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Lesson 3.2

Preparation and Certification:
How To Make a Teacher

Here’s what a teacher’s credentials can tell you.

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In California, as elsewhere, most teachers enter their profession by first earning a credential, a document authorizing them to teach. 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” experiences 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

In most states, including California, teachers tend to earn their credentials through a university-based program. Nearly 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 rules change from time to time — for example, in 2021 legislation directed the CTC to modify its reading standards to reflect evidence about how children learn to read, drawing on research about dyslexia.

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.

Alternative paths to a credential

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 schools need teachers and districts have funds to hire them, they don’t sit around and wait. If fully-prepared teachers are unavailable, school districts resort to using emergency teaching credentials. This is legal as long as the candidate can meet standards set by the state board. The Learning Policy Institute keeps an eye out for looming teacher shortages across the USA.

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. A state budget increase can boost demand for teachers quite suddenly throughout the state. All at once, it seems, everyone is hiring, and there aren’t enough good candidates. The market adjusts, but at a delay. It takes time for teacher-prep programs to recruit and train instructors. It takes time to secure space, enroll prospective teachers and train them.

The imbalance between supply and demand can lead districts to respond in several ways, including lowering their hiring standards to fill positions. These are the times when unions make the case for higher pay, for example. Some districts, desperate to fill open positions, will hire under-qualified candidates on an emergency basis; some of them will become permanent hires.

In 2022, EdSource released a district-by-district analysis of available data related to teacher shortages. The headline finding: “While 83% of K-12 classes in the 2020-21 school year were taught by teachers credentialed to teach that course, 17% were taught by teachers who were not.”

Are teachers in your district fully certified? An interactive map from the Learning Policy Center lets you take a look at the data.

Are teacher shortages overblown?

Teacher shortages have become an annual concern, and some have argued that the system is crying wolf. There may be a shortage of teachers willing to work in certain districts, or in specific subjects – especially special education, math, and science – but, they argue, there is not a shortage of teachers across the board.

There may be some truth to this argument, but it is clearly true that when the economy changes significantly the supply of good teachers always seems mismatched. From the perspective of parents and students, when hiring teachers it's better to have a choice of candidates.

Faster certification options

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 less than two months. 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 nationwide 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.

Can districts certify their own teachers?

Communities want teachers who understand their children, including the strengths, challenges, and culture that they bring with them to school. Some districts have addressed this demand by developing a grow your own strategy, 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.

Should certification programs be rigorous?

Do credentials really matter? Should they? Oversimplifying greatly, there are two schools of thought about them: less is more, and more is more.

More is more. Some argue that 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 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) requirement that every teacher is 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, protecting less-talented teachers from competition, and wasting time.

Perhaps the purest 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 the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, these recurring questions came back to prominence, particularly in connection to two standardized tests, CBEST and CSET, that teacher candidates are required to pass and love to loathe. Strong teacher candidates tend to find the tests depressingly easy. Governor Newsom proposed to waive them for teacher candidates that earn good marks in university-based prep programs.

How useful are teacher credential programs?

In 2014, a scathing report by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) 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 chronic shortage of teachers.

How did the pandemic affect teacher supply?

It will take time to sort out the implications of the pandemic on supply and demand in the market for teachers. The pandemic triggered widespread resignations throughout the economy, including schools. In general, periods of high turnover create conditions for change in teacher pay as districts struggle to attract candidates for open positions.

This lesson was updated May, 2017; March, 2018; September 2018; February 2021; and August 2022


Enrollment in California's teacher preparation programs declined by 80% from 2001-02 to 2012-13. Which ONE of the following explanations is TRUE?

