teacher with students

Alison Yin / EdSource

In a move that could result in more federal financial assistance for prospective teachers, the California Department of Education has identified a teacher shortage in almost every subject area in the state, including for the first time physical education, health and dance.

Each year California is required to tell the U.S. Department of Education in what subject areas teacher shortages exist, based on a formula established by the federal government, which then publishes a nationwide list of shortage areas.  The list carries significant weight because prospective teachers who agree to teach subjects that appear on the list can qualify for federal grants that cover a portion of their college tuition costs, or for forgiveness of some or all of certain federal student loans. California’s list now covers most subject areas in the state.

In a letter to the U.S. Department of Education last month, the state listed all the areas in which shortages exist. In addition to physical education, they include elementary education, mathematics and computer education; English, drama and humanities; history and social sciences; science; and special education. According to the letter, elementary teachers are now the highest priority for the state.

In a little noticed step earlier this year, based on information received from California, the federal government had already declared a shortage of elementary school teachers in California.

The federal government defines a teacher shortage as “an area of specific grade, subject matter or discipline classification, or a geographic area in which the Secretary of Education determines that there is an inadequate supply of elementary or secondary school teachers.”

This was the first time elementary school teachers were placed on the list since the federal government began publishing it a quarter of a century ago. About half of the 295,000 teachers in California are elementary school teachers. California is only one of a handful of states reporting a shortage of elementary school teachers. Others include Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Virginia, West Virgina and Wyoming. New Mexico has declared a shortage of kindergarten teachers.

One reason the elementary school shortage may not have received more attention is that the federal listing describes an elementary school class as a “self-contained class,” which is the official terminology used in California for most K-5 classrooms.

California education officials are hoping that having more subject areas on the list, including elementary instruction, could help attract new teachers to the profession by making federal aid more available to them.

Joan Bissell, director of Teaching and Public School programs for the California State University system, said the daunting prospect of having to pay off student loans on low teacher salaries discourages many students from considering teaching as a profession.

“It’s hugely important,” Bissell said. “When you look at the dynamics of the teacher pipeline, the biggest deterrent to entering teaching really hasn’t been the status of the profession. It’s been student debt.”

Specifically, if teachers teach a subject where the federal government has designated a shortage area, they can qualify for forgiveness of up to $17,500 in loans received through the Federal Family Education Loan plan. They might also qualify for cancellation of up to 100 percent of a Federal Perkins loan if they teach for five years in a school serving low-income students, or any subject in which a shortage has been declared.

Would-be teachers who agree to work for four years in a shortage area in school that serves low-income students may qualify for grants from the federal TEACH program, which pays up to $4,000 a year for four years, or a total of $16,000.

Finding a school in California that meets the low-income requirements is not difficult. A federal list of eligible schools includes over 8,000 schools in California — nearly 4 out of 5 schools in the state. If a student ends up not teaching in one of these schools or not teaching a subject with a shortage, the TEACH grant is converted into a loan which the recipient is required to pay back.

Last year, some 400 CSU students received the TEACH grant. As a result of more subjects being designated a shortage area, the California State University system, which trains nearly half of all teachers in the state, hopes to double the number of prospective teachers who receive a TEACH grant, Bissell said.

The state faces a huge challenge in addressing the shrinking numbers of would-be teachers in the preparation pipeline. Since 2001-02, enrollments in teacher preparation programs have steadily dipped, to 18,894 in 2013-14 (although preliminary figures have shown an uptick in some programs this fall).

In a memo to the State Board of Education at its last meeting in Sacramento in November, the California Department of Education advised that “in California shortage areas are especially worrisome with the enrollments of teacher preparation programs dropping precipitously over the past few years, coupled with an expected increase in the number of retirements.”

An EdSource survey this fall of registered voters in California, conducted by The Field Poll in collaboration with the Learning Policy Institute, showed tremendous public support for the state doing more of what the federal government is doing. Fifty-eight percent of voters “strongly favored” the state forgiving a portion of college loans to prospective teachers, or offering them scholarships like the federal TEACH grant if they agreed to teach for at least four years in low-income communities or in subjects where there is a shortage.

California had programs like this over a decade ago, including the Assumption Program of Loans for Education, or APLE, and the Governor’s Teaching Fellowships. But these have been phased out over the years due to budget cuts. A bill (SB 62) by Senator Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, that would have restored the APLE loan forgiveness program, did not receive support this year and Pavley will try again during the coming year to gain legislative approval.

