At an education conference Thursday, the two announced candidates for state superintendent of public instruction called for more strategies to counter a teacher shortage they said is gripping the state. The comments by Marshall Tuck and Tony Thurmond indicate the issue will factor heavily in their campaigns to replace retiring State Superintendent Tom Torlakson next year.
“The shortage is a massive crisis that few are talking about,” said Tuck, a former president of the Green Dot charter network in Los Angeles, who is making his second run for the office. Adopting short- and long-term approaches “must be the number one priority in the state,” he said.
“How can we close the achievement gap with a huge teacher shortage?” asked Assemblyman Thurmond, D-Richmond, a former member of the West Contra Costa Unified School District school board who touted several bills he is authoring this year to address the issue. “We need teachers who are ready and well-trained to teach; that is one of the huge challenges in education right now,” he said.
Thurmond and Tuck spoke on different panels at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s annual education conference in Mountain View. The region’s high cost of living has compounded a teacher shortage in computer science and STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — that are the life blood of the region’s economy, as well as in special education.
Stephen McMahon, deputy superintendent of San Jose Unified, the largest district in Santa Clara County, said in a panel on the teacher shortage that through a rigorous effort, the 30,000-student district has largely been able to hire enough new teachers each fall, only to lose them after three to five years. They move to Oregon, Washington, Arizona and the Central Valley, where they can afford to buy a house, he said.
While it’s painful for a technology company to delay a new product line, schools are a public service, he said. “Students cannot get back a year when they didn’t have a (fully prepared) Algebra I teacher,” he said.
Tuck said the immediate focus should be on providing financial incentives to attract teacher candidates, then better supporting them through mentoring and coaching. “We put new teachers in a classroom and say, ‘Good luck.’ That is especially hard for a 45-year-old person changing careers,” he said. The coaching should be done during the day by experienced teachers who are paid to be mentors, not as an after-thought or additional burden after school, he said.
McMahon said that providing peer evaluators for new teachers and access to full-time instruction coaches are a way that San Jose Unified can compete with better-funded districts that pay teachers more.
Tuck most recently was an educator-in-residence at the Santa-Cruz based New Teacher Center, a national nonprofit that works with school districts on teacher staffing issues. He said the state should provide financial incentives for residency programs, in which new teachers spend their first year under the wing of an accomplished teacher, gradually taking on teaching responsibilities. Loan assistance and tuition grants to draw candidates to teaching and comprehensive coaching for new teachers would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars — not the billions of dollars it would take to raise teacher pay, say, 20 percent, which should be the state’s long-term goal, he said.
And he said that the latest teaching shortage has been a persistent, long-standing problem in low-income schools. “We have been totally failing and crushing our poorest kids” in those districts for a long time, he said.
Thurmond is the author of Assembly Bill 45, which would underwrite the development cost for districts building low-cost rental housing for teachers and other school employees. He is also co-author of Assembly Bill 169, which would create Golden State Scholarships of $20,000 for teacher candidates who agree to teach in a high-need field for at least four years. Neither bill yet has funding, although Thurmond said he is optimistic the Legislature will create a permanent source of funding for low-cost housing, including rental projects for teachers, later this year.
“Working conditions for teachers are often difficult, so we must provide up-front training and support,” he said in an interview.
Panelist Tara Kinney, director of state policy for the Palo Alto-based Learning Policy Institute, quantified the teacher shortage. She said that two-thirds of new special education teachers and two-fifths of new science and math teachers are underprepared, lacking a preliminary teaching credential or are assigned to classes without having the subject expertise. The number of “emergency” provisional or short-term teaching permits nearly quintupled from 859 in 2012-13 to 4,069 in 2015-16. She agreed with Tuck that the financial help for teacher candidates, such as tuition loans known as APLE, which legislators are seeking to revive, are “modest incentives that the state should be able to do right now.”
High schools can start the pipeline for students interested in teaching as a career through magnet schools, said Joan Bissell, director of teacher education and public school programs for the California State University system. She encouraged high-tech leaders at the conference to help underwrite the costs for magnet schools and for other supports for teachers.
“There are not enough mentor teachers for the current new corps of teachers, so companies can help there,” she said.
McMahon added that it’s in their interest to do so. “A STEM initiative is undercut without a good math teacher,” he said.