Photo: AnneMarie Flores
Ashley Garland works with preschoolers at Edward Kemble Elementary School in Sacramento. Garland is in a state program that turns classified school workers into teachers.

A state program that recruits classroom aides, food service workers and bus drivers — who are already on campus and invested in local schools — and trains them to become teachers is one innovative way California is trying to combat its teacher shortage.

The California Classified School Employee Teacher Credentialing Program has helped transform 299 school employees into teachers, with thousands more in the pipeline, according to a new report from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. 

Legislators have approved $45 million for the program since 2016, as part of an ongoing effort to address a teacher shortage that has left many classrooms without a fully credentialed educator. Finding teachers, especially those teaching science, math, special education and English language learners, has become a daunting challenge, particularly for school districts in areas with high housing and other costs.

Ashley Garland, 28, earned one of the coveted spots in Sacramento City Unified’s classified employee credentialing program in 2017. She had been working as a special education instructional aide for Sacramento City Unified for four years and in the after-school program for more than 10 years when a co-worker encouraged her to apply for the program. After a little more than two years in the program, Garland has earned her bachelor’s degree and is less than six months away from completing her teacher preparation courses and teacher training. 

Garland said she originally wanted a career in public relations and advertising, and never considered teaching. “The more I accepted my talents and the way the kids respond to me, the more I believed I could do it. It’s like a passion and doesn’t feel like work.”

The California Classified School Employee Teacher Credentialing Program offers competitive grants to school districts to pay tuition, fees and other costs for employees who want to complete a bachelor’s degree and a teaching credential. While in the program they continue working for the district before transitioning to entry-level teachers. The program has offered 2,260 potential teachers a spot in the program in two separate rounds of grants.

The program elevates people who already are passionate about working with students, said Rigel Massaro, of Public Advocates, a nonprofit law firm that advocates for equality in public policy, including education policy.

“Dollars to doughnuts they are going to be retained, because they understand what it is like,” she said at a California Commission on Teacher Credentialing meeting in November. “They got into teaching because they have already been on the campus or in the classroom for many years, often.”

Prospective teachers must have completed at least two years of college to be eligible for the program. Garland had dropped out of college as a junior because she couldn’t get into needed classes and couldn’t afford to continue going to school while working full-time to pay bills. 

Garland takes classes from Brandman University in the evenings online. After taking the required credentialing tests she will earn an education specialist certification that will allow her to teach special education students.

She now teaches both special education and general education students in a classroom with another teacher at Edward Kemble Elementary in Sacramento. The majority of students at the school are Hispanic or African-American, with 87 percent eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch. 

After school is out each day Garland returns to her job in the district’s after-school program, where she is the visual and performing arts program manager and teaches step dance classes.

Garland said she decided to be a special education teacher — an area that has a dire shortage of teachers — because her 25-year-old brother has special needs. “It’s something close to home for me,” she said. “This is where I belong. I’m good at it and I’m passionate about it.” 

The number of teachers earning full credentials in California is rising, but not fast enough to keep up with demand. In 2017-18 the credentialing commission issued 16,518 preliminary and full teacher credentials. However, that year school districts statewide had 24,000 teacher openings, according to the credentialing commission. To fill all those jobs school districts have had to rely on teachers with intern credentials, who teach classes while completing university coursework and required tests, and those with even less preparation who work with emergency-style permits.

The classified employee program pays school districts $4,000 annually for each participant, with most of the money spent on the tuition, books and other education costs. Districts can use some of the money to administer the program.

School employees in the program have five years to complete it. By this past July 299 program participants entered classrooms as fully credentialed teachers, according to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

“This is an excellent program and has yielded excellent results that are long term,” said James Brescia, superintendent of the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education.

The San Luis Obispo County office was among the 45 school districts, county offices of education and consortiums of districts selected to participate in the program. The county’s school districts have gained a half-dozen new teachers through the program and have an additional 52 working toward bachelor’s degrees and credentials, Brescia said.

One of the positive results is a more diverse workforce of teachers with similar family incomes and ethnicities as the county’s students, Brescia said.

About 42 percent of participants statewide are Hispanic, while 31 percent are white, according to the credentialing commission report. That is considerably different from the state’s overall teacher population. In 2017-18, 62 percent of teachers surveyed by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing identified themselves as white, while 21 percent identified themselves as Hispanic.

While some districts were unable to fill all the spots in their programs with school staff, many had waiting lists. Brescia said the San Luis Obispo County program is full and that district leaders want to put more staff members through the program.

A dozen employees of other government agencies called the county office to inquire about applying for the program. “We had other non-teaching employees in other public agencies — city and county employees — that we had to turn down,” he said. “I didn’t anticipate that.”

