California is facing a shortage of qualified teachers and principals for its public schools, according to a long-anticipated report released this week.
Fewer aspiring teachers are enrolling in credentialing programs, and jobs in key subject areas - including special education and mathematics - are already going unfilled for lack of applicants, the state Task Force on Educator Excellence said.
Those who do seek to teach face a working life that is underpaid, unstable and, in the case of would-be administrators, highly political. Working conditions, the group said, are "highly inequitable," with the least experienced and lowest paid teachers generally sent to work in the most difficult conditions.
“Ours is a profession under siege,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson wrote in a letter introducing the report. “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.”
During the school year of 2009-2010, California issued just 16,151 credentials to new teachers – a 40 percent drop over 2003-2004. During the ten years ending in 2010, the number of students enrolled in teacher preparation programs dropped by half, the report said.
While it is true that teachers have been laid off in the state, many are not choosing to seek new jobs in the profession, the report said.
Shortages persist, the task force said, in educational fields including special education, mathematics, physical sciences and in the instruction of students who are still learning English.
These shortages are looming even as the state is trying to improve education for California children.
To that end, the task force recommended stepping up mentoring and training programs for new and experienced teachers, and reinstating long-abandoned funding that provided paid time for teachers to prepare lessons and curriculum.
The group also encouraged increased requirements – as well as more mentoring and support – for those who wish to become principals.
Recent efforts to install accountability measures for teachers and low-performing schools also came under fire in the report.
Such measures – which include efforts to tie teacher performance evaluations to student test scores – may help to measure performance, but cannot provide teachers with the tools they actually need to improve instruction, the task force said.
“High-stakes testing without investments in school capacity cannot improve education,” the report said. “In fact, this dangerous combination has driven many accomplished educators out of the profession and, in some cases, caused more harm than good.”