Teacher shortages persist in California and getting worse in many communities

February 20, 2018

At an Oakland Unified job fair, recruiter Cary Kaufman (left) speaks with job seeker and substitute teacher Ed Cannon.

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Despite an improving economy and new efforts to recruit teachers, California’s teacher shortage is showing no signs of easing up.

In fact, shortages are becoming more severe in many communities.

That’s the conclusion of a new report from the Learning Policy Institute, based on a survey of 25 school districts of different sizes and in diverse locations in the state.

The districts are not intended to be representative of California’s nearly 1,000 school districts, but they provide a window into how some two dozen districts are dealing with a widespread problem.

Four-fifths of the districts report that the shortages continue compared to last year, and more than half said that there has been no change since then. One-third say the situation has gotten worse. Only 10 percent said that the situation has improved.

The shortages have become especially acute since the 2014-15 school year in areas such as math, science and special education. Other subject areas where districts struggle to find fully credentialed teachers are in bilingual and career technical education.

Over the past two years California has spent nearly $70 million on a range of initiatives to tackle the shortage, including a program that underwrites the cost of a teacher preparation program for classroom aides and other paraprofessionals already working in a district. That program encourages employees to earn a teaching credential. 

According to Leib Sutcher, Desiree Carver-Thomas and Linda Darling-Hammond, who wrote the report, “it will take three to five years before these efforts have a real impact.” Darling-Hammond, the president of the Learning Policy Institute, is also chair of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. 

Some of the state’s strategies include expanding so called blended teacher preparation programs, which allow undergraduates to get their teaching credential in four years, rather than the more typical pathway that takes five or even six years. In announcing the state’s biggest initiative so far to address the shortage, Gov. Jerry Brown asked the Legislature in January to approve spending $100 million in next year’s budget to recruit and prepare additional special ed teachers.

The need is clear. Three-quarters of the 25 districts surveyed said they were unable to fill all their vacant positions with fully credentialed teachers by the time school started this year. Two-thirds of the districts said they had to hire teachers on temporary permits and those who had received waivers from regular credentialing requirements.

The situation is not uniformly bleak. Two districts that reported the situation has improved are among the state’s largest — Fresno Unified and San Bernardino Unified. On the other hand, Los Angeles Unified, by far the state’s largest district, reported that its ability to fill positions has not changed since last year, and that 40 percent of its new hires were not fully certified.

Among those reporting that the situation has gotten worse is Oakland Unified and San Diego Unified, the state’s second-largest district. San Diego reported that about one-third of its new hires were not fully certified this year.

Districts in large urban, suburban and rural communities all report shortages. But rural districts are especially hard hit. The report notes that in some small rural districts all the new teachers hired this year were on emergency-style permits, like Soulsbyville Elementary School District, a district with 500 students in a remote Gold Country town.

Also disproportionately affected by the shortage are schools serving students from low-income families and students from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, according to the report. That’s because teachers on “emergency style” credentials are three times as likely to teach in California’s high-minority schools and twice as likely to teach in high-poverty schools.

That, in turn, “exacerbates persistent achievement gaps between these students and their more affluent peers,” according to the report. Thus the shortages represent more than just a personnel challenge. They also have profound implications for not only individual children but for the state as a whole.

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