From New York to California, and seemingly everywhere in between, the bad news proliferates: We are falling short of teachers. In California, the situation has been described as “horrific” and “dire.” A new report, Addressing California’s Emerging Teacher Shortage, analyzes the sources and solutions to this major challenge.
The problem is clearly based on supply and demand. While new K-12 educational funding helps school districts reinstate classes and programs that were slashed during the Great Recession and reduces student/teacher ratios back to more reasonable numbers, teacher “supply” has not kept pace with this increased demand. In fact, the supply of new teachers is at a 12-year low. The number of students enrolled in education preparation programs is down by more than 70 percent over the last decade and will not be sufficient to fill the estimated hires needed by school districts statewide.
Here are the facts: In mid-October, two months into the school year, a major statewide educator job site was still posting more than 3,900 teacher openings, double the number from the year before. Provisional and short-term permits, issued to fill “immediate and acute” needs if no credentialed teacher is available, nearly tripled from the number issued two years earlier, from 850 permits to 2,400.
While estimated teacher hires for this current school year increased by 25 percent from the year before, preliminary credentials issued to fully prepared new teachers increased by less than one percent, and enrollment in teacher education programs increased by only 2 percent, according to the report.
These shortages are happening across almost all subject areas, but most particularly in math, science, and special education. The California Department of Education also identified teacher shortages for the first time in physical education and health.
Keep in mind that California already has the highest student/teacher ratio in the nation, and the gap grew even wider during the extended period of budget cuts in recent years. To bring California back to pre-Recession staffing levels, districts would need to hire 60,000 new teachers.
Increasing teacher retirement adds to the problem. Over the next 10 years, more than 100,000 California teachers will reach retirement age. At the current rate of enrollments in teacher programs, the pool will be insufficient to replace them.
But here is the important point: Non-retirement attrition is an even larger factor, accounting for two-thirds of teachers who leave districts.
Teachers are leaving the profession, and students are not choosing teaching as a career for reasons that are many and complex, including salary levels, college debt, and housing costs, according to the report. Beginning teachers leave at even higher rates. There is no doubt that negative public rhetoric about the profession is also a major contributing factor. Richard Ingersolls, professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania graduate school of education, sums it up: “Teachers leave because of … low pay and poor benefits, intangibles such as lack of professional autonomy, and of course all the daily barrage of teacher bashing.”
The recommendations of the California report flow from all this data. The authors recommend a comprehensive set of strategies that include:
• Rekindling service scholarships and forgivable loans to underwrite teacher preparation in the fields and communities where they are most needed.
• Reinstating the CalTeach program, to help recruit teachers from colleges and other careers, and make entry into the profession simpler and more supported.
• Creating incentives to attract diverse, talented individuals for high-need locations and subjects.
• Creating innovative pipelines into teaching, like high school career pathways, and launching innovative residency programs in high-need communities.
• Increasing access to high-quality preparation programs and ensure that all beginning teachers have access to meaningful support and mentoring.
Three pieces of proposed legislation show that the Legislature is aware of this challenge to our state. SB 62 would reinstate and improve the Assumption Program of Loans for Education (APLE) to provide loan forgiveness for new teachers who teach for four years at a school with disadvantaged students or one with a large number of emergency teaching permits. Recipients would need to show financial need.
SB 915 would re-establish the California Center on Teaching Careers (CalTeach) to help increase teacher recruitment.
Finally, SB 933 would provide funds to enable aspiring teachers to apprentice with an experienced mentor while studying for a credential. New teachers would receive financial incentives to teach in low-performing schools with teacher shortages.
Most encouraging is the data that shows Californians say they are ready to invest in teaching. A recent Field Poll indicated Californians are aware of the pending teacher shortage crisis and that there is broad support for targeted investments and research-based policies to recruit and retain quality teachers. More than 86 percent of respondents said the teacher shortage was a serious issue, and 89 percent said it was problematic for schools in low-income areas to have fewer qualified teachers.
The suggestions cited in the study and the proposed legislation provide a blueprint for how to begin, and the support of Californians for the issue helps bolster the push to move forward the right away. It is self-evident that without teachers there would be no other professions and that our democracy would not have the informed citizenry it needs to go forward. We all have a vested interest in this issue.
Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County superintendent of schools.