Bill would open the door to undergraduate teaching credentials

For the first time in decades, aspiring teachers in California would be able to major in education as undergraduates and get both a preliminary teaching credential and a baccalaureate degree in four years if a bill in the Legislature becomes law.

Teachers in California must major in a subject other than education, then pass a test of their knowledge of the subject or subjects they plan to teach, and spend a year taking courses and interning in a classroom to get a teaching credential.

Teachers in California must major in a subject other than education. Then, to get a teaching credential, they must  pass a test of their knowledge of the subject or subjects they plan to teach, and spend a year taking courses on instruction techniques and interning in a classroom.

Senate Bill 5, sponsored by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, could result in a dramatic shift in teacher preparation. Distinct among the states, students wishing to become teachers in California are required to major in subjects other than education in college. Then, to get their teaching credential as post-graduates in nine to 12 months, they must pass a content test measuring their knowledge of the subject they plan to teach, and take courses in teaching techniques and intern as a student teacher in the classroom. Critics of the current system, including Linda Darling-Hammond, the chair of the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing, say compressing everything a teacher is expected to know into a program lasting a year or less leaves teachers less prepared than they should be, shortchanging their students.

Senate Bill 5 would  remove two key restrictions that have been in effect in California for 40 years:

  • Aspiring teachers have been required to major in a specific academic subject, like math or English, as an undergraduate. Education as a major, which would emphasize how to teach subject matter, was not accepted. That ban would be lifted, enabling students to study for a preliminary teaching credential and a BA degree in education at the same time.
  • Teacher preparation programs currently must be able to offer all courses and requirements leading to a credential within one year. That requirement would be expanded under SB 5 to two years.

“SB 5 will provide aspiring teachers more time to develop effective teaching skills,” said Padilla in a statement last week announcing the legislation.

There are already a handful of private colleges in California that offer four-year programs leading to an undergraduate degree and a preliminary credential to teach in elementary grades. This “blended” model would likely be expanded to state universities if an undergraduate education major were permitted.

Padilla’s bill would implement some of the recommendations of “Greatness by Design,” the report released last fall by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson’s Task Force on Education Excellence. Darling-Hammond, a Stanford Graduate School of Education professor, also co-chaired the task force, and has been an advocate for allowing teacher preparation programs at the undergraduate level and removing the one-year time limit  on courses and credits for teacher preparation.

The balance between how to teach and what to teach

The restrictions date to 1970, when the Legislature acted out of a concern that colleges were turning out elementary and middle school teachers who, having majored in education, were knowledgeable in how to teach, along with the history and psychology of learning and pedagogy, but not in the content of subjects they’d have to teach. The thinking was that aspiring teachers would follow up their BA degree in a specific subject with an intensive, one-year preparation in teaching techniques. To hasten the process and save teaching candidates the expense of a lengthy teacher preparation program, the Legislature imposed the one-year limit. (There are also plenty of two-year teacher preparation programs, like the Stanford Teacher Education Program, that lead to both a credential and a master’s degree in education. And many colleges offer education as a minor, with courses such as the history of education, the psychology of learning, and challenges of educational assessment.)

Darling-Hammond and others argue that teaching now demands a vaster set of classroom skills than five decades ago. Teachers must know how to integrate technology, deal with increasingly challenging discipline issues in the classroom and  implement complex strategies for teaching English learners and students with learning disabilities. Restricted by the one-year cap, the credentialing commission is faced with overseeing a system challenged by having to cram additional requirements into an already intensive curriculum.

The bill, by loosening the time limits for getting a teaching credential, could encourage the credentialing commission to beef up the components for teaching English learners. Or teacher preparation programs could do this on their own.

Also, as the “Greater by Design” report notes, California also may be the only state without a specific requirement for supervised student teaching. Some candidates get several months of supervision in the field, while others get a few weeks. Opening up the one-year cap could encourage programs with a short student teaching component to add weeks or a semester to their requirements.

