Teacher shortage in South Carolina

South Carolina already uses seven alternative certification programs, including Teach for America, to recruit new teachers like Abigail Lepsch, seen in February 2013 at Burke High School. The Texas-based company Teachers of Tomorrow recently received approval to bring its alternative certification program to the state, as well. File/Grace Beahm/Staff

Hoping to fill a chronic statewide teacher shortage, South Carolina will now accept alternative certification through the Texas-based education company Teachers of Tomorrow.

“South Carolina has been severely affected by teacher shortages for a long time, and we are excited to be able to help school districts quickly address those shortages,” said Teachers of Tomorrow CEO Vernon Reaser in a statement.

Teachers of Tomorrow is one of several companies offering an alternative route to teaching for college graduates looking to make a career change. Participants will work a one-year classroom internship and take about 300 hours of the company's online courses, with no college coursework in education required.

Teachers will have to complete three years of teaching with a provisional license before earning a professional license from the state.

The program will offer certification for teaching sixth through 12th grade. As an introductory offer through Aug. 31, the company will waive its usual $295 up-front fee. If participants secure a teaching position, teachers will pay the company $400 a month for 10 months. School districts do not have to pay anything to hire teachers from the certification program.

Teachers of Tomorrow is a national outgrowth of Texas Teachers of Tomorrow, formerly known as A+ Texas Teachers. The National Council on Teacher Quality gave A+ Texas Teachers an F rating in 2014, noting that it did not screen candidates through an audition process, did not test participants for content mastery in specific subject areas, and required only three formal observations by a program supervisor in the first year.

Dave Saba, chief development officer for Teachers of Tomorrow, said in an email that a lot has changed at the company since that report.

"First, we never responded to the inquiry (NCTQ) sent since it was more applicable to education schools. We have also begun our CAEP (Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation) accreditation, which is one of the highest quality measures," Saba wrote.

The S.C. Department of Education already recognizes seven alternative certification programs, including American Board, Teach for America and specialized programs like Montessori Initial Certification. With a pair of bills signed into law May 19 by Gov. Henry McMaster, S. 601 and S. 602, the Legislature will allow the state Board of Education to authorize more alternative certification programs as it sees fit.

South Carolina ranks 38th in average teacher salary according to a 2016 National Education Association report. That may be one factor in the state's teacher shortage, which was highlighted in a fall 2016 report by the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement (CERRA) at Winthrop University.

The report showed teachers leaving the classroom in droves and 481 vacant teaching positions around the state, noting that teacher supply is especially low in rural schools and for these subjects: math, science, social studies, special education and Spanish.

CERRA also found that South Carolina colleges of education are over-producing graduates in specialties where fewer openings exist, including early childhood education, physical education and English-language arts.

The CERRA study found that schools hired a total of 433 teachers through alternative certification programs for the fall of 2016. While South Carolina has leaned on alternative certification to fill vacancies, most alternatively certified teachers left their job within five years, researchers found.

Saba said Teachers of Tomorrow's teacher retention rate is 68 percent after five years in the classroom.

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Reach Paul Bowers at 843-937-5546 or twitter.com/paul_bowers.