Teaching Profession

Index Finds Calif. Will Miss Teacher Deadline

By Bess Keller — December 03, 2003 4 min read
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A close look at how much annual progress California would have to make to meet the federal requirement for a “highly qualified” teacher in every core-subject classroom by 2005-06 suggests that the goal is out of reach, contends an expert on its teachers.

“It’s a very bleak picture without a lot of work,” said Ken Futernick, an education professor at California State University-Sacramento. “Frankly, I think it is not possible.”

Read the latest California Teacher Qualification Index ratings, from Education for Democracy, Mr. Futernick’s Web site. See also a detailed explanation of how the TQI is calculated, and what it means.

Mr. Futernick designed the California Teacher Qualification Index, which provides an online rating system for the state’s schools based on the qualifications of their teaching staffs, as well as a host of data on the characteristics of schools. He unveiled the index last winter and was scheduled to present an expanded version this week.

Mr. Futernick estimated the rate of change needed for California to meet the federal teacher requirement. To be deemed highly qualified under the No Child Left Behind Act, teachers must hold full state certification and demonstrate content knowledge for all the subjects they teach.

State officials told the U.S. Department of Education this fall that an estimated 48 percent of their classes were taught by such highly qualified teachers.

In contrast, Mr. Futernick looked not at the percentage of classes but at the percentage of underqualified teachers as defined by the federal law. He estimates that 20 percent of the state’s teachers would not be considered qualified in at least one subject taught in 2002-03.

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See the accompanying chart, “Satisfying the Law.”

Noting that the proportion of underqualified teachers fell by an average of 9 percent a year from 1999-2000 to 2002-03, he calculated that at the same rate for the next three years, the percentage of teachers deemed not qualified would fall just 5 percentage points, to 15 percent.

In fact, according to Mr. Futernick, the rate of annual reduction would need to be 60 percent for the state to come within a few percentage points of meeting the goal by the 2006 deadline.

Fear of Progress Waning

Reflecting on the overall staffing picture sketched by his statistics, which take into account teacher experience as well as certification, the researcher concluded that “hundreds of schools” in California—most of them serving poor, minority children who are not native English-speakers—"will very likely continue to be staffed with high percentages of underqualified teachers for many years to come.”

Mr. Futernick also cites several positive changes from the 200l-02 school year to the 2002-03 school year.

For example, the percentage of underqualified teachers dropped by 13 percent. Also, the distribution of qualified teachers shifted. In 2002-03, students in high-poverty schools were 2.2 times more likely to have an underqualified teacher than students in other schools; the previous year, they were three times more likely to have an underqualified teacher.

But the researcher is concerned that the recent progress, already inadequate to meet the federal law, will slow in the face of California’s massive budget problems. He points out that many teacher-recruitment efforts subsidized by the state have been reduced or eliminated.

He warns, too, that the No Child Left Behind law’s requirement that all new elementary teachers pass a test of subject-matter knowledge may cost the state teachers. Finally, he notes that the budget crisis has made some districts, such as San Diego, seek to replace veteran teachers with less expensive novices.

Still, when Mr. Futernick interviewed teacher-hiring administrators in four large urban districts, they said they anticipated being able to comply with the teacher-quality provision of the federal law, which is already in effect for new hires in schools receiving federal anti-poverty money under Title I.

State education officials did not want to project numbers.

“No Child Left Behind is an opportunity to refocus our efforts” on teacher quality, said William W. Vasey, the director of the California education department’s division of professional development and curriculum support. “I don’t think anybody is pretending this is easy.”

Margaret Gaston, the executive director of a policy and research group that each year tries to put numbers to the state’s teacher needs, said the economic upheaval that contributed to the recent ouster of Gov. Gray Davis makes projections from 2002-03 data hazardous.

“There is every indication the teacher pipeline is working” to produce enough qualified teachers for the state, Ms. Gaston ventured. “The real question is: Are we seeing fewer underprepared teachers concentrated in the state’s lowest-performing and hardest-to-staff schools?”

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