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Addressing Teacher Shortage in South Carolina

Addressing Teacher Shortage in South Carolina

Like many states across the country, South Carolina is facing a statewide teacher shortage. According to a study from Winthrop University’s Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, & Advancement published in January of this year, more than 5,300 teachers left South Carolina public schools at the end of the 2017–18 school year. Additionally, district surveys from the past two school years show that 25% of the first-year teachers hired for 2017–18 are no longer teaching in any South Carolina public school. Finally, in this past school year alone, districts reported 621 vacant teaching positions—this is a 16 percent increase compared to vacancies reported at the beginning of the 2017–18 school year.

These shortages come with negative impacts on multiple levels. Teachers are left with larger class sizes, faced with larger workloads, and asked to manage classes outside of their area of expertise. At the same time, students are at risk of missing out on the type of top-quality instruction they need and deserve in order to thrive academically.

Here, we’re taking a closer look at what’s at the root of South Carolina’s teacher shortage issues and what administrators can do to meet specific challenges in their own buildings.

What Is Contributing to the South Carolina’s Teacher Shortage Problem?

Teacher shortage in South Carolina is a nuanced issue, and it’s impossible to attribute it to a single cause. A lack of reform and longstanding “minimally adequate” education standards certainly contribute to the issue, as do the changes to tax laws that have left many poorer districts lacking necessary funds to upgrade their buildings or provide necessary curriculum and technology. In this 2018 series from The Post and Courier, there’s further description of the economic disparities that continue to thwart progress in the state.

Beyond these larger systemic problems, however, there are several other key factors that can be attributed to the cause:

Wages vs. workload

South Carolina teachers aren’t alone when they say the pay they receive for the long hours and excessive paperwork is unbalanced. Beginning in the 2019–20 school year, educators will receive at least a 4% raise, and the starting salary for teachers will raise 9% to $35,000. Still, with an average salary of $50,182 for 2017–18, South Carolina ranks 40th amongst all U.S. states in terms of average salary earned, according to the National Education Association’s annual report. The situation is so palpable that some companies, such as Nephron Pharmaceuticals, are answering the call by putting teachers to work to help them bring home extra income.

Rural populations

The Rural Recruitment Initiative (RRI) began in the spring of 2016 and aims to address some of South Carolina’s teacher recruitment and retention issues. Through this initiative, eligible districts can request funds to implement teacher recruitment and retention incentives in their schools. For the 2018–19 school year, 36 of 82 public school districts were eligible to apply based on average teacher turnover rates greater than 11%. Incentives include financial assistance for current employees seeking to become certified, salary supplements for critical needs teachers, and salary supplements and professional development for beginning teacher mentors.

Alternative programs and services

The number of South Carolina students who completed a teacher education program has declined by 32% since 2012–13, significantly reducing the state’s pipeline of new teachers. As a result of this growing disparity between the rate at which teachers are entering the profession and the rate at which they are leaving it, districts are compelled to rely on alternative programs and services that offer three to four weeks of training before placing individuals in the classroom. Some of these programs, such as the various services that place international teachers in schools, provide only temporary recruitment solutions. Close to 400 new teachers came from abroad in the 2018–19 school year, a rate that has quadrupled in the last five years, and after three years, those educators have to return to their home countries, leaving vacancies once again.

What South Carolina Administrators Can Do to Overcome Staffing Challenges

Addressing an issue as complex as South Carolina’s ongoing teacher shortage inevitably takes time and sustained effort; there will never be a quick fix for this problem. However, there are certainly concrete steps that administrators can take to manage immediate staffing issues and lay the groundwork for overcoming the broader challenge. Here are three options for South Carolina administrators to consider:

Talk to local legislators

Advocacy efforts do make a difference. Talk to your local politicians about staffing challenges that your school or district is facing and how those challenges are affecting the teachers and students you serve. As much as possible, provide these legislators with concrete numbers and statistics to support your case. Overnight changes won’t happen, but over time, these conversations can lead to real and impactful policy changes.

Focus on workplace culture

You may not have control over the size of the applicant pool in your area, but you do have some, if not complete, control over retaining the high-quality teachers you already have. So, even if your school or district is working under significant financial constraints, do all you can to make your buildings outstanding places to work. Prioritize teacher-induction programs to ensure that all new staff members you hire get started on the right foot—and stick around. Provide opportunities for all of your teachers to engage in mentorship, seek professional development, take on leadership roles, network with their peers, and voice their opinions and needs. The resource edWeb is a great place to start for free webinars and networking resources to share with your staff. Even small cultural shifts to prioritize teachers’ well-being can have a huge impact on finding and retaining the talent you need.

Consider a virtual school partner

Often, virtual schools are understandably seen as competition by district and school administrators, so they may not be a teacher-shortage solution that immediately comes to mind. However, partnering with such a program can be a practical, convenient, and cost-effective route to take to address staffing challenges. For example, Edmentum’s EdOptions Academy is a fully accredited virtual school that works with schools and districts to provide over 400 South Carolina standards-aligned courses—including career and technical education, World Languages, and Advanced Placement® options—paired with high-quality teachers certified in the state. Students can be enrolled in EdOptions Academy courses as needed, enabling our South Carolina partners to provide the courses students want, the flexibility to quickly fill staffing gaps when needs arise, and the ability to retain student enrollment. 

Interested in learning more about how partnership with EdOptions Academy can help your school or district manage teacher-shortage challenges? Check out this blog post on 7 Benefits of Partnering with a Virtual School!

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Madison Michell

Madison Michell has been a member of the Edmentum team since 2014 and currently serves as a Marketing Manager. As a former Kindergarten and 3rd grade teacher during her time as a Teach For America corps member, she believes education truly has the power to transform lives. She is passionate about connecting educators with online programs, best practices, and research that improve teaching and learning for today's students.