Note: In the 2021-22 state budget, California policymakers removed the requirement of passing the CBEST and CSET exams to earn a credential. Please see this article for updated information.

As a result of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s guidance for school openings this fall, most teachers in California this will start out the year in a highly unusual way: offering instruction to their students through distance learning. But who are California’s teachers? How do they become teachers? Who awards them their credentials? To answer these and other questions we have prepared the following “quick guide.”

Q: How many teachers are there in California?

A: There are more than 307,000 credentialed teachers in the California teaching workforce based on data from 2018-19, the most recent figures available.

Q: How diverse is California’s teaching force?

A: The diversity of the workforce has increased significantly over the past several decades. However, California’s teaching force is still a long way away from resembling the diversity of the state’s student population.

Q: Is teaching still a predominantly female profession? 

A: Yes. In 2018-19, 73% of California’s teachers were female and 27% were male, a distribution that has remained largely the same during the past two decades.

Q: How experienced are California’s teachers?

A: The average age of California’s teachers is 45. The majority of teachers are between 30 and 39 (15%), 40 and 49 (24%) and 50 and 59 (21%). The average length of service in a district is 14 years. In 2018-19, 6.4% of California’s teachers were in their first year of teaching and just over 5% were second-year teachers.

One percent had doctorate degrees, 41.7% held a master’s degree and the remainder held a bachelor’s degree.

Q: What are the main teaching credentials in California?

A: Most teachers have one of three credentials.

  • Multiple-subject credential (mainly for elementary teachers who have to teach multiple subjects).
  • Single-subject credential (mainly for middle and high school grades who teach a single subject).
  • Education specialist credential (mainly for special education teachers).

These are either “preliminary” credentials (for new teachers) or “clear” credentials (for more details, see below).

In 2017-18, about 43% of new teachers earned multiple-subject credentials, 38% earned single-subject credentials, and nearly 20% had specialist credentials.

Teachers with a single subject-credential can earn a second or third credential authorizing them to teach added subjects by passing a subject matter examination.

School psychologists, counselors, social workers, nurses, speech therapists, librarians and a range of other staff also have to earn a special credential.

The people filling these positions, including teachers, are called “certificated” staff. The other staff at school sites — such as aides, office staff, school bus drivers, food services staff and janitors — are referred to as classified staff. They do not need a credential to work in a school, although all have to go through background checks.

Q: What is the main approach to preparing teachers in California?

A: In California, the typical pathway to teaching is four years of undergraduate studies in a subject other than education, followed by a year or two of postgraduate teacher preparation that typically includes a semester or more of student teaching. This is different from most states, where teachers earn a credential as part of an undergraduate program, and can major in education.

In recent years, California has begun to expand to a more “blended” approach. A number of CSU and UC campuses, as well as some private universities, already have blended programs, which combine teacher preparation and academic coursework into a four- or five-year intensive undergraduate degree. This is especially valuable to students who know early on that they want to be teachers.

For a smaller number of teachers, California also has instituted other ways to get a teaching credential, typically on an emergency or temporary basis, as well as an “intern credential” which provides a pathway to earning a full credential (see below for more details), which can be awarded either through a program run by a district, or by affiliation with a university program.

Q: Are people still becoming teachers in California?

A: Yes, although not at nearly the same level as they were two decades ago, when more than 70,000 students were striving to become teachers.

However, the number of students enrolled in teacher preparation programs has increased by nearly a third over a five-year period — from nearly 19,000 in 2013-14 to nearly 26,000 in 2017-18, the most recent year for which enrollment figures are available.

This reversed a previous decade long precipitous decline in enrollments in preparation programs, from 2001-02 when enrollments peaked at 77,000.

Q: Who prepares teachers in California?

A: In addition to the 23 California State University campuses and nine University of California campuses, 51 private and independent institutions offer a range of teacher education programs.

Some school districts also prepare beginning teachers, typically those earning an intern credential, in tandem with a higher education institution.

Q: Who awards credentials? 

A: All credentials are awarded by the 19-member California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, a state agency. The commission has 15 voting members, 14 of whom are appointed by the governor and one by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. The remaining four are non-voting ex-officio members (representing UC, CSU, community colleges and private/independent colleges). The commission sets teacher preparation standards, approves institutions of higher education to operate teacher preparation programs, and grants credentials and related documents.

Q: What is the main credential that teachers are awarded initially?

