Credit: Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

The most inexperienced and least qualified teachers continue to teach in schools with the highest-needs students in California ­— even though those students require the most expert teachers, and research has shown that the effectiveness of classroom teachers is the biggest in-school factor contributing to students’ achievement.

The state lacks comprehensive data, but the most recent report from the California Department of Education found that districts with the most low-income students had 25 percent more inexperienced and underqualified teachers and teachers with a temporary intern credential than districts with the lowest numbers of low-income children.

The disparity has widened amid the ongoing teacher shortage, when districts have hired thousands of teachers with substandard credentials. It has persisted because there has been little state pressure on districts to take action in the new era of local control, and no leverage by Washington, under the Every Student Succeeds Act, to force states to hold districts accountable for inequitable staffing patterns.

“In the decade since the recession, we haven’t made a serious effort to invest in schools with novice teachers, when the research has been clear that their inexperience creates an opportunity gap for kids,” said Bill Lucia, CEO of the Sacramento-based, nonprofit, advocacy organization EdVoice.

“California is not alone; most of the country has dragged their feet on what may be the most significant issue of resource inequity,” said John Affeldt, managing partner of the nonprofit law firm Public Advocates, which has sued the federal and state governments a half-dozen times over the past two decades over issues of underqualified teachers in low-income schools and those in which many students are performing poorly. 

However, that could change significantly in 2020. Sometime next spring, the state will have collected and will make publicly available comprehensive data detailing the numbers and percentages in every school and district of “ineffective,” “inexperienced” and “out-of-field” teachers — categories of underqualified teachers that federal law requires districts to count.

As the State Board of Education has defined the terms, “ineffective teachers” generally are those lacking a teaching credential; “inexperienced” applies to first- and second-year credentialed teachers; and “out of field” generally applies to credentialed teachers who lack the subject expertise to teach a class they’ve been assigned, like a French teacher teaching history.

Parent activists and advocates have been calling for this data for years, but until now, some of the data has been inaccurate, incomplete or collected locally for School Accountability Report Cards but not reported to the state.

Two little-noticed statutory changes  pushed the issue forward. One, passed in 2018, will enable the state to accurately collect teacher misassignments by enabling the Commission on Teacher Credentialing to share data with the California Department of Education. Former Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2011 veto of a proposed statewide teacher database, CALTIDES, had thwarted collecting more data about teachers.

The other, which Gov. Gavin Newsom included in the trailer bill for the 2019-20 state budget (see section 37) will conditionally require the state board to include the teacher staffing data as part of the state’s school accountability system. If education analysts verify that the new data are accurate and comparable across the state, the state board would then take the next step: creating a teacher equity index, rating every district’s and every school’s composition of fully prepared teachers. Perhaps as soon as a year from now, the index would join other indicators including test scores, suspension rates and college and career readiness on the California School Dashboard, the website reporting the state’s multi-colored rating system.

As a result, schools staffed disproportionately with novice and underqualified teachers would get more visibility and public scrutiny. Districts with schools with low ratings — red or orange — signifying the biggest staffing needs would have no option but to address their hiring and retention problems.

And that, Affeldt said, “would be a big deal.”

Elizabeth Ross, managing director for teacher policy for the advocacy nonprofit National Council on Teacher Quality, agreed in a column she wrote earlier this year. Because “great teachers” have an “outsized impact” on students compared with other school interventions, she wrote, “states have a special obligation to ensure that their most vulnerable student populations are not systemically discriminated against by being taught at higher rates than their peers by ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers.”

California has not ignored the problem altogether.

State budgets signed by both Brown and Newsom have included more than $200 million to address the teacher shortage, particularly in low-income districts. The funding includes $75 million for teacher residencies, in which teachers-in-training work beside experienced teachers for a year. Residencies have proven successful in jump-starting and retaining new teachers. Last year, Newsom included $90 million in scholarships for an estimated 4,500 newly credentialed teachers who commit to teaching at least four years in local income schools in high-demand fields, including math, science, bilingual education and particularly special education.

The federal government, under the Every Student Succeeds Act and the No Child Left Behind Act before it, has required districts to write plans on how they would eliminate disparities in staffing in largely low-income, African-American and Latino schools and move toward hiring fully qualified teachers. But the state board viewed this requirement strictly as a reporting exercise to qualify for $2 billion in annual federal education funding and has not monitored district plans.

