Fast track to STEM teaching in state with federal grants

Five alternative teacher certification programs in California that won millions in federal grants are on track to train nearly 800 math and science teachers and place them in high-poverty, hard-to-staff schools.

The California Teacher Corps, which represents more than 70 of the state’s alternative certification programs, said the projects, which began with planning grants in 2011-12, will receive about $18 million over five years from Transition to Teaching, a competitive grant program run by the U.S. Department of Education. Its goal to recruit and train teachers in science, technology, engineering and math (known as STEM fields). Particularly in high-needs schools, California continues to face a shortage of fully trained STEM teachers.

The idea behind alternative routes is to entice mid-career professionals in math, science and technology, who may be looking for a change, into the teaching profession, said Corinne Muelrath, executive director of the California Teacher Corps. It may be someone who was downsized out of a job, said Muelrath, or “someone who always wanted to be a teacher but went down a different path.”

The programs are more attractive than traditional teacher certification programs to people going through a job transition because they typically accelerate people into the classroom and pay them for learning to teach while they’re earning their credentials.

The winning projects are based in one school district and four universities.

Cal State Dominguez Hills Transition to Teaching student. (photo: CSU Dominguez Hills). click to enlarge.

  • Cal State Dominguez Hills’ Transition to Teaching Project plans to enroll 225 students over five years who will take online classes while putting those lessons into practice working side by side with master teachers in Saturday and summer laboratory schools for students from more than a dozen southern California districts.
  • Cal State Fullerton is partnering with nine southern California school districts on the AIMS (Autism, Inclusion, Mathematics Core and Science Innovation) Scholar Project to train math, science and special education teachers from underrepresented ethnic groups. They plan to enroll 30 people a year for each of the first three years from paraprofessionals, mid-career professionals and recent college graduates.
  • Holy Names University has developed an undergraduate-graduate residency program for special education and STEM teachers, also known by the acronym AIMS, for a project called the Autism, Inclusion, Math and Science Program, which operates in collaboration with Oakland Unified, West Contra Costa and Hayward Unified school districts.
  • Oakland Unified School District seeks to continue efforts to create a diverse teacher workforce by expanding its Teach Tomorrow in Oakland: Project STEMto recruit, prepare, place and retain local educators, such as elementary school teachers, to become credentialed in a STEM discipline and move into secondary schools. Project STEM students enrolled in credential programs at Holy Names University in Oakland and Cal State East Bay are eligible for tuition discounts at those colleges.

    Student in the Teach Tomorrow in Oakland alternative certification program. (Source: Oakland Unified School District). click to enlarge.

  • The University of San Francisco, in partnership with San Francisco Unified School District, Stanford University, United Educators of San Francisco, Community Initiatives, and AmeriCorps, has designed the San Francisco Teacher Residency program to train aspiring teachers to work in urban public schools teaching math, science and Spanish bilingual literacy.


Muelrath said alternative certification programs are more individually tailored to the unique needs of students living in high-poverty neighborhoods and attending schools with a history of high teacher turnover. “The alternative certification candidates are getting ongoing support and they’re starting their own classroom, so what they’re learning about becoming a teacher is embedded in their day-to-day practice,” she said.

California faces shortage of highly qualified STEM teachers. (Source: Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning). click to enlarge.

California needs more than 33,000 new STEM teachers within a few years (and that’s a conservative estimate according to a 2007 report by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning), but the state is running about 30 percent behind on meeting that goal. Even among the current teacher workforce, the Center found that between 9 and 10 percent of high school math and science teachers are underprepared. Those figures are higher at low-income schools. That’s why one critical requirement of credential students who go through a Transition to Teaching program is that they must remain in the high-needs schools where they’re placed for at least three years.

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12 Responses to “Fast track to STEM teaching in state with federal grants”

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  1. Paul on Dec 13, 2012 at 1:39 am12/13/2012 1:39 am

    • 000

    El, thanks for your comment.

    It’s not cynicism, but truth.

    It would be worth talking with union representatives around the state who are pursuing grievances over illegal use of temporary status for interns, and new-to-district teachers in general.

    The savings from replacing rather than retaining teachers amount to tens of thousands of dollars over the life of a position (the length of a career, if the position were filled by a single teacher). While it’s true that a district might save only “a few thousand dollars” in the first year, that becomes a base annual savings, to which we must add the step increases that are avoided in successive years. Here is a trivial example, with round dollar amounts used and benefit costs excluded:

    One teacher retained in a position:
    Year 1: $40,000
    Year 2: $42,000
    Year 3: $44,000
    Year 4: $46,000

    Teacher replaced annually:
    Year 1: $40,000; savings = $0 this year, $0 cumulative
    Year 2: $40,000; savings = $2,000 this year, $ 2,000 cumulative
    Year 3: $40,000; savings = $4,000 this year, $ 6,000 cumulative
    Year 4: $40,000; savings = $6,000 this year, $12,000 cumulative

    One problem with your analysis is that there isn’t a financial benefit (to school districts) for good teaching. And teacher recruitment — especially in today’s economy — is essentially free: post an ad on EdJoin, cull the large number of applicants, and host a few interviews. The administrator’s time is already paid for; her presence at the interview represents an opportunity cost, not a real cost. As for lost mentorship/hand-holding effort, in districts where the cycle that I’m talking about operates, teachers are replaced long before they would have a chance to demonstrate growth from mentorship.

