California, now more than ever, is facing an urgent need for qualified and talented professionals to enter our teaching workforce. At a time when one-third of California’s educators are nearing retirement, school districts are going to need the thousands of teachers entering the profession through alternative certification programs, which allow candidates to teach in the classroom while simultaneously earning their teaching credential. This is not the time for hasty policy decisions that threaten to further dismantle the state’s Learning to Teach System. Eliminating guaranteed funding will result in increased tuition fees for those entering the teaching profession.
In 2009, in an effort to maximize local school district flexibility, the Legislature allowed districts to use for any educational purpose funding that was previously targeted for specific programs, including several important teacher credential programs. The loss of dedicated funding has resulted in a steady erosion of program infrastructure and decreased capacity for support and supervision. And now, legislation currently being debated proposes an increase in local decision-making, pitting those newest to the profession against every other budget priority. This competition for funds can have disastrous consequences for teacher preparation: funding shortages will result in higher costs for teacher candidates and uncertainty for the programs’ futures.
Local control of funding can be a positive thing when it comes to decisions about each school district’s students. But when it comes to a statewide system of teacher preparation, we need an equitable and fair continuum that serves all new teachers in the state. Is this really the time to shift California’s attention away from a successful statewide system of teacher credentialing?
Consider California’s looming teacher shortage. The Regional Education Laboratory at WestEd found that one-third of the state’s teachers are over the age of 50. More specifically, one-third of math and science teachers will retire within the decade, and 2,000 are lost annually to teacher attrition, leaving the state with an expected need for more than 33,000 math and science educators. The Task Force on Educator Excellence notes that the number of California students is projected to grow steadily, requiring more teachers over the next decade, with demand especially strong in fields such as special education, math, science and English language development, as well as in many high-poverty schools.
The California Teacher Corps represents more than 70 alternative certification programs that would suffer from a loss of guaranteed funding. Our programs provide job-embedded, high-quality teacher preparation to almost 3,000 teachers across the state. This vital pipeline provides California’s teaching force with bright, talented individuals, often second-career professionals with deep levels of expertise and experience, who might not have entered the profession if not for this pathway. The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing found that of school districts reporting, 80 percent of these interns are still in the classroom after five years, while almost half of teachers nationally leave the field after just five years, according to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future.
The more than 400 school districts that hire Teacher Corps teachers value alternative certification programs. They recognize that having multiple pathways into the classroom is an invaluable asset to our public schools. They are hiring teachers from these programs because they consistently deliver results and help diversify our teaching force: 47 percent are from underrepresented minorities, 50 percent more males go through the alternative pathway than traditional programs, and two-thirds of Teacher Corps teachers are earning their credentials in special education. Districts also value the rich pool of second-career professionals who want to give back to their community – including scientists, accountants, lawyers, military servicemen and women, technology specialists and countless others who are ready to make a long-term commitment to our communities and students.
California, a leader in teacher preparation and new teacher support, has come a long way from the old “sink or swim” mentality. We know high quality teacher training is critical in order to prepare our students to be career, college and life ready. The recent SDP Human Capital Diagnostic (Center for Education Policy Research, Harvard University, 2012) indicates that teachers learn the most during their first two years on the job. Supporting teachers during their first few years of teaching is critical in ensuring that California’s students receive the best education.
We believe California has a duty to invest in our teachers. Without a well-funded and supported pipeline of skilled educators, California’s students will suffer the consequences. As a state, we need to systematically and financially support the educational culture we want and are willing to develop in California. Teachers are the most important component of a good educational system and we know they are worth our investment!
Corinne Muelrath is the Executive Director of the California Teacher Corps. In her role as the Regional Director for the North Coast Beginning Teacher Program (CCSESA Region One) for 12 years, she developed and directed induction, intern and paraprofessional teacher training programs that served as models across the state. She has also been a classroom teacher, school principal and district superintendent in Sonoma County. She is on California’s Board of Institutional Reviewers and is the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Intern Regional Director for Region One in Northern California.