Like many states across the country, Virginia struggles with specific and persistent teacher shortages. In fact, the number of unfilled teaching positions in the state increased from 1,063 in the 2019-20 academic year to over 2,593 in 2021-22 (including administrators, aides and paraprofessionals), with the most vacancies in pre-K through grade eight and special education. Data collected also indicates the greatest vacancy rates by position are noninstructional personnel and instructional aids/paraprofessionals.
To address persistent shortages and create a healthy pipeline of professional educators, Virginia implemented many different recruitment and retention strategies. Their efforts included leveraging approximately $12 million in ESSER funds for efforts like new grants to assist with postsecondary education, including the costs of licensure assessments and scholarships for candidates completing clinical experiences. The funds were also used to develop a statewide marketing campaign to attract future teachers to the profession.
To better understand the landscape of teacher recruitment and retention in Virginia, I spoke with Joan Johnson, Ph.D., assistant superintendent of the Department of Teacher Education and Licensure at the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), and Meg Homer, Ed.D., educator engagement specialist at VDOE.
The two shared that, as part of the state’s efforts to create a cohesive and sustainable teacher pipeline that creates systemic improvement, VDOE is in the process of developing a statewide strategic plan, building off the 2021 strategic recruitment and retention plan for special education teachers. The plan addresses the staffing crisis using grant incentives and data-informed policy and procedure reform. The strategic plan for recruitment and retention names three goals, which are to:
- Reduce barriers for qualified individuals to enter the profession.
- Increase the number of candidates eligible to fill public school divisions’ hard-to-staff positions.
- Strengthen strategies to recruit and retain a diverse, highly qualified educator workforce.
To make progress toward these goals, Virginia will employ two strategies aligned with eight specific actions and milestones. Each action item is intentionally aligned with the goals articulated by the strategic plan. Milestones include a variety of stakeholder accountability from division staff, Educator Preparation Programs as well as multiple state departments.
In alignment with the first strategy outlined by the plan — to “make careers in education more attractive and attainable” — the state will use a marketing campaign that aligns with the 2018 Diversity Task Force Report recommendations to invest in a diverse workforce and develop tools to streamline licensure procedures.
The state will also determine factors associated with profession exit and retention in alignment with the second strategy, which is to “recruit, support and retain highly qualified educators, with an emphasis on critical shortage areas.” Overall, the plan includes several actions that align with both strategies, including strengthening teacher recognition programs; increasing support for current and aspiring educators; expanding efforts to prepare new educators; and enhancing resources, training and support for HR and school leaders.
In our conversation, both Joan Johnson and Meg Homer shared that, recently, there has been an intentional focus on retention of high-quality, experienced educators versus recruitment of new teachers. This shift is consistent with research, as most teaching vacancies are driven by high turnover in the profession. Johnson shared, “In the last few years, the shift has moved from recruitment to a crisis of retention.
We feel like there is a better chance at retaining educators that are already in the system than drawing new teachers. Those are the cries we hear. Those are the strategies that will have the greatest impact.” The state’s strategic plan is a noteworthy example of how states can work to create a cohesive and sustainable teacher pipeline strategy to recruit an adequate number of high-quality educators for long-term careers.
If you would like to hear more about teacher recruitment and retention, please register for our Partnering for Success: Addressing Shortages in the Teacher Pipeline webinar on Wednesday, Aug. 10 at 11 a.m. MT/1 p.m. ET. Speakers include Arne Duncan, former U.S. Secretary of Education and managing partner of Chicago CRED; Katie Jenner, Indiana secretary of education; and Jhone Ebert, Nevada superintendent of public instruction.