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Questions & Comments

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user avatar
Carol Kocivar June 9, 2023 at 5:42 pm

California teacher credentials issued declined by 16% from 2021 to 2022.
user avatar
Carol Kocivar June 9, 2023 at 5:42 pm

California teacher credentials issued declined by 16% from 2021 to 2022.
user avatar
Carol Kocivar August 3, 2022 at 8:42 pm
To increase the pipeline of teachers and school counselors, the state 2023-23 Budget provides $250 million to expand residency slots for teachers and school counselors. The Budget also enables school counselor, social worker, and psychologist candidates to be eligible for the Golden State Teacher Grant Program, which provides incentives to individuals to consider earning a credential and serving at a priority school in California for four years, within eight years after completing a preparation program.
user avatar
Carol Kocivar July 5, 2022 at 1:00 pm
According to the California Department of education 2020 report, 83 per cent of teachers have appropriate teaching credentials. How is your district doing? Search the EdSource school teacher qualifications | Database
user avatar
Carol Kocivar May 23, 2022 at 11:29 pm
Troubling new data: Most California teacher preparation programs flunk at teaching math.
user avatar
Carol Kocivar May 15, 2022 at 3:51 pm
The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) presents data and analysis on how all 50 states and D.C. have responded to the federal law’s requirement that they collect and report the necessary data documenting the equitable distribution of teacher talent among their schools.
user avatar
Selisa Loeza October 23, 2021 at 9:40 pm
New bill by Senator Rubio and signed by governor Newsome regarding TPAS in reading and literacy aimed at strengthening reading instruction.
user avatar
Carol Kocivar October 25, 2021 at 9:43 pm
Thanks. We included this in our blog on new laws for 2021: Teacher credentialing literacy SB 488 (Rubio) requires the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) to ensure competence in literacy instruction, strengthens literacy requirements in teacher preparation programs and requires the CTC to ensure that its standards for program quality and effectiveness are implemented
user avatar
amy su November 10, 2020 at 10:25 am
It’s unfortunate how many educated teachers have to take temp positions as subs
user avatar
Susannah Baxendale January 14, 2019 at 10:48 am
Two comments (highly subjective) about TFA: The program attracts a large number of people wanting to pad their resume on their way to some other profession. Secondly the short training period however intensive is a farce; the fact that they are amping up their support afterwards underscores the poor training given in just a month.

Another subjective comment: the idea that California would "take its ball and go home" because it got a D grade is horrifying. Withholding of data undermines the effectiveness of state to state and whole nation evaluation when a state as large as California refuses to play (and take its lumps if it isn't doing a good job).
user avatar
Caryn January 15, 2019 at 10:02 am
Hi Susannah, thanks for commenting. I value our readers' opinions so subjective works just fine for me. I agree with you that California refusing to submit data seems troubling. Transparency is imperative if real and lasting improvements are our goal in education. As unpleasant as it may be to hear "you're failing and here's how", it can be a gift for those sincerely searching for solutions.
user avatar
Selisa Loeza October 22, 2021 at 10:56 pm
As a TFA alumni, I can say there are people there to pad there resumes but not all. I can say the article states the program is only two months. The initial summer training is a rigorous two months, then continued education and credential courses (classes and homework) after teaching full time. This lasts for a year in which one then officially receives there credential. A second year Masters under the same circumstances is optional. This kind of programming is helpful to those who cannot afford the full cost of receiving a credential then living on teachers wages.
user avatar
Carol Kocivar April 8, 2018 at 12:56 pm
The news on the teacher shortage is not getting better.
This roundup from the Learning Policy Institute finds that "teacher workforce trends have worsened in the past year, with especially severe consequences in special education, math, and science, and significant threats in bilingual education."
Yes, it contains suggestions on what to do.
Find out more more
user avatar
Jeff Camp February 17, 2017 at 2:17 pm
A teaching credential earned in one state doesn't qualify you to teach in another. When experienced teachers move over a state line, they often have a painful choice: take time out and enroll in more college classes to meet local credential requirements, or change careers? The harms of this policy are pretty clear -- do the benefits outweigh them? Based on this research summary by Matt Barnum of T74, the answer is probably no.
user avatar
Mo Kashmiri July 11, 2020 at 12:07 pm
Isn’t the 74 funded by Michael Bloomberg to push charter schools?
user avatar
Carol Kocivar October 27, 2016 at 4:42 pm
The US Education Department Releases Final Teacher Preparation Regulations 2016

