State approves new teacher education programs to fight shortage

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In an effort to combat Virginia’s teacher shortage, 15 Virginia colleges and universities will start new four-year teacher education degree programs this fall.

The Virginia Board of Education approved the programs last week. The State Council for Higher Education of Virginia, which oversees public colleges and universities, approved the new programs at public institutions in May.

The College of William and Mary, University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and Virginia State, George Mason, James Madison, Old Dominion and Virginia Commonwealth universities are projected to produce 400 more teachers through 26 new bachelor degree programs. Ferrum, Randolph, Roanoke and Sweet Briar colleges; Liberty, Marymount and Shenandoah universities as well as the University of Lynchburg will roll out 27 additional programs.

SCHEV didn’t have to approve the programs at the private schools. 

“Several of these new programs will address critical shortage areas, including elementary education, middle education, special education, mathematics and science,” Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said in a news release.

“These additional teachers will make a big difference as the Virginia Department of Education works in partnership with local school divisions to ensure that every child in the commonwealth is taught by a fully qualified teacher.” 

College students pursuing a teaching career get an undergraduate degree in the subject area they want to teach and then have to enter a graduate program to get an education degree. It can take, at a minimum, five years to complete, making it expensive and a deterrent to people becoming teachers, especially for potential teachers of color, according to a 2017 study on teacher shortages and a 2016 study on teacher diversity.

“The cost of graduate education, and the more limited availability of financial aid, have made it difficult for students to afford to go into teaching, particularly as teacher salaries have been stagnating,” said Andrew Daire, Dean of the VCU School of Education, in a release from the university.

Teachers and superintendents have cited a number of reasons for leaving the profession, including pay and additional non-teaching responsibilities because of support staff shortages. Support staff includes positions like guidance counselors and nurses.

In the most recent school year, there were 3,139 college students enrolled in teacher education programs in public colleges and universities, according to SCHEV.

Meanwhile, there were 900 unfilled teaching positions across the state, Secretary of Education Atif Qarni said. The number of unfilled teaching positions in Virginia increased 40 percent from 2007 to 2017.

“Eliminating the barrier of extra years of schooling traditionally required for teacher licensure will encourage more students to pursue teaching careers,” he said in a release. “I am excited to see this increase in quality teachers impact the commonwealth’s students for years to come.”