Credit: Phil Roeder/Flickr

A severe teacher shortage exacerbated by the Covid pandemic has California school districts increasing teacher pay, developing new hiring strategies and trying to ease teachers’ workloads by hiring more support staff, according to a report by the Learning Policy Institute, a nonprofit education research organization.

The persistent teacher shortage, coupled with higher-than-usual retirements and resignations during the pandemic, has district officials scrambling to fill classrooms this school year, even as additional state and federal funding gave them the ability to hire more staff.

The report, “Teacher Shortages During the Pandemic: How California Districts are Responding,” consists of a survey of district officials from eight large and four small school districts — Modoc Joint Unified, Upper Lake Unified, San Juan Unified, Elk Grove Unified, San Francisco Unified, Los Angeles Unified, Long Beach Unified, Santa Ana Unified, San Bernardino City Unified, Needles Unified, San Diego Unified and San Pasqual Valley Unified. The districts educate a combined 1 out of every 6 California students.

The report is a follow-up to “California Teachers and COVID-19: How the Pandemic Is Impacting the Teacher Workforce,” published by the Learning Policy Institute last March.

Two-thirds of the districts surveyed reported they have had more teacher vacancies than usual to fill this school year, and a more difficult time finding teachers to hire. As a result, schools have increasingly had to hire underprepared teachers working with intern credentials, permits or waivers instead of completing the coursework, clinical practice, tests and other requirements to earn a full teaching credential.

“The solutions that are available aren’t often the solutions we would want for our children — cutting classes and combining classes, or trying to fill classes with substitutes and teachers on emergency credentials who haven’t demonstrated competency in the subjects they are teaching,” said Desiree Carver-Thomas, one of the authors of the report. “What we would want is for classes to be filled with competent teachers that are experienced. Instead they are scrambling to find those people and are relying on strategies that aren’t necessarily ideal.”

Research shows that students who have access to fully qualified experienced teachers perform better academically than students who don’t, Carver-Thomas said.

The report offered recommendations that researchers say would help increase the number of teachers in California classrooms:

  • School districts should increase teacher compensation by increasing wages, and offering stipends and bonuses, especially for hard-to-fill positions. They should develop their teacher pipeline by starting teacher residency programs and initiatives that recruit and train school staff to become teachers as they earn a credential. Districts should also continue to invest in teacher recruitment and add more staff to support teachers.
  • The federal government should make teaching more financially attractive by making college debt-free for educators and providing income tax credits and housing subsidies.
  • The state should implement a program to help teacher candidates navigate teacher preparation programs, credentialing requirements and funding opportunities. It should also invest in programs that allow students to begin teacher preparation at community colleges and complete it at a four-year institution. This could be especially helpful in rural areas that aren’t near a four-year university, but are served by a community college.
  • Universities should increase enrollment in teacher preparation programs, especially in high-demand fields.

Teacher burnout is one reason cited for resignations and retirements, according to district officials. In one large district, retirements in 2020-21 increased by 25% over the 2018-19 school year and leaves of absences increased by 50%.

Despite an overall need for teachers, the greatest demand still was for teachers credentialed to teach in the hard-to-staff areas of mathematics, science and special education, according to the report.

The teacher shortage is amplified because of an acute substitute shortage so severe that many schools are forced to merge classrooms, send administrators to teach in classrooms and in a few drastic cases, close schools for one or more days.

“In San Lorenzo USD, directors, principals, assistant superintendents, and the superintendent are in classrooms trying to support school sites,” said Superintendent Daryl Camp in the report. “Teachers are subbing during their prep periods way too much.”

In August and September, when the districts were surveyed, six still hadn’t filled 10% or more of their open teaching positions. One district had more than 25% of its vacant teacher jobs still open. Only one district reported fewer vacancies than it had at that time the previous year.

School district officials also expressed concern about how the instability of teacher vacancies and changing substitutes are affecting students’ well-being.

“A lot of districts want to prioritize student well-being, which is hard to do without a stable workforce,” Carver-Thomas said.

With only a limited number of candidates for jobs, many districts are focusing on retaining the teachers they have by hiring additional staff to help them in the classroom and improving the working conditions for teachers, according to the study. Several districts surveyed for the study increased teacher pay, while one large district focused on building its pool of substitute teachers by increasing daily pay rates for substitutes.

Rural districts, which generally have even fewer potentially eligible teachers in their communities than other districts, have struggled to attract teachers to their schools despite some offering signing bonuses and relocation stipends, Carver-Thomas said.