A: Most teachers in California first earn what is called a preliminary teaching credential. A preliminary credential is valid for five years.

Q: Why is it called a preliminary credential?

A: Once a teacher has received his or her credential, there are other additional requirements he or she has to meet before he or she can “clear” the credential. A credential is “clear” when all education and program requirements for the permanent credential — i.e., completion of the preliminary credential and the induction program — have been fully met.

The primary requirement for getting a clear credential is participating in an “induction” program over a two-year period after receiving a preliminary credential. The induction program, so called because it is a key part of “inducting” teachers into the profession, provides extensive support and mentoring to new teachers.

Q: What is required to earn a preliminary credential?

A: Typically, a California teaching credential requires passing a number of tests before and after enrolling in and completing a teacher preparation program, although as noted below some of these requirements have been temporarily suspended in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Q: What tests do aspiring teachers need to complete?

NOTE: In the 2021-22 state budget, California policymakers eliminated the requirement that teacher credential candidates pass the CBEST and CSET exams. For more details, please see this article by Diana Lambert.

A: CBEST: The California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) is normally required to be admitted to a teacher preparation program. There are five alternatives to CBEST, as indicated here.

CSET: The California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET) assesses subject matter knowledge in the field in which a prospective teacher is preparing to teach. A prospective teacher needs to take the California Subject Examination for Teacher (CSET) that assesses subject matter knowledge in the field for which a candidate is preparing to teach. Teacher candidates must pass this before they enter the final stage of student teaching (“solo” teaching) in a traditional teacher preparation program. This test can be waived by a candidate passing a set of courses at a teacher preparation institution as demonstrating subject matter competency.

TPA: The Teaching Performance Assessment (TPA) is taken by teacher candidates at the end of their preparation program as the last step before they get their credential. There are three approved versions of this test in California — each highly rigorous and including classroom video documenting the candidate’s teaching proficiency.

RICA: All multiple subject and education specialist teacher candidates are required to pass the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (RICA), which is designed to assess a candidate’s readiness for teaching reading. It may take several attempts before a candidate passes all these tests.

To varying degrees, these tests have been the subject of considerable criticism in recent years — around issues such as whether they are sufficiently aligned to current academic standards, cause promising teacher candidates to abandon their pursuit of a credential, or deter others from entering the profession in the first place.

Q: What changes have been made to credentialing requirements as a result of the coronavirus pandemic?

A: The state has taken a series of steps to ease the credentialing requirements so as not to discourage teachers from entering or completing the requirements.

Due to test centers being closed, the requirement for prospective teachers to pass the CBEST as well as the CSET testing for admission to a preparation program was waived by Gov. Newsom’s May 29, 2020 executive order. During 2020-21, candidates may be admitted to a teacher preparation program without passing them. But they must pass these tests eventually in order to earn a preliminary credential.

Many teacher candidates could not complete the Teaching Performance Assessment in spring 2020 due to school closures. As a result, Gov. Newsom changed the TPA from being a requirement for a preliminary credential to one needed for the clear credential for candidates enrolled in 2019-20 preparation. That means new teachers can start teaching without having to complete the assessment.

Similarly, candidates graduating from preparation programs in 2020 now need to pass the reading instruction test before being awarded a clear credential rather than a preliminary credential.

For a detailed description of changes made in response to the pandemic, check out this information from the Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

Q: What kinds of courses do teacher candidates take to earn a credential?

A: The teacher preparation program typically includes coursework in a range of areas meeting the standards set by the credentialing commission. Candidates typically study topics such as learning theory, cultural and language diversity, methods of instruction and approaches to student assessment. The candidate is also required to take a course or pass a test on the U.S. Constitution and to take coursework on computer applications in the classroom.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the credentialing commission has introduced flexibility regarding required student teaching hours. For the 2019-20 school year, teacher preparation programs have the authority to require less than 600 hours of student teaching and less than four weeks of solo student teaching if the preparation program determines the candidate has had sufficient classroom instruction experience and opportunities to work independently with students.

Q: What does student teaching consist of?

A: For their student teaching experience, students enrolled in teacher preparation programs, referred to as teacher candidates, work under the guidance of an experienced teacher, and gradually take on more teaching responsibilities. Typical activities include co-planning with the mentor teacher, guided and supervised teaching, grading and analyzing student work, and planning for the needs of individual students. The student teaching experience — sometimes referred to as “clinical practice” — lasts at least 600 hours and includes a placement in a school with students from diverse background and provides programs for English Learners.