“California’s antiquated policy also introduces inefficiencies in the preparation system that the state cannot now afford,” the “Greater By Design” report concluded. “Instead of capitalizing on the opportunities to learn to teach presented in students’ undergraduate years, students must often undergo additional expense to pursue a credential after they have graduated, without sufficient time to learn all they need to succeed in an increasingly challenging job.”

Carolyn Nelson, dean of the College of Education and Allied Studies at California State University, East Bay, said that loosening time constraints on credentialing  “could create room for creative thinking.” Some schools of education may begin offering extra courses beyond one year, perhaps combined with a paid residency the second year, in which teacher candidates would spend a full year under the guidance of one teacher. Others might allow juniors or seniors in college to begin working through some of their basic credentialing requirements.

But others argue that bringing back education as a major, allowing them to get a credential with their undergraduate degree, would be a mistake. The proposed change would renew the argument that college departments of education would focus too much on how to teach, at the expense of providing content knowledge on what to teach. Phil Daro, who ran the California Mathematics Project for the University of California and has designed teaching training programs, is among the math experts who say that many elementary teachers lack a deep knowledge of math now and question whether they soon will be capable of teaching the new Common Core standards, requiring a more thorough understanding of math concepts. Unlike high-school teachers, who must pass a detailed test of their knowledge of the specific subject they plan to teach, aspiring elementary teachers must pass a broad test of their knowledge of the range of subjects they must teach in early grades.

California already permits one alternative model, “blended” programs that award dual degrees integrating a baccalaureate with a subject major and a preliminary teaching credential. Beside a few private colleges with four-year programs, some California State University campuses offer five-year blended programs.

Liberal Studies alternative

An example is the five-year Liberal Studies program at San Diego State, which prepares primarily elementary teachers (see introductory video). Phoebe Roeder, Liberal Studies coordinator, says that the program requires foundation courses in literature, history, math, science, visual arts, even physical education – subjects that multi-credential elementary teachers need to know. These are aligned with pedagogy courses on how to teach those subjects. The program also offers upper-division courses in math and literacy leading to a single-subject credential for middle school.

Of the roughly 100 colleges and universities that have accredited teacher preparation programs in California, two dozen, mainly CSU campuses, offered 38 “blended”  programs like these in 2004, the last time the credentialing commission conducted a survey of the field. Nearly all of the programs led to multi-subject credentials needed to teach elementary school.

There may be fewer blended programs today, because of declining enrollments in teacher preparation programs. Blended programs are tightly structured, sometimes requiring four-year cohorts of students taking the same course sequence. This can limit its potential because many students in CSU schools transfer from community colleges as juniors without having taken the tighly structured course sequence. And many CSU students hold part-time or full-time jobs, extending their undergraduate education beyond four years.

If SB 5 passes, teacher preparation programs could try different options. Some might offer credentials in 15 months, adding another summer session to space out internships and coursework; others might add a semester. There may be a proliferation of four- and five-year blended programs or new options, such as starting credentialing courses when teacher candidates are college seniors, followed by a full fifth year.

The credentialling commission’s challenge, in setting standards and accrediting credentialing programs, will remain finding the right balance between making sure that teachers know the subject content they’re expected to teach and being prepared to teach it effectively.

Mary Sandy, the commission’s executive director, said that her staff have had discussions with Padilla about his bill and will prepare an analysis of it for commissioners at their March meeting.

Filed under: Credentialing, Teaching

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6 Responses to “Bill would open the door to undergraduate teaching credentials”

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  1. Martin Robinson on Jun 10, 2013 at 5:36 pm06/10/2013 5:36 pm

    • 000

    As a parent of a daughter considering which colleges to apply to in order to become a teacher, I can say that the California requirement of 5 years to get your credential is not encouraging us to consider California. You’re basically saying that it will cost my family $30,000 more dollars for college (for the 1 “extra” year) compared to other states. If your results were much better than other states in terms of teacher effectiveness or even test scores, or any measure, then California could easily defend the 5 year requirement and lack of a 4-year education degree with credential. But since you can’t, why should my family consider that sending my daughter to study teaching in California would be nothing more than pandering to a higher education system that just wants more money?

