Can the Gig Economy Help Alleviate Teacher Shortages?


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This guest post comes from Evan Erdberg, CEO and president of Proximity Learning Inc., a valued partner organization. Views expressed in guest posts are those of the author.

If you are facing a teacher shortage in your state, you are not alone. Many states are experiencing a worsening teacher shortage, according to the Learning Policy Institute.

Some of this is because of declining enrollments in teacher education, which decreased 35 percent between 2009 and 2014. Additionally, demand for teachers grew sharply when the economic recovery took hold in 2015, and districts replaced positions and courses that they had contracted during the recession. However, LPI reports, about 90 percent of the nationwide demand has been created by teachers leaving the profession, with two-thirds of those having left for reasons other than retirement.

In other words, there is not necessarily a shortage of teachers, but a shortage of teachers willing to teach in the traditional classroom environment.

An innovative solution to this problem is virtual K-12 staffing: the method of livestreaming highly-qualified teachers on a part-time or full-time basis from home or an office into a classroom to lead instruction and attend parent-teacher conferences. One of the organizations pioneering this new method is Proximity Learning Inc. PLI empowers teachers to take advantage of the gig economy by allowing them to choose their schedule and work from home to staff vacant positions in schools across more than 20 states. Similar to what Uber does for taxi drivers, this allows teachers who want an alternative work-life balance to instruct on their own time.

Virtual teachers say they enjoy the flexibility of this work and the ability to focus on teaching students without the additional expectations that come with working in a school — such as paperwork, politics, unions, commutes, school activities, etc. Based on employment data from PLI, over 98 percent of teachers who start teaching in a virtual K-12 environment continue each year; and more than 1,500 teachers are signed up on PLI’s waiting list to teach in America’s classrooms.

School districts that employ these virtual teachers have also started to see a trend: The students taught by these virtual teachers become some of the highest-achieving. For example, in Posen-Robbins School District 143.5 in a suburb of Chicago, Ill., a virtual instructor taught a bilingual special education class. The district implemented the NWEA test, which scores a student’s achievement level at any given moment and helps measure their academic growth over time — called an RIT (Rasch Unit) score. At the beginning of the year, the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders scored the lowest in the school. At the end of the year, 70 percent achieved growth on the RIT scale, which was the highest in the school.

The world is changing each day and the workforce of today is not the workforce of tomorrow. Creating a flexible solution for teachers who want to work in school districts, but not live in or near the district, can be a solution for states that are experiencing teacher shortages.

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CEO and president at Proximity Learning Inc.

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