California Teaching Workforce is Running on Empty


Posted on 14 December 2010

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By Margaret Gaston
Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning

Cumulative cuts of more than $20 billion from California’s schools over the past three years have made it tougher for teachers to help students meet increasing expectations for academic achievement and have badly damaged the state’s ability to recruit and prepare new teachers needed for the future, according to the annual report on California’s teaching workforce released this week by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning.  

The report makes clear that California’s teaching workforce is running on empty. The disinvestment in building a top quality teacher workforce is at odds with rising demands for students’ academic success, and the fiscal crisis has so severely damaged the pipeline for recruiting and training new teachers that teaching quality may be put at risk for many years to come.

The bottom line is that these are very tough times to be a teacher in California. The expectations have never been higher, but drastic budget cuts are having a direct impact in the classroom and are damaging the systems of supports and resources teachers need to improve student learning.  Consider these findings:

Tough Times for Teachers and their Students

There are fewer teachers in the classroom, and those who remain face larger class sizes and have less time for planning and instruction. Budget cuts have also reduced the availability of counselors, librarians and instructional aides on whom teachers rely to help support student learning. And while they have taken on additional responsibilities, many teachers are receiving less compensation due to salary cuts and reduced instructional days.

Additionally, while California’s commitment to have all students proficient in English and mathematics by 2013-14 will require dramatic increases in current achievement rates, the resources needed to strengthen the knowledge and skills teachers must have to help students get there have been reduced or eliminated.  For example, the Professional Development Block Grant, the largest source of funding to train teachers and staff, was cut by more than $50 million, a reduction of 20 percent, with much of what was left diverted to saving jobs. And support for beginning teachers has been cut by more than $37 million, a reduction of almost 30 percent.

The Teacher Pipeline is Severely Damaged

While student enrollment has dipped in the past few years, it is expected once again to increase by more than 230,000 students between 2009–10 and 2018–19, with the most significant growth at the elementary level.  Yet California has seen a recent loss of new teachers and dramatic decreases in enrollment in preparation programs and the production of teaching credentials. As aging teachers retire, California’s capacity to produce the numbers of new teachers the workforce will need has been weakened and the state may again face a shortage. 

  • The number of novice teachers has declined by 18,000 teachers or 50% in the last two years.
  • The number of enrollees in teacher preparation programs dropped by 45%, from more than 75,000 to fewer than 45,000 between 2001-02 and 2007-08.
  • The number of teaching credentials issued by institutions of higher education in California declined by 35% since 2004, from 27,000 to 17,800.
  • In 2009-10, 32% of the workforce was more than 50 years old, keeping about one-third of the state’s teachers on track for retirement within ten years.

Unfortunately, the state’s capacity to prepare teachers has also been damaged. In response to unprecedented budget cuts, CSU, the state’s largest preparer of teachers, has had to reduce enrollment, increase tuition and make adjustments in staffing. These changes have removed potential teachers from the pipeline and weakened training, monitoring and support of student teachers as they begin their careers.

Without an Educational Data System, California is Flying Blind

Over the past thirteen years, California has made significant progress toward the development of a robust statewide K-12 education data system. Recently, the system has suffered serious setbacks, and Governor Schwarzenegger’s veto of funding for the data system has thrown the future of CALTIDES and CALPADS into limbo. Without a data system, the state is unable to track and analyze important trends in the workforce that would help to improve teaching, and stands to lose out on federal and private funding opportunities dependent upon having one. In effect, without an effective educational data system, California is flying blind. In the face of rising expectations and limited resources, it is critical that California develops a system that can provide the information needed to make strategic and targeted decisions to strengthen teaching and increase student achievement.

Additionally, amid current calls for increased accountability, California’s system of teacher evaluation is outdated, does not consider a range of meaningful measurements of student achievement, and provides little in the way of information that can inform and guide efforts to strengthen teaching.

The findings of this report make clear that California’s teaching workforce is under tremendous strain, and that tension is impacting our students and undermining their future. Despite the current focus on the profession, all signs indicate the system that provides teachers to our schools is eroding. At every point, teachers are receiving less and less support needed to improve the quality of instruction. The system of evaluation does little to improve teaching, and the policy and philanthropic communities, education leadership and others do not have the data necessary to make informed and strategic decisions.  

We face a serious conflict between the high expectations we have for students and the investments we are making in our schools. Resolving these issues will require bold and creative actions that take into consideration the ways school are funded, how teachers are evaluated and given the professional support they need to ensure their effectiveness, and the establishment of a comprehensive data system which can contribute to sound rational decision making at all levels of the education system.

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Margaret Gaston is the President of the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning. California’s Teaching Force 2010: Key Issues and Trends is the latest report in a twelve-year effort by the Center to help policymakers, the philanthropic community and others understand the critical need to strengthen the teaching profession in order to meet the state’s ambitious goals for students’ academic excellence.