Special Report
Teacher Preparation

Faced With Deep Teacher Shortages, Clark County, Nev., District Looks for Answers

By Anthony Rebora — January 25, 2016 4 min read
Kindergarten teacher Doris Velasquez works with student Jelisa Gastelum during a spelling lesson at Mervin Iverson Elementary School in Las Vegas. Velasquez, who was a stay-at-home mother and parent volunteer at the school, is in her first year teaching at Iverson.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

If the teacher shortages that fanned out across the country this fall had an epicenter, it was likely the Clark County school district in Nevada.

At the start of this school year, officials in the 320,000-student district encompassing Las Vegas were scrambling to fill nearly 1,000 classroom vacancies. By the end of December, the system still had more than 700 open positions, with unlicensed substitutes filling the gaps in many schools.

How this staggering shortage evolved and what the district is doing to address it have become matters of national attention, especially since many other areas are facing similar—if so far less drastic—trend lines.

The factors that observers say led to Clark County’s staffing gaps are both unique to the district and reflective of larger, nationwide patterns. They include local demographic changes, especially a growing Hispanic population; student-enrollment surges; a string of state budget cutbacks; a wave of teacher retirements; and—perhaps most centrally—a weak regional pipeline of new teachers.

“There just aren’t nearly as many people anymore who choose to pursue a career in education,” said Kim Metcalf, the dean of the education school at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, a primary supplier of Clark County’s teachers.

The problem is exaggerated in Las Vegas, Metcalf said, because the city is surrounded by areas that are sparsely populated. “There aren’t enough people here to generate enough qualified candidates—if we look only locally,” he said.

Shrinking Pipelines

A number of the states reporting teacher shortages issued fewer initial teaching credentials over the past few years. Generally, those states have also seen declines in state teacher-preparation enrollments.

While the declines are likely the result of a multitude of causes, analysts say key factors include state budget crunches during and following the recession of 2007 to 2009, growing media attention to the testing pressures in schools, and teachers’ perceived lack of professional prestige and empowerment. Some observers also note that the recovering economy has provided more employment options to some young people.

BRIC ARCHIVE

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education Title II Collection

Indeed, in 2013, education schools in Nevada produced only 771 teachers, according to federal data. That’s far short of the estimated 2,500-plus new educators needed annually in Clark County alone.

Faced with numbers like those, the district—along with state lawmakers and other stakeholders—has had to experiment with a number of increasingly urgent initiatives designed to tap new pools of potential teachers.

“We are being systematic and strategic,” said Meg Nigro, the district’s executive director of recruitment and development. “No one approach is going to solve this.”

Among the initiatives put in place in the past year:

• The district has launched a large-scale national marketing campaign—under the banner of Calling All Heroes—to bring attention to teaching opportunities in Las Vegas, including fast-track-certification options for career-changers.

• It has created four recruiter positions to “get boots on the ground” in school systems and education schools across the country and increase contact time with prospects, Nigro said.

• With funding from the state, the district has established a $5,000 hiring incentive for new teachers who agree to work in low-income or low-performing schools. About 1,100 teachers have received the bonus so far, Nigro said.

• The district also expects to benefit from a related state measure that provides nearly $5 million in scholarship money for students who enroll in teacher-preparation programs at select Nevada colleges, with an initial emphasis on alternative-licensure routes for those who already have bachelor’s degrees. (UNLV, which recently expanded its alternative-licensure programs to 12, expects to be able to train 50 to 100 additional teachers through the scholarship program this academic year, Metcalf said.)

• School leaders are working to enroll long-term substitute teachers in the district’s own alternative-licensure program, under which candidates can work toward full certification while continuing to teach.

• Finally, the district recently forged a new contract with the Clark County Education Association that is intended to boost starting teacher salaries from $34,600 to $40,000, create incentives for teachers who take positions in hard-to-staff schools, and build other growth opportunities into the teacher-salary schedule, though some veteran teachers have reportedly questioned the impact of the changes.

Funding for the salary increases would come from cuts in other areas, including to a planned human-resources and payroll-systems upgrade and school maintenance projects, a district spokesperson said. The county school board was scheduled to vote on the contract this month.

Courting Millennials

Such efforts are beginning to make a dent. According to Nigro, the district has hired 216 more teachers this school year than last, an increase of 14 percent, and enrollment in its alternative-licensure program has increased dramatically.

But major uncertainties remain, including in connection with the district’s growing reliance on quickly trained teachers.

Meanwhile, local officials acknowledge that even broader changes will be needed to address the district’s teacher-supply gap over the long term.

UNLV’s Metcalf says the district and its stakeholders—including education schools, business leaders, and lawmakers—are increasingly focused on ideas to reconceptualize and market teaching in Clark County as a “good job” that will have greater appeal to millennials from other states.

“Millennials don’t just want a job,” he said. “They want a career path—they want flexibility, the ability to grow and pursue multiple options during their career. We have a real opportunity to say to folks, ‘Come here and build your career in education.’ Not just, ‘Come here and be a teacher.’ ”

Coverage of policy efforts to improve the teaching profession is supported by a grant from the Joyce Foundation, at www.joycefdn.org/Programs/Education. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the January 27, 2016 edition of Education Week as Nev. District Fighting Shortage Trends

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teacher Preparation Teachers' Unions Are Starting Teacher-Prep Programs. Here's What to Know
The Washington Education Association is pioneering a teacher residency for special education. Other unions are noticing.
10 min read
Patrice Madrid, left, leads a Functional Core Program for 3rd through 5th graders as part of a teacher residency program under the guidance of staff teacher Shannon Winthrow, right, at Star Lake Elementary in Kent, Wash., on May 7, 2024.
Patrice Madrid, left, leads a special education classroom for 3rd through 5th graders as part of the Washington Education Association's teacher residency program under the guidance of staff teacher Shannon Withrow, right, at Star Lake Elementary in Kent, Wash., on May 7, 2024.
Meron Menghistab for Education Week
Teacher Preparation These Preparation Programs Are Creating a 'Tutor to Teacher' Pipeline
A new pipeline offering an authentic glimpse of the profession is growing, despite patchy financial cover.
8 min read
Photograph of an adult Black woman helping a female student with an assignment.
iStock/Getty
Teacher Preparation Opinion 3 Ways to Give Preservice Teachers Meaningful Classroom Experiences
A veteran teacher offers guidance on how to support teacher-candidates.
Allison Kilgore Thompson
3 min read
A novice teacher shadow is cast across an empty classroom.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week + DigitalVision vectors + Getty Images
Teacher Preparation AI Is Coming to Teacher Prep. Here's What That Looks Like
One preparation program is banking on AI to transform new teacher training.
4 min read
Collage illustration of computer display and classroom image.
F. Sheehan for Education Week / Getty