Local school districts feeling effects of California teacher shortage crisis

According to a survey of more than 200 California school districts conducted by the Learning Policy Institute, three out of four districts report having a shortage of qualified teachers, a shortage that has gotten worse in the past two years. Especially hard hit have been city districts, in addition to those in rural areas like Colusa County’s four districts.

Compounding the problem is the impending retirement of more than 100,000 teachers, or nearly one-third of the state’s current workforce.

California’s school districts must hire at least that many new teachers in order to maintain their current staffing and pupil-to-teacher ratios, which are ranked 50th in the nation, according to the California Teachers Association.

There simply aren’t enough teachers entering the workforce through the traditional credentialing process, with enrollment in educator preparation programs dropping by more than 70 percent over the last decade, according to the Learning Policy Institute. The non-profit attributes the reduction to a decline in the desirability of the teaching profession as the primary factor, along with ease of entry, competitiveness of salaries, and teaching conditions. Specifically, the Learning Policy Institute points to highly publicized teacher layoffs during the state’s budget downturn as a reason for the decline in desirability.

After the years of teacher layoffs in California schools, demand for teachers has increased at the same time the supply has hit a 12-year low, and the problem is expected to get worse.

It’s a problem that is already on the minds of the area’s district superintendents and school board leaders.

“I’m really worried that here in another few years, there is a third of our workforce facing retirement. If we don’t find a way to get people interested in the teaching field, there’s going to be really hard hit in next five years. It’s going to be a challenge,” Colusa Unified Superintendent Dwayne Newman said.

For most of the county’s schools, the effects of the shortage are already being felt: Competing for and retaining qualified teachers has always been a challenge for rural districts, Newman said, but the problem has been exacerbated by the laws of supply and demand. It’s a seller’s market, with demand for teachers outstripping supply.

“There are so many teachers that will be retiring in the next three to five years, it’s going to impact all of the schools in our state, and it’s going to be very competitive,” Colusa County Superintendent of Schools Mike West said.

For Colusa County’s rural school districts, the plethora of openings for teachers statewide means it is harder for rural school districts to compete for qualified candidates: With more jobs closer to home, it means fewer teachers from out of the area who are willing to commute to work; with more openings at larger districts, rural schools are fighting for candidates while offering comparatively lower salaries and benefits.

“We just don’t have the candidate pool… We just don’t get a lot of qualified people applying for positions,” Pierce Joint Unified Superintendent Carol Geyer said.

That sentiment was echoed by both Newman and Maxwell Unified School Board Trustee Cristy Edwards.

“Highly qualified teachers is something that the state talks about, but when you have that amount of competition between all these different school districts, it makes it really hard when you’re interviewing candidates,” Edwards said.

In the face of the smaller candidate pool, the county’s districts are ramping up their recruitment efforts. Some of those strategies include expanding the number of recruitment fairs they attend, increasing their presence on different online job boards, and doing what they can to compete for experienced teachers.

Teacher Shortage

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Staying competitive

The districts have been doing what they can to make themselves competitive on a salary and benefit basis. Pierce has offered signing bonuses for qualified math teachers, a subject area in which teachers are in short supply, Geyer said. In an effort to attract qualified staff members, Maxwell recently increased its stipend for teachers who have a masters degree, and changed their step schedule to attract more experienced teachers, Edwards said.

Williams, which currently offers the highest salary and benefits in the county, will continue to look at building capacity to continue to fill their teacher needs, Williams Unified Superintendent Edgar Lampkin said.

“As far as impact on us, or statewide, I think what you’re hearing is the concerns that are impending upon us… We haven’t felt the impact that other districts have had, but it’s coming,” Lampkin said.

Newman said that his district has been doing as much as it can to offer competitive salaries and benefits for qualified teachers, but that it simply won’t be enough for many candidates.

Developing teachers through internship Programs

The answer for many districts has been to hire under-prepared teachers through a variety of programs, including temporary permits and waivers and intern credentials.

That’s particularly true in the fields of science and mathematics, in addition to special education, according to an analysis of California’s emerging teacher shortage crisis by the Learning Policy Institute. In math and science, the number of preliminary credentials awarded to new, fully prepared teachers dropped by 32 and 14 percent, respectively, from 2011-12 to 2014-15. Over the same spans, the numbers of under-prepared math and science teachers increased by 23 and 51 percent.

For special education, the number of credentials issued dropped by 21 percent between 2011-12 and 2013-14, while substandard permits and credentials increased by 10 percent, according to the Learning Policy Institute. Nearly half of the special education teachers licensed in the state in 2013-14 lacked full preparation for teaching.

Hiring non-credentialed teachers through various internship programs is a strategy that has been applied by each of the county’s school districts, and the county office of education. Two such programs are teaching internships and short term staff permits. Internship programs allow for individuals who are currently enrolled and working toward their teaching credential to teach, while the short term staff permits are for those people who are neither credentialed nor currently enrolled in a credentialing program. Those permits can be issued to an individual who has completed their bachelors degree in the subject area they are teaching, along with certain standardized tests. Those permits last for up to a year, and can be extended when the individual enters a credentialing program.

“Because we’re so small, (the Colusa County Office of Education) has to lean on other counties, but do have some interns that are employed with us. The districts have a few interns as well,” Colusa County Superintendent of Schools Mike West said. “It gives teachers time to get their feet on ground, but it helps the county and districts because they are paid an intern salary.”

While it has helped fill the ranks, there are some concerns associated with hiring teachers on an intern basis. Primary among them is the effects on student performance.

“The offshoot is that new teachers, no matter how talented they are, take some time to get up to speed. Achievement drops, and especially so when they aren’t fully credentialed. I’m very worried about it, and I’m sure other superintendents will tell you the same thing,” Newman said.

“I want qualified candidates in every single classroom, and we’re not able to do that right now,” Geyer said. “My way of dealing with that is providing support. Have instructor and math coaches in our district who are supporting those teachers who are not yet credentialed; but that puts a strain on the coaches because we want them to help out the veteran teachers, to help them continue to improve.”

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Brian Pearson is the Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects include reporting on local government and the newly feature sports page. To contact Brian about this article, or for future articles, please email him at brian@colusacountynews.net