New teachers scarce after state funding cuts

03/07/2014 12:00 AM

03/07/2014 12:02 AM

Young teachers have become far more scarce in California classrooms after school districts slashed their budgets to survive the recession.

From 2008 to 2013, California saw a 40 percent drop in teachers with less than six years’ experience, according to a Sacramento Bee review of state data.

As the state cut funding, districts laid off teachers with the least seniority and stopped hiring new applicants. Those employment practices, in turn, discouraged college students from pursuing the profession in California, as enrollment in teaching programs fell by 41 percent between 2008 and 2012.

Students are learning from more experienced teachers, but the hiring changes have disrupted the natural flow of classroom talent that districts typically rely upon. First-time teachers bring “freshness and energy” and ensure schools have a steady pipeline ready to replace veteran instructors who retire, said Jon Snyder, executive director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education.

The traditional balance may take years to restore as schools slowly rebuild their teaching ranks and college students begin to see education as a viable profession again.

With the state budget on the mend, districts hired about 13,000 K-12 teachers statewide and about 200 in the Sacramento region this school year. Next year, the number of new teachers is expected to grow at a faster pace as districts reduce class sizes and expand programs directed at low-income and minority students under new state guidelines.

“The last few years have been very hard economically, and the budget has led to some unfortunate circumstances and reductions,” said Mary Vixie Sandy, executive director of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. “There is a much more optimistic forecast as school budgets begin to stabilize.”

In the Sacramento area, the largest declines in teachers with less than six years’ experience occurred at Sacramento City Unified and Folsom Cordova Unified, which saw a roughly 70 percent drop.

Sacramento City Unified went from 985 teachers with fewer than six years’ experience in 2008 to 293 in 2013. The district’s 2008 numbers were particularly high because it hired a slew of teachers after offering retirement incentives to veteran teachers in a money-saving move.

The district’s numbers aren’t likely to change much next school year because it is losing nearly 1,000 students a year due to changing demographics in the community, according to spokesman Gabe Ross. The good news for teachers is that it isn’t planning layoffs, either, Ross said.

The longer a district lays off teachers and stops hiring, the less attractive it becomes to novice teachers, said Pia Wong, a Sacramento State education professor.

“Sacramento City Unified was sending layoff notices to teachers with 11 years’ experience,” Wong said. “If you are a new teacher in your first three or five years, you aren’t going to look at a district that is digging so deep.”

Woodland, Western Placer, Natomas, Twin Rivers and Elk Grove school districts all saw the number of less-experienced teachers decline at least 30 percent from 2008 to 2013, state data show.

Among large local districts, only San Juan had more novice teachers in 2013 than it did in 2008. The district experienced a large number of retirements and hired about 100 teachers entering 2013, said spokesman Trent Allen. He expects that trend will continue, as the district has a large number of teachers nearing retirement age.

As traditional public schools turned away teachers during the recession, many less-experienced educators flocked to charter schools, which often lack the seniority-based employment rules that favor veteran instructors.

Charter schools educate about 10 percent of Sacramento County’s students, but last year they employed 40 percent of the region’s first- and second-year teachers. Teachers at five schools in the Sacramento City Unified District – all charters – averaged less than five years in the profession in 2013. They were Capitol Collegiate Academy, Sol Aureus College Preparatory, Yav Pem Suab Academy, St. Hope Public School 7 and Oak Park Preparatory Academy.

The years of budget cuts eliminated 32,000 teaching jobs statewide between 2007 and 2012, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. That caused many students to gravitate toward other professions.

Jennifer Moore, 23, comes from a family of teachers, but decided to take a job selling industrial supplies two years ago instead of completing her teacher training. “It really discouraged me as an undergraduate,” she said of the layoffs.

But this year Moore opted to return to teaching. She was at California State University, Sacramento, last week to enroll in a masters program at the College of Education. “It’s worth it to have a job you love,” she said.

A report released by the National Center for Education Statistics last month estimates that California’s K-12 population will grow from 6.2 million in 2012 to 6.9 million in 2022. A big influx of new students and a dearth of new teachers could make for a “demographic double whammy,” Snyder said.

But as hiring has resumed, so has student interest. Last year Sacramento State saw a 5 percent increase in students applying to the College of Education. Application figures for 2014-15, released Monday, remained the same as last year, according to Wong.

Monthly information sessions for potential students have been “overflowing and packed,” said Kathe Goodwin, lead program adviser for the CSUS College of Education. “Before the fall semester we were lucky to have 10 to 15 people there. Now they are out the door – standing room only. It tells me people are interested again.”

Sandy said applications for teaching credentials in California have risen about 5 percent to 7 percent in the first six months of the academic year.

“Teachers I encounter tend to be optimistic, especially the young teachers coming in,” Sandy said. “They are seeking a spot and opportunity to contribute. As we begin to see increased enrollment and teacher applications, that is a sign of optimism.”

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