"The rules require new reporting by states about program effectiveness. The also seek to provide better information to address the mismatch between the available teaching jobs and fields in which programs are preparing educators and to help districts and schools place teachers where they are needed the most.
user avatar
Carol Kocivar October 27, 2016 at 4:34 pm
The Learning Policy Institute on the Teacher Shortage:

Understanding Teacher Shortages - A State-by-State Analysis of the Factors Influencing Teacher Supply, Demand, and Equity
Take a look at their interactive map to see how California compares...
user avatar
Albert Stroberg May 1, 2016 at 6:32 pm
The best teachers were good students. They experienced the joy & wonder of learning stuff and want to share that experience. In our schools I have seen an obvious divide between the teachers who came from a CSU (average students) and those from a UC, (or equivalent.) The better student -teachers were consistently better informed, motivational, and respected by students. We have been using the JVs, we should hire the varsity.
user avatar
Stacey W April 6, 2015 at 6:14 pm
The difficulties of California's economy have been detrimental to our state's education and the hiring and retention of teachers. I've seen young teachers let go (pink slipped) and their positions given to other teachers due to budget cuts, experienced teachers have been offered early retirement packages (which many of them took) since it was too good to pass up, and my kids have had teachers who are only teaching because it was a means to pay the bills. Our children need teachers who are passionate about teaching, who want to make a difference in our children's lives, and are given the necessary support and continued education as we transition to CCSS. Several of my kids teachers have returned to school for their masters degrees, which not only makes them better teachers, but it improves the learning process for all their students.
user avatar
Veli Waller April 4, 2015 at 9:24 pm
The teaching credential program that I completed left me woefully unprepared for the classroom. Once in the classroom I felt unsuccessful and decided that this wasn't the profession for me. Credential programs need to do a better job of preparing teachers for the reality and challenges of the classroom.
user avatar
Shereen W March 3, 2015 at 8:38 pm
We are not attracting our best and brightest students into the teaching profession. The only way to do this is to make teaching an attractive occupation with competitive salaries.
user avatar
Kim April 10, 2016 at 8:16 pm
I agree totally with Shereen. The profession of teaching needs to be regarded with high respect, and teachers need to be recognized as one of the most honorable people in society. In Asian countries, the job of being a teacher is as important as the job of the Prime Minister. And so teachers act as so. The students benefit. Society benefits. If we value education, we need to value our teachers. And pay them salaries that reflect that. In both Asia and part of Europe where education is highly valued, teachers make as much as professionals in business, law, etc.
user avatar
jenzteam February 27, 2015 at 10:41 am
I am highly disappointed in the way by which CA teachers are hired. I was turned down for multiple jobs even though I am highly qualified in several states, am willing to teach in the toughest of neighborhoods, accept wages below poverty level, and have gone above and beyond to gain every certification possible to expand my pool of opportunities. Yet, there are teachers who are just hanging onto their careers until retirement because of the economy. Your loss CA. I just want to teach and spend my days with kids who want to learn. Oh and in the other states I was certified in Sped, high school, and Pre-K however CA doesn't recognize any of that.
user avatar
Paul Muench November 5, 2014 at 10:21 pm
In looking at teacher credentials at the California Commission on teacher credentialing, I noticed that teachers have major and minor credentials. What does this mean? I also noticed that science teachers seem to often have a minor in science and a major in physical education. Does that mean these teachers were really hoping to become PE teachers?
user avatar
Carol Kocivar - Ed100 October 15, 2014 at 3:36 pm
Another insight on teacher preparation:
"Bumpy Path Into a Profession: What California's Beginning Teachers Experience"
Policy Analysis for California Education
This study on induction, evaluation, clear credentialing and tenure indicates that California’s policy system fails to recognize the realities facing beginning teachers, who follow a much longer, bumpier and more circuitous path into the teaching profession than state policymakers currently recognize.
user avatar
Jeff Camp - Founder October 11, 2014 at 11:58 am
Enrollment in teacher preparation courses in California continued to fall in 2012-13, to 19,933. EdSource chief Louis Freedberg points out that "over an 11-year period, enrollments have declined by 74 percent."
The EdSource article and its comments includes an interesting debate about the root causes of the decline.
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