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In California, as elsewhere, most teachers enter their profession by first earning a credential. In California’s public schools a credential is mandatory.
Although teacher preparation programs vary, candidates generally spend limited time in actual classrooms. Most new teachers arrive in school with little practical classroom experience. A combination of “sink or swim” experience and formal on-the-job training gets them through the first few years.
In California, about 80% of teachers earn their credentials through the CSU system
About 80% of California's teachers earn their credentials through the California State University (CSU) system, usually through a four- or five-year course of study. The rules for credentials are set by a combination of legislation and policies of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC). The CTC authorizes colleges and universities to offer teacher credential programs in a variety of grade-level and content areas, and for special student populations such as English learners and students with disabilities. Once an institution is accredited, it is responsible for quality control related to student admissions, course content, rigor, and candidate assessment.
Teacher Prep Programs accredited by the CTC allow teacher candidates to acquire a teaching credential by studying the course they plan to teach, and are on par with the standards outlined in the CTC’s handbooks and templates.
In addition to attending universities, teachers may obtain credentials through alternative credential providers, or may work in the classroom as interns. The Federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) established in law the expectation that all teachers should be "highly qualified." In 2010 the education press headlines were consumed for a time with the comical-but-deadly-serious question of under what conditions "intern" teachers could be regarded as "highly qualified" under NCLB.
An emergency teaching credential can also be given to a teacher without a license if the district is unable to find a licensed substitute for an absent teacher, as long as that substitute can meet the standards set by the state board.
Having a strong pool of teaching candidates is a concern in California. California's Commission for Teacher Credentialing reports annually to the California legislature about the future supply of teacher candidates, based on enrollments in teacher preparation programs of any kind. As of 2013, the training pipeline had largely run dry, perhaps largely because candidates understood the job market. Why enroll to become a teacher if the jobs aren't going to be there at the end of the program?
California has prompt and accurate data about the future "supply" of teachers -- a rare success story when it comes to government data in this state. Most education data, like many other kinds of government data, is delivered by tortoises with a delay of about three years; analysis of the data can take even longer.
Even with good data, however, it is difficult to address a teacher shortage promptly. It takes time to recruit and train instructors, secure space, enroll prospective teachers and train them. A budget increase can boost demand quite suddenly; if the system cannot respond quickly, supplying qualified teachers where they are needed, the imbalance can lead to permanent hiring of under-qualified teachers, or spikes in wage pressure.
Not all teacher preparation programs are lengthy. Teach for America (TFA), which recruits and trains more teachers than any other organization in America, started by recruiting top students from selective colleges. Its training program is famously short: in contrast to the usual two-year program offered by education schools, the TFA program lasts only a few weeks. A number of studies, but not all, indicate that Teach for America's elite rookies perform as well and sometimes better than graduates of longer programs, particularly for middle and high school math. In 2014, TFA announced changes to its training program to provide more extended support for their teachers.
Communities want teachers who understand their children, including strengths, challenges and culture that they bring with them to school. Based on that, some energy and funding has gone into creating "grow your own" approaches to teacher recruitment and education. One example is the California Teacher Pathway program, which identifies young people from low-income neighborhoods who show a passion for teaching. The program is designed to support them in a variety of ways from the time they enter a community college until they earn their teaching credential, with the hope they will stay in their home community and teach.
Oversimplifying greatly, there are two schools of thought about teacher credentials: less is more, and more is more.
More is more. Supporters of rigorous credentials argue that should be hard to get and narrowly defined to protect children from unqualified teachers. This point of view was generally ascendant in the first decade of the 21st century, partly driven by the requirement of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) that every teacher be certified as "highly qualified." It takes several years to obtain a teaching credential through normal channels.
Less is more. The "less is more" perspective argues that complex credential requirements do more harm than good because they deter good people from entering the teaching profession and protect less-talented teachers from competition. Perhaps the most pure example of this concept is the recommendation of the Education Excellence committee that county superintendents should have the authority to write credential waivers for individual candidates.
In 2010, a scathing report argued that many teacher preparation programs lack rigor.
In 2010, a scathing report of the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) argued that many teacher preparation programs lack rigor. The report called for sweeping changes in accreditation of teacher preparation programs to make them more relevant.
In 2013, the National Council for Teacher Quality (NCTQ) evaluated teacher preparation programs in California. The state was graded a D, up from a D- the prior year. The Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (yes, there really is an association for everything in education) collected objections to the low grade. The state of California subsequently stopped providing data to NCTQ for this evaluation.
Partly in response to this national conversation, California's CTC convened a high-profile advisory panel in 2013, which generated a thick report with forty recommendations for change. EdSource slimmed its advice down to seven recommendations.
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