Last year, 374 California school districts qualified for assistance from county offices of education because one or more racial, ethnic or student group — most often students with disabilities — received the lowest ratings on multiple dashboard indicators. Staffing patterns would be one of the factors examined in a “root cause analysis” behind poor achievement. But, consistent with local control, districts would decide what, if anything to do about it.

Big rise in emergency permits

Following a sharp decline after the recession in new teaching credentials, the number has slowly inched upward to 16,518 in 2017-18, according to the latest data from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. State leaders hope that programs like teacher residencies will quicken that pace.

Meanwhile, though, the number of short-term and provisional license permits quintupled over five years to about 6,000 in 2017-18. About two-thirds of entering California-prepared special education teachers are on substandard credentials, according to a study for the research project Getting Down to Facts. Together with intern credentials, the number of non-fully credentialed teachers rose to more than 13,000 that year. While they represent under 5 percent of all teachers, they are inequitably distributed.

A 2017 survey of principals by the Learning Policy Institute, a Palo Alto-based nonprofit research and advocacy organization, found that two-thirds of principals serving schools with high proportions of black and Hispanic students from low-income families had vacant positions or had hired teachers on short-term or intern credentials. That compared to less than half of their peers in schools with few students from low-income families and black and Latino students.

Linda Darling-Hammond, CEO of the Learning Policy Institute, said that the institute’s recent analysis of “outlier districts” — 156 districts where African-American and Hispanic students performed better on math and English tests than predicted, based on income and other demographic data — found that teacher qualifications and preparation mattered. Those districts “turned their attention to strong teaching. They had fewer emergency hires and established pipelines with universities, with strong professional development, and it paid off for them,” she said.

Districts have a variety of strategies to attract promising new teachers and encourage them to stay. They can reduce their course load and provide extra coaching, lower their class sizes or hire aides to help them. They can offer bonuses to a group of veteran teachers to transfer and ensure that effective principals run the schools.

As the Learning Policy Institute study noted, teachers who have not completed a teacher preparation program when they begin teaching leave the profession at two to three times the rate of fully prepared teachers; those without mentoring leave teaching at about twice the rate of those with regular mentoring, time for collaborative planning and a smaller teaching load.

Districts can fund these options with the extra state funding they get for English learners and low-income, foster and homeless youths under the Local Control Funding Formula. But a recent analysis by researcher Julien Lafortune of the Public Policy Institute of California indicated they’re using the supplemental funding for other purposes. Districts with the most low-income students continued to hire more novice teachers.

Once there is accurate data on staffing disparities and a dashboard indicator to measure them, the state board will decide how to make sure districts act on the information — and what to do if they don’t.

At the last state board meeting, member Patricia Rucker said she’d favor requiring districts to use some of the $252 million in federal funding that California gets for teacher training to respond to staffing inequities, including out-of-field teachers. That had been a federal mandate under the No Child Left Behind Act but it ended with the expiration of the law.

Affeldt said the state board needs to take an active role, “with consequences,” to ensure that districts equitably manage their workforces. And the board, he said, “must make this a priority.”

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  1. Joseph 6 days ago6 days ago

    Experienced teachers go where they can get paid the most with the best working conditions, as almost anyone in other fields would as well. Experienced teachers need incentives to work in high needs schools. In other countries, teachers are paid more to be in high-needs schools. Yes, in school supports can help improve student performance, but not significantly. Alleviating poverty is the only real way to do that. It is fantastical thinking to believe we … Read More

    Experienced teachers go where they can get paid the most with the best working conditions, as almost anyone in other fields would as well. Experienced teachers need incentives to work in high needs schools. In other countries, teachers are paid more to be in high-needs schools.

    Yes, in school supports can help improve student performance, but not significantly. Alleviating poverty is the only real way to do that. It is fantastical thinking to believe we can live in a deeply unequal society and for that not to be reflected in all aspects of life including education. We bend ourselves into pretzels trying to find ways to raise student achievement without addressing the root causes in society.

  2. SD Parent 7 days ago7 days ago

    I agree with el that we are still paying for the massive cuts to education, but I'll also note that under "LCFF" there is no meaningful accountability, either, so more money won't solve the problem. California education is the Wild West, where every jurisdiction can do whatever they want with no real consequence, where the supplemental and concentration grant funds can be spent on teacher raises, where making adults happy is more important that … Read More

    I agree with el that we are still paying for the massive cuts to education, but I’ll also note that under “LCFF” there is no meaningful accountability, either, so more money won’t solve the problem. California education is the Wild West, where every jurisdiction can do whatever they want with no real consequence, where the supplemental and concentration grant funds can be spent on teacher raises, where making adults happy is more important that educational outcomes for students.

