The Irascible Professor SM
Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro

"Benevolence alone will not make a teacher, nor will learning alone do it.  The gift of teaching is a peculiar talent, and implies a need and a craving in the teacher himself."... ...John Jay Chapman.

Commentary of the Day - May 1, 2003: Yet Another Attempt to Lower Teacher Preparation Standards in California.

A year ago we reported on the attempt by California State Senator Dede Alpert (D, San Diego) to push a bill through the State Legislature that would reestablish the undergraduate education major in California.  Alpert's original bill (SB 1646) would have gutted the intent of California's Ryan Act.  The Ryan Act, which has been in effect since 1970, essentially requires candidates for California teaching credentials to complete an academic major before enrolling in a post-baccalaureate credential program*.  The intent of the Ryan Act was to ensure that California teachers were well prepared to enter the classroom by requiring both solid academic preparation and effective training in the pedagogical arts.

While the approach mandated by the Ryan Act helped to ensure that most new California teachers were reasonably well prepared, it had the drawback that it required a minimum of five years for prospective teachers to complete both the undergraduate major and the credential program.  And, in fact, because of the need to work while attending college many students took more than five years to complete their requirements.  During the past decade or so a burgeoning student population combined with rapid teacher turnover led to a serious shortage of credentialled teachers in the state.  Many school districts simply could not find enough new teachers with appropriate credentials, and were forced to hire many teachers on "emergency credentials".  These were people who held bachelors degrees, but had not completed the "fifth-year" credential program.  The situation was exacerbated by class-size reduction programs in the early grades.

In response to the shortfall most campuses of the California State University system (the state's primary supplier of K-12 teachers) and some other colleges and universities introduced blended teacher education programs (BTEP) that were designed to allow a student to complete both an undergraduate major and all the requirements of the teaching credential in four years.

The problem with BTEP is that it is an arduous program that requires a student to take a carefully prescribed sequence of courses for the entire four years of the program.  Students generally cannot hold outside jobs during the academic year, and often have to take courses during the summer to finish on time.
As a result, only a relatively small number of students take this path to a credential.

SB 1646 would have replaced the Blended Teacher Education Programs with a reincarnation of the old undergraduate education major, which emphasized pedagogical training and minimized serious academic content for students preparing to teach in the early grades.  Sen. Alpert's new bill, SB 81, is not quite so backward looking in its provisions.  As most recently amended, the bill simply puts an upper limit of 135 semester units on the Blended Teacher Education Programs offered by the California State University system campuses.  And, it requires the campuses to articulate carefully with neighboring community colleges to ensure that courses taken as part of these "integrated" programs by students who start at the community colleges can be transferred with full credit.

SB 81 also requires the California State University system to develop a framework for these integrated teacher education programs to be followed by all the campuses that offer them.  As it so often is stated "the devil is in the details".  Here the combination of the system framework and the upper limit on the number of allowable units represents both a clever and insidious attempt to lower academic standards.  Most of the present BTEP's require a student to complete both the minimum requirements for a full major in liberal studies or child development and the minimum requirements for the credential.  The combination generally exceeds the 135 unit maximum that SB 81 would impose.  The education folks insist that the number of units devoted to pedagogy cannot be reduced.  The result is that the units devoted to the academic major would end up being reduced.  For example, the present liberal studies major at Cal State Fullerton includes a 27 unit core, and 24 units of electives chosen mainly from English, comparative literature, mathematics, science education, and the arts.  The 24 unit pattern of electives has been carefully designed to support the needs of elementary education teachers.  However, to meet the unit requirement of SB 81 most of these elective units would be sacrificed.

The sad part of this well intentioned but misguided legislation is that there is no longer a need for it.  Faced with a state budget shortfall of historic proportions, scores of school districts up and down the state are laying off teachers.  In addition, recently introduced programs to reduce the numbers of teachers who leave the profession after only a few year are beginning to have an effect.  The California teacher shortage is over, at least for the next few years.

*Strictly speaking the Ryan Act only requires credential candidates to have a bachelor's degree, thus allowing for "integrated" credential programs such as BTEP.


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© 2003 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.