It ends with four weeks of “solo” student teaching during which candidates work under the supervision of a mentor teacher, plan or co-plan lessons, deliver lessons and assess or grade students’ work and reflect on their own teaching practice.

Q: Does California issue short term or emergency permits?

A: Yes. A small proportion of the teaching force includes a number of beginning teachers who start out with less preparation through short term, emergency permits they receive and that are valid for one year. The numbers have increased dramatically, mainly in response to the shortage of fully-qualified or prepared teachers. In 2018-19, 6,173 new teachers entered the teaching force with a temporary, emergency permit, an increase of 158% since 2014-15. These permits are requested by a district or county office when there is an acute need for a credentialed teacher or an anticipated staff need that cannot be met.

Q: What is a teacher residency program?

A: One approach to teacher preparation that is gaining in popularity are so-called “teacher residencies,” loosely based on the medical residency model in which doctors in training work under the guidance of skilled medical personnel.

Candidates’ student teaching begins at the beginning of the school year and continues through the end, and they receive their preparation at the school site. The candidate becomes part of the school community and the school, particularly the candidate’s mentor teacher, plays a significant role in preparation.

There are several definitions of residency programs. Common characteristics include a strong partnership between a school district or charter school and a university preparation program, a full year of teaching alongside an expert mentor teacher, coursework tightly integrated with student teaching, and financial support in exchange for committing to teaching for a number of years in that school.

Q: What does an intern credential program consist of?

A: In a time of teacher shortages, districts often cannot find enough credentialed teachers, and so hire teachers with a so-called “intern credential” as an alternative — particularly in shortage fields such as special education. They then provide supervision to the teacher candidate having the intern credential, coordinating with a college or university as appropriate

An intern credential program, offered by a college or university or in some cases by school districts themselves, provides a pathway to getting a preliminary teaching credential that allows a teacher to get a full-time teaching position while completing his or her coursework. Many Teach for America corps members are able to teach using this credential. It is also especially useful for mid-career individuals who want to go into teaching, but cannot take a year or two out of the workplace to attend a teacher preparation program.

Teacher candidates typically only get several weeks of teacher preparation (a minimum of 120 hours) in the summer before they get their own classroom to work in full time.

Approved intern programs are sponsored by colleges, universities, school districts or county offices of education. Completion of an intern program results in the same preliminary teaching credential as is earned through a traditional teacher preparation program route.

Q: Has there been an increase in intern credentials?

A: Yes. There has been a significant increase. In 2018-19, 25% of new first year teachers earned intern credentials, up from 16% in 2014-15. To hire a teacher with an intern credential, a district or county office of education must demonstrate that it cannot fill a position with a fully credentialed teacher. They then provide supervision to the intern having the intern teacher candidate, coordinating with a college or university preparation program when appropriate.

Q: What are the prospects for teachers being laid off due to the recession, as was case during the Great Recession?

A: In most areas of the state, teachers can breathe more easily than they could in June. Gov. Newsom signed a budget agreement with the Legislature on June 2020 that does not cut funding for schools along the lines Newsom had proposed in his May revision of the budget. Instead of cuts, the state will rely on additional federal funds that Congress has yet to vote on. If Congress does not approve additional funds, the state will defer some of its funding to districts that could borrow funds to make up any shortfall. So, layoffs of teachers during the coming school year are unlikely to happen beyond those already announced by certain districts facing financial difficulties that preceded the pandemic.

Data for this Quick Guide were taken from the California Department of Education DataQuest website, from the Ed-Data website, and from CTC documents, including Teacher Supply in California, 2018-19; A Report to the Legislature, April 2020.

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  1. Jo Ellen Restivo 2 years ago2 years ago

    You should also mention the number of National Board Certified Teachers in California, and the unique adverse impact of the WEP/GPO on teachers in California in your article.

  2. Douglas Hughey 2 years ago2 years ago

    Thank you for your informative article on teacher preparation in California. Do you see California’s 115 strong Community Colleges playing a role in this process?

  3. Marie Mallare 2 years ago2 years ago

    Thanks, very informative.

  4. JudiAU 3 years ago3 years ago

    Very interesting. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Judi Carmona 3 years ago3 years ago

    Good to see Dr Bissell is still sharing her excellent wisdom on the teaching profession. She was important part of my becoming an educator.