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California confronts lack of qualified teachers

Students participating in a discussion with their teacher. (Photo: Alex Brylov, via Shutterstock)

California is experiencing a lack of qualified teachers even as enrollment rates in preparation programs rise.

“Teacher shortages have been worsening in California since 2015. Growth in teacher demand as the economy has improved has collided with steep declines in the supply of new teachers, leading to significant increases in the hiring of underprepared teachers, especially in districts serving high-need students,” the Learning Policy Institute reported last year.

The California Teachers Association reported that between 2008 and 2012, about 100,000 teachers were given “pink slips” as a warning they could be laid off.

Between 2002 and 2016, the supply of new teacher candidates “declined by more than half.” The number of new teaching credentials issued annually to fully prepared candidates remains “near historic lows at roughly 12,000, and not all these recipients enter the profession in California,” the LPI reported. In the same publication, high turnover rates in math, science and English departments than in other fields, are noted.

Pia Wong, Associate Dean for Research and Engagement within the College of Education and Teaching for a Change department at Sacramento State, said there are many reasons for these shortages across the state.

“There’s been an uptick in the number of students in public schools and at the same time, no bounce back from the recession,” Wong said.

She noted that many headlines during the 2007 recession discouraged young people from teaching.

The California Teachers Association reported that between 2008 and 2012, about 100,000 teachers were given “pink slips” as a warning they could be laid off. “For example, headlines like ’22,000 teachers given lay off notices’ create a bad perception, who wants to go into a profession where perceived layoffs are happening?” Wong said. At the same time, teacher retirement funds were unstable and now, teachers are retiring at a faster rate than normal, Wong added.

MarketWatch reported public-school teacher jobs nationally haven’t recovered from the recession. The Economic Policy Institute reported in 2018: “State and local government austerity since the recession has contributed to a significant shortfall in education employment.” There are currently over 115,000 fewer public education jobs than there were before the recession began in 2007.

“California will need to undertake additional policy steps to solve the shortages soon.” — Stanford University and Policy Analysis for California Education

“If we include the number of jobs that should have been created just to keep up with growing student enrollment, we are currently experiencing a 389,000 job shortfall in public education,” according to the EPI. The consequences of this include larger classroom sizes, less teacher aides and fewer extracurricular activities.

“Now we are experiencing teacher strikes to encourage better work standards. The job of teaching has been more demanding. The state standards are sophisticated and require a lot out of students and teachers,” Wong said.

In January, More than 30,000 teachers within the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest school system, went on strike in reaction to a proposed 6 percent wage increase they believed was “woefully inadequate,” according to Forbes.

Sacramento-area teachers have been on strike as well, demanding the city school district implement a deal that was promised in 2017 to enable better teacher staffing.In March, after more than a year of contract negotiations, Oakland teachers were able to take home an 11 percent wage increase over three years.

“We think the teacher residency program is a promising way to get teachers in the pipeline and keep them there.” — Kevin McCarty, via EdSource.

Stanford University and Policy Analysis for California Education collaborated on publishing data regarding the shortages. “California has not been standing still in the face of teacher shortages. Over the last three years, the state legislature has enacted several initiatives to address teacher shortages,” the publication reports. Over $45 million has been designated to help “classified staff” become certified to teach, to start new undergraduate programs for teacher education and to help launch a Center on Teaching Careers, a recruitment and resource center.

In 2018, California invested $75 million to support teacher residencies to recruit and train teachers in special education, math, science and bilingual education. “When considering whether these efforts have made progress in addressing shortages, our findings suggest that, while these programs should make a positive difference, California will need to undertake additional policy steps to solve the shortages soon,” Stanford University and Policy Analysis for California Education reported.

The Local Solutions Grant program will offer one-time grants totaling $50 million for school districts to develop strategies for reversing the state’s lack of special education teachers. “We think the teacher residency program is a promising way to get teachers in the pipeline and keep them there,” Ed Source reported Assemblymember Kevin McCarty saying. McCarty, D-Sacramento, authored Assembly Bill 2547 that created the program.

The state has also created grants for universities that go toward funding fast track teaching and residency programs that allow students to have a living wage while having the “demanding credentialing program.”The Teacher Residency Grant Program in California funds 33 Local Education Agencies, including state universities and school districts. The cost of teacher preparation is cited as a “significant obstacle” for those who are considering becoming teachers, the LPI said.

“The misconception about teaching is that it’s glorified babysitting, but that’s not the case. The salary may not be as good as a lawyer’s, but teachers have the ability to serve their community and create impacts that last a lifetime,” Wong said.


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