Credit: Andrew Reed/EdSource
Students learn during a Spanish class at Yerba Buena High School in San Jose's East Side Union High School District before the pandemic in 2019.

California schools collectively have billions of state and federal dollars to spend on programs to help students catch up on the learning they lost while school campuses were closed. But many districts do not have enough fully qualified teachers to fill regular classrooms, let alone to launch new academic programs this fall.

The state’s schools have struggled with teacher shortages for years, especially in the areas of special education, math, science and bilingual education, but the problem has worsened since the pandemic began. Research by the Learning Policy Institute, which consisted of interviews with district leaders from eight of the largest and nine of the smallest school districts in the state, found that the number of teacher candidates earning credentials declined during the pandemic.

The California State Teachers’ Retirement System, or CalSTRS, reported a 26% increase in the number of teacher retirements in the second half of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019.

Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner sounded the alarm about the shortage of teachers last month. The additional state and federal funds could allow the district to add reading and math teachers in elementary schools, reduce class sizes in middle and high schools, offer more direct support for students with learning difficulties, and add more mental health professionals, but the district may not be able to hire enough people to staff all the programs.

“Yes, more money would allow schools to hire more reading teachers if there were more to be hired,” Beutner said. “While it’s great that schools will have adequate funding for the first time in a generation, money alone won’t solve the problem.”

Los Angeles Unified hired an additional 210 reading specialists for the 2020-21 school year for its Primary Promise program, which gives targeted help to 6,700 students in kindergarten through second grades. But the district needs an additional 400 to 500 reading specialists to help all the students who are struggling with reading, Beutner said.

“And while (Los Angeles Unified) schools will have the $70 million or so each year they need to do the hiring, fewer than 200 people are currently graduating each year from university programs with a reading specialist certificate in the entire state of California,” he said.

The school district also could improve the first-time passage rate for students who take algebra — currently 56% — if it could hire 170 more algebra teachers to reduce class sizes, Beutner said.

“Sounds simple, but it’s not easy to do,” he said. “There are only about 1,000 teachers who graduate each year from university programs in the state with the training to teach algebra.”

Some districts are offering signing bonuses to school psychologists, speech therapists, and teachers in hard-to-fill positions, and increasing pay for substitute teachers to convince them to sign with school districts.

“We are all competing for this pool of highly qualified candidates,” said David Zaid, Long Beach Unified assistant superintendent. “We have all increased our hiring because of some of the additional funding.”

The district, which educates 70,000 students at 85 schools, usually hires between 130 and 140 teachers each school year. This coming school year it will add 160 more teachers than it usually does, funded with federal CARES Act money, for a total of 300 new teachers.

The district has hired about 100 fully credentialed teachers for next school year, Zaid said last week. The race to hire more teachers is tracked on a thermometer chart tacked to a wall in the human resources department of the district.

Courtesy of Long Beach Unified

Long Beach Unified Human Resources staff are trying to recruit 300 new teachers for next school year. They are almost halfway there.

Zaid is optimistic the district will find the 200 teachers it still needs to begin the school year in August. The district still has more than 200 applications to consider. It has streamlined its application process so that contracts can be signed faster. By shortening the time between interviews and an offer the district is more likely to keep a good candidate from looking elsewhere.

The district has made other changes to its recruitment process, including hosting its own job fairs, instead of only attending recruitment events at universities. The district recruitment fairs take place in the evenings, instead of in the middle of the day, to draw more experienced teachers, Zaid said.

Some California school district officials are wary about hiring teachers and other staff with the one-time dollars being offered by the state and federal government this year. They don’t want to have to lay off teachers when the money goes away

Twin Rivers Unified School District in Sacramento doesn’t plan to add teacher assistants or teachers with the one-time state and federal dollars this year, said David Robertson, director of human resources and labor relations. Instead, the district will be adding 20 new teacher coaching and teacher support positions out of the funds.

About 90 percent of the district’s 32,000 students are from low-income families and a quarter of them are English learners — groups education experts say are among the most likely to need additional help to catch up next school year.

