Calif. Revises Training for New Teachers
California has launched a far-reaching overhaul of its teacher education requirements that shifts the state's longtime emphasis from a fifth year of study to a two-year internship for novice teachers.
Under a bill signed by Gov. Pete Wilson, the state will spend $66 million a year to provide more than 22,000 first- and second-year teachers with a supervised induction into the classroom.
"This is the most comprehensive review of teacher education in California history," said David Wright, the director of the programs and policy division of the California State Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
The overhaul of the licensing requirements comes at a critical time for California, where schools are scrambling to find enough qualified teachers to keep up with the demand created by rising enrollments and the state's effort to shrink class sizes in the early grades.
Previously, teacher candidates had been required to earn a bachelor's degree and then go through a fifth-year program to earn a permanent state teaching credential. The vast majority of California teachers earned their licenses this way, although some school districts run on-the-job training programs.
Critics had long complained that the extra cost and time involved in a fifth year deterred some students from teaching careers.
Education schools, instead of squeezing pedagogical training into a fifth year, now will be able to blend subject-matter coursework, pedagogy, and classroom experience at the undergraduate level.
As a result, policymakers hope to recruit more students into teaching at earlier stages in their college careers.
"Waiting until the fifth year is waiting too long, because of the challenges that are before teachers today and also for recruitment issues," said Gary Hart, a co-director of the California State University Institute for Education Reform, located in Sacramento. "Too often people do not pursue careers in teaching unless they don't know what else to do with their lives."
In the new licensing system, candidates can get a preliminary credential three ways: by going through a four-year undergraduate program; completing a one-year graduate program; or by participating in a district-sponsored internship program. Interns work as teachers while completing their licensing requirements.
California has increased the annual funding for intern programs from $6.5 million to $11 million; currently, there are more than 7,000 intern teachers in the state.
Regardless of how they qualify for the preliminary credential, all candidates now must go through a two-year induction to earn a permanent license.
The legislation signed last month by the Republican governor, Senate Bill 2042, provides $350,000 for grants to colleges and universities that want to plan four-year programs, Mr. Wright said.
All prospective teachers will have to pass the state's new Reading Instruction Competency Assessment, or RICA, which was created in response to concerns about California 4th graders' poor reading scores. Beginning in 2000, they will also be asked to show their competence with computers.
The state is also working on a standardized assessment of teaching performance that will be given at various times during teachers' formal preparation.
During their two years of induction, teacher candidates and their mentor teachers will use the assessments to measure the novices' strengths and weaknesses.
The assessments, in turn, will be aligned with California's standards for the teaching profession.
Another provision of the new law created a panel that will use the same standards to rewrite the accreditation rules California now uses to evaluate teacher education programs.
In the future, all of the state's teacher education programs, including the internship programs operated by some large districts, such as Los Angeles, must be accredited.
To provide for the induction program, California is dramatically increasing funding for its Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment program, known as BTSA.
That program has operated on a pilot basis throughout the state for the past seven years, serving only 17 percent of eligible teachers. It pairs expert teachers, who receive special training, to help novice teachers work on their skills.
First- and second-year teachers will participate in either BTSA or a similar induction program developed by a school district or institution of higher education. Alternatives must be approved by the state.
BTSA is "the most successful state program California has ever had, or any state has had, in teacher education," said Beverly L. Young, the associate director of teacher education and K-18 programs for the state university system, which produces 60 percent of California's teachers. "It's just wildly popular."
However, the rapid expansion of a program that depends on carefully trained teachers could prove problematic, said Jerry Hayward, a co-director of Policy Analysis for California Education, a Sacramento research organization.
"I'm a little concerned, because the increase is so large it may be difficult to sustain the quality of the program," Mr. Hayward said. "Getting that up to scale is going to be a real challenge."
The policy changes are the result of years of work by an advisory panel mandated by earlier legislation.
Stephen W. King, the dean of the college of communication and education at California State University-Chico, said the changes will give educators "much more flexibility in responding to the realistic demands of the various people who want to become teachers."
Not everyone, he noted, can afford to take a year off work to go through a fifth-year program.
Mr. King said the induction programs have been shown to help keep new teachers on the job--a critical concern in a state that needs to hire so many teachers. California is estimated to need 27,000 new teachers a year through 2005.
Studies of the BTSA program showed that more than 90 percent of participants were teaching after five years, compared with only 40 percent to 50 percent of teachers who didn't receive such support.
Richard Kunkel, the executive director of the Holmes Partnership, a national network of research universities and schools working to improve teacher education and K-12 schooling, said California appears to be moving in the right direction.
The state's emphasis on assessing teacher candidates' performance, he said, should help raise the public's confidence about the quality of teachers.
"Colleges of education have been getting good people in the last couple of years," he said. "We're not ashamed of that."
Currently, prospective teachers in California have to show that they know their subjects in one of two ways: by showing proof of coursework or an undergraduate major, or by taking examinations.
Proposition 8, an initiative on next month's state ballot, would require all new teachers, and those assigned to teach a new subject, to pass subject-matter tests. Districts would be prohibited from waiving the requirement, a provision that critics fear could make the state's teacher shortage worse.
Vol. 18, Issue 6, Pages 1,13