  2. Paul on Mar 1, 2013 at 12:09 am03/1/2013 12:09 am

    • 000

    Anne, your double major model matches the existing (but uncommon) “blended” teacher preparation model. I agree that this model is beneficial, but for a different reason: it gives the participant a teaching credential AND an undergraduate degree in subject area. Given the high cost of an undergraduate degree and the high rate of attrition from teaching, it’s only fair to make sure that participants have career options beyond the K-12 classroom. (I wish that graduate schools of education had the same ethos; their trendy and expensive MAT, MEd and MAE degrees are useless outside the K-12 classroom.)

    The program sponsor (university) is responsible for producing a competent teacher, regardless of the pathway that the candidate chooses — from an S.B. 57 Early Completion Option (ECO) internship (pedagogy test, 0 units of coursework, up to 2 years of paid experience as teacher of record) to a conventional internship (31 units of coursework, up to 2 years of paid experience as teacher of record) to a traditional program (31 units of coursework, including weeks to months of unpaid experience as a student teacher, subordinate to a cooperating teacher).

    Content knowledge is assessed before admission, by way of the CSET. The Commission on Teacher Credentialing is poised to revise its test specifications to accommodate the Common Core. You can read the revisions in the March, 2013 agenda packet on the CTC Web site. You’ll find that the changes are minor.

    Pedagogical ‘approaches’ are the domain of the credential program. Good programs are already incorporating Common Core strategies (e.g., in math, the Standards for Mathematical Practice). If your district is still receiving new teachers who have not been exposed to Common Core strategies, this has to do with the academic institutions at which the teachers earned their credentials, not with any particular pathway that the teachers chose within those institutions. It is important to note that, in English Language Arts as well as in math, Common Core strategies are not really new. Good teacher preparation programs always explored expository writing, proficient reader research, and Van de Walle-style math pedagogy, for example.

    Technology, another aspect of modern teaching, is covered in CTC standards that apply to all teacher preparation programs in California. The current standards have been in place for at least a few years. Here again, if your new teachers are arriving without technological skills, blame the institutions where they were trained, not any particular credential pathway within those institutions.

    A final point is that your district might just be recruiting low-quality teachers. (You might benchmark starting salaries in your region, and review the qualifications requested in your district’s generic “teacher” job description.) Most credentials in California come from second-tier universities: private diploma mills (e.g. Chapman/Brandman University) or non-selective CSU campuses that were not founded as normal schools or teachers colleges. And today, almost all teachers choose the traditional pathway, involving student teaching. The length of the student teaching component varies from program to program, and the level of responsibility varies with every placement. Good teachers recognize deficiencies in their preparation and make up for these through professional reading, networking, and additional coursework, as necessary.

    “New to the profession” teachers have much more extensive training than veterans, and the CTC adds new program standards every year or two.

  3. Anne White on Feb 27, 2013 at 8:08 pm02/27/2013 8:08 pm

    • 000

    Let us carefully consider the benefits of a 5-year/double major option. This scheme would still take the 5 years now necessary to become a teacher but it would have the advantage of providing a teacher with depth of subject matter knowledge. Practicing pedagogy would occur over several years and the student teachers would then have the opportunity for several cycles of improvement during their student years. As a district trustee I would hope that newly credentialed teachers would be fully versed in Common Core content and approach as well as technology in the classroom, data driven decision making and working collaboratively as a faculty member. Right now districts are providing professional development to our veteran staff so they they will be thoroughly competent in a modern classroom. When new teachers come to us without those up-to-date skills, we must go back to square one every year rather than build capacity established in the previous years..

  4. Paul on Feb 25, 2013 at 10:00 pm02/25/2013 10:00 pm

    • 000

    Beset by a 39% reduction in enrollment between 2005-2006 and 2009-2010 [“Teacher Supply in California”, CTC, April, 2012], California’s schools of education would love to double their revenue and their payroll. The proposed two-year [preliminary] credential program and the undergraduate education major proposed sound innocent enough, but both ideas would harm prospective teachers.