Twin Rivers officials, who usually hire about 250 teachers a year, expect to hire 100 this year because of increased retention and a decrease in enrollment in recent years. The district has improved retention by increasing support to new teachers, including adding a Teacher and Mentor Support web page with access to mentors and support staff, Robertson said. The website includes links to professional development and tips to help teachers tend to their social-emotional well-being, among other things.

Smaller, more rural districts historically have had the worst teacher shortages. The districts, usually located farther away from university teacher preparation programs, have fewer fully qualified teachers living nearby.

“Collectively, they are struggling to hire enough teachers and classified employees,” said Tim Taylor, executive director of the Small School Districts’ Association. “Running new programs is going to be hard because they don’t have the employees to do some of the work.”

Taylor expects some districts will have to choose which programs they can run and those they can’t because of a lack of staffing. Even teacher aides and substitutes are hard to find and in demand, Taylor said.

Konocti Unified, a district of 6,700 students in rural Lake County, has received $10 million in state and federal Covid aid, but it hasn’t sorted out its staffing for next year. District officials expect to have a plan by the end of this month.

Assistant Superintendent Chris Schoeneman would like to use some state and federal Covid funds to hire one additional teacher at each of the district’s five school sites to work in accelerated learning programs to help students catch up. But district officials don’t want to overstaff with one-time state and federal dollars that expire in two to three years.

But even if the district spends the money to hire teachers, they may not be able to find enough. The district has historically had a difficult time finding enough fully credentialed teachers for its schools. Before the pandemic closed schools, more than half of the district’s teachers had worked as a teacher less than five years or were on emergency-style permits, meaning they haven’t completed teacher preparation programs or have received only partial training.

“We lost multiple teachers last summer and fall to fear of Covid and returning to work,” Schoeneman said. “With vaccinations in place and proper health and safety procedures, will those teachers be returning to classrooms? Will teachers and staff feel safe coming back to the profession? I don’t know. We are in such uncharted waters.”

Schoeneman said he also isn’t certain how many students will return in the fall. Student enrollment in the district has been climbing in recent years as families flee high housing prices in more urban parts of the state.

Like other districts, Konocti may have to get creative about space and lean heavily on teaching assistants, librarians or instructors in their afterschool programs to help with accelerated learning programs.

To fill vacancies, school district officials have turned to underqualified teachers working on intern, short-term or provisional intern permits who have not completed the testing, coursework and student teaching required for a preliminary or clear credential. They also allow fully credentialed teachers with limited assignment permits or waivers to teach outside their subject areas to fill staffing needs.

Staffing is further complicated by a severe shortage of substitutes, even in districts that have a handle on teacher hiring. Most substitute teachers found themselves with little work when schools were in distance learning mode and opted for more stable employment. Others were hired as full-time teachers, often on intern permits.

“It’s going to be brutal,” Schoeneman said. “I don’t know what we are going to do. We’ve hired most of our substitutes who are interested in being teachers as interns. If you are a killer sub you already have a job in this county.”

In addition to hiring teachers, districts across California are bolstering their mental health staff. Before the pandemic, the counselor-to-student ratio in California was about 1-to-600 — one of the highest in the country. Now, in light of students’ growing mental health needs and a windfall in funding, many districts are aiming for a ratio of 1-to-250, or even as low as 1-to-100, said Loretta Whitson, executive director of the California Association of School Counselors.

Unlike the teacher hiring pool, California has plenty of counselors to fill the need. More than 47,000 people in California are credentialed to work as school nurses, psychologists, social workers or counselors, and, as of 2019, only 16,670 were actually working in California schools, according to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and the California Department of Education.

Beutner says he’ll need $150 million to hire 1,000 more mental health counselors to meet the needs in L.A. Unified.

Investments in mental health services must be part of a long-term, structural commitment to improving campus climate, Whitson said. That effort should include partnerships with community mental health agencies, outreach to families, more access to one-on-one therapy and training for all school staff, she said. And districts should expect to see repercussions from the pandemic — due to trauma and grief — surface for three to five years for some students, she said.

But overall, Whitson is hopeful that California schools finally have the funding and motivation to seriously address student mental health needs.

“(This) may prove to be a defining moment for education,” Whitson said. “It is an investment in our young peoples’ prospects, as they prepare for a healthy, productive future.”

