Virginia should create a massive database to track information about its teachers, expand mentoring programs for new teachers and launch an advertising campaign to attract people to the profession if the state hopes to counter an imminent and daunting shortage, a committee reported last week.
The committee, sponsored by the Virginia Board of Education and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, will use a $13.5 million grant from the federal government to begin acting on its findings immediately.
Committee members said they intend the report to be a long-term blueprint for increased teacher recruitment and retention, a campaign they acknowledge will be costly.
"We tend to look at single bullets, single approaches. We ask, what is the one thing we can do to fix a problem?" said Patricia Cormier, president of Longwood University, who chaired the joint Committee to Enhance the K-12 Teaching Profession in Virginia. "This is the first comprehensive approach to improving teacher quality in Virginia."
Established in January, the committee reported its findings to the sponsoring agencies last week. Committee members were drawn from a variety of groups, including those representing higher education, local school districts and the General Assembly.
The report cites figures showing that the number of teachers in Virginia is projected to drop 4 percent by 2015 while student enrollment grows by the same percentage. Even if every graduate of teacher programs at Virginia colleges and universities entered the state teaching force, a shortage would remain.
"The No Child Left Behind Act has grabbed every state by the neck and shook it and said, 'You will place a high qualified teacher in every classroom,' " said Jo-Ann Muir, a teacher at Fairfax County's Mount Vernon High who served on the committee. "Without a plan, without a long-range strategy, how are you going to get there?"
With grant money, the recommendation that will be implemented quickly is the creation of a state database to collect information about teacher qualification, education and experience, enabling state planners to predict shortage areas and study how teachers affect student achievement.
The database could be used to learn about Virginia's teachers and improve programs for them. For instance, it could determine quickly how many have master's degrees and how many participated in high school programs that encouraged them to pursue the career.
"Right now, we maintain licensure information, so we'll have that information for a teacher, but then we just don't know where she went after getting her license," said Susan L. Genovese, vice president of Virginia's Board of Education. Genovese helped to created the joint committee and then became a member of it.
Programs to encourage mentoring of first-year teachers, some of which will involve grants to local school districts with innovative plans, and commercial advertising of the teaching profession also are likely to be started quickly.
More long-term solutions the committee suggested include dramatically raising teacher salaries and expanding the state's teacher licensure system into a multitiered system, in which teachers could be paid more if they demonstrated they had gained certain skills and education since they joined the work force. Now, teachers are generally paid more based simply on years of experience.
"We're trying to give teachers a career ladder system for their profession," Cormier said. "You don't want your best teachers leaving the classroom so they can make more money, and that's what happens now. It's about professionalizing the profession." She said she would expect plans for the new licensure system to be drawn up in the next several years.
In school districts where recruiting efforts are robust, some administrators said they have already taken some steps recommended by the committee.
Loudoun County, for instance, advertises some vacancies and its job fairs on local radio. Fairfax County operates Great Beginnings, which pairs first-year teachers with an experienced mentor.
Kevin North, employment director for Fairfax County schools, said any effort that brings more people into the profession would help all school districts, even those that aggressively recruit.
"Any efforts to increase awareness of the importance of the teaching profession and about Virginia as a great place to work will help everyone and raise all boats," he said.
At the same time, some of the committee's recommendations might be particularly helpful for smaller school districts outside relatively wealthy Northern Virginia, said Matthew D. Britt IV, Loudoun assistant superintendent for personnel.
"We're already doing most of those things," Britt said. "Certainly, for the smaller school districts or the districts that don't have a lot of money, these things will be especially helpful. All of these things cost money, in terms of traveling and advertising."
Cormier said she hopes the committee will continue to meet, possibly outlining ways to implement its recommendations to the General Assembly.
Barbara Allen, president of the Fairfax Education Association, said that the plan's long-term recommendations look sound but that she doubted whether Virginia would commit to funding them.
"This is Virginia," she said. "We're in a current funding disaster. The likelihood of anything that has monetary strings attached going far is not high right now."