Virginia Rolls Back Credentialism to Increase Supply of Teachers

Here’s a rare good news story coming out of Virginia’s educational establishment: The state has enacted reforms to its teacher-education system that should help reverse the teacher shortage created by… the state.

Last month, reports the Washington Post, the Virginia Department of Education approved undergraduate teacher education programs at more than a dozen colleges and universities. Aspiring teachers will be able to earn teaching credentials in undergraduate school without the necessity of completing a teacher-preparation program requiring a fifth year of higher education.

The change is driven by chronic teacher shortage at Virginia public schools — 940 teaching positions went unfilled in the 2017-18 school year. The shortage is especially acute in lower-income schools where new teachers are frequently demoralized by discipline issues, and quit or move to schools in more affluent neighborhoods.

Stephanie D. van Hover, a department chair of the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, explained the economics behind the teacher shortage:

Shortening the time it takes for aspiring educators to get into the classroom will make choosing teaching as a career a less cost-prohibitive proposition.

In recent years, the university in Charlottesville has shortened its master’s degree program from two years to 11 months, so students graduate “faster with less debt.”

“Cost is a huge issue, because you’re entering a profession that isn’t as well paid as others,” van Hover said. Each semester, students pursuing degrees in education will be placed in classrooms alongside a mentor, she said.

Requirements for more educational credentials reduces the supply of teachers. Pretty basic. A third grader could grasp the concept pretty quickly. Virginia’s political establishment took a while longer.

To ameliorate teacher shortages, Virginia school districts also could increase teacher salaries, which lag national averages. And school administrators could be more supportive in helping teachers maintain discipline in the classroom, one of the reasons teachers cite most commonly for quitting.

Bacon’s bottom line: I expect few negative repercussions from relaxing the requirement for educational credentials. Master’s degree curricula are full of mumbo jumbo that is long on theory and short on practical knowledge. The most important thing that teachers need is to learn is their subject matter — English, math, history, whatever. It is helpful to take courses on child development, different learning styles, and special problems encountered by children with disabilities. Beyond that, teachers learn from time spent in the classroom — time spent teaching, not listening to lectures and reading textbooks.