    What we’re really talking about here is the student outcome gap, and teacher experience is being made the scapegoat for the problem. Frankly, it is unfair to label any educator – including those without a teaching credential – as “ineffective” without proof. However, the state does not collect any data on best instructional practices for students who struggle, nor data on teacher effectiveness based on student outcomes. If it did, then there would be more effective instruction and more effort to improve student outcomes (although it could still be a challenge to find teachers for those students who need the most support), regardless of teacher experience.

  3. el 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    This story reminds me of two things. We are still paying for the massive cuts to education from the Legislature from the 2007-2009 period. Not only did we not get the teachers we laid off back, but a whole generation learned that focusing their career plans on getting a teaching credential was a risky choice. Maybe memories of that are starting to fade, and will stay faded, if we can avoid another statewide cutback. All the people … Read More

    This story reminds me of two things.

    We are still paying for the massive cuts to education from the Legislature from the 2007-2009 period. Not only did we not get the teachers we laid off back, but a whole generation learned that focusing their career plans on getting a teaching credential was a risky choice. Maybe memories of that are starting to fade, and will stay faded, if we can avoid another statewide cutback.

    All the people who are angry that any new education money has gone to raises should be reminded that the labor market is tight, and the talented, trained people we want to teach kids have choices about their employment. Any economist can tell you that the number one thing you do if you’re having trouble attracting or retaining quality workers is to raise wages.

    There are things that districts can do to retain and improve the teachers they have, which include building a supportive work environment and providing a strong system of local coaching. Little things like making sure teachers have supplies and equipment that works helps too.

    We focus on these temporary credentials and first/second year teachers because they’re easy to count, but it’s only a weak proxy for whether those teachers are actually better or worse than average. (As a someone who has participated in the hiring process, my experience is that sometimes the panel deliberately and quite successfully has chosen a young teacher over more experienced applicants.) What is a good proxy for problems is teacher churn and turnover in a particular school – if a school cannot keep any teachers long enough to become experienced, that is a red flag that something is not going well. Viewing the trends in the data in aggregate may be more useful than looking at the spot numbers at any one time.

    And finally, tying back to an article last week about computer science courses at the university level – we need them not only for CS majors but also for teacher candidates.

  4. Dan Plonsey 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    The assumption in this article is that economic inequality can be overcome simply by improving teaching -- which is false. And inequality is growing. The wealthiest districts just keep raising parcel taxes so they aren't impacted by California's woefully inadequate funding of education. So it's sad (but not surprising) to see that the neoliberal Democrats' "new" idea (stolen from Republican implementation of NCLB) is to further shame and punish districts which have no hope of … Read More

    The assumption in this article is that economic inequality can be overcome simply by improving teaching — which is false. And inequality is growing. The wealthiest districts just keep raising parcel taxes so they aren’t impacted by California’s woefully inadequate funding of education. So it’s sad (but not surprising) to see that the neoliberal Democrats’ “new” idea (stolen from Republican implementation of NCLB) is to further shame and punish districts which have no hope of retaining maturing teachers, let alone attracting veteran teachers, rather than 1) address economic inequality directly and 2) fund education properly. Better to let the billionaires increase their fortunes.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

      I don't know how you would have made that assumption, Dan. Some things are not under a district's control -- curing economic inequity -- but some things are: fixing an inequitable distribution of teachers. That's one purpose of additional funding under the Local Control Funding Formula; we'll see if districts seize the opportunity. Read More

      I don’t know how you would have made that assumption, Dan. Some things are not under a district’s control — curing economic inequity — but some things are: fixing an inequitable distribution of teachers. That’s one purpose of additional funding under the Local Control Funding Formula; we’ll see if districts seize the opportunity.

  5. Judy Barrera 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    There are several issues that need to be addressed in order to get more experienced teachers into lower performing districts. First, experienced teachers have tenure. If they leave their current school district to move to another one – even in the same county – they lose their tenure, higher wages, seniority, and have to start all over as a temporary teacher. That also affects their retirement benefits as well. If there was a way teachers … Read More

    There are several issues that need to be addressed in order to get more experienced teachers into lower performing districts.

    First, experienced teachers have tenure. If they leave their current school district to move to another one – even in the same county – they lose their tenure, higher wages, seniority, and have to start all over as a temporary teacher. That also affects their retirement benefits as well. If there was a way teachers could keep all of that when they move, there would be a stronger incentive to make the change.

