Education Funding Opinion

The Calif. Teacher Shortage Is Real

By Charles Taylor Kerchner — February 10, 2016 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Video of press conference where three California Senate bills that respond to the teacher shortage are explained.

Last month, the Learning Policy Institute sounded the alarm that California is facing a dire teacher shortage. One indicator is that districts are hiring teachers with less than full credentials. These make up a third of all new credentials issued last year.

Shortages are being reported throughout the state. The Soledad Unified School District is offering a $10,000 signing bonus to new math and science teachers. Greenfield offered a $5,000 bonus for a music teacher last year. Twin Rivers Unified school district also offered signing bonuses this past year and had 38 unfilled positions as the school year began.

The California Department of Education estimates 21,500 unfilled vacancies and the need for new teachers is approximately twice the current graduation rate in teacher preparation programs.

And California is not alone, as this special Education Week section on teacher recruitment indicates. Competition between the states is heating up. Clark County, Nevada (Las Vegas) started the school year 1,000 teachers short, and at the end of December still had 700 open positions. Big districts, including Houston and Dallas, have started looking abroad for bilingual teachers.

Part of the reason for the shortfall is an historic labor market pattern. Teacher supply and demand are frequently out of sync. Potential teachers flock to schools of education during periods of high demand and supply often overshoots need during one of the cyclical enrollment falls caused by a downturn in immigration or a waning echo of the Baby Boom.

But currently, part of the demand shortfall has been inflicted by a confluence of the Great Recession and a decade of teacher bashing. A diet of bad news about teachers and teaching has dimmed the enthusiasm of college undergraduates and career changers alike. During the height of the recession, as many as 32,000 California educators were unemployed. As recently as 2012, California districts issued 20,000 layoff notices.

As columnist George Skelton noted on Monday: “Many would-be teachers went through all the training and couldn’t find a job during the recession. They saw young teachers getting laid off. Teaching no longer seemed like a very secure profession.”

Or attractive, he added: “Teachers also tend to get blamed for all of society’s ills, including parents who don’t motivate their kids. Grading papers late at night isn’t fun either. And there are those student loans....”

Just as a little experiment, try Googling “war on teachers” as these writers did, and ask yourself if you would consider signing on to spend your career facing constant criticism.

As a consequence, applications and enrollments in teacher education programs have dropped like a rock; 70% in the last 10 years. The number of credentials awarded dropped 32% in math and 14% in science over the last four years.

Only 5 percent of college-bound students in a recent survey said they were interested in a career in teaching, a decrease of 16 percent in four years, according to the Learning Policy Institute report.

Even if we do nothing at all, the supply of new teachers will surely increase as the labor market responds to job vacancies. But history tells us that labor market forces alone will not give us the teachers we need.

A package of bills from three legislators aims to add incentives to enter and remain in teaching.

  • Sen. Carol Liu, (D-La Cañada-Flintridge) chair of the Senate Education Committee, has introduced SB 915, which would re-establish the California Center on Teaching Careers (CalTeach). The program would re-establish a program that successfully boosted teacher recruitment but was discontinued.
  • Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) would reinstate and improve upon a phased-out state program to provide student loan forgiveness to new teachers who spend at least four years at a school in a disadvantaged or rural area, or where there are large numbers of long-term substitutes.
  • Sen. Ben Allen (D - Santa Monica), a former school board member for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, would create a program to fund local school districts to create or expand teacher residency programs. Aspiring teachers would apprentice alongside an experienced mentor in a classroom for up to three academic years, while studying for their credential. Allen’s bill would provide a novice teacher with up to $30,000 over three years, and incentivize them to teach in low-performing schools that are suffering the effects of the teacher shortage.

All three of these bills are worthy. Liu’s measure is common sense, and in a just world Pavley’s loan forgiveness bill would be a no-brainer. Student loans were an invention of the last generation and a sure indicator that the employment market for all students was kinder “back then.”

But I am particularly attracted to Allen’s teacher residency measure because it will affect the quality—not just the quantity of teachers attracted to the most challenging assignments. It would change the structure of teacher training and up the ante on what a first-rate teacher training institute needs to be.

I write more about teacher residencies in a subsequent post.

The opinions expressed in On California are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.