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.

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8 responses to “Virginia Rolls Back Credentialism to Increase Supply of Teachers

  1. Gee, maybe we could do the same type of thing for other labor shortages – like Doctors or Dentists or Professional Engineers, etc? 😉

    It’s kind of funny here in BR where we routinely hammer public schools for their shortfalls on the SOLs – reading and math then we advocate less skilled instructors to “fix” things!

    Which is it? Do we really think less skilled teachers will lead to better outcomes for the kids and especially so the at-risk kids who have reading and math disabilities that actually do require higher level education to recognize, diagnose and remedy?

    Are we arguing that such credentials are not really needed and less education and skill will yield higher scores on the SOLs?

    Now, if Jim B had advocated more Para-teachers in schools to assist the full-up credentialed instructors – much like physician assistants and nurse practitioners and imaging techs balance the load with fully-credentialed doctors – I’m on it but the idea that we dismantle and diminish skill sets as cost-savings is not saving costs – it’s pushing those costs downstream when the kids “graduate” with even less education than they have now and we taxpayers then pick up their entitlement costs… that’s about as smart as making it easier for general practitioners to get into heart surgery, etc.

  2. A number of Fairfax County Public School administrators have been advocating flexibility in licensing people with strong substantive credentials and experience in other fields than teaching. For example, it has found a number people seeking second careers may have great knowledge of a field, including STEM, with some instruction in teaching methods and mentoring by experienced teachers can boost the Schools’ ability to educate kids.

    For example, a person may have worked as a scientist or engineer and taken early retirement but still want to have a new career. Similarly, people retiring from military service may be interested in teaching. FCPS has concluded that more flexibility in this area can provide benefits to everyone.

  3. It is not a matter of having less-skilled teachers. In the past, most state institutions of higher education had undergraduate programs in education, with a concentration in an subject area. For example, my wife got a Bachelor of Arts in Education, with a concentration in French. She spent the second semester of her senior year student teaching in an area high school. The BA and the successful completion of the licensing test qualified her for a certificate to teach anything (she ended up teaching 7th grade English and reading). I did not realize that the state had moved to requiring a bachelors in a subject area plus a year of teacher preparation. (That used to called a M.A.T, a master of arts in teaching and was usually pursued by experienced teachers later in their careers, probably to qualify for a higher salary.)

    Most college classes in education are next to worthless. As Jim pointed out, the most that needs to be required is a course on human development, perhaps some child psychology, and some courses on special education or at-risk kids for those students who want to go into those areas. The most important aspect would be a stint as a student teacher, under the guidance of an experienced teacher.

    One program that does not get a lot of attention is the teacher loan program. Under these (there are state and federal versions), one year of the loan will be forgiven for each year of teaching. The main limitations for the state program are that they seem to be limited to students already enrolled in college (must have a 2.7 GPA) and recommended by their deans and the maximum amount is $10,000 per year. To make teaching more attractive and to relieve more college debt, the program could be extended to cover all four years of college (as long as student maintained a minimum GPA) and the maximum amount increased.

  4. Hey, create a supply shortage, create barriers to entry, and the price/salary that can be commanded goes up, right? So economics would indicate – and I’m sure that was a large part of the drive toward the required master’s degree and an extra year. But of course the only thing that happened was student debt went up, some students didn’t go that route, but the response to the resulting shortage has not been dramatically higher salaries. In fact, look at most county pay scales and the annual differential for a master’s degree is about $2-3,000 tops. That sends a very clear price signal, in my opinion, and the medical field which Larry cross-referenced is a good example of REAL value offered for higher degrees.

    The MA or MS often has great value, especially if in the subject matter (English, mathematics, a hard science) and not pedagogy. (Spoken with My Favorite Teacher holding a masters in reading but focusing on math most of her career.) But if the school system really wanted it, it would pay that way – a real premium for that expertise. (We’ll know we’re serious about this when math team coaches get subsidies equal to football team coaches….)

  5. Gee, you make mandatory teaching credentials sound like just so many needless certificate-of-need requirements promoted to satisfy vested interests, increase job protection by the unions involved, not to increase the actual proficiency of the teachers, the actual quality of the teaching, in our public schools. What a novel thought.

  6. Many of my 1950’s teachers did not have college degrees but were great teachers. A high-school graduate knows much more about math, reading, etc., than a first-grade student; therefore, a high-school student with good teaching skills is sufficient for first-grade students. High-school students who are the older students in large families should be especially capable — even more so if home-schooled. My teachers taught me well enough and inspired me sufficiently that I now have a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering. I never needed tutoring or remedial education. Many of my classmates had similar experiences.

  7. Well, like I said at the top – I’m all for any/all ways to deliver education – public and private – as long as we agree on the goals and a consistent/standard way to “measure” what we say we seek to achieve.

    I DO tend to think that public schools have evolved in ways that fall short of filling the needs of “at-risk” kids of economically depressed circumstances – no question – the academic results are abysmal – however, replacing public schools with “alternatives” for which we have no way to judge performance – hold accountable, etc is not going to “fix” the “problem”.

    Some kids who have poorly educated parents who themselves are unable to be successful economically – are NOT going to be helped by teachers with minimal education and skillsets themselves.

    It goes back to what we say we want to achieve versus what some “believe” or have a personal philosophy about.

    Again – I’m in favor of any/all variations and alternatives to do better – as long as we judge all of them with consistent criteria and metrics.

    In other words, our goal should be to “grow” kids no matter their economic or parental circumstances to grow up and to be able to become tax-paying citizens who can take care of themselves and their families and not be dependent on taxpayer welfare.

    It’s ALL ABOUT those kids; every kid with reasonable intelligence has the ability to excel – if they are given the educational resources they need.

    That won’t happen by lowering teaching standards for schools with large numbers of at-risk kids.

  8. I agree with Larry’s goal for the schools, but disagree with his implication that teachers without a college degree, but with teaching skills, cannot do a good job teaching. Some college education can actually be harmful.

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