One small district offered teachers an initial signing bonus, annual bonuses for each of four contract years and a stipend to move to the area. The district offered a $15,000 signing bonus and a $3,000 moving stipend to fill positions in high school mathematics and music, but had not received any applications for those jobs, according to the study.

Districts that can’t find enough teachers are using state and federal recovery dollars to hire classroom aides to reduce teachers workloads, as well as counselors, psychologists, social workers, instructional coaches and assistant principals to help students and, in turn, teachers. Districts are also investing in recruitment, hiring more human resources staff, hosting job fairs, streamlining their recruitment process and increasing their presence at virtual and in-person job fairs.

“Each district had its own strategy — from what we heard it’s a holistic set of strategies,” Carver-Thomas said. “They are doing everything they can, making classes smaller, hiring counselors, hiring instruction aides.”

The report acknowledges the state’s record investment in teacher preparation, retention and training over the last two years. The budget proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier this month includes more than $54 million to recruit teachers and make it easier for them to earn a credential. Carver-Thomas said these funds can be used to support some of the report’s recommendations.

To get more reports like this one, click here to sign up for EdSource’s no-cost daily email on latest developments in education.

Share Article

Comments (17)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * *

Comments Policy

We welcome your comments. All comments are moderated for civility, relevance and other considerations. Click here for EdSource's Comments Policy.

  1. RANDY SANDY 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    The districts are doing a lot of lip service. My district worships admin. They look at themselves as an elite class. We have so many former Sped employees that went to admin. We are in LA county.

  2. SDUSD 4 months ago4 months ago

    After 29 years of teaching my subject area and training a number of student b teachers, the district deemed I was out of compliance during the winter break of 2020. I was given two weeks to enroll in the three online courses at the university mandated or I was being put on leave without pay. It cost me $2,200 and destroyed my summer. I was in the middle of the third when we reopened … Read More

    After 29 years of teaching my subject area and training a number of student b teachers, the district deemed I was out of compliance during the winter break of 2020. I was given two weeks to enroll in the three online courses at the university mandated or I was being put on leave without pay. It cost me $2,200 and destroyed my summer. I was in the middle of the third when we reopened school in August. With no mental break after a year of online instruction, I came back exhausted.

    The district is a bully. If I had not cared about my retirement, I would have walked a long time ago. The policies our district has put in place for the comfort of students is purely political and has been at the sacrifice of students’ academic growth and has jeopardized teacher mental health. The burnout as tangible. I would never recommend teaching, and certainly not for SDUSD.

  3. Nancy Finney 8 months ago8 months ago

    I am genuinely confused. According to the title, this is actually happening in CA? Offering signing bonuses are not the same thing as improving pay and working conditions.

    Replies

    • day 8 months ago8 months ago

      No. I think it’s what they’re saying should happen in California. It’s not happening but I agree a signing bonus won’t improve anything. They need to improve actual pay because what about the teachers who are staying in the district: What do we get?

  4. Jennifer Phillips 8 months ago8 months ago

    Suzy, I love your suggestions (number 15 is my favorite)! I also left a comment about my thoughts regarding the article. Curious what you think about 4 day work weeks?

  5. Jennifer Phillips 8 months ago8 months ago

    Great article! I am a veteran teacher of 15 years and have loved every one of those years in the classroom. However, without question, these last 2.5 years have been extremely challenging and tiring. It's not the students, they are wonderful! It's the constant demand on teachers to maintain the same high standards, and do considerably more, when nothing has been taken off of our plate, yet more has been added, all while we … Read More

    Great article! I am a veteran teacher of 15 years and have loved every one of those years in the classroom. However, without question, these last 2.5 years have been extremely challenging and tiring. It’s not the students, they are wonderful! It’s the constant demand on teachers to maintain the same high standards, and do considerably more, when nothing has been taken off of our plate, yet more has been added, all while we are in the midst of a global pandemic!

    We are simply just tired!! Some of the suggestions listed here, though they seem helpful on paper, would actually cause more work for teachers.For example, hiring more support staff, in my opinion, is really not the answer. That translates to another adult that is now looking for direction from teachers as to how to help in the classroom. That is yet another thing that has been added to my plate to manage. It’s greatly appreciated but is oftentimes not helpful because we don’t get any extra time to figure that out.

    From all the teachers I have spoken with, the common thread in all of our responses is, “we are tired,” and “we need more time.” A proposed solution, which we all agreed upon, would be a 4 day work week. It is an idea that is growing! There are several creative approaches to this, but the two most popular are as follows:
    *A true 4 day work week where we teach Mon -Thur, but our days are lengthened by an hour to make up for the missed day.
    *A 5-day work week for all, but on one of those days, students are getting all of their enrichment classes, (PE, art, support classes, etc.,) while their content area teachers have a planning day. This would provide them with an opportunity to get all of their prep done for the week!

