'Quality' Crisis Seen In Calif. Teaching Ranks
California falls far short of providing enough qualified teachers for all students, a report released last week warns, and the children most in need of effective teachers are the least likely to have them.
The study—the first comprehensive look in a decade at the state's teacher workforce—paints a picture of a system in crisis. More than 1 million of the state's 5.7 million students, it says, attend schools with "so many underqualified teachers as to make these schools dysfunctional."
"The odds are so great that poor and urban students will get underqualified teachers," the independent report says, "that if the state's lottery offered similar odds, we would all play every day and win big every week."
The problems in the nation's most populous state come at a time of unprecedented interest in teacher quality nationwide and of increased academic expectations for students. While other states are wrestling with some of the same issues, the magnitude of California's challenge is unmatched.
More than one in 10 public school classrooms are staffed by teachers who have not met the state's minimum requirements, the study found. Those teachers also are unevenly distributed. While nearly one-fourth of California schools have fully licensed staffs, the report says, another fifth of them have faculties in which 20 percent of the teachers are underqualified.
"This is what happens when a state has neglected its public school system for two decades," said Karl Pister, the vice president for educational outreach for the office of the president of the University of California system and a co-chairman of the task force that produced the report. "It's going to be a very serious, significant test of the political will of the leadership of California to turn it around."
The study, "Teaching and California's Future: The Status of the Teaching Profession," was sponsored by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, a nonprofit organization in Santa Cruz, along with a variety of co-sponsors. The research was conducted by SRI International, an independent, nonprofit corporation in Menlo Park, Calif., which collected data, administered a statewide teacher survey, and conducted case studies of teacher development in eight districts.
The report examines the supply of and demand for teachers, the state's teacher-preparation system, policies to support beginning teachers, and learning opportunities for veterans.
The 20-member task force of California educators and policymakers that guided the work estimates its recommendations would cost between $1.3 billion and $1.8 billion. California has a $2.6 billion budget surplus this year.
Compounded by Reductions
Although educators and policymakers in the state had suspected that underqualified teachers were concentrated in urban and poor schools, the study provides hard data to back up that concern.
When schools have high concentrations of underqualified teachers, said Margaret Gaston, a co-director of the Santa Cruz center, "the system begins to tip over. It becomes difficult to have the number of veteran teachers on hand needed to usher in novices to the profession."
The study defined underqualified teachers as those holding emergency permits, working under waivers, or teaching while they fulfill license requirements.
The number of such teachers in California schools has skyrocketed since 1996, when the state launched an initiative to reduce class sizes in the primary grades. To staff classrooms, schools hired underqualified teachers, 28,500 of whom were teaching in the state during the 1998-99 school year. California's public schools employ 284,000 teachers—a figure that has increased by 40 percent over the past 10 years.
While the state has enacted policies designed to address the shortage of qualified teachers, such as providing money to the California State University system to prepare more teachers and to districts to offer formal induction programs for new teachers, the situation isn't likely to turn around soon. Even under the most optimistic scenarios, the report projects, the shortage is likely to continue for another seven years.
"The study really documents how much more needs to be done," said Dave Gordon, the superintendent of the 46,000-student Elk Grove Unified School District in Sacramento County. "It's almost like mounting a mission to the moon to get the problem solved, but it is possible to do it with a lot of political will and commitment."
Sue Burr, the undersecretary of education for Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat who took office this year, said the state had already taken many steps to address the situation, including raising salaries for beginning teachers, providing $450 million in discretionary money for districts, and creating a bonus program that will reward teachers whose students do well on the state tests.
"I wish they had given the state more credit," she said of the report's authors. Still, she added, it provides valuable data to fill in gaps in policymakers' knowledge.
Pay Hike Urged
The uneven distribution of well-prepared teachers shows in students' 1998 achievement scores, the study found. In schools with the lowest 3rd grade reading scores on the Stanford Achievement Test-9th Edition, 22 percent of the teachers, on average, were underqualified. In contrast, schools in which just 4 percent of teachers were under qualified had the highest scores.
In addition to severe shortages of credentialed teachers, California faces problems in supporting its practicing teachers, the report says. Even with legislation aimed at improving mentoring programs for new teachers and providing professional-development opportunities for veteran educators, districts are hard-pressed to develop sufficient expertise to help their teachers.
To address the problems highlighted by the report, the task force recommended last week that the state take numerous steps, including boosting beginning teachers' pay from $32,000 a year to $40,000. The state should aim to phase out waivers and emergency permits in the next five years, the panel says.
Other recommendations for state and local policymakers include:
•Making competitive grants available to publicly supported colleges and universities to prepare and place qualified teachers in inadequately staffed schools;
•Providing 100 percent "forgivable" loans of at least $20,000 to students who complete teacher- preparation programs and teach in hard-to-staff schools for at least four years;
•Expanding an existing state program to provide discretionary grants for inadequately staffed schools to attract qualified teachers;
•Encouraging policymakers and teachers' unions to focus their peer-assistance and -review programs on schools with large numbers of underqualified teachers;
•Pushing for licensure reciprocity with other states and recruiting from those with teacher surpluses; and
•Overhauling hiring practices to reduce delays and to direct qualified teachers to students with the greatest educational need.
Elaine C. Johnson, the assistant to the president of the California Federation of Teachers and a task force member, said she hoped the report would allow educators to forge a consensus about ways to better distribute experienced teachers.
Collective bargaining agreements that specify how schools should be staffed—often giving preference to desirable jobs to teachers with seniority—aren't necessarily an obstacle to solving the problem, she said.
"The federation's attitude toward collective bargaining agreements is that you can do anything you want, as long as all sides agree. It's not foisted by the bargaining unit," said Ms. Johnson, whose union is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.
Though California has been aggressive about creating and implementing programs to strengthen its existing teacher workforce, the report cautions, "the state has yet to create a system that supports the kind of teacher learning and professional growth that translates into a world-class system."
The state now spends $72 million a year to provide money for all new teachers to receive support under its Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment Program. Teachers with preliminary credentials are required to undergo a formal induction process to receive full licenses.
In combination with the state's peer-assistance and -review program, adopted this year as part of a package of education proposals advanced by Gov. Davis, California has the potential for crafting a coherent system for supporting new teachers, the report says. But with many programs still evolving, mentors and support providers are stretched thin.
Teachers surveyed for the study reported participating in a wide spectrum of professional-development activities, but fewer than half said such development was sustained or tailored to their instructional needs.
In overcrowded, hard-to-staff schools, it warns, conditions demoralize faculty members and undermine the professional culture of the school. Often, such schools find it impossible to have the entire faculty or an entire grade-level staff together for any kind of professional learning.
The task force calls on state agencies to ensure that professional-development opportunities are of high quality and designed to enhance teachers' knowledge and skills.
It also recommends that the state: give districts incentives of up to $250 per student to restructure the teaching day and year to enable teachers to participate in well-crafted programs of professional learning experiences; encourage teacher-preparation programs to offer master's degrees geared to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards' guidelines; and aim for having one nationally certified teacher in each California school by 2005.
Vol. 19, Issue 15, Pages 1, 9Published in Print: December 8, 1999, as 'Quality' Crisis Seen In Calif. Teaching Ranks