School Zone: How DC-area school systems work through substitute teacher shortages

Welcome to the School Zone, WTOP’s weekly feature about the latest topics and trends in education across the D.C. region.

The state of substitute teaching across the DC region

What it is: What can be done to increase the number of substitute teachers available to fill in on a given day?

It’s a question school systems across the country and D.C. region have grappled with during the school year that is coming to a close. In some cases, when teachers are off or sick, and there isn’t a sufficient substitute teaching pool, central office personnel are called to fill in, or other teachers are asked to cover during a planning period.

The number of substitute teachers needed depends on the number of leave requests a school system has.

What it means: Students and teachers have worked to adjust to a “new normal” following a return to the classroom after months of virtual learning. A substitute teacher shortage may cause further disruption.

Big picture: At various points during the school year, counties across the D.C. area have worked to incentivize becoming a substitute teacher.

Would you be interested in receiving this information in a weekly email newsletter?

In Fairfax County, Virginia, the school board voted in October to increase hourly pay by as much as $3 per hour. The county also adjusted its undergraduate credit requirement with the hope of recruiting eligible college students.

In D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser announced multiple pay increases for substitutes earlier this year, after educators said the first increase wasn’t sufficient.

Montgomery County, Maryland, the state’s largest school system, increased substitute teacher pay by over 7% in January.

Regional snapshot: Between May 2 and 31, Fairfax County schools said, about 31% of requests went unfilled. The county received more than 35,000 teacher requests, and accommodated over 24,000 of them.

Virginia’s largest school system ended the year with a 73% fill rate for the period between July 1, 2021 and June 16, 2022, according to county data.

In Loudoun County, about 18% of substitute teacher requests in May were not covered, a spokesman said.

For schools in Arlington, in May, about 36% of requests were unfilled. Classes that substitutes didn’t fill were covered by other teachers or central office staff, a spokesman told me.

D.C. said it didn’t have data for May, but in a statement said rates of coverage requests “fluctuate and schools often utilize internal coverage options.”

About 53% of daily substitute teacher requests in Montgomery County were unfilled in May, Bethesda Beat reported.

Talking points: Janine Fitzpatrick, who substitute teaches in D.C., told me the lack of a sufficient substitute teacher pool is noticeable.

Her son at Jackson-Reed High School “has had days where he’s only had substitutes for his teachers. … It’s a lot of going to the gym,” she said. “I know a lot of the full-time teachers [at Alice Deal Middle School] are covering those periods. Teachers that are out are splitting up the classroom and then splitting them out among the other teachers.”

More Education News
More Local News

A Fairfax County spokeswoman said in an email that the school system “continues to improve our processes and procedures to help alleviate these shortages.”

D.C. said it’s “working to recruit more substitutes through partnerships with local colleges and universities’ career centers, advertisements on social media, and share information via local and virtual hiring fairs.”

Maryland university system drops SAT/ACT admissions requirement

Earlier this week, the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents voted to eliminate a requirement that prospective students take the SAT or ACT before applying to its 12 institutions.

I spoke to WTOP’s Kate Ryan for the latest.

Q: What does the change mean for prospective students of USM colleges?

A: There’s no definitive answer to that — yet. The change means that each of the USM’s schools can adopt their own requirements. Joann Boughman, the senior vice chancellor for academic and student affairs for USM, explained to board members that “each campus would be expected to in fact clarify their position on being test-optional or test-required and would clearly articulate in their campus policies and all of their processes, so that the students who are applying to that institution would clearly understand what would be expected of them.”

Q: With the SAT/ACT requirement gone, what are other metrics/indicators that colleges can use to evaluate students?

A: Baughman explained that GPAs are a reliable indicator of a student’s likelihood of succeeding in college, but she also offered a caveat, telling the members of the Board of Regents, “There is a concern, and we are watching this carefully, that grade inflation in high school is an issue. So that in fact, we have challenged our admissions officers to be very careful in watching the GPAs.”

[Read Kate’s reporting on the change in requirements at]

By the numbers
Some data that caught my eye this week.

Budget signing: Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed the state’s budget this week and celebrated investments in education during a signing ceremony.

The budget includes $100 million focused on lab schools, which are partnerships between K-12 school systems and higher education institutions. The funding will expand the types of higher education systems that can be involved in partnerships for lab schools.

What Scott’s Reading

Loudoun Co. schools tighten social media access for middle school students [WTOP]
Uvalde school police chief on leave after mass shooting [WTOP] 
Supreme Court: Religious schools must get Maine tuition aid [WTOP]
Class of ’22 lauded for perseverance through pandemic, gun violence [Washington Post]
Prince William school system hires deputy superintendent [InsideNova]
Social justice mural now on display at Dogwood Elementary School [FFX Now]
Inflation complicates Biden’s deliberations on student loan forgiveness [New York Times]
MCPS eliminates COVID-19 vaccination requirement for student-athletes [Bethesda Beat]

Field Trip 

Here’s a fun thought ahead of the weekend.

Beach bum: We’re off to the Jersey beaches for a weekend of R&R. I’m bringing Leana Wen’s book “Lifelines” with me.

Keep in touch: Have a school story idea we should know about? Send it to [email protected].


Categorized as Art