Teacher preparation enrollments plummet

October 9, 2014

Enrollments in teacher preparation programs in California are continuing to decline at a precipitous rate, according to new figures from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

In the 2012-13 school year, the last year for which figures are available, enrollments in teacher preparation programs dropped to 19,933 – down 53 percent from 2008-09. Over an 11-year period, enrollments have declined by 74 percent, from a high of 77,700 in 2001-02.

The commission will review the figures along with its “Annual Report Card on California Teacher Preparation” at its meeting in Sacramento on Friday.

The declining enrollments are coming at an especially challenging time for California schools. The state’s nearly 1,000 school districts are embarking on a slew of new reforms – including the Common Core standards, the New Generation Science Standards, Smarter Balanced assessments and focusing on several new “priority areas” specified in the state’s new school financing law – that will require a highly trained and enthusiastic workforce to ensure their success.

“It is becoming quite alarming now,” said Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond, who is also chair of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. “Our capacity is much impaired to what it once was to get new teachers with the kind of recruitment incentives we had, to assist them with induction (teacher support) programs, and to retain them over their careers.”

Darling-Hammond said some of the enrollment declines are related to years of teacher layoffs due to the state’s budget crisis. “People don’t want to go into a profession where there are no jobs,” she said.

What also has not helped, she said, has been the push in recent years, as evidenced by the Vergara v. California ruling, to make it more difficult for teachers to get tenure, and making it easier to fire them, along with a national drive to link teacher evaluations to student test scores.

“The issue is not whether we can fire people, but whether we can bring people into the profession who are adequately prepared, and who are supported through good mentoring in becoming effective teachers before they are tenured,” she said. “If we can do that, this whole issue of teacher evaluation would become a trivial issue.”

She said the declines in enrollment have forced programs to reduce faculty and staff, and some have closed their doors completely – with potentially long-term consequences for the state. “Our capacity to produce teachers has been affected by the decline,” she said.

Some hard-to-fill areas have been especially hard hit. She pointed to an “acute shortage” of math and science teachers. Regarding a shortage of special education teachers, she said “it is almost a five-alarm fire.”

She said more than a quarter of special education positions are being filled “with people who are not qualified.” “No one is able to be very selective,” she said.

One bright spot in the enrollment figures is that a growing percentage of students in teacher preparation programs are from minority backgrounds, although they are still a long way from reflecting the student population in California, which is 25 percent white. Fifty-one percent of those in teacher preparation programs in 2012-13 are white – down from 57 percent in 2008-09.

The number of teaching credentials issued in California is also declining, although not as precipitously as enrollments. In 2012-13, just over 12,000 teachers received a teaching credential, down from 17,797  in 2008-09. That was the ninth consecutive year in which the total number of initial teaching credentials in the state  has declined.

Given the size and diversity of California’s public school system, it is not clear what impact these numbers are having on hiring in individual districts.

John Gray, president of School Services of California, a leading Sacramento-based education consulting firm, said that some of the tens of thousands of teachers who were laid off during the recession are being rehired by districts and are helping to blunt the impact of declining number of new teachers entering the labor force.  “We are not seeing evidence of broad shortages, but lack of new graduates protends problems as our teaching force ages,” said Gray.

Phillip Pérez, superintendent of the Little Lake School District in Santa Fe Springs  near Whittier, said that it is becoming more difficult to fill certain positions. One that is still vacant is a special education specialist position, and the district has had to advertise on edjoin.org to generate applicants. “We have had to struggle to find someone to fill that vacancy,” he said. “Even two or three years ago, there was a glut on the market (as a result of layoffs). Now all those people have been hired.”

Pia Wong, chairwoman of the Department of Teaching Credentials at Sacramento State University, said she is seeing some hopeful signs in response to the improving economy and the significant easing of  layoffs. Teacher preparation programs at Sacramento State get daily inquiries from prospective candidates, Wong said, a distinct change from previous years. School districts that partner with her program are recruiting earlier in the year to fill potential openings, a sign of growing demand. Some districts are actively working with Sacramento State’s credentialing programs to get more teachers in the pipeline.

While the number of teachers getting pink slips has shrunk dramatically, “it may take some time for the shift to register with the general public and prospective teachers,” Wong said.

She said that criticisms in some quarters of the Common Core state standards and the Smarter Balanced tests that students will take this spring are “contributing to concerns about the working conditions of teachers.”

Wong said that she and her colleagues have been working on strategies to reverse the enrollment declines, and that in some ways the conditions to do so are more favorable than in the past. “Districts are not financially strapped, the Common Core gives us a shared project to work on, and many district and school leaders are thinking proactively about how to shape the next generation of teachers,” she said.

One key element will be working closely with districts to ensure that novice teachers emerge with the skills that districts need – and that they get good student teaching placements and the support they need once they start teaching.

But Wong said a key obstacle is the financial burden on teachers-in-training. For example, they must spend almost an entire semester student teaching and then take classes at night – making it almost impossible to work during that time. “If there could be a way to ease the financial burden on these candidates, that would greatly increase those interested in pursuing teaching,” Wong said.


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