    Both options honor the changing times we are in and would allow us an opportunity to do more with less.

  6. Raymond Paul Brown 8 months ago8 months ago

    I have been retired for 6 years from teaching, I have kept up all my credentials in case of an emergency. I have not had any emergency where I had to come back. I really do not want to come back, when teachers are not respected by the principals or reporters. Back in the 1970's, if some adult asked you what you did for a living, and you said you were a teacher, you … Read More

    I have been retired for 6 years from teaching, I have kept up all my credentials in case of an emergency. I have not had any emergency where I had to come back. I really do not want to come back, when teachers are not respected by the principals or reporters.

    Back in the 1970’s, if some adult asked you what you did for a living, and you said you were a teacher, you would always get accolades and great admiration. Not anymore. Journalists always have reported how bad our teachers are. The disrespect is now being done to the police too. Who will be next?

    No, we are not respected and that is why I can’t see ever coming back. I loved the children, but not how teachers are disrespected.

  7. Beth 8 months ago8 months ago

    I do not agree that districts are doing everything possible to help recruit and retain teachers. My district of almost thirty years is always at the bottom in pay in the county (although admin. pay in our district is up in the top third of all districts in the county). There is no longevity pay, no Master's stipend, pay schedule stops at 25 years. As a result, we have a large percentage of teachers leaving … Read More

    I do not agree that districts are doing everything possible to help recruit and retain teachers. My district of almost thirty years is always at the bottom in pay in the county (although admin. pay in our district is up in the top third of all districts in the county). There is no longevity pay, no Master’s stipend, pay schedule stops at 25 years. As a result, we have a large percentage of teachers leaving every year( 15+% each year), not just the last two Covid years. So more and more people are hired without credentials, or long term subs cover classrooms, or a series of subs all year long, or class sizes and caseloads get larger. Not good for student learning outcomes or teacher morale.

    My district currently has over $40 million surplus. The union negotiating team has been asking for several improvements to salary, benefits, and working conditions. In over eight months, the district has agreed to none of the proposals. In fact, they want to get rid of caps on special day classes, get rid of overage pay, increase the number of mandated staff meetings each month, and so on.

    $40 million, and still no offer that will help with teacher recruitment, hiring, and retention. I don’t want to hear any more about all districts trying … Baloney.

  8. Jack 8 months ago8 months ago

    Teaching isn't a great job. A lot of competition out there for professionals – jobs with flexible hours, decent time for lunch and great facilities to work in. I would love to have a decent cafeteria like a college has. It's a 6 min walk to our school cafe, which serves pathetic food anyway. High school in most of CA is a solitary job. Education is more like working on … Read More

    Teaching isn’t a great job. A lot of competition out there for professionals – jobs with flexible hours, decent time for lunch and great facilities to work in. I would love to have a decent cafeteria like a college has. It’s a 6 min walk to our school cafe, which serves pathetic food anyway. High school in most of CA is a solitary job.

    Education is more like working on an assembly line, you can’t leave until your shift is over.

  9. Sarah 8 months ago8 months ago

    Add working on the induction program to help 1st and 2nd year teachers more.

    1st two years teaching I was over ratio, over contract, and bullied by another teacher because I was bringing in new ideas and strategies to help my students and it made her look bad.

    Union didn’t care because I wasn’t tenured. Burnout is real.

    I quit after the 4th year of teaching.

    Replies

    • Suzy 8 months ago8 months ago

      Sarah, I agree. Bringing new ideas can lead to bullying by other teachers or suppression by admin who do not understand. Many times we just toss new teachers in to sink or swim. Or we pretend we are helping them by burying them in paperwork.

    • Hannah 6 months ago6 months ago

      Hello Sarah,

      I definitely relate to your situation. What are you doing now?

  10. Cecilia Dobson 8 months ago8 months ago

    Um, not in my school district. And many of us have been on temporary contracts for over five years. So this frequently discussed CA teacher shortage and COVID supports and monetary encouragement to continue teaching is not reaching Orange County California. I’ve never felt more discouraged.

  11. Andy 8 months ago8 months ago

    Instead of raising wages why don’t they get rid of the unconstitutional mandates that caused the shortage in the first place. California is ranked 42 in education yet we are the 21st in funding. But typical California, let’s throw more money at the problem Instead of fixing it.

    Replies

    • Jerome 8 months ago8 months ago

      Andy – I would love to hear which mandates you are referring to and your take on what has caused the shortage. I have just moved to California and am interested in becoming a teacher.

