Enrollments in teacher preparation programs in California are rising, but the numbers just aren’t high enough to put fully prepared teachers in classrooms to educate all 6 million of the state’s public school students, according to newly released figures.
At a time of heightened teacher activism in California and nationally, most of the attention has been on working conditions and salaries for existing teachers, as well as support services for students, overshadowing the equally urgent need to prepare the next generation of teachers and to ensure that those entering the classrooms are fully prepared to teach.
Figures in a report this month to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the state agency charged with regulating teacher preparation and credentialing, tell a two-sided story.
“We have not turned the corner and we are not yet headed in the right direction in terms of getting qualified teachers into all classrooms,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the Learning Policy Institute, a research and policy organization in Palo Alto. Darling-Hammond was recently named by Gov. Gavin Newsom to the State Board of Education and selected as its president. She had previously served for six years as chair of the credentialing commission.
A bright spot, however, is that 23,832 prospective teachers were enrolled in teacher preparation programs in the 2016-17 school year, the last year for which figures are available. That was an increase of nearly 2,500 over the previous year and 4,000 more than in 2012-13. Figures for last year will become available this summer.
“After years of declining enrollments, which helped dig the hole we are in, it is a positive upward trend,” said Mary Vixie Sandy, executive director of the California Teacher Credentialing Commission. “Are we making the strides we would like yet? Not quite.”
The new figures on teaching credentials underscore the complexity of finding teachers to fill classrooms in California’s nearly 10,000 schools. The state issued 16,518 new full teaching credentials 2017-18, only 6 more than the previous year. The numbers have been rising for several years, after plunging during the Great Recession, but have flattened out during the past two years.
Of the newly credentialed teachers, nearly 4,000 were already-qualified teachers who came from out-of-state.
But these newly credentialed teachers didn’t come close to meeting the need for teachers to fill California classrooms. Some 24,000 new teachers were needed in California classrooms in the 2017-18 school year, according to the Learning Policy Institute written as part of the Getting Down to Facts research initiative — but only about 16,000 received teaching credentials.
To fill the remaining spaces in individual school districts, nearly 5,000 classroom teachers were ones with so-called “intern credentials,” issued to teachers with only a few weeks of preparation before they are given their own classrooms while they work to get their full credentials.
Another nearly 6,000 were issued so-called “short-term staff permits” and “provisional internship permits.” The commission report said there have been “dramatic increases” in the number of these permits issued over the past five years.
The permits can be issued to meet an “acute staffing need” or an “anticipated staffing need.” To get the short-term staff permit, for example, no teacher training is needed, just course work in an undergraduate degree program in the subject they will be teaching.
And about 2,000 more were granted what are called “limited assignment” permits allowing them to teach outside their authorized subject areas.
“Half the people coming in are not yet prepared and most likely are teaching in the highest-need communities,” Darling-Hammond said, a reference to the fact that under-prepared teachers disproportionately work in high needs schools. A recent Learning Policy Report noted that “teachers on emergency-style permits are three times as likely to teach in California’s high-minority schools and twice as likely to teach in high-poverty schools as in more advantaged schools.”
Those teaching with less than full credentials represent less than 5 percent of the 306,000 teachers in California classrooms. But what worries educators is that the number of under-prepared teachers continues to increase at a substantial rate. The Commission noted that there was a decline of 0.3 percentage points in the number of fully credentialed teachers in the last school year.
“To me, that shows that there’s still a significant need out there for fully prepared teachers,” said Cynthia Grutzik, dean of the Graduate School of Education at San Francisco State and former president of the California Council on Teacher Preparation.
She noted that enrollments have increased in teacher preparation programs at San Francisco State and that the San Francisco Unified School District alone hired some 800 teachers this year. “So the demand is still there,” she said. She also cautioned that numbers on statewide enrollments are only partially useful.
“Enrollments are trending up, but we need more fine-grained data to understand them,” she said. “To look at it statewide is tricky, because there are so many difference regionally — San Francisco is different from Long Beach, San Bernardino is different from Humboldt.”
Despite increases in recent years, current enrollments in teacher preparation programs, however, are still much fewer than the 77,705 students who enrolled in teacher preparation programs in 2001-02.
“We need to see that number (of enrollments) increase by leaps and bounds and for the others (emergency and other temporary teaching permits) to decrease if we want to feel we are making significant progress in addressing the teacher shortage,” Sandy said.
During the administration of former Gov. Jerry Brown, the state began to invest considerable amounts of money in increasing the supply of teachers. These include $10 million to grow undergraduate teacher preparation programs, in contrast to the typical teacher preparation program which require a year or two of graduate work after a student had earned his or her bachelor’s degree.
The state also allocated another $45 million to give financial aid to so-called classified staff — teacher’s aides, librarians and other staff usually working in schools in some capacity — who wish to become teachers. “Some of these incentives are beginning to pay off,” Darling-Hammond said.
But she is also worried that the “market is not dramatically correcting itself” as far as generating the number of teachers needed in California.
“Given the huge demand for teachers and given that we are filling nearly half of our slots with students who are unprepared, we would have seen a much bigger jump if the market was correcting itself,” she said. “We will have to do much more to make sure teachers coming in are ready to teach on day one and are fully prepared.”
What are needed, she said, are state scholarship programs to cover tuition and other costs of enrolling in a teacher preparation program, as well as loan forgiveness programs for teachers who agree to teach in high needs schools and hard-to-fill subject areas. California once had programs like these, but they were all eliminated during various state budget crises over the past two decades.