How online learning can solve teacher shortage problems


Oct 2, 2012

When 56 high school students in DeKalb County, Georgia, recently returned to school after summer vacation, they could not find on their schedules the math class in which they had enrolled. Dozens of 9th, 10th, and 11th graders at Southwest DeKalb High School were not receiving math instruction this semester because the school did not have any qualified math teachers to teach the course for which the students had initially enrolled. (Read more about it here.)

When it comes to teacher shortages, it is not only Southwest DeKalb High School that is in trouble. In the state of Georgia, there are 440 high schools and only 88 certified physics teachers. Furthermore, Georgia colleges of education are producing less than five certified physics teachers per year. Lack of certified instructors is a big problem for Georgia’s students.

But there is an already existing solution: online learning. The Internet allows for access to high quality teachers to be unencumbered by geography or demographics. Companies like Advanced Academics and government organizations like Florida Virtual School, for example, offer fully online courses that are taught by certified online teachers. Last year school administrators in Florida confronted a similar teacher shortage issue. To comply with government-mandated class size requirements, Miami-Dade County Public Schools set up virtual classrooms, called e-learning labs, in 54 schools where students could go to work through online courses with online teachers. Each lab employed a paraprofessional to keep students on task and deal with any technical problems.

Important innovations often evolve in areas of nonconsumption—situations in which the alternative to using a new method or product is nothing at all. Such is the case in DeKalb County, where the options for students are virtual math classes or no math classes at all. Other examples include situations like rural schools that lack specialized teachers, advanced students that desire to enroll in AP courses not offered at their school, and struggling students that need to make up course credits to graduate from high school on time. As innovations take hold in areas of nonconsumption, they gradually improve and develop the potential to help positively transform the learning model in the process.

Online learning is not only a good option for teacher shortage issues solely because of the lack of alternatives. Using the tools that online learning affords can help personalize instruction, allow students to work at their own pace, create data feedback loops that help schools to serve students better, and help students prepare for college and careers in the ever-increasingly digital future.

Some students may be thrilled to find an expected math class missing from their class schedules, but we know that cannot be an option for our students. Online learning has the potential to successfully solve teacher shortage issues, and much more.