Indeed, recent data from the Household Pulse Survey, an experimental effort by the US Census Bureau to measure Americans’ experiences during the pandemic, suggests that declining teacher availability – in person and online – may disproportionately affect low-income students.
In the two weeks leading up to the December vacation, for example, 6.3 million respondents said children in their household had had no direct contact with their teachers in the previous week. The impact was greatest in households earning $ 25,000 or less, the lowest income bracket, where nearly 1.4 million respondents said there was no contact; less than 300,000 respondents in the highest income bracket, households earning $ 200,000 or more, said the same thing.
As teacher availability decreases, many schools are looking for additional instructors for in-person and virtual teaching positions. Kelly Education, an employment agency that provides temporary staff to school districts, said demand for long-term substitutes, who could take over classes for a teacher who is absent for weeks or a semester, has increased 34% this school year.
To encourage newcomers to try teaching during the pandemic, some districts are raising salaries or lowering the bar on entry by eliminating college course requirements for replacements. Public schools in Gwinnett County, Georgia – one of the largest districts in the country, with about 178,000 students – have tried both approaches. The district is grappling with a drop of more than 1,000 substitutes, a decrease of 30%.
After increasing the salary of short-term substitute teachers by $ 5, to $ 98 per day, proved insufficient to recruit enough substitute teachers, the district lowered the education requirements for substitute teachers in December . Rather than needing 60 college credits, substitutes can now teach with a high school diploma. Monica Batiste, the district’s associate superintendent for human resources, said the rule change allowed the district to hire first and second-year students majoring in education.
Even so, the district’s efforts fell short of the pandemic. With 460 teachers stranded at home in January due to possible coronavirus exposures, the district has temporarily switched to distance learning starting this week.
In a pandemic that has already derailed the education of millions of schoolchildren, lowering the bar of surrogates can be a difficult exercise. In Nevada, education experts have been torn after Gov. Steve Sisolak issued pandemic regulations allowing large urban districts to hire emergency substitute teachers with only high school diplomas – an option previously available only for small rural districts.