    Limiting pedagogy courses was a hard-fought political battle. The 1970s-era Ryan Act forced schools of education to let credential candidates begin their student teaching after enduring only 9 units of pedagogy coursework, and it clamped the length of a credential program at one year [“A History of Policies and Forces Shaping California Teacher Credentialing”, CTC, February, 2011]. Today, a typical credential program requires a total of 31 units = 3 quarters = 2 semesters = 1 year (including student teaching).

    New teachers complain that their pedagogy courses did not prepare them for the real problems of the classroom. This is hardly surprising, because pedagogy courses are taught by professors who have been out of the K-12 classroom for years, and who never earned much K-12 teaching experience to begin with. These opportunists quickly realized that they could earn more money and do less work if they styled themselves experts and moved over to the university. Most of California’s education professors work for second-tier universities: the private diploma mills (e.g. Chapman/Brandman, the number one source of teacher credential in the state) and the upstart California State University campuses (campuses that do not have a normal school/teachers college pedigree). It is a novel idea, worthy of federal grants, for education professors to actually return to the K-12 classroom [“CSUMB wins share of $12.6M federal grant to help train teachers”, Monterey Herald, October 13, 2009].

    Besides having credential candidates languish in pedagogy classes, doubling the length of a credential program would deter people, many of whom could not afford a second year of foregone income, of living expenses, or of tuition payments. Salaries are not high enough to permit teachers to recover those costs in a reasonable period of time.

    Woe to a credential candidate who discovered, after two years of coursework instead of one, that he or she did not want to teach. And with so many teachers leaving during their first five years in the classroom, woe to the holder of the proposed ‘Bachelor of Arts Degree in Elementary Education’ who cannot find a job in any other field. Perhaps a course in food service should be mandated, in addition to more pedagogy.

    A final consideration is that, despite the restriction in the Ryan Act, education stakeholders still succeeded in lengthening the credential process. As of the mid-2000s, a 31-unit, one-year credential program merely yields a non-renewable, preliminary document, valid for five years. To gain a renewable, “clear” credential, the candidate must complete a two-year, pseudo-academic Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) program, equivalent to between 6 and 10 more units. (Those who work for districts that do not offer BTSA, or who do not work for public school districts, may clear their credentials in an academic setting. By way of example, UCLA’s induction options represent between 25.5 to 45.5 units.)

    Just how much education can we require of a person who will struggle to find a teaching job, whose initial salary will range from $37 to $42,000, who will be laid off annually for the first few years, and who has a 50% chance of leaving the profession within five years?

  5. el on Feb 25, 2013 at 9:06 pm02/25/2013 9:06 pm

    • 000

    It’s really all in the implementation. There’s an opportunity, for example, to make a really great math teacher program, paralleling pedagogy and content and truly twining the two together. (I daresay straight mathematicians who intend a career in academia would benefit as well.) I’d build it in with some good engineering overviews too, a chance to truly understand how math applies to the world, and important preparation for the inevitable, “What good is any of this anyway?” that nearly every kid whines eventually.

    I learned to solve the heat equation for a spherical chicken. An ordinary sphere wouldn’t have stuck with me nearly as well. :-) I’m one of those people who likes my math applied.

    But, you really are going to need specialized tracks for the different subject areas. Will it be done well? Will the most gifted math teachers be the ones used for these programs?

  6. navigio on Feb 25, 2013 at 8:53 pm02/25/2013 8:53 pm

    • 000

    I too am concerned that what we gain in pedagogy, we lose in subject-specific knowledge. That could impact primary and secondary teachers differently. I am also concerned that there is an expectation (due to the increasing pressure on teacher compensation) that in the future fewer teachers will stay in the profession as long as they do today. I hope the goal of introducing more pedagogy up-front is not to deal with that expectation. If it is, I think the kids will lose.
    That said, relaxing the time restriction seems like it could provide the opportunity to partly make up for that loss?
    I am interested to hear what the credentialing commissions analysis will say.

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