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Published in Print: December 13, 2006, as California Urged to Address Teacher-Quality Shortcomings

California Urged to Address Teacher-Quality Shortcomings

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California students are unlikely to meet the meet academic goals for mathematics and English under the No Child Left Behind Act unless policymakers continue to improve the quality of the state’s teaching workforce, a research study suggests.

The report, released last week by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, based in Santa Cruz, Calif., says that 18,000 of the state’s more than 300,000 teachers are still “underprepared,” meaning they don’t have, at minimum, a preliminary teaching credential.

Though that figure has been declining since 2000, weaknesses in the teaching workforce still hit poor and minority students the hardest, says the report, based on research conducted by SRI International, of Menlo Park, Calif., and data from the California Department of Education.

Students in the state’s lowest-achieving schools are more likely to have the least-prepared teachers, the authors say. In high-achieving schools, for example, one 6th grader in 50 has an underprepared teacher. But in low-achieving schools, one out of every four 6th graders has a teacher without the required credentials, says the report.

“Given the incredible hurdles the state faces in improving student achievement, there is an urgent need for highly trained and effective teachers,” Patrick Shields, the director of the Center for Education Policy at SRI and a researcher for the report, said in a press release. “Meeting that challenge will require not only an increased focus on the quantity and qualifications of teachers, but on the quality of teaching.”

The center, however, doesn’t suggest that state leaders are ignoring those matters. It gives Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, and the Democratic-controlled legislature credit for passing a legislative package this year that includes a streamlined teacher-credentialing process, improvements to teacher-intern programs, and the development of a data system that will provide additional information on the workforce.

“The state is making targeted investments to improve the conditions in the lowest-performing schools in hopes of improving teacher quality,” the report says.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell also announced late last month that 14 county offices of education will begin receiving a total of $2.1 million to train bilingual teachers. The local education agencies provide training to teachers who work with English-language learners. This year’s state budget also provides an additional $350 million under California’s “economic impact aid” formula to schools with disproportionate numbers of English-language learners.

The research center report, however, stresses that much more remains to be done if achievement gaps in the state are to be reduced.

Just last month, Policy Analysis for California Education, or PACE, a think tank based jointly at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University, released a review of state education policies showing that, after narrowing in the 1990s, achievement gaps have widened in some grades between students from low-income and middle-class and families, and between students proficient in English and those still learning English. ("Some Calif. Achievement Gaps Are Widening, Study Finds," Nov. 29, 2006.)

English-Learners

Margaret J. Gaston, the executive director of the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, said the legislature has moved to strengthen the skills of teachers who work with English-language learners.

Lawmakers this year passed a bill that adds training for those teachers to the state’s Mathematics and Reading Professional Development Program—an $80 million-a-year initiative enacted in the 2002 fiscal year that aims to provide 176,000 teachers statewide with 120 hours of training each.

A new report from the state auditor’s office, however, shows that after five years, only a few more than 7,200 teachers have completed the program, and that about a quarter of them had their training paid for by other federal or state sources.

“Although not specifically required to do so in statute, the [state department of education] has done little to actively promote the program,” the auditor’s report says. “It appears that a more concerted outreach effort is warranted.”

In a written response, Chief Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Gavin Payne said the department would work with the state board of education to develop an “outreach plan.” But he also blamed other factors for the low completion rate, including “competing use of a teacher’s available time.”

Jamal Abedi, an education professor at the University of California, Davis, who specializes in the education of language-minority students, agreed that instruction for English-language learners “suffers from the lack of experienced teachers.”

But he also attributes some of the achievement gap to assessment tools that are intended for mainstream students and that don’t present an accurate picture of English-learners’ abilities. The state, he said, could do more to develop a comprehensive plan that would “address classification, instruction, and assessment of these kids.”

Vol. 26, Issue 15, Page 16

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