachers that have left are good. They have parachutes. They are going to land on their feet. The students left behind do not have parachutes or even a seat cushion/flotation device. Please tell me you are not going to just sit there on Capitol Square while this slow motion disaster rolls out for the first day of school.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      You know what is going to happen , right? They’re gonna hire folks, right? But they won’t be licensed or skilled at teaching?

      What should Youngkin do?

      I always heard the teachers who taught the SOL grades were “on the bubble” for the scores and it was a tougher gig than teaching a non-SOL grade. True?

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        “What should Youngkin do?” I guess run for President.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          BEFORE he “fixes” Virginia Schools? geeze…

    2. Agreed. It’s totally fair to blame the previous administration for a lot of what’s happening in the schools, and there are no quick fixes for the rot in the organizational culture of many districts. But there have been abundant warning signs of the impending teacher shortfall, and that’s something that can be addressed at least in part. Perhaps Team Youngkin is working on this, but I haven’t seen much sign of it. The shortage is shaping up as a critical emergency, and the VDOE needs to get on top of it (1) as far as highlighting the problem and (2) working with localities to increase the supply of teachers? For example, can we relax licensure requirements to make it easier to recruit retirees into the teaching workforce?

      1. Stephen Haner Avatar
        Stephen Haner

        It is hardly just Virginia.

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          But only in blue states, like Texas and Virginia, right?

        2. LarrytheG Avatar

          Correct, but count on Bacon to just ignore that and make the same lame partisan/culture war argument.

      2. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        I just checked the VDOE Superintendent Jillian Balow’s July monthly memo to division school leaders. Not one mention of this impending disaster. Not even a good luck wish I could help you message.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          is Balow – Youngkins pick to lead VDOE?

          1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
            James Wyatt Whitehead


      3. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        Yes, Mr. B, relaxing the licensure requirements would be one immediate thing Youngkin can do. Do not relax the background checks. There are already way too many teachers in the news for the wrong reasons.

        52 advertised vacant teaching positions in Fauquier County. 17 day suntil the first day of school. In normal times, if you can remember back that far now, it would be just a handful of vacancies.

        Washington DC news reports 250 vacancies in Loudoun.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          can someone explain why relaxing the licensure requirements makes it easier for retirees to return?

          Why wouldn’t we be doing that already if it is a way to increase skilled teacher numbers?

          1. Matt Hurt Avatar
            Matt Hurt

            Here’s the thing that makes it a sweat deal to return to the classroom after retirement- double dipping.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            Hey, THANKS for weighing in! I see your two references and the addressing of the critical shortage issue. The first one has a 2008 date on it and I’m not understanding it’s relevance to the current shortage.

            THe second memo is brand new but I’m still not seeing what RECENT changes are being made to “up” the incentives for returning from retirement.

            I don’t actually “see” (or understand) the “sweet deal” that you allude to.

            But again, much appreciate you weighing in – on an issue- that really will benefit from comments from someone who is actually directly involved in the issue.

          3. Matt Hurt Avatar
            Matt Hurt

            Basically, the first memo communicates to public school divisions that retired Virginia educators can come back to work, earn their full salary, and continue to receive their VRS retirement payments all the while. The second document was to be taken up at the BOE meeting this week (which was rescheduled for lack of a quorum) to verify the critical shortage areas in which retired teachers could come back to work and still retain their VRS payments.

            I think my initial typo may have been a Freudian slip, as those retirees would certainly bust a sweat these days if they came back to the classroom.

        2. WayneS Avatar

          In a few years, after I retire, I’d be willing to take a crack at teaching science and/or math to middle and high school students.

          I’ve racked up a 30+ year career as a professional civil engineer, during which I have used math and science pretty much every day. I’ve also mentored and trained numerous young “engineers in training” at various places of employment in both the private and public sector.

          I don’t have a degree in education, though, so I’m probably not qualified to teach.

          1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
            James Wyatt Whitehead

            Mr. Wayne you should reach out to two of my old friends from Briar Woods HS. Coach Scott was a career switcher and he can tell you how to navigate the hoops. I know he would help. Just a first class guy all the way. Mr. Kittleson is another who could help you. A need the schools should offer is surveying. That is a good career for the guys that are not up for 4 years of college. If you make a good case for a surveying program you will get the support. Plus you get to run it without too much outside interference. That is the sweet spot in the education world.

