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Opinion: Online instruction can help solve local teacher shortages

Students need highly qualified instructors. An experienced supplemental online education provider can help fill this need.

By Carol DeFuria

School systems nationwide are struggling to fill teaching positions as they continue to grapple with the effects of the pandemic. In a nationally representative survey in September 2022, nearly half of K-12 leaders (49 percent) said they had unfilled special education teaching positions in their district. Twenty-eight percent had unfilled positions in elementary school, 27 percent had vacancies in math and computer science and 26 percent reported openings in science.

These staffing shortages could jeopardize the quality of education students receive at a time when students are still recovering from learning losses due to the pandemic. If students don’t have a qualified teacher, they’re likely to fall even further behind in their learning.

There are many factors contributing to this problem. For instance, educators are feeling overwhelmed from the stress of the pandemic and the demands it has placed on them professionally. Nearly three-quarters of teachers say they’re experiencing job-related stress, 59 percent say they’re burned out and up to a third might leave their job by the end of the year.

But job-related stress only tells part of the story. Teachers have been chronically underpaid for decades, and many also feel grossly underappreciated. As state lawmakers place limits on what teachers can and can’t say in their classrooms, teachers have bristled at what they view as interference in their jobs.

Resolving teacher shortages ultimately will require more than just quick-fix solutions. States and school systems will need to adopt large-scale changes that address improved working conditions for teachers, better pay and respect and a stronger focus on employee wellness.

However, K-12 leaders also need immediate solutions to make sure students are receiving a high-quality education. A proven online education provider can help fill short-term teaching vacancies and ensure continuity of instruction.

Students need experienced teachers

A provider of supplemental online instruction can offer certified, experienced, and highly trained teachers at a moment’s notice, to teach students in a wide variety of academic disciplines.

The advantage of this approach is that students benefit from having a qualified course instructor, instead of a substitute teacher who might lack the necessary subject matter and pedagogical expertise to engage students in learning deeply about the content.

Some K-12 leaders might be hesitant to call on a supplemental online learning provider to help address the teacher shortage crisis after the shift to remote learning in spring 2020 produced mixed results. Yet, emergency remote learning—which is what schools experienced early on during the pandemic—shouldn’t be confused with online learning that is intentionally designed using best instructional practices and delivered by certified teachers trained through an experienced online education provider.

High-quality online learning puts students at the center of the learning process. Students learn and apply key skills through authentic, hands-on projects. Courses are built within a learning management system (LMS) such as Brightspace by D2L, and take full advantage of proven online tools for learning. Teachers direct students to curated readings, lessons, and interactive activities, and focus their time on building student engagement and providing one-on-one and group feedback and support. When delivered well, online instruction has been proven to be highly effective.

Other solutions shortchange our students

An Education Week report highlights five ways that states and school systems are trying to fill teacher vacancies this year. They include dropping requirements for bachelor’s degrees, easing certification requirements, and hiring professionals from other fields. Online education can also help, by centralizing teaching resources and distributing those resources to the schools that need them.

Research has established that teachers are the most important school-related factor in a student’s success. As the nonprofit RAND Corporation observes, teachers are estimated to have up to three times the effect of any other school-related factor on student achievement—including services, facilities, and even school leadership.

Having an effective teacher matters. Students shouldn’t be penalized because their schools are having a hard time finding and retaining qualified teaching staff. They deserve high-quality instruction that will deepen their content knowledge and advance their skills.

Ensuring that each student has an experienced and certified teacher for every subject is a question of equity. Teachers that provide online course delivery find that they have the best of both worlds: engagement with the students they enjoy, and the flexibility of remote work on their own schedule. Online teaching is a way to utilize valuable, experienced teachers who have retired from classroom teaching, but still want to be connected to education. A proven supplemental online learning provider can help solve the teaching resource challenge and keep learning moving forward.

Carol DeFuria is the President and CEO of VHS Learning, a nonprofit organization with 27 years of experience providing world-class online learning programs to students and schools everywhere. More than 600 schools around the world take advantage of VHS Learning’s 300+ online high school courses to expand their programs of study.


This article was featured on District Administration.