One teacher who has benefited from the federal TEACH program is Sean Brooks, a 40-year-old single parent who went back to school six years ago to get a teaching credential. He said he has received two TEACH grants totaling $3,000, which has allowed him to pay down his student loans.

This year Brooks taught physics at John H. Pitman High School in Turlock, after teaching for a year at a junior high school in Modesto.

He said he was not aware of the federal teacher grant program until he won a $10,000 federal Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship, which paid him $2,500 for four semesters to complete a teacher credential program at California State University, Stanislaus. The Noyce Fellowships are intended to encourage the teaching of STEM  (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) curricula. Brooks also qualified for $21,000 in loan forgiveness under the APLE program — before the Legislature phased it out for new applicants.

Brooks, who had previously earned a degree in physics, said he owes thousands of dollars in student loans, but has no regrets. He said he went back to school after observing teenagers in the Central Valley without any direction and he felt that he could make his greatest contribution to their lives as a teacher.

“There is a reason I took all of this on,” he said.


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  1. Christian Miraglia 5 months ago5 months ago

    As a teacher i for over 31 yearsI have watched various impediments to the recruitment of teachers take place. For one considering teaching today, the following things are considered: the constant demonizing of teachers for a myriad of societal woes, the ongoing attacks by interest who are vested in the privatizing of education, the lack of sustainable on the ground support once one secures employment, low salaries, and here in California the dizzying … Read More

    As a teacher i for over 31 yearsI have watched various impediments to the recruitment of teachers take place. For one considering teaching today, the following things are considered: the constant demonizing of teachers for a myriad of societal woes, the ongoing attacks by interest who are vested in the privatizing of education, the lack of sustainable on the ground support once one secures employment, low salaries, and here in California the dizzying array of hoops one must jump through once they gain employment. All things considered it is no wonder many veer off into other areas that are more rewarding. This shortage is not a surprise as a study came out a few years ago warning of the impending crisis. It seemed that the news fell on deaf ears. A concerted effort to bolster the appeal must begin with funding from the state to address teacher preparation programs. Having worked as Master-Teacher for many years,here are some of my observations. Teacher preparation programs here in California need to be examined as the the quality and various requirements for student teaching programs are all over the map. A continued investment in loan forgiveness would do a lot to make the venture into teaching more affordable. With these and other efforts that have showed promise, there might be a light for the profession.

  2. Barry Garelick 5 months ago5 months ago

    I have applied for many math teaching jobs here and rarely even get selected for an interview. This is in the San Luis Obispo area. Where are these shortages occurring?

    Replies

    • Paul 5 months ago5 months ago

      They won't tell you it's a shortage of the cheap teachers districts use to fill undesirable jobs: legions of 30-day substitute permit holders, and credentialed people willing to accept 1-year temporary contracts. Substitutes are cheap in that most receive no benefits and no guarantee of work. Typical wages are $100 to 150 per day. A recent CTC report (ref.: "statutory leaves") as much as admits what I saw firsthand: districts will employ a "series of substitutes" … Read More

      They won’t tell you it’s a shortage of the cheap teachers districts use to fill undesirable jobs: legions of 30-day substitute permit holders, and credentialed people willing to accept 1-year temporary contracts.

      Substitutes are cheap in that most receive no benefits and no guarantee of work. Typical wages are $100 to 150 per day. A recent CTC report (ref.: “statutory leaves”) as much as admits what I saw firsthand: districts will employ a “series of substitutes” instead of hiring a credentialed teacher on a proper contract.

      Credentialed teachers willing to accept 1-year “temporary” contracts are cheap in that they retard salary growth for the positions they occupy. Instead of paying the same person a higher salary next year, the district hires a replacement at the same salary/experience level as before. The temporary teachers, for their part, are not guaranteed evaluations, can be dismissed without cause, and do not make progress toward job security (“permanent” status).

      I wish you good luck in your search, but the best thing you can do for your physical, mental and financial health is to train for a different profession. Entry incentives (detailed in this article) followed by the iron grip of salary steps, “permanent” status, seniority, and a steeply-graduated pension not portable to other professions, offer a clear warning about working conditions for California teachers.

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