Teacher Shortage Revives “Zoom-in-a-Room”

Online instruction in school has for years linked students to subjects they otherwise couldn’t take, such as A.P. Calculus or Latin. But districts are increasingly using online technology platforms to teach core subjects – a consequence of the ongoing shortage of teachers, according to a report posted byThe 74.

More than 40 percent of the nation’s schools reported teacher vacancies last year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Districts are spending thousands, sometimes millions of dollars on virtual teachers, according toThe 74’sreview of purchase orders in GovSpend, a data service.

“This is happening all over,” said Jennifer Carolan, co-founder and partner in Reach Capital, a firm investing in education companies. She estimates approximately a dozen companies offer virtual teaching – “meaningful scale” in her words.

Given the lack of teachers, district leaders assert a virtual teacher is better than none at all.

“You’ve got to find a way to get instruction in front of those children,” said Andy Pruitt, spokesman for the Charleston County schools in South Carolina.

Charleston paid more than $450,000 for virtual teachers in math, language arts and social studies for 22 classes across seven schools last year – and sent an email to parents informing them of the practice prior to the start of school. But the district, using federal relief funds to give each of its almost 3,600 teachers a $5,000 bonus this year, doesn’t expect to need virtual teachers this year.

About an hour west of Charleston, the 4,900-student Colleton County School District will again this school year fill positions with virtual teachers. Last year students had virtual distance learning for required courses in algebra, biology, English and history. The district’s school board approved $18,000 for high-tech cameras that allow virtual teachers to see the entire classroom and deter students from wandering out of class.

Demand for virtual teachers is skyrocketing. Annual spending by districts on one virtual platform increased from $6.3 million in 2020 to more than $21 million last year.

“It seems to be developing into a behind-the-scenes boom industry, said Kerry Chisnall, principal of Hawley Middle School in Creedmoor, North Carolina. The school used four virtual K-12 teacher last year.

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