EdSource Senior Writer Carolyn Jones contributed to this report.

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  1. Leinad S 6 days ago6 days ago

    The CBEST is important in this way ….. it tests for a minimum level of learning to the 10th grade. Any person who can’t pass that should not be a teacher.

  2. Ryan 3 months ago3 months ago

    Remove the money grabbing edTPA assessments in all states. If California is damaged by having a teacher shortage (especially in math and sciences), then you should eliminate the extra layers of bureaucracy that just scares people that were even remotely interested in teaching. Experience in the classroom will always trump these pointless assessments. Continue with evaluations, but the added contingencies need to stop if you want to be one step closer to fixing the issue … Read More

    Remove the money grabbing edTPA assessments in all states. If California is damaged by having a teacher shortage (especially in math and sciences), then you should eliminate the extra layers of bureaucracy that just scares people that were even remotely interested in teaching.

    Experience in the classroom will always trump these pointless assessments. Continue with evaluations, but the added contingencies need to stop if you want to be one step closer to fixing the issue of not having enough people interested in joining a credential program.

    Replies

    • Sam 2 months ago2 months ago

      I agree, Ryan, I'm currently in South Korea working for a WASC accredited foreign school (this means my students learn the same standards as American students). Icannot get a clear answer regarding AB 130 as far as qualifying to be in a classroom. I never would have come here or went through a second licensure program which is coming to an end for me (DC) if it weren't for things like "you cannot student teach … Read More

      I agree, Ryan, I’m currently in South Korea working for a WASC accredited foreign school (this means my students learn the same standards as American students). Icannot get a clear answer regarding AB 130 as far as qualifying to be in a classroom. I never would have come here or went through a second licensure program which is coming to an end for me (DC) if it weren’t for things like “you cannot student teach until all tests are passed.”

      California needs to decide if having no teacher because they can’t pass a section of the tests (I have dyscalculia) is better than having a teacher who’s experienced (be it a former para etc) who’s willing to put in the time etc. The pandemic only sped up the inevitable.

      Why does a special education teacher who teaches students with very little cognitive function need to pass a math test? They are teaching life skills and transition skills the student can barely add no ones teaching them polynomials.

  3. Eugene Baker 4 months ago4 months ago

    The fundamental teaching model has to change. Algebra 1A should be taught by 1-2 instructors like Khan Academy, via a streaming service. For example, 5,000, 9th-grade math students in the LASD, take the online class from their classroom or auditorium. The remaining 98% of the Algebra 1A instructors in the LASD become more like high-tech tutors or learning facilitators joining their classes in the learning process. They explain the lesson in more … Read More

    The fundamental teaching model has to change. Algebra 1A should be taught by 1-2 instructors like Khan Academy, via a streaming service. For example, 5,000, 9th-grade math students in the LASD, take the online class from their classroom or auditorium. The remaining 98% of the Algebra 1A instructors in the LASD become more like high-tech tutors or learning facilitators joining their classes in the learning process. They explain the lesson in more detail and assist their students in real-time. They are able to spend more time with individual students, keeping them interested, adding their own teaching style to the remote learning process. The teacher becomes more like a trusted ally, a guide, or a really smart friend, instead of an authority figure. They can counsel students 1-1 and are better able to maintain control of the learning process.

    The days of a single Algebra 1A instructor coming up with a lesson plan for 140 students are gone. Teachers of the future will be more like learning facilitators, with a background in technology and content creation. They will leverage the best instructors, technology, and new ideas to enhance learning. In ten years, teacher salaries will increase 30% to keep pace with the technology job market, we will need 1/2 as many teachers and the students will get a state of the art education.

  4. Sam 4 months ago4 months ago

    As a teacher that worked during the pandemic; you could throw billions of dollars at the schools and teachers, but most teachers are retiring or quitting because of the working conditions. The administrations showed they had too much power and were able to make snap decisions with no recourse or even listening to the teachers. The teachers were not treated as professionals or even humans, in the case at my district.

  5. Mary Corrales 4 months ago4 months ago

    The state of Georgia, is rehiring retired teachers, why can’t California do the same?

