BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer email@example.com
The number of people in California who are studying to become teachers has fallen by more than a third since the onset of the recession, and that's not good for the state's future, according to state education officials.
The State Superintendent of Public Instruction's Task Force on Educator Excellence examined the problem at length in a new report, "Greatness By Design: Supporting Outstanding Teaching to Sustain a Golden State."
"Sadly, ours has become a profession under siege," State Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson wrote in the report's introduction. "At the very moment the need for outstanding educators seems most urgent, talented teachers are being displaced by budget cuts and discouraged by trying working conditions."
At the peak in the 2003-04 school year, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing issued more than 27,000 new preliminary teaching credentials, but by 2009-10, only 16,151 new credentials were issued in the state, according to the report. That's a decline of 40 percent.
That's not due exclusively to the economy, as the decline predates the economic downturn, but certainly the recession didn't help matters.
The Cal State University system alone says enrollment in its credential program fell 33.2 percent between the 2007-08 and 2010-11 school years. At Cal State Bakersfield, enrollment dropped by more than half during that period.
A number of factors are to blame, according to the education officials.
Partly it's that massive teacher layoffs related to the state budget crisis have spooked would-be students worried they won't be able to find jobs when they graduate. More than 30,000 teachers have been laid off across California over the last three years, according to the California Department of Education.
But the cuts don't show the whole picture, the state insists.
Despite what appears to be a surplus of teachers, shortages still exist in specialty fields such as special education, mathematics, physical science and bilingual education/English language development. Schools in high-poverty areas also are having trouble finding teachers, according to the report.
In future years, the shrinking pool of education students could lead to teacher shortages and larger classrooms, which ultimately affects the quality of a child's education, the state warned.
There are programs in place to address the issue, including mentoring for beginning teachers, peer assistance and reviews for struggling teachers and fellowships to train academically talented students to teach in "high-need," low-income communities.
The Task Force on Educator Excellence said more should be done, however.
Among other things, the state should subsidize the cost of teacher training. It also should help cover recruitment costs for schools in high-need areas, the task force recommended.
Plus, California needs to remove barriers to entering the profession, including an "antiquated" system that makes it harder to meet academic requirements, according to the report. In 1970, California became the only state in the nation to outlaw undergraduate teacher education majors and set a one-year cap on credits for teacher preparation. Aspiring teachers here major in something else, then study for a teaching credential after completing their undergraduate degree.
California needs to lift the cap on credits and encourage more "blended" programs in which students pursue a teaching credential simultaneously with undergraduate coursework, according to the report. There is such a program at CSUB, where students can finish in four years and a quarter, but in other states students can finish in just four years.
The need for a strong pipeline of qualified teachers remains even when the economy is weak, said Stacy Schmidt, interim chair of teacher education at CSUB.
"Definitely with the layoffs, there's a lack of available employment that is frightening for a lot of our students," she said. "But there's a need for teachers to replace the veterans as they move on, and they will be moving on."
The median age of teachers in the nation's K-12 schools is 42, according to the federal National Center for Education Statistics, but that figure is rising with the graying of the baby boomers. As it is, 33 percent of teachers are age 50 or older.
At the same time, the number of school-age children is growing. Kern County has seen a 20 percent increase in the number of residents under age 18 over the past decade.
Kathleen Knutzen, dean of CSUB's School of Social Sciences and Education, admits that teaching is a hard sell these days because it's difficult for new teachers to find work. Experienced teachers who've been laid off are competing with them for even low-paying entry-level jobs.
But local school districts are slowly starting to hire again, Knutzen said, and one day when the state's budget situation is better, there's going to a lot more demand and too few qualified teachers to meet it.
"You can't provide those replacement teachers overnight," she said.
Still, Knutzen isn't as alarmed as some by the long decline in teacher preparation enrollment.
"I'm optimistic," she said. "Although it's still on a downward slope, it's sort of starting to level off. It's not falling as fast."
Christiana Rossi, 29, is optimistic, too. She recently started the teacher credential program at Fresno Pacific University's Bakersfield campus.
"It's kind of a scary time because we're told there aren't a lot of teaching jobs," she said. "But it's a field that ebbs and flows. By the time I'm ready, and with all the baby boomers retiring, that's going to change. And I feel that if you're passionate about something, then employers are going to see that as an asset to their school. I know as long as I'm truly interested in the welfare of the kids, the job opportunities will come."
Jeanette Redstone, 33, isn't as confident. She's pursuing her credential at Point Loma Nazarene University in Bakersfield at a less than ideal time as far as the job market, but it's a good time for her, personally, because she has fewer child care responsibilities now that both of her children are in school, she said.
"Fortunately, in my case, I'm not our family's primary bread winner so it's not urgent for me to find a job immediately after I graduate," Redstone said. "I'm just going to keep substitute teaching, and that way the principals will all know me when things finally open up."