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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 half of new teachers earn their credentials through the CSU system
About half 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", and this expectation persists in federal law today.
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. The training pipeline ran dry in 2013, perhaps largely because candidates understood the job market. Why enroll to become a teacher if the jobs weren't going to be there at the end of the program?
When fully-prepared teachers are unavailable, school districts resort to using emergency teaching credentials, issued when a district is unable to find a suitable candidate. This is legal as long as the substitute can meet standards set by the state board. According to a report from the Learning Policy Institute, "Substandard permits and credentials increased by more than 2,500 in 2015–16, nearly three times as much as CSU and UC increases in teacher preparation enrollments combined."
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. Much 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.
In 2017 a large fraction of new teachers throughout California were hired without full credentials. In 14% of districts, a majority of teachers hired were under-credentialed according to research conducted for the Getting Down to Facts II studies.
Not all teacher preparation programs are lengthy. For example the training program of Teach for America (TFA), which selectively recruits new teachers, is famously short: in contrast to the usual two-year program offered by education schools, the TFA program lasts about a month. 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.
Teach for America is not immune from the nation-wide difficulty in attracting new teachers. Faced with declining enrollment, it has revamped recruitment strategies and changed its training program to provide more extended support for its 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 occasionally gone into creating "grow your own" approaches to teacher recruitment and education, helping students advance from local community colleges to become locally-credentialed teachers. The California State University system is working to support the development of teachers with a sense of place as part of their "Pathways to Teaching and Education Careers" effort.
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 they credentials 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 by deterring good people from entering the teaching profession and protecting 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 2014, a scathing report argued that many teacher preparation programs lack rigor.
In 2014, 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.
California withdrew from the quality review system after receiving a D
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. But since the report, the state of California has mainly been consumed by addressing the shortage of teachers.
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