  6. Ofelia Sandoval 5 months ago5 months ago

    Teachers assistants are ready and trained to help teachers. Raise the hours on assistance and we can help after school homework. Or we can work with the students during lunch; I have done it many times.

  7. Amy H. Larsen 5 months ago5 months ago

    School districts may also use private vendors to assist with their teacher shortage. Districts don’t usually prefer to vendor out services due to cost. In this case, I would hope districts would be more willing to use this available option.

    Replies

    • Todd Maddison 5 months ago5 months ago

      A great solution, not just short but longer term to address things that might be temporary needs or outside the normal competencies of the district. As for cost, in California the median total compensation of a teacher in 2019 was about $119,000/year - which includes the cost of retirement and benefits. With an average "work year" of 185 days, that means a permanent teacher makes about $650/day in total compensation. That's well above doctor or lawyer … Read More

      A great solution, not just short but longer term to address things that might be temporary needs or outside the normal competencies of the district.

      As for cost, in California the median total compensation of a teacher in 2019 was about $119,000/year – which includes the cost of retirement and benefits. With an average “work year” of 185 days, that means a permanent teacher makes about $650/day in total compensation.

      That’s well above doctor or lawyer pay – how could any outsourced resource possibly cost more than that?

      • Allen 4 months ago4 months ago

        That’s a wildly inaccurate comment. Nobody’s working 185 days not even PE teachers. Everyone else is burning the candle at both ends. Hell I was an EMT my first two years and back in the reserves the next 14 until I could finally just afford to be … just a teacher. Don’t believe me? Why aren’t people getting into education? Money talks.

      • Amy H. Larsen 3 months ago3 months ago

        Excellent Point!!

  8. Kathleen Trinity 5 months ago5 months ago

    As a retired LAUSD high school teacher I’d be interested in either returning for a year or two or as a sub. What gives me pause, however, is class sizes of up to 48 with an extreme range of skills.

  9. jack 5 months ago5 months ago

    Remove the pointless CSET and CBEST and allow teacher candidates to actually have a chance to teach! Some many amazing people are “unqualified” but wasting 6-7 years in a bachelor’s and credential program is supposedly not enough to teach? https://govapps.gov.ca.gov/gov40mail/ Send Gavin Newson a message to continue to fight for the removal of the CSET and CBEST which unfairly weed out minority teacher candidates from having a chance to teach.

  10. Stephanie 5 months ago5 months ago

    Has anyone explored recruiting retired teachers by reactivating their credentials and repealing any laws that says they can no longer continue getting a pension from STRS if they are reemployed on an emergency basis?

  11. Robert W Bartlett 5 months ago5 months ago

    I'm a highly-qualified California special-ed teacher with outstanding credentials, eighteen years of experience, and a record of satisfactory and often exemplary service. I'm collecting unemployment after being laid off in June. My twenty-eight inclusion students did not fall behind last year (2020-2021) because of the extraordinary efforts on my part and on the part of my colleagues to run a virtual school that approximated normal grade-level progress. I worked miracles. I ran the small middle … Read More

    I’m a highly-qualified California special-ed teacher with outstanding credentials, eighteen years of experience, and a record of satisfactory and often exemplary service. I’m collecting unemployment after being laid off in June.

    My twenty-eight inclusion students did not fall behind last year (2020-2021) because of the extraordinary efforts on my part and on the part of my colleagues to run a virtual school that approximated normal grade-level progress. I worked miracles. I ran the small middle school for which I was the lead IEP case manager (because the principal couldn’t quite bring himself to do it).

    I saved their bacon from certain disaster. The school often expressed their gratitude for finding me available in August 2020 (after my contract ended at the school engaged by my independent contractor and I went back on my own) and applying my skills so effectively. They actually showed generosity, including a Covid-related bonus of $5,000 in salary. They paid me as a senior teacher and even made the most generous interpretation of my contract.

    But in the end, they simply told me that they didn’t have a position for me in August 2021, even though they had an open posting on EdJoin for a special-ed teacher, which had been open all year. They relied on me to handle highly sensitive matters up to a few hours after my last day, so this was a friendly parting.

    My educated guess is that the school wanted time to troll for a teacher with no qualifications and no experience: in other words, a cheaper teacher. This will, of course, shortchange the students, faculty, and families by depriving them of a qualified professional in this sensitive position. But a school administrator’s role is to get ahead at any cost, no matter who gets hurt.