  12. Suzy 8 months ago8 months ago

    "California School districts improve pay"... This seems to be the only item that people focus on as what would motivate teachers back into the classroom. Pay and the other items in this article would not bring me back to teaching. I have taught middle school for 15 years. Even a large increase in pay would not bring me back to teaching. If I truly am there for the students, then I cannot … Read More

    “California School districts improve pay”… This seems to be the only item that people focus on as what would motivate teachers back into the classroom.

    Pay and the other items in this article would not bring me back to teaching. I have taught middle school for 15 years. Even a large increase in pay would not bring me back to teaching. If I truly am there for the students, then I cannot support the current system that burns teachers out.

    If we as a state as a nation want teachers back, here is just the start of the systemic change that needs to occur. Some of these items may relate more to middle school than to elementary (because middle school is where I have taught).

    1. Class size to 24 at least, some places less.
    2. Full-time nurse on every campus. Maybe 2. (middle school campuses’ have 1000+ kids on them)
    3. Full-time counselor on every campus (again, middle school campuses have 1000+ kids on them. Really, if you wanted to support all the kids you would have 1 counselor for 250 students, so they could meet once a month with every student). If we actually cared about children’s mental health we would give them consistent access to a person who does not give them consequences.
    4. No more than 100 students on middle school and high school workloads. Do the math of how much time it takes to grade one assignment. To call parents, to give positive feedback, and to support challenges.
    5. Teachers have a 0-yard duty. Give us time to use the restroom, a brain break, email parents, one less task item on the to-do list, etc.
    6. Full sports, drama, arts, shop back. (If we care about students, we need to give them an outlet for all types of activities.
    7. Teachers have 2 full days of planning and reflection every month. We trust teachers as the designers instead of a corporation that creates textbooks.
    8. Get rid of full periods in middle school and focus on the cross-cuticular design of projects. So middle school kids don’t have 6 projects to manage every day.
    9. Middle school content cut in half and refocus on skill refinement, conversations, collaboration, communication, design, editing, reflection, and introduction to multiple areas along with the arts and humanities. Helping kids figure out who they are, gain confidence and independence
    10. Stop paying for textbooks and reinvest in teachers as designers of curriculum, giving ample time to design, try, collaborate and reflect.
    10. 2 admins at every school, maybe more depending on on if there are over 1000+ kids. (even admins are overworked and have too much on their plates. One focus on fundraising, student relationships, managing all the parts of schools, finances, scheduling, hiring, etc. Another work with teacher relationships, professional development, teacher evaluations (especially if evaluations are to move to a portfolio-based system with reflections, etc.)
    11. A full redesign of admin and teacher reviews to be fully reflective, in real-time, based on training and iterative process and able to substantiate firing ( as a worst-case scenario) of admin and teachers when the full iterative process has not been intentionally used for improvement. ( we all know admin and teachers who were not held accountable and mass mandates given to everyone because of that lack of accountability.
    12. A place for kids to go who are disruptive/or need a break/or need help with problem-solving and emotional challenges, so the teacher can focus on the rest of the class and finish teaching. Then time to follow up and gave a conversation with the kid, so everyone is heard and a plan of action can be created.
    13. Extensive Gardens at every school with help to maintain them. To really teach science and for students to care about the future, they require time with nature to acquire nature empathy.
    14. Funding for consumable science supplies.
    15. Free breakfast, lunch, dinner for whomever requests. Morning activities at 7 am and after-school activities until 5.
    16. Full homework club, not staffed by teachers.
    17. Respect from parents, creating a positive support interaction.

    Thoughts or additions?

    Replies

    • Kari Piazza 8 months ago8 months ago

      Suzy, I'm sad that our young generation lost you as a teacher. You should find a profession to lobby for teachers; all of your thoughts and ideas are ones I could see having a huge impact on the teaching force and students, even at the elementary level. As a new teacher, the pay is also not sustainable for the hours demanded of us that go far beyond contractual hours. There is no way a teacher … Read More

      Suzy, I’m sad that our young generation lost you as a teacher. You should find a profession to lobby for teachers; all of your thoughts and ideas are ones I could see having a huge impact on the teaching force and students, even at the elementary level.

      As a new teacher, the pay is also not sustainable for the hours demanded of us that go far beyond contractual hours. There is no way a teacher can be successful under the limited contractual hours, much less a new teacher. I’m only 3 years in and I’m already feeling the effects of burnout; my physical and mental health is taking a beating from all the added stress. I hope this dire teacher and sub shortage can spur impactful change for education as a whole.