    Second, we need to give teachers support for behavior problems. Too often teachers are dealing with traumatized children with little to no support. We are not trained as therapists, social workers, police officers, or psychologists, but are expected to do those jobs on top of teaching. Give teachers the help they need so teachers stay safe and the children get the help they need.

    Third, we always talk about children’s mental health, but what about teachers? When you have children verbally abuse teachers and on a daily basis, throw furniture, scream, cry, and terrorize a classroom constantly, it isn’t only the children that suffer. It is one of the biggest reasons teachers burn out and leave. Again, give teachers the support they need.

    Finally, stop alternately demonizing and then superheroing teachers in public. I’ve been teaching for 21 years, and the workload and expectations are at a backbreaking level. Standards are tougher, expectations are higher, responsibilities are double what they used to be, and yet there are fewer resources, money keeps disappearing, pay is beyond horrible in some areas, and respect is at an all time low. Teachers hear from some what “superheros” they are for what they do, but at the same time are constantly berated, told how they are failing society, etc. It is a beyond stressful narrative that is hard to shut out.

    If our states and country truly want more experienced and competent teachers in all of our schools, then everyone needs to take a good hard look at our education system, our priorities, and our attitudes and make significant – and tough – changes.

  6. Scott Bash 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    I keep hearing about teacher shortages – where are they? I just went back and got my credential in both social science and English and I can't find a job. I applied across 3 counties. Of the 16 people in my program that got SS or ELA credentials, or both, 2 found jobs. So if there really a teacher shortage? Or is there a shortage in math and physics? Also, with … Read More

    I keep hearing about teacher shortages – where are they? I just went back and got my credential in both social science and English and I can’t find a job. I applied across 3 counties. Of the 16 people in my program that got SS or ELA credentials, or both, 2 found jobs.

    So if there really a teacher shortage? Or is there a shortage in math and physics? Also, with what teachers are expected to do these days and for the pay, why is it surprising that people with in demand degrees, ie math and physics, are not teaching? And those that are go to high performing schools where their life is easier and their students are successful

  7. CarolineSF 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    It's inconsistent for "reform" advocates like Bill Lucia of EdVoice* to decry inexperienced teachers in the highest-need classrooms, since the "reform" sector has spent years now promoting bright-eyed Teach for America temp beginners as superior to experienced veteran teachers, whom they've disparaged for all those years as lazy, greedy, uncaring burned-out deadwood interested only in their fat pensions. (Some "reform" voices, famously Campbell Brown of The 74, pile on further by portraying teachers as a … Read More

    It’s inconsistent for “reform” advocates like Bill Lucia of EdVoice* to decry inexperienced teachers in the highest-need classrooms, since the “reform” sector has spent years now promoting bright-eyed Teach for America temp beginners as superior to experienced veteran teachers, whom they’ve disparaged for all those years as lazy, greedy, uncaring burned-out deadwood interested only in their fat pensions. (Some “reform” voices, famously Campbell Brown of The 74, pile on further by portraying teachers as a bunch of child molesters, in case the other attacks aren’t savage enough.) Those attacks, which have been at the heart of the education “reform” strategy for many years, have contributed mightily to the problem we’re now seeing.

    To state the obvious, it’s much more challenging to teach high-need children who live in poverty and often suffer trauma and chaos in their lives. As teachers gain experience and seniority, they’re likely to be able to choose their work situations, and tend to gravitate toward teaching in less-challenging schools. One “solution” I’ve heard the “reformers” promote is to force the most experienced teachers to teach in the highest-poverty classrooms. Guess what – heaping teachers with even more disrespect and contempt and making their jobs harder is not going to solve this problem and will just send more teachers fleeing to change careers.

    The solution, or at least a way to ease the problem somewhat, is to pay teachers well and promote respect and kinder, gentler working conditions for them (and banish the disparagement, contempt and burned-out-child-molesting-deadwood portrayals). Ample school psychologists, social workers, nurses and special-ed teachers and aides would be an excellent start. Unfortunately, the real solution is eliminating child poverty and related trauma and maladies, which is beyond anyone’s scope for now.

    *Useful journalism would actually identify “nonprofit” education operations as part of the “reform”/privatization/anti-union sector when that’s the case. It’s like a charade to just call them nonprofits or nonpartisan, and make the reader wonder and guess. Obviously, as a veteran newsroom journalist, I know the airy vagueness is journalistic convention, but it’s bad convention and should be scrapped.