    This pattern of burn and churn has been the trend in special-ed for decades and more recently now in general education. The attrition rate in California for all teachers within five years of earning a credential is 80%. One wonders if retention might have been the answer to the longstanding shortage. But that answer is expensive and would not support the state’s obviously exaggerated claims of surpluses and balanced budgets. The budget has been balanced though systematic churning and mistreatment of teachers and shortchanging of students, faculties, and families.

    There was never a shortage of appropriate workers or teacher education programs. But there was the deliberate churning of trained teachers. If you churn a teacher before they achieve seniority, by replacing them with an inexperienced teacher, you can pretend that Prop 13 didn’t destroy the school system. The practice of burn and churn, rather than a shortage of suitable workers, explains the presence of so many teachers on emergency credentials and so many with under five years of experience … even after the influence of NCLB (i.e. in bold and deliberate defiance of NCLB).

    Probably the workforce has gotten wise to the underhanded administrators and doesn’t find California to be an attractive place to teach. I know that I spread the bad news far and wide, and discourage people at every turn. The cheerleading in this article is giving the false impression of a solution to the broken system. A windfall can only be a temporary decoy for the corruption that has been going on for decades, especially since the Great Recession, which still exists in the school system.

    The system never recovered, but it put its cover-up into high gear. This windfall is only postponing the inevitable. State leadership must confront the problems with Prop 13 and state finances generally rather than becoming more skilled in covering them up. The publicity windfall generated by Covid relief shows you how skilled they are at covering up. For my part, I’ve fashioned myself into a kind of contractor-consultant that takes teaching assignments with a one-year trajectory, which is about the threshold for a district allowing a qualified, experienced special-ed teacher to hold a job. There is always a school that has lapsed into so much chaos that it has to let up on the corruption for a year or two and call on the services of a qualified special-ed teacher: my school last year, for instance.

  12. Jeanne Berrong 5 months ago5 months ago

    This article highlights an important issue, but those of us directly impacted by remote learning - students and teachers - would be better served without the endless headlines screaming "learning loss." Despite limitations and obstacles beyond our control, teachers taught and students learned this year. Was it optimal? No. But continuing to frame the narrative and judge our students through a deficit lens - "California districts receive unprecedented windfall but lack teachers to help students … Read More

    This article highlights an important issue, but those of us directly impacted by remote learning – students and teachers – would be better served without the endless headlines screaming “learning loss.” Despite limitations and obstacles beyond our control, teachers taught and students learned this year. Was it optimal? No. But continuing to frame the narrative and judge our students through a deficit lens – “California districts receive unprecedented windfall but lack teachers to help students catch up”- does nothing but characterize our students as “broken goods” and pave the way for districts to dole out even more drill and kill test prep purporting to meet students’ needs when they return in the fall.

    If we lower class sizes, let’s do it for the right reasons: to meet students where they are and to better create classroom environments and routines that nurture a love for the arts, reading, writing, problem-solving, and learning about the world.

  13. Phil Monterey 5 months ago5 months ago

    Yes. Our district has tons of teachers called Teachers on Special Assignment (TOSA) that do not teach, back to the classroom to actually help students learn – what a concept less bloated admin that has little to do with learning.

  14. Jay 5 months ago5 months ago

    If retaining and recruiting teachers is the challenge, then I would suggest the following COLA legislation/executive order in terms of teacher salaries. Each year, the LCFF has a set COLA (increase or decrease). Skip the association's (union's) collective bargaining and the California Legislature and Governor should mandate any COLA increase (or decrease) automatically impact teacher salary schedules. Most people do not realize that teachers do not receive COLA increases despite the school districts receiving COLA increases. … Read More

    If retaining and recruiting teachers is the challenge, then I would suggest the following COLA legislation/executive order in terms of teacher salaries.

    Each year, the LCFF has a set COLA (increase or decrease). Skip the association’s (union’s) collective bargaining and the California Legislature and Governor should mandate any COLA increase (or decrease) automatically impact teacher salary schedules. Most people do not realize that teachers do not receive COLA increases despite the school districts receiving COLA increases. I mentioned COLA decreases as it is only fair for teachers to also share in a negative COLA if it were to occur.

