by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
"Housework is a breeze. Cooking is a pleasant diversion. Putting up a retaining wall is a lark. But teaching is like climbing a mountain."... ...Fawn M. Brodie.
Commentary of the Day - May 3, 2002: The California Teacher Shortage - Recruitment or Retention Crisis?
It has been estimated that California will need to hire approximately 25,000 new K-12 teachers per year for the next decade to meet its public school needs. Currently, the state's colleges and universities produce about 19,500 newly credentialled teachers each year (actually only about 4,000 of these credentials are issued to first-time teachers, the remainder are issued to people who already have been employed as teachers in internship programs or on emergency credentials).
State Senator Dede Alpert has introduced a bill in the California legislature (SB 1646) that is aimed at reducing the shortfall in new teachers. California currently requires all candidates for teaching credentials to obtain a bachelor's degree in an academic subject. While some new elementary credential candidates follow "blended teacher education programs (BTEP)" that allow them to complete a bachelor's degree in liberal studies or child development and to satisfy all other requirements for the credential in four years, most elementary and essentially all secondary credential candidates in California earn their credentials in post-baccalaureate (fifth year) programs. Alpert's bill would remove the requirement of a bachelor's degree in an academic subject for students seeking K-8 credentials. Instead, they would be allowed to enroll in an "elementary education" major that would include "concentrations" in two academic areas, and all other courses needed for the credential. This effectively reinstates the undergraduate education major that was outlawed by California's Ryan Act. The bill also requires that this new "elementary education" major has to be housed in the schools of education at the various California State University campuses.
SB 1646 is opposed by many Cal State faculty members both within the schools of education and in academic departments. Several reasons are cited for this opposition: the new degree program would reduce the quality of the education that elementary teachers receive, it would lower the reputation of the teaching profession, and it could cause students in the post-baccalaureate credential programs to lose their eligibility for the federal Pell Grant program. In addition, recent research suggests that teachers who receive their credentials through the post-baccalaureate programs perform better than those with four-year "education" degrees.
Supporters of SB 1646 cite the pressing need for new teachers, and the difficult challenge presented by the current BTEP programs. Students in the BTEP programs need to complete a total of 136 semester units in order to receive both their bachelors degree and their teaching credential. Clearly, it is not easy to do this in four years. Presumably, the "elementary education" major would not require as many units, although given all the other requirements that must be satisfied for the credential it is not clear that there would be a significant reduction in units.
Unfortunately (as far as the IP is concerned), SB 1646 and similar measures place the emphasis on the wrong side the teacher supply equation. The great need for new teachers is not being driven by an explosion in K-8 student populations, although to be sure there has been a steady increase in the number of K-8 students in the state. Rather, much of the crisis has been caused by the very poor retention rate for new teachers. At present, national figures show that about 30% of new teachers leave the profession after two years, and about 50% have left by the end of five years. For those teaching on emergency credentials here in California the losses are even more staggering. Fifty percent leave by the end of two years.
The reasons for the high loss rate are manifold. They include poor pay, classroom overcrowding, decaying school facilities, low prestige, and in some areas dangerous working environments. These all are costly problems to address. Legislatures generally prefer the "low cost" solution, and the California State Legislature is no exception. SB 1646 is the "no cost" alternative, at least on the surface. However, the cost of educating new teachers is in reality high. It makes little sense to the IP for the state to spend a fairly large amount of time and money educating a new teacher, when that new teacher is unlikely to remain in the classroom more than a few years.
In the IP's opinion, California should not attempt to produce large numbers of relatively weakly prepared teachers. Instead, it should concentrate its efforts on improving teacher retention. This can be achieved through improvements in working conditions, and through the expansion of strong support programs for newer teachers. Results from the small number of such programs now in existence have been impressive. In some cases the five year retention rate has risen from 50% to 88%, but even a more modest increase in teacher retention would go a long way towards solving the problem.
© 2002 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.