Worsening teacher shortage puts more underprepared teachers in classrooms, report says

February 8, 2017

Teacher Kiersten Nakaishi works with student Brayden Cuong Le on an art project during a preschool class at Land School in Westminster, Calif.

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The number of underprepared teachers working in California’s public school classrooms has more than doubled in just three years, a key indicator that the teacher shortage continues to worsen, according to a new report from the Learning Policy Institute.

For the 2015-16 school year, California issued 10,200 intern credentials, permits and waivers. These candidates had not yet completed, or sometimes even started, teaching preparation programs, according to the report, “Addressing California’s Growing Teacher Shortage: 2017 Update.”

In recent years, the state issued an increasing number of these temporary credentials from fewer than 5,000 in 2012-13, to just over 6,000 in 2013-14 and more than 7,600 in 2014-15.

These temporary credentials reflect a tiny fraction of the state’s more than 300,000 teachers.

“There are thousands of students today in classrooms with teachers who are wholly unprepared,” the report concludes.

The institute, a leading voice urging the state to confront the teacher shortage problem, said the state needed “to invest in rapidly building the supply of qualified teachers in the fields and locations where they are most needed.”

These shortages remain particularly troubling in special education, science and math, and bilingual education, the report said. Underprepared teachers are also more likely to be found in schools serving high percentages of English learners and low-income students, according to the report.

State law requires that districts hire teachers credentialed in the subject they are teaching. Only when there is an acute staffing need can districts hire teachers with intern credentials, permits and waivers.

Intern teachers credentials are typically for teachers who get limited training during the summer preceding the school year, and then begin teaching while they work to get their full credential by taking night and weekend classes. Permits are issued at the request of a school district in order to fill a temporary staffing vacancy or need typically by someone yet to start a teacher training program.

Meanwhile, a waiver is generally awarded to a teacher who has a credential in one subject, but is temporarily needed to teach in another subject that the person was not fully trained to teach.

“Substandard credentials are one of the best indicators of teacher shortages,” said researcher Desiree Carver-Thomas, the report’s coauthor. “Schools hire (underprepared teachers) when those who are ready just aren’t available.”

The greatest growth in substandard credentials or permits was in emergency-style permits known as provisional intern and short-term staff permits, given to student teachers with the least amount of training, generally requiring only a bachelor’s degree. In 2015-16, California had more than 4,000 teachers with these types of permits, nearly five times as many as in 2012-13.

The Learning Policy Institute, a Palo Alto-based research and policy organization, has issued a series of reports and policy briefs for over a year chronicling school districts’ struggle to recruit and retain enough teachers to fill all vacancies.

“Substandard credentials are one of the best indicators of teacher shortages,” said a researcher at the Learning Policy Institute.

A recent survey of 211 districts across the state, conducted by the institute and the California School Boards Association, found that three-quarters of respondents said they had a significant shortage of qualified teachers for the 2016-17 school year.

Other key findings include:

The report concluded that having fully prepared teachers for high-needs students, especially those in special education, can have a significantly positive effect on their education.

“Special education teachers with more extensive pedagogical training and practice teaching are better prepared to handle key teaching duties, such as planning lessons, managing the classroom environment, fulfilling professional duties, and using a variety of instructional methods,” the report said.

The report issued recommendations that the institute has previously championed, including an increase in state funding to create teacher residency programs, based on the medical school model of training residents; forgivable loan or scholarship programs that would require teaching students to commit to classrooms in high-demand subjects and regions; and a removal of the cap on pension earnings for retired teachers who return to the classroom during shortages.

State Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, introduced a bill last month that would give $20,000 grants to student teachers who commit to teach math, science, bilingual education or special education.

Other lawmakers are expected to introduce similar bills to tackle teacher shortages in coming months.

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