Poll: California voters say state must take action to address teacher shortage

November 17, 2015
teacher with students

California registered voters regard the emerging shortage of K-12 teachers as a very serious problem and think that the state should be taking decisive action to rectify the situation, according to a poll commissioned by EdSource and the Learning Policy Institute.

The survey was conducted by the Field Poll, in part with support from the Walter and Elise Haas Fund, following recent reports indicating that the number of new teaching credentials issued in California has declined steadily for more than a decade, along with even more precipitous reductions in teacher preparation program enrollments.

For a summary of poll results, go here. For a full chart pack of the poll’s findings prepared by The Field Poll, go here.

The poll found that statewide, 64 percent of voters describe the shrinking supply of teachers as “very serious,” and a similar proportion (65 percent) thinks it’s “extremely important” for the state to do more to encourage young people and others to enroll in teacher preparation programs. 

“At a time when California is implementing new standards, it’s important that all students have access to teachers who are well-prepared in those subject areas,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, president and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute.   She is also chair of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.  “A teacher shortage will set back the state’s education agenda.”

Darling-Hammond noted that the shortage is not being experienced uniformly across the state.  Shortages are especially acute in math and science and special education, as well as in certain districts and regions of the state.

The survey of 1,002 registered voters statewide – including both English and Spanish speakers – found there is broad-based voter support (85 percent) for having the state forgive a portion of teachers’ college loans or offering more scholarships to prospective teachers as a way to bring greater numbers into the teaching profession.

By contrast, more than half (52 percent) oppose policies that would allow schools to hire individuals who have not yet completed their training or who have not earned a teaching credential as a means for dealing with teacher shortages.

The poll findings were released during a briefing Nov. 17 to discuss the results as well as strategies to address the diminishing number of Californians entering the teaching profession.  In addition to Darling-Hammond, participating in the briefing were State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, California Teachers Association president Eric Heins, UC Davis School of Education Dean Harold Levine,  CSU assistant vice chancellor Joe Aguerrebere, and Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo.

“The state must act now to prioritize teacher recruitment before the shortage worsens,” said Heins. He said that California could attract more qualified people to the profession “by creating an environment free of teacher bashing and politicization of our jobs.”  That would include giving teachers more collaborative time working with other teachers.  In particular, he said, the state should “inspire more students of color” to become teachers.

“It’s encouraging that there’s a high level of awareness of the problem,” said Torlakson, comparing  the current shortage to an iceberg. “We’re just seeing the tip of it.”

Californians are quite supportive of ensuring that teachers are well-trained and supported prior to entering the profession. Ninety-four percent say the state should ensure all teachers receive rigorous preparation before they begin teaching, and a similar number (88 percent) believe this should include a year of practice teaching under the guidance of an expert teacher.

Ninety percent also believe new teachers should receive mentoring and support in the early years of practice, along with ongoing professional development after they receive their teaching credentials.

“At a time when California is implementing new standards, it’s important that all students have access to teachers who are well-prepared in those subject areas,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford professor of education emeritus and president and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute.

The poll indicates that Californians are also concerned about teacher salaries. Fifty-eight percent think the starting salary for qualified K-12 teachers in their own local communities is too low, while only 21 percent believe it is too high or about right. A 51 percent majority also say it is extremely important for the salaries of entry-level teachers to be commensurate with what other recent college graduates are paid, while 37 percent say this is somewhat important.

At the same time, 70 percent of voters would be very or somewhat likely to encourage a friend or family member to become a teacher, although voters under the age of 30 are less apt to say they would be very likely to do so.

Other findings from the survey include the following:

There are also substantial differences among voters depending on their race and ethnicity.

Darling-Hammond noted teachers leave the profession in the United States at a higher rate than in many other countries. One way to retain teachers  would be to strengthen and restore teacher support programs like the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment program, or BTSA. “The long term prospects for increasing the supply of teachers will improve the more we can reduce attrition,” she said.

This post was updated on Nov. 23, 2015.  A reference to a question on a 2016 proposition regarding bilingual education was removed. 

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