Brescia would like to see legislators fund more rounds of the program and make other public employees eligible for it.

Los Angeles Unified has 45 of its classified staff in the program, including an office manager, food service workers and a bus driver, said Bryan Johnson, director of certificated workforce management at the district. So far, five of the participants have been hired as teachers, he said.

“By enabling us to continue to support these teachers while working toward their credentialing goal, we are also addressing a key barrier to entry to our profession, as our members are able to earn a living as a teacher, maintain their health benefits for their families,” he said.

The California Legislature has approved more than $200 million for teacher preparation and retention programs in the last five years to combat the state’s teacher shortage. In addition to the classified employee credentialing program, that funding has been allocated for special education teacher recruitment and teacher residencies, which allow potential teachers to serve an apprenticeship under the guidance of a veteran teacher while completing required coursework

The governor’s budget also included $90 million to help recruit and retain science, math and special education teachers and teachers at high-needs schools.

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, who introduced the legislation that created the program, said the program accomplishes two of the state’s education priorities — getting more qualified teachers into classrooms and diversifying the teacher workforce. McCarty is chairman of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance.

“If this can produce 2,000 teachers, that is a third of the number of classrooms that have uncredentialed teachers today,” he said. “Having a qualified teacher in the classroom has a big correlation to student success.”

McCarty said he expects legislators will approve another round of funding for the program in the 2020-21 budget.

 “It looks like we will have some opportunities for some smart investments and this looks like one of those,” he said.

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  1. Alicia DeRollo 9 months ago9 months ago

    I am shocked at the ignorance of the commenters below. This program has opened pathways for those who live in diverse and at risk communities, those who know and care for the students, those who are already committed to the betterment of the most at risk students to become educators. The program doesn't hand over credentials to unqualified individuals; the program offers funding for the education that is needed to become a teacher. … Read More

    I am shocked at the ignorance of the commenters below. This program has opened pathways for those who live in diverse and at risk communities, those who know and care for the students, those who are already committed to the betterment of the most at risk students to become educators. The program doesn’t hand over credentials to unqualified individuals; the program offers funding for the education that is needed to become a teacher. How narrow-minded and short-sighted one must be to assume that those who drive a bus or work in the cafeteria aren’t smart enough to teach our children. Shame on that ignorance.

    Replies

    • Crystal Kelly 9 months ago9 months ago

      Opening doors is very important, but a program like this is something that should be set up for an incentive for all students attending public schools to work toward. Right now the only incentive that students are given is that they have an opportunity to learn and may someday be able to attend a good college and get a good job if they can come up with their own money. Many students graduating are struggling … Read More

      Opening doors is very important, but a program like this is something that should be set up for an incentive for all students attending public schools to work toward. Right now the only incentive that students are given is that they have an opportunity to learn and may someday be able to attend a good college and get a good job if they can come up with their own money. Many students graduating are struggling to find work that pays more than minimum wage.

      Wouldn’t it be better to have programs in place that will guarantee students an opportunity to receive funds to continue their education and someday possibly work as teachers in the very schools they have spent most of their youth immersed in as a student. Public-school students should have an opportunity first to work as staff and support staff in the schools and districts they have attended and graduated from and to receive funds to continue their education in order become a teacher.

      Sadly, there may be a few teachers working in California with emergency credentials that do not posses a degree of any kind. The number seems to be small, but that is why I suggested that students should possibly take the CSET or CBEST in order to graduate, just to see if they’d be ready to continue on to college to receive the degree needed to become qualified to teach in the schools they graduated from.

      This program is not handing out jobs; it is only giving the opportunity to people who already have jobs and again forgetting about the student the public school claims to be set up to benefit. We need to shift the benefits back to the students.

      • John Fensterwald 9 months ago9 months ago

        Thank you for your comment, Chrystal. Other states are doing what you advocate under the banner Educators Rising. You can read about the organization and the national conference it will be holding in June in Washington, D.C. here The website says there is an chapter in California but says contact the national office about it. (info@educatorsrising.org and 800-766-1156) Read More

        Thank you for your comment, Chrystal.

        Other states are doing what you advocate under the banner Educators Rising. You can read about the organization and the national conference it will be holding in June in Washington, D.C. here The website says there is an chapter in California but says contact the national office about it. (info@educatorsrising.org and 800-766-1156)

  2. Crystal Kelly 9 months ago9 months ago

    Why not train students to one day work in the very schools they have gone to? Who are the schools for and what is this system truly set up to achieve? This program is focused on helping those already working in the school system. If the focus of the public school system really is to educate children we probably wouldn't be having a "teacher shortage." The education system has turned into an employment vehicle for everyone but … Read More

    Why not train students to one day work in the very schools they have gone to?

