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Elevate K-12 CEO details how technology can help mitigate the teacher shortage

Elevate K-12 CEO Shaily Baranwal joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss a service that lets teachers in other regions instruct students virtually

Video transcript

- A new federal survey finds that 53% of public schools reported feeling understaffed entering the school year. This as many states are seeking out alternate ways to deal with the teacher shortage. One of those methods, livestreaming lessons. One company that does just that is Elevate K-12. We're joined by the CEO, Shaily Baranwal. Shaily, good to talk to you today. Walk me through how exactly this works, in terms of the livestream and what kind of courses you're targeting.

SHAILY BARANWAL: Sure. Very nice to be here. Today is actually World Teacher's Day, so it's really nice to talk about teaching and the profession this morning. What we basically do is when we look at the teacher shortage problem that's plaguing the school districts, before the pandemic, the problem was very related to, hey, I'm in this county, and there's a geographic arbitrage and the county does not have the teacher in the zip code. What is happening now is, after the pandemic and after COVID, the teachers are just leaving the-- leaving the profession.

So the way it works in our case is the school district could be in a rural part of Texas, and the teacher could be in San Francisco, working from home, but she is the teacher of record for that classroom and livestreams into the classroom in the school every single day for the entire school year. So now, the students in the classroom don't have to be taught by a substitute teacher or a non-certified teacher or a human, and they are now taught every single second by a certified teacher who is live and is helping them with their curriculum.

- I have to say, my first reaction to this was, look, we just spent the last two years where students were online learning. So how is livestreaming now the answer? I mean, I realize that there is a teacher shortage, but what we've learned over the last two years through the course of the pandemic is that kids do need some kind of interaction.

SHAILY BARANWAL: Yeah. So what happened during the pandemic was remote learning. And this is very different from remote learning. They were solving two very different problems. During COVID, the problem we were solving was the kids could not interact with each other. They couldn't socially be in the same room together. And even though the teacher was in the same zip code, they both had to be at home.

This is not that. The kids are coming to school. They're sitting in the classroom. They're interacting with their peers. The only difference is that the teacher is in a different zip code, and now streaming straight into the classroom. And we've worked very hard to build our technology, our service, our platform in a way that it actually replicates every single positive point of a real teacher being in the classroom. And we get very close to it, actually.

- And where are you seeing the biggest demand right now when you look across the US? A follow-up to that would be, well, how much are these districts paying for the service?

SHAILY BARANWAL: Yeah. So let's talk about the demand first. So to give you a magnitude, there are 3.2 million K-12 certified teachers in the country. Before the pandemic, there were 200,000 vacancies across the 13,000 odd school districts in the country. This year alone, 600,000 teachers have left the profession. So this problem is not a problem anymore. It is a cancer.

But when we see where the demand mostly lies, we are seeing most of the demand being from grades 6 to 12, with math, special ed, ELA, world languages being the dominant core classes where the districts are seeing the maximum vacancies. And the reason it is, when the kids are at the lower grade level, it's still possible to teach addition and subtraction. But as the classes and the curriculum gets more difficult, it gets more specialized.

The sad part that we are seeing this year is a lot of states are actually reducing the requirements for certifications and saying anybody with a bachelor's degree can come teach. Some of the states are saying anybody without a bachelor's degree can come and teach because there is no other solution to fill the gaps that are in the classrooms now.

- And in terms of the cost?

SHAILY BARANWAL: So in terms of the cost, when the districts buy with Elevate, the beauty is they're buying number of hours of instruction. So let's say if they buy 100 hours of instruction with us, they pay about $14,000 per hour of instruction for the whole school year. And then they can say, OK, I need two hours of Spanish in this school and three hours of algebra one in the second school. And now, at the cost of the whole teacher, they're actually getting two teachers. So not only are they getting the value of a high-quality teacher, but they are also getting higher ROI on the dollar spent for a teacher.

- And finally, who's teaching these courses? I mean, we're talking about a teacher shortage nationally. You're still able to fill those positions that you're seeking. Are these certified teachers? And is this just a symptom of teachers being concentrated in areas not necessarily matching the demand that's out there in the location where the need is?

SHAILY BARANWAL: You're absolutely right. So it is a geographic arbitrage problem. We still have teachers. We-- teachers get into this profession for the joy of teaching. So that's what they want to do. They want to teach. But so you are right, it's a geographic arbitrage. It's just that these are all American teachers, they are all certified, but they are not in the county or the state where the demand is. But now, teachers have the flexibility of working from home and streaming straight into a classroom.

Let me give you a stat. The two most female-dominated professions in the world, which are nursing and teaching, are the most inflexible. And after COVID, when a lot of us have opportunities of working from home, it was very difficult to do that in these two professions. It's still hard to do that in nursing, but we are completely disrupting this category and making it happen and making it work for the benefit of the teachers, the students, and the school in the teaching profession.

- OK. We'll look forward to seeing the progress and scaling this, as well. Elevate K-12 CEO Shaily Baranwal.