    Economically-speaking, and from the perspective of a school district only, replacing teachers is the rational choice.


    • navigio on Dec 13, 2012 at 7:41 am12/13/2012 7:41 am

      • 000

      One of the problems I’ve seen recently is that because there is so much uncertainty about how many teachers will be needed every year, the district goes out of its way to provide itself flexibility for those it may need to let go due to sudden drops in enrollment once school starts (lately due to charter schools). Once those teachers are secured in temp status, a very clear and direct way to save money is to try to convince senior teachers to retire, then replace them with those temporary teachers. The cost savings in that case can be extreme so even if incentives are needed to convince those senior teachers out, a real financial benefit can still exist longer term. During the past few years due to the budget pressures, this has become an actual strategy. Not surprisingly I guess. I do think the extent to which this happens during more ‘normal’ funding years depends a lot on the particular staff, but money is money.

    • el on Dec 13, 2012 at 9:12 am12/13/2012 9:12 am

      • 000

      Paul, I suppose people do feel that way. I am glad our district does not.

      I would counter your savings with the cost of the time of district staff to float a position and interview applicants and check references every year. This may be a danger of having a large district with a standing HR department that does nothing else and thus sees no cost to it; in our district this work is done by teachers and administrators with better, more kid-centric things to do.

      And as for there being no perceived financial value in quality teachers… perhaps that’s another thing that happens when you and all your neighbors are in perpetual program improvement; I don’t know. It certainly indicates a level of despair and a system where the people have lost any sense that they can accomplish their mission.

      If this is truly widespread, I think the answer is not more regulation about interns but smaller districts (or more site control), where the people who do the hiring and firing have to work with the people they hire on a regular basis.

  2. Paul on Dec 8, 2012 at 4:10 am12/8/2012 4:10 am

    • 000

    Mr. Teacher, I appreciate your point about retention versus replacement.

    California’s school districts favor replacement over retention because replacement is so much cheaper — for them.

    * Inexperienced teachers start at the bottom of the salary scale. By bringing teachers in on temporary (out after one year) rather than probationary contracts (potential to return for a second year, and then to remain permanently after that), school districts keep average salaries low. By law, teachers with Internship Credentials — the teachers mentioned in this article — must be hired in probationary rather than temporary status. In practice, school districts flout the law. Interns are last in line for hiring, so they cannot afford to ask questions.

    * Teachers with Internship Credentials cost even less in certain districts. Historically, most districts had separate pay scales for non-credentialed teachers. Some districts have kept those scales in place, just for interns. (The Internship Credential dates back to 1967, but was seldom used until emergency permits were eliminated and contemporary alternative certification programs like TFA gained notoriety.) Nowadays, the practice of paying interns less has little to do with differences in their qualifications (the Internship Credential satisfies the NCLB “highly qualified” requirement because subject matter competence is a prerequisite) and nothing to do with differences in their work (the Internship Credential authorizes the same service as a regular credential). Saving money is the main goal.

    * Though school districts’ revolving-door personnel management practices generate huge teacher training costs, those costs accrue to other parties. The state pays almost all costs for a UC or CSU credential candidate, even kicking in a few thousand dollars a year for a teacher intern from a private university. The candidates themselves pay nominal fees to UC and CSU, or substantial tuition to private universities. Tens of thousands of dollars are wasted when a teacher leaves the profession prematurely. Tens of thousands more must be spent to train a replacement. To the school district, it’s other people’s money.

    * A new teacher who quits in frustration during the year creates a financial windfall for the school district. Someone who was earning $200 to $250 a day plus “full” benefits is replaced for days, weeks, or months by someone who earns $100 to $150 a day plus minimal benefits (no sick leave, no health insurance contribution, no professional development expenses, and no STRS contribution unless the substitute teacher completes a “permissive election” form).

    I agree with you that new teachers need real-world experience. A teacher who earned a preliminary credential through the internship pathway is more likely to have had such experience, than a teacher who earned a preliminary credential in a conventional program. The former intern arrives with one to two years of experience as teacher of record, whereas the traditionally-prepared teacher arrives with as few as 140 hours of student teaching time (see the statistic of the month for October, 2012 on the CTC’s news page).

    Summer school is an ideal placement for an intern, because the summer school programs that have survived the budget cuts are geared to mandatory remediation rather than optional enrichment. Being locked in a non-air-conditioned room with 30 Algebra I repeaters, five hours a day for an entire month, with minimal school support staff, is about as real as it gets!


