California Forum

Fix California’s shortage of qualified teachers, or Brown’s school reforms will fail

Eighty percent of California school districts reported teacher shortages last fall. Here, Dominique Williams, an English and ethnic studies teacher at Burbank High School listens at a 2016 Sacramento State teachers recruitment seminar.
Eighty percent of California school districts reported teacher shortages last fall. Here, Dominique Williams, an English and ethnic studies teacher at Burbank High School listens at a 2016 Sacramento State teachers recruitment seminar. aseng@sacbee.com

As budget negotiations move into their final stages, California policymakers must make a decision that will have profound consequences for California’s public school students and the state’s future: Are they ready to make the serious investments necessary to resolve California’s severe teacher shortages and build the strong and stable workforce needed to prepare our students for the high-tech, knowledge-based economy they will enter?

It is time to act decisively. The teacher shortages that have swept the nation have hit California especially hard over the last three years. A Learning Policy Institute survey found that 80 percent of California districts reported shortages last fall.

Dramatically lower enrollments in teacher preparation programs have forced districts to hire large numbers of unqualified and uncredentialed teachers. Last year alone, California issued nearly 6,000 emergency-style teaching permits. More than half of the teachers who started teaching in 2017 had not met the state’s credentialing standards.

Dramatically lower enrollments in teacher preparation programs over the last decade have forced districts to hire large numbers of unqualified and uncredentialed teachers. Last year alone, California issued nearly 6,000 emergency-style teaching permits. More than half of the teachers who started teaching in 2017 had not met the state’s credentialing standards.

The shortage of qualified teachers has dire consequences for our students and our schools. When half of new math and science teachers are entering the classroom without preparation, the state’s preeminence as a world leader in science and technology is clearly threatened.

Research shows that student performance suffers in schools with large proportions of unprepared teachers, who are less effective and leave their classrooms at far higher rates than teachers who enter the profession fully prepared. High levels of “churn” depress achievement and waste precious resources: The cost of replacing each teacher who leaves can exceed $20,000.

Shortages are even more severe in special education, where two in three new teachers entering the classroom have not completed their training. Without knowledgeable teachers, it’s not surprising that our students with special needs are struggling across the state: Of the 228 school districts flagged for intervention and support this year, most were identified based on poor outcomes for students with disabilities.

Teacher shortages and teacher turnover also threaten the success of the state’s major reform efforts. Over the past eight years, California has adopted new standards and assessments and implemented a new, more equitable method for funding its schools.

These ambitious reforms point us in the right direction. However, in the words of Michael Fullan, an expert on systems change for schools, “with not enough teachers, and not enough good teachers, no whole system reform strategy will work, no matter how sophisticated and well-designed.”

With the political will and the right investments, we can solve this problem. Investing in programs proven to produce well-prepared teachers who stay in the field, such as teacher residency programs, will help boost the number of high-quality teachers where we need them most. Scholarship programs that cover aspiring teachers’ education in exchange for a commitment to teach in a high-need field for 4 years is another strategy supported by research.

Governor Brown’s 2018-19 budget proposal includes a $100 million investment in proven programs like these to reverse the shortage of special education teachers. Similar proposals to recruit, train, and retain math, science, and bilingual teachers are moving forward in the Legislature. Making decisions about the state education budget requires lawmakers to balance competing demands, particularly when current overall funding levels are not quite adequate to meet the goals the state has set for all students.

But boosting the supply of qualified teachers in California must be a priority. Without a strong education system, the state’s future is in jeopardy. And without strong teachers, no other education reforms can succeed. The stakes for California’s future couldn’t be higher.

Linda Darling-Hammond is Chair of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, President of the Learning Policy Institute, and Emeritus Professor at Stanford University.

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