Supply lags booming demand for career technical teachers

April 28, 2016

High school senior Sebastian Hurtado, right, got hands-on research experience and learned about a career in medicine during a summer intern program at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute.

In appropriating nearly $1.5 billion over five years for career technical education opportunities, the Legislature made an assumption that funding would make them happen.

That’s probably true for students, who are enrolling in high school programs in intriguing fields like drone technology, bioengineering and digital arts. What’s not certain is whether there will be enough teachers with the expertise to staff them.

“Without question, there is a shortage of teachers trained with the knowledge and skills to deliver” the technical courses that are part of every career pathway program, said Gary Hoachlander, president of ConnectEd, the California Center for College and Career, a leading force behind the state’s massive push for career technical education.

Staffing challenges were a theme this week at a policy conference in Sacramento of the Linked Learning Alliance, which promotes multi-year high school programs that integrate college preparation and career exploration. The programs include internships and work-based projects with affiliated businesses and industries.

The alliance scored a big victory when the Legislature created the California Career Pathways Trust in 2013 and 2014, with $500 million in funding to seed regional partnerships and expand career pathway programs statewide. The Legislature followed this up last year by creating the California Career Technical Education Incentive Grant, a three-year, $900 million matching grant program to further develop career technical education.

With the state already facing teacher shortages in high-cost regions like the Bay Area and Los Angeles and in high-demand fields like special education and science and math, filling career-specific positions in new pathway programs creates more demands.

Most career academies are discrete programs within high schools. They focus on a theme within one of 16 industry sectors, including civil engineering, the media, fashion design, and health and medical technology. Starting as freshmen or sophomores, students take core academic subjects and a course – led by a teacher with a CTE credential – providing real-world applications like digital animation, gene splicing or flight simulation.

The new state money is powering the boom in districts’ career pathway programs. Oakland Unified, which passed a parcel tax specifically to expand career technical education, plans to enroll every student in a pathway program within five years. The number of career technical education courses that count toward admission to the California State University or the University of California, usually as an elective, now exceed 10,000 – quintuple the number a decade ago. Nearly 250 school districts and 600 high schools currently offer about 1,200 career pathway programs and thee-year career academies, according to the Linked Learning Alliance.

There is no accurate estimate of the shortfall of career technical education teachers. In part, that’s because districts haven’t been asked to include unfilled CTE positions in an annual fall teacher employment survey, said Joan Bissell, director for teacher education and public school programs for the CSU. The California Department of Education has been asked to include this information in future surveys.

Verifying a shortage of career technical education teachers could prompt the Legislature to target CTE teachers in legislation it’s considering to entice more people into teaching, Bissell said. The bills include:

Creating incentives and making it easier for new and existing teachers to obtain dual teaching credentials, qualifying them to teach a CTE course and a single subject high school academic course, like math, history or English, is the ideal way to solve the CTE shortage, Bissell said.

Theresa McEwen, executive director of the College and Career Academy Support Network at UC Berkeley, agreed. “We want teachers with both a CTE and an academic credential to provide the bridge to prepare students who are college and career ready,” she said at this week’s conference.

The intent of career academies and pathway programs is to blend academic and CTE courses. Students in an English class in a green technology pathway might research global warming. A history class might explore how fossil fuel dependence has shaped federal policy. A biology class might design and evaluate a solution to reduce human impact on the environment.

Reflecting the traditional view that vocational teachers train students for jobs, and academic teachers prepare students for college, California’s credentialing requirements for CTE teachers are different than those for academic teachers.

A preliminary single subject teaching credential requires a year or two of course work, an undergraduate degree, student teaching, passage of a subject-specific exam and a teaching performance assessment. Most teacher candidates get their credential through the CSU, the UC or a private college.

Obtaining a CTE authorization to teach a course in a specific industry sector requires only 3 education courses, along with 3,000 hours of job experience, which can be reduced to 1,000 hours for someone who has been a teacher and has industry certificates. The vast majority of the 1,244 individuals who earned a CTE credential last year went through programs at county offices of education, not four-year universities.

“CSU is not accustomed to partnering with county offices,” said Jared Stallones, a professor of education at the Cal State Long Beach College of Education. “We need to work together.”

Only three CSU campuses currently offer CTE credentials, but Bissell said she foresees opportunities for dual credentialing and more partnerships, such as the arrangement between Fresno State and Porterville Unified to place student teachers in career academies.

Faced with a pressing need for CTE teachers, Oakland Unified has identified 30 teachers who had worked in industry and are interested in a CTE credential. Teacher teams will be earning their 1,000 hours of industry experience through time allotted during the school day and summer “externships” – paid positions with a consortium of companies and government agencies, including Bay Area Rapid Transit, Pandora, SunPower and Adobe, said Donna Wyatt, manager of curriculum and instruction for career technical education for the district.

Finding mid-career changers

The opposite approach is to build the supply of CTE teachers by hiring individuals ready to move from industry to teaching with more expertise than teachers can get though 1,000 hours of work.

There are significant challenges to recruiting career changers, said Patricia Rucker, a lobbyist with the California Teachers Association and a member of the State Board of Education.

One is money. Particularly in the areas of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), schools can’t easily compete with high-tech companies, and mid-career changers face a potentially big pay cut, often tens of thousands of dollars. Compounding the problem – what she called a “big barrier to recruitment” – is a federal regulation, which Congress has known about for years but not changed. The “windfall elimination penalty” hurts mid-career changers by significantly reducing Social Security payments for people also entitled to a teacher pension.

Another challenge is a lack of on-the-job training for new CTE teachers. They haven’t had student teaching experience and, unlike academic teachers with a preliminary credential, don’t qualify for mentoring through the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment program. That should change, Rucker said.

Some industry partners send employees into the schools to lead courses. For 20 years, Joe Carpenter, a Northrop Grumman engineer, taught computer-assisted design in a Long Beach Unified career academy on his own time, working late on days that he taught. When he retired, Carpenter became a full-time CTE teacher with the math and science career academy. “The advantage that I always enjoyed in teaching my classes, having come from industry, was being able to put my lessons in the proper context for my students,” he said in an email.

Carpenter is the exception, said Cynthia Bater, the program administrator for Long Beach Unified. She said the district is “looking every which way” to find CTE-qualified teachers, and the shortage is slowing down the ability to roll out all of the pathways it would like to open or expand.

Rucker said that the Commission on Teacher Credentialing should make it easier for engineers and others in math careers to obtain a preliminary credential, with five years to then obtain their full or “clear” credential. Jillian Johnson-Sharp, an administrator with the Orange County Department of Education, said the commission should establish a special credential for an engineer-turned-CTE teacher to teach math in a career pathway.

The goal of preparing students for college and careers requires rethinking how to recruit and train teachers for schools that blend academic and work-based learning, the panelists agreed.

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