          2. WayneS Avatar

            Thank you. I agree with you about surveying. A good deal of algebra, trigonometry and geometry are used, but many people who are not “college material” can pick up the necessary skills relatively easily.

            I did a good deal of surveying early in my career but I’d need to dust off a portion of my brain that I have not used much in recent years if I was going to teach a surveying course. I do know a few people better qualified than I to teach such a course, and at least one of them might be interested in doing so. I’ll let him know.

  8. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
    Baconator with extra cheese

    I often ponder who is failing the kids more in Richmond. Is it the School Board or the kid’s parent (singular based on Richmond’s demographics)?
    I’m going with the parents. They vote for a dysfunctional school board, don’t prepare the kids for school, and worst of all put their kids in a Richmond City School. Except for the most exceptional of kids, those students are all screwed.

  9. Bubba1855 Avatar

    lets see what happens next…first RPS moves administrators with teaching experience into teaching positions…I agree, too many administrators…but wait, now RPS has a shortage of administrators…where will they get replacements…why of course from the ranks of teachers in near by districts…duh…it never ends. the teaching shortage just moves to another district.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Can we ALSO have a fact-based discussion about the NUMBERS of administrators?

      I’ve yet to see any real laying down of numbers much less how many are needed.

      simple question – how many administrators are there in RPS?l How many in Henrico? How many on average in all Virginia school districts?

  10. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    We don’t value education or professional educators in this country, not like we did anyway. That is my conclusion from watching my wife spend her career in the field. When she started at rural Dudley Elementary School (Franklin Co) and then even more rural Goshen Elementary School (Rockbridge County) in the late 70s, parents were incredibly supportive and grateful for the education their children were being given, and saw it as a path to a better future. If the kids acted up the teacher and school discipline was reinforced at home. Forty years later the dominant attitude (not universal but common) was kids were entitled to good grades, minimal workloads, and just by showing up and smiling they could absorb the education by osmosis. It wasn’t their job to learn, but her job to impart it all — subtle, but think about it. And also her job to deal with all the non-educational BS schools are burdened with. Attempt to discipline them and the parents will complain and even litigate. In many ways the sense of entitlement can be worse in a fancy private school. These are all pre-COVID observations.

    She was not a fan of the SOLs, either, but there they were.

    She was (is) damn good at it but was never compensated as she was due until she was collecting full VRS and a private school salary. Her final county salary about 15 years ago was way more than the current pay scale when adjusted for inflation, so the compensation has reduced in real terms. She also didn’t get stuck with VRS Plan 2.

    We could pay the teachers more without major tax increases but the middle and upper management would need to be more than decimated. Anybody remember the book The Peter Principle? I considered it mainly about American education….

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      Your description of “education by osmosis” made me smile as it conjured up a memory of my favorite high school teacher (economics and government). One day, he got frustrated at the inattentiveness of the class and proclaimed that we were going to have to put forth some effort because his “opening up our heads and pouring the knowledge in” was not the way it was going to happen.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        ;-). “I impart knowledge. I cannot create understanding.” That was one my teacher’s little ditties.

    2. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      In the 1950s and 60s, the most prestigious job was college professor. Still pretty high up there, ‘cept at UVa and around here.

    3. LarrytheG Avatar

      re: SOLs

      without SOLs and other mandated data, Bacon and Sherlock would have precious little data with which to use to condemn public education with and no secret they’d not what that level of accountability for the alternatives/voucher academies they advocate for.

      Geeze , what would they do about the Richmond School system is this was no govt-required data available?

    4. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      Yep, just looked up the Chesterfield teacher pay scale online and last year (20-21) top pay for a teacher with a masters and 30 years of experience is about her salary at retirement more than a decade ago, about $63K. Hell, I got $5000 a month on a political gig in 1993!! My job was to make money so she could keep doing a far more important job for the crap salary the taxpayers would support (and stay in VRS Plan 1, which is a nice pension plan).

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Yet, in Wise area, that pay is better than median income. In VaBeach, not so much.

        1. Matt Hurt Avatar
          Matt Hurt

          In Virginia is the most negative outlier in that statistic compared to all of the other states.

  11. James C. Sherlock Avatar
    James C. Sherlock

    Some context. Nineteen (of 47) Richmond schools were rated under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act criteria as among the bottom 5% of the schools in the state the last real that such criteria were measured.

    That was before RPS took the longest break from in-school instruction among the 132 school divisions in the state.

    Chaos, starting from that baseline, was inevitable.

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