Are Virtual Educators an Answer to Teacher Shortages?

Are Virtual Educators an Answer to Teacher Shortages?

One live virtual teaching company, Elevate K-12, notes an uptick in district interest in its services amid severe, ongoing educator vacancies, according to an article in K-12 Dive.

There is a growing trend in which certified instructors are delivering live lessons virtually to in-person groups of students. An analysis of GovSpend data by The74 found districts are increasingly paying for these services. For instance, districts’ annual spending on Proximity, another live virtual teacher company, jumped from $6.3 million in 2020 to more than $21 million in 2022. 

In the last year alone, teacher vacancies jumped by 51 percent as the number of open positions nationwide rose from 36,504 in 2022 to 55,289 in 2023, according to updated data from researchers at Kansas State University, University of Pittsburgh and several other institutions. 

A recent RAND survey identified low pay, poor working conditions and long hours as the top reasons teachers consider leaving. This suggests that more educators may pivot from traditional school settings sooner rather than later. 

Applications to teach for Elevate K-12, which employs teachers as independent contractors, have surged since the COVID-19 pandemic, when the possibility of remote online teaching opened to many teachers for the first time, said Shaily Baranwal, the 9-year-old company’s CEO and founder.

Last year, Elevate K-12 hired about 1,500 active teachers on its platform. Elevate K-12 sets the curriculum and makes sure the lessons are aligned with state standards, Baranwal said. The number of districts using the company’s services has increased more than tenfold since the pandemic, from about 24 districts in 2019-20 to 260 districts in 2022-23, according to the company.

The 70,000-student Milwaukee Public Schools began working with Elevate K-12 partway through the 2022-23 school year and is expanding the number of live, virtual teachers in its classrooms this fall in the face of an estimated 200-teacher shortage. 

Milwaukee Public Schools are focusing its 55 Elevate K-12 teachers on middle and high school math, science and special education, which are often hard-to-staff subjects. 

Even so, Milwaukee Public Schools are still actively recruiting and hiring for in-person teachers to eventually instruct in those hard-to-fill subjects, he said. 

Debates still swirl about whether live virtual instruction should be a long-term solution. 

Heather Peske, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, said the bottom line is schools must ensure students are being instructed by teachers with the content knowledge and skills to be impactful. 

During the pandemic, students’ relationships with teachers suffered when they could only connect over Zoom, Peske said. That’s why it’s key for districts using virtual instruction to ensure students can develop meaningful in-person interactions with other adults in a school building, she added. 

“We know that is really important to their learning, and without it, their academic and social outcomes and their sense of belonging may really suffer,” Peske said.

K-12 Dive

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