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Pandemic Teacher Shortages Imperil In-Person Schooling


Indeed, recent data from the Household Pulse Survey, an experimental effort from the U.S. Census Bureau to measure Americans’ experiences during the pandemic, suggests that the decreased availability of teachers — both in-person and online — may disproportionately affect low-income students.

In the two weeks before the December holiday break, for instance, 6.3 million survey respondents said children in their households had no live contact with their teachers in the preceding week. The impact was greatest in households earning $25,000 or less, the lowest income bracket, where nearly 1.4 million respondents said there was no contact; fewer than 300,000 respondents in the highest income bracket, households earning $200,000 or more, said the same.

As teacher availability decreases, many schools are seeking additional instructors both for in-person and virtual teaching positions. Kelly Education, an employment agency that provides temporary staff to school districts, said demand for long-term substitutes, who may take over an absent teacher’s classes for weeks or a semester, rose by 34 percent this school year.

To entice newcomers to try teaching during the pandemic, some districts are increasing pay or lowering the bar to entry by eliminating college course requirements for substitutes. Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia — one of the nation’s largest districts, with about 178,000 students — has tried both approaches. The district has been grappling with a decrease of more than 1,000 substitutes, amounting to a 30 percent drop.

After raising pay for short-term substitute teachers by $5, to $98 per day, proved insufficient to recruit enough fill-in teachers, the district lowered educational requirements for substitutes in December. Rather than needing 60 college credits, substitutes can now teach with a high school diploma. Monica Batiste, the district’s associate superintendent for human resources, said the rule change enabled the district to hire first- and second-year college students majoring in education.

Even so, the district’s efforts were no match for the pandemic. With 460 teachers stuck at home in January because of possible coronavirus exposures, the district has temporarily switched to remote learning starting this week.

In a pandemic that has already derailed education for millions of schoolchildren, lowering the bar for substitutes can be a fraught exercise. In Nevada, education experts were torn after Gov. Steve Sisolak issued a pandemic regulation allowing large urban districts to hire emergency substitute teachers with only high school diplomas — an option previously available only to smaller rural districts.

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