State’s teacher shortage hitting ‘alarming rates’ for 2016-17, new survey says

November 30, 2016

A teacher at Millikan High in Long Beach leads his class in a writing assignment.

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California’s teacher shortage is worsening, with many districts struggling to find enough qualified teachers to fill vacancies, according to a new statewide survey by the Learning Policy Institute and the California School Boards Association.

Among the 211 districts that participated in the survey – about a fifth of all the state’s districts – 75 percent indicated having a shortage of qualified teachers for the current 2016-17 school year, with the greatest needs in large cities and for those seeking special education teachers.

The survey findings are part of a policy brief, “California Teacher Shortages: A Persistent Problem,” that was released Wednesday. More than 80 percent of the districts that reported shortages said their shortages have grown worse compared with three years ago.

Districts “are experiencing alarming rates of teacher shortages,” the authors wrote. “A highly competent teacher workforce is a necessary foundation for improving children’s educational outcomes, especially for those who rely most on schools for their success.”

About 83 percent of districts with high concentrations of English learners, low-income students and minority students reported having teacher shortages.

The survey “has enabled us to hear directly from district leaders who are on the front lines of this crisis, including many who are struggling to serve their students well in the face of shrinking ranks of qualified teachers and swelling class sizes,” Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the Learning Policy Institute, said in a statement.

In September, the institute released a report that concluded that the United States is experiencing the worst shortage of teachers since 1990, with school districts nationwide needing to hire up to 300,000 new teachers annually through the 2017-18 school year.

Of districts reporting shortages in the California survey, 62 percent said they did not have enough high school teachers, 60 percent reported a shortage of middle school teachers and 37 percent reported a shortage of elementary teachers.

These were among the survey’s key findings:

District officials said the shortages are driven by a declining supply of teachers, combined with high turnover rates and a growing number of retirements.

Districts reported a variety of methods for addressing their shortages. About 55 percent of vacancies were filled by teachers with emergency/temporary credentials, 24 percent were filled with long-term substitutes, 17 percent left the position vacant, 9 percent increased class sizes because of too few teachers, and 8 percent cancelled courses.

The survey “has enabled us to hear directly from district leaders who are on the front lines of this crisis, including many who are struggling to serve their students well in the face of shrinking ranks of qualified teachers and swelling class sizes,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the Learning Policy Institute.

The survey was sent to superintendents and other leaders from 244 districts across the state from the start of the school year through October. Learning Policy Institute researcher and co-author of the brief Leib Sutcher said the demographics of the 211 districts that responded generally reflect the demographics of the state’s 1,025 school districts.

At the beginning of the school year, an EdSource survey found that the the state’s 25 largest school districts were able to hire enough qualified teachers to fill most vacancies by the time classes began. It also found that eight of the largest districts had no unfilled positions on the first day of classes, and none of the 25 had more than 80 unfilled vacancies.

Sutcher said EdSource’s findings didn’t necessarily conflict with the survey released Wednesday. A district without a vacancy can still be experiencing a teacher shortage, he said.

“Some districts that didn’t report any vacancies may have been forced to increase class sizes and cancel courses,” he said. “Pupil-teacher ratios have been growing even as districts are starting to receive more state funding.”

Many of these 25 largest districts are having a hard time lowering class sizes because they can’t find enough qualified teachers, he said, arguing that if there were a larger pool of candidates, districts would have the opportunity to create or restore jobs that have been eliminated.

The new survey also asked districts what strategies or initiatives they’re developing to help recruit teachers. About 93 percent of respondents said they are creating or improving teacher preparation programs, including building stronger relationships with teacher colleges, and expanding or creating residency programs.

Seventy-five percent said they’re adopting stronger financial incentives, including raising salaries, adding stipends for high-need fields and offering bonuses to new teachers.

Last month, a report from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing found that enrollments in teacher preparation programs in California have increased for the first time in 13 years, a sign that more students are again entering the profession.

Sutcher said the districts’ recruiting initiatives and the enrollment growth in teacher preparation programs are helping address the shortage. But it’s currently not enough to overcome the deficit, he said.

“We’re not seeing the necessary growth in the key jobs, special education, science and math,” Sutcher said. “It’s not just about getting people in the pipeline. It’s about getting them where we need them to be.”

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