    • el on Dec 9, 2012 at 9:47 pm12/9/2012 9:47 pm

      • 000

      Paul’s level of cynicism may apply in some districts I suppose, but it certainly indicates a level of dysfunction far past the issue he cites. I can’t imagine any rational school district, or more specifically, any principal, discharging a teacher who is doing a good job with the students and meshes well with the staff just to save a few thousand dollars. The time and effort involved in hiring and hand-holding a new teacher is just too great, and frankly the time spent interviewing a new person is worth a considerable portion of that alleged savings.

  3. Mr. Teacher on Dec 4, 2012 at 2:31 pm12/4/2012 2:31 pm

    • 000

    As an experienced middle school(10-13 years old) teacher in the largest school district in CA, I wonder why there is no emphasis on retaining teachers in these areas (which is allowed under the contract). There would be far fewer openings if they kept the teachers that are already trained and successful in the classroom.

    While I applaud any effort to recruit new teachers, I hope that these programs select their candidates wisely as my personal experience has shown that these types of programs often do not. Bitter engineers who hate the government for not giving their company a military contract, scientists who are upset they didn’t get a grant and are forced to lower themselves to teach children and mathematicians who thought they would be professor and are there to make ends meet make for poor teachers.

    Whenever we get a teacher from these programs we know to leave the parking lot gates open as they often quit during the first 3 period of the first day. Our administrators put teachers on notice that we will have to cover their classes for the rest of the day. One teacher, who had a PHD in his field, we found in the corner of the class crying. My second year of teaching we had a Drill Instructor, an absolute mountain of muscle with a voice like thunder from an alternative credential program got chewed up and spit out in less than a month. His long term substitute was a retired shriveled prune of a woman, who whipped all of his classes into shape in two days.

    The reason for this is not that they could not become good teachers, but rather their preparation did not contain real world experience. I worked with three mentor teachers in middle and high school over the course of an entire school year. Not online training, not on Saturdays and not on alternate holidays. Prepare them properly, under authentic conditions for a school year. Summer school is nothing like a regular school year. You will fail to obtain the skills required by only seeing a summer school program.

  4. TDP on Dec 4, 2012 at 1:16 pm12/4/2012 1:16 pm

    • 000

    Alternative certification sounds like an important resource for our state. Califonia schools face an impending teacher shortage. According to research released by West ED nearly 40 percent of California Educators are over the age of 50 and on tract for retirement. These programs are poised to train and support teachers and be a solution.

    Alternative certification programs have done a great job in our district supporting laid off teachers. Regular education teachers were re-trained and shifted into special education positions where districts and students needed them the most. They received a high-level of on site supervsion and support and solved the problem when there were not enough Ed specialist teachers.

  5. Christine Weatherill on Dec 4, 2012 at 12:18 pm12/4/2012 12:18 pm

    • 000

    As a person who has provided ample support for both on-track and AIMS scholars, I can attest first hand to the need for programs such as these that provide high quality classroom support and optimize teacher retention.

  6. Dr. Belinda Karge on Dec 4, 2012 at 11:44 am12/4/2012 11:44 am

    • 000

    Greetings all,
    The AIMS Scholar program is an expansion of the recently completed On Track Scholar program ( that funded 100 math, science and special education teachers; of which 96 are now fully employeed in the schools in California. Thanks to California Teacher Corps and the program faculty we are able to support these candidates as they begin working in the public schools.

  7. Carolyn on Dec 4, 2012 at 9:32 am12/4/2012 9:32 am

    • 000

    Thank you, Kathryn and the California Teacher Corps, for highlighting these excellent programs that will lead to increased numbers of STEM teachers in California. In response to Paul, yes, times are tough. However, if we lose track of the need for teachers because of economic uncertainty, we will find ourselves unprepared in when thousands of teachers do retire. I applaud the 5 California programs for their foresight and innovation to help us continue to serve students today, while simultaneously planning for the future.


    • el on Dec 4, 2012 at 11:19 am12/4/2012 11:19 am

      • 000

      The pipeline is great – but the grants also need to ensure those freshly trained teachers will be funded for actual teaching positions, or it is all for naught.

      That’s true for science in general, by the way. For all the handwringing about people not getting degrees in science, when only 1/10 worthy proposals are funded by NIH, NSF, et al, a STEM PhD is not always a slam dunk to job security and prosperity. Sometimes funding the end of the pipeline is as important as funding the beginning of it.

  8. Paul on Dec 4, 2012 at 9:14 am12/4/2012 9:14 am

    • 000

    The timing is off. I pity the eager young people who are signing up for these programs.

    Calls for tens of thousands of new teachers, from CFTL and other sources, predate the recession. All current indicators point to an oversupply of teachers in California. Enrollment in credential programs has dropped. Statewide average class sizes have increased. The number of intern teachers (the internship pathway is the typical credentialing pathway for the recruitment programs mentioned in this article) has dropped by about half, with fewer than 3000 such teachers left in a statewide teacher workforce numbering almost 300,000.

    So much for STEM. Even math teachers have received pink slips in the last two years!

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