A mix of solutions needed to relieve teacher shortage

A mix of solutions needed to relieve teacher shortage

(Calif.) Lawmakers were urged Wednesday to look at creative ways to support working conditions at schools as a means of attracting new recruits and of retaining veteran teachers in the profession.

At a joint hearing of the education committees from both houses of the Legislature, school officials from across the state and from a diverse collection of communities said the teacher shortage in California is hitting almost every district, and is likely to worsen, especially in schools serving lower-income families.

Recent studies have indicated that a larger percentage of teachers leave the profession or transfer from their school as a result of poor administrative support for teachers, salary issues and aspects of school culture.

“There are things that we can do–such as make improvements in professional development, more feedback, establish collaborative work environments,” said Linda Darling Hammond, a retired professor of education from Stanford University and chair of the state’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

“This is a strategy that has been picked up in other places,” she said. “You want to make all the work places good, but mostly, we should be trying to make that less of a crap shoot.”

Concerns about the decline in the number of college students enrolling in teacher preparation programs have been getting attention since the end of the recession. Prior to the economic downturn in 2008, as many as 50,000 students were working toward getting a teaching degree and certification. Since then, the numbers have fallen to less than half that number.

Meanwhile, because state funding for schools has rebounded and districts are once again trying to reduce teacher-to-student radios, the demand for educators has jumped–especially for those trained to serve students with disabilities and to teach math and sciences.

Wednesday’s hearing comes as legislative leaders are starting serious conversations with Gov. Jerry Brown about next year’s budget. Based on a mix of widely disputed data, the administration has suggested tax collections this spring are likely to meet estimates and have warned lawmakers that cuts to school funding may be needed–a position that has been challenged by the non-partisan Legislative Analyst.

Indeed, last week, the governor’s own Department of Finance released its monthly revenue report that showed the $756 million dip in December collections was largely recovered in January by a $747 million increase above forecasts.

Although getting Brown to fund any new programs will be difficult and competing needs are many, advocates for teacher training said that a variety of approaches need to be considered.

Last year, Brown and the Legislature agreed to provide funds aimed at streamlining the academic process needed for a college student to attain both a bachelor’s degree and teaching credential within four years. They also set aside money to support classified school employees who want to join the teaching profession.

A report out this week from Columbia University, found that teachers often make their career decision based on “sense of success” with their own students that most influenced their decision about whether to stay in their school, move to a different school, or leave teaching altogether.

Overall, the teachers said that it was the environment of their school that made success likely—or unlikely. New teachers in schools that were organized to support them through collegial interaction, opportunities for growth, appropriate assignments, adequate resources and schoolwide structures supporting student learning were more likely to stay in those schools and in teaching than were the new teachers working at schools that lacked such supports. 

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