    Replies

    • Todd Maddison 5 months ago5 months ago

      "Most people do not realize that teachers do not receive COLA increases despite the school districts receiving COLA increases" is generally not true. Look at any salary schedule - the step-and-column - and you'll see most have a built-in annual increase of between 3 and 4 percent over the totality of the schedule. It varies from year to year, but most of the time that is 1.5-2x inflation. Add to that the periodic "extra … Read More

      “Most people do not realize that teachers do not receive COLA increases despite the school districts receiving COLA increases” is generally not true.

      Look at any salary schedule – the step-and-column – and you’ll see most have a built-in annual increase of between 3 and 4 percent over the totality of the schedule. It varies from year to year, but most of the time that is 1.5-2x inflation.

      Add to that the periodic “extra raises” that happen ever 2-3 years and the total pay increase rate for most teachers is at least 2, sometimes 3 times the rate of inflation.

      That’s the truth, from their own pay records. You can look those pay records up on Transparent California.

      • Jay 5 months ago5 months ago

        You are correct with salary schedules and the steps. However, this information does not adjust with COLA so our comments are unrelated. Some may argue a step increase is for experience, when applicable, not salary being adjusted for inflation. Not every teacher receives an annual step increase, but the state budget does offer COLA increases or decreases annually for LCFF.

        • Todd Maddison 5 months ago5 months ago

          Hmmm.. have you ever worked in private industry? I've given out many, many raises (thousands) and can tell you that any raise that exceeds inflation is considered a good one. Certainly people always want more - and a promotion or significant change in job responsibilities usually warrant that. In education that would be moving over a column to the right. But in general if a private employee who is simply doing the same … Read More

          Hmmm.. have you ever worked in private industry?

          I’ve given out many, many raises (thousands) and can tell you that any raise that exceeds inflation is considered a good one. Certainly people always want more – and a promotion or significant change in job responsibilities usually warrant that. In education that would be moving over a column to the right.

          But in general if a private employee who is simply doing the same job they’ve been doing gets a raise of close to 2 times inflation that’s considered “good news”, and in most economic environments about the best a private company can do.

          Most salary schedules in education contain regular raises that meet that whether the employee is doing a good job or not.

          Why would you feel employees who have done nothing “above-and-beyond” (no additional responsibilities, no additional training, no change in position, etc) should be given an extra raise on top of their normal step-and-column increase?

          Particularly when, in most districts, doing that often requires cutting programs and services from kids?

  15. Lady 5 months ago5 months ago

    Please stop reporting “Learning Loss”.

  16. JudiAU 5 months ago5 months ago

    LAUSD has plenty of experienced, credentialed teachers who can be reassigned to classroom teaching. And by using those teachers it would solve it’s admin-heavy budget problems and emerge from the pandemic in a better place.

    Replies

    • Amy 5 months ago5 months ago

      They need to remove the CSET and CBEST requirement; plenty of people want to teach but can’t pass these pointless tests that have no correlation to teaching ability.

      • CA Resident 5 months ago5 months ago

        If someone cannot pass the CBEST, they have no business teaching.

        • Elsa 5 months ago5 months ago

          I highly disagree with you… The tests do not define you as a teacher. I know my passion and I know how hard I work to teach my students. It took me 7 times to pass the Math portion of the CBEST but I did not give up. I refuse to believe that passing a test dictates who you will be as a teacher. I have passed all my classes receiving my B.A and credential.

          • CA Resident 5 months ago5 months ago

            I don’t think it defines whether a teacher is passionate. Many other professions require tests to enter the field, should we scrap those as well? Continually lowering the bar to address the “teacher shortage” is damaging to the profession.

        • Daniel J Warda 5 months ago5 months ago

          After getting 2 masters degrees and teaching at 5 colleges and 5 high schools, I got my California credential. What a colossal waste of time. Jumping through those state hoops has done nothing to improve my craft and was a waste of district money. I strongly believe the CBEST is an entire waste. I don’t remember any of it nor use any of it in my teaching day and night at both the high school and college levels.