    Who are the schools for and what is this system truly set up to achieve?

    This program is focused on helping those already working in the school system. If the focus of the public school system really is to educate children we probably wouldn’t be having a “teacher shortage.”

    The education system has turned into an employment vehicle for everyone but the students who have endured years of program tests and failures. This program should be offered to the students who have already been on campus and in the classrooms. Start this program as a dual enrollment course offered to all public high school students. Instead of the SAT or ACT, let students take the CBEST or CSET in high school?

  3. SD Parent 9 months ago9 months ago

    Are we really saying that bus drivers and food service workers that work in schools are the best investment for teacher preparation programs? Would we invest in orderlies and food service workers at hospitals to become surgeons? Outside of teachers' aides, I cannot envision how this program is anything but a waste of education funding, and I don't believe it will provide students with the quality teachers they need to thrive. Why … Read More

    Are we really saying that bus drivers and food service workers that work in schools are the best investment for teacher preparation programs? Would we invest in orderlies and food service workers at hospitals to become surgeons? Outside of teachers’ aides, I cannot envision how this program is anything but a waste of education funding, and I don’t believe it will provide students with the quality teachers they need to thrive.

    Why not instead look for the best and brightest high school graduates and offer them financial aid to go into the teaching profession?

  4. Dr. Bill Conrad 10 months ago10 months ago

    Only the pretend profession of education would pat itself on the back for recruiting bus drivers, food service staff, and custodians to become part of their profession. Imagine the real professions of medicine, law, and business having to comb their facilities for recruits. it is unthinkable. In education, though, it becomes a badge of honor! Real professions successfully and easily recruit more than enough first choice and high caliber student candidates for their professions. … Read More

    Only the pretend profession of education would pat itself on the back for recruiting bus drivers, food service staff, and custodians to become part of their profession. Imagine the real professions of medicine, law, and business having to comb their facilities for recruits. it is unthinkable. In education, though, it becomes a badge of honor!

    Real professions successfully and easily recruit more than enough first choice and high caliber student candidates for their professions. This of course should also be true for the profession that does the supremely important work of educating our children. The woeful colleges of education are unable to train their current crop of candidates let alone 2nd choice bus drivers. We are lucky if some of the successful graduates from real professional schools agree to do 2 years of charity work as Teach for America volunteers!

    This educational recruitment boondoggle is just one more artifact of a failed and dysfunctional K-12 educations system that is in dire need of transformation not triage. You can learn more about the characteristics of this failed system in my upcoming book called Screwed (Actually I use the F-word) How the K-12 Education System Fails Children and Families.

    And of course the student data corroborates the Keystone Cops’ nature of our profession with only about half of third graders being able to read by the end of the year and even worse results for children of color, economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, English Learners, homeless youth, foster youth, and LGBTQ children.

    Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” Our children are not getting a good education. The most recent recruitment boondoggle of the State is just one more artifact of the failed K-12 System. Hopefully, the children will rise up as they are doing for gun control and global climate change and add K-12 education to their activist list.

  5. Bruce William Smith 10 months ago10 months ago

    I see no evidence that this is a smart investment, and I have no confidence that Assemblyman McCarty would know what a smart educational investment looks like. Virtually none of these trainees would qualify to begin training in Singapore, and I do not know why California’s children deserve teachers so enormously less qualified than do the children in that model district.

  6. Alisa Amantine 10 months ago10 months ago

    Thus is very good but they still have not addressed the hurdles of passing those CSET test which is the barrier to most teachers. Lots of people complete the education but can’t get passed the CSET, RICA and other tests monopolized by Pearson. Other entities should be allowed to offer the test to make sure they are not failing people to make more money. I have taken one test three times and keep receiving the … Read More

    Thus is very good but they still have not addressed the hurdles of passing those CSET test which is the barrier to most teachers. Lots of people complete the education but can’t get passed the CSET, RICA and other tests monopolized by Pearson. Other entities should be allowed to offer the test to make sure they are not failing people to make more money. I have taken one test three times and keep receiving the same score. I missed it by 7 points each time. No one has $99 to pay each time you test. There are 3 tests to pass CSET.

    Replies

    • Dr. Bill Conrad 9 months ago9 months ago

      Please stop raging against the thermometers. If anything the entry tests for teachers are way too easy! Imagine law and medicine dumbing down their tests so more unqualified candidates can pass. Unthinkable.

  7. Ann 10 months ago10 months ago

    Districts can use some of the money to administer the program.
    School employees in the program have five years to complete it.

    $29 K for a little over 2 years of college. Pretty pricey eh? There are no entrance exams or exit exams for teachers other than the RICA which is in dire need of rewrite so it tests on how to teach reading, the most important gap in teacher preparation.