The Center in the Media
Potential teacher shortage developing in California's public schools
By J.D. Velasco, SGVN
California could be facing a teacher shortage in the coming years if it doesn't find a way to attract fresh recruits to replace a wave of baby boomers set to retire soon, educational scholars say.
California's teaching population is growing increasingly old, even as fewer young people choose to enter the profession, according to the report, "The Status of the Teaching Profession 2011" by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd, a Sacramento-based research institute.
Between 2001 and 2010, the number of annual retirements among the state's teachers nearly doubled from about 8,700 to 15,500. And the problem is no different locally.
"We know a lot of the San Gabriel Valley and Inland Empire housing boom occurred in the `70s and `80s," said Peggy Kelly, dean of the College of Education and Integrative Studies at Cal Poly Pomona. "When you kind of do the math on that, you know that the staff of those schools graduated in the late `60s, `70s, and early 80s. They're up there in age."
At the same time, the number of people entering the teaching profession is dropping off.
In 2001, first- and second-year teachers made up 15 percent of the state's teaching pool, according to the report by the CFTL. By 2011, that number had fallen to 5 percent.
Perhaps even more telling is the fact that the number of students enrolling in teacher-preparation programs fell from about 77,000 in 2001 to 36,500 in 2010.
"We in teacher prep have seen an enormous drop in enrollment," Kelly said.
Michael Drange, president of the Garvey Educators Association, said the state's constant budget problems may be discouraging young people from becoming teachers.
Each spring, school districts statewide go through a process of pink-slipping, or laying off, their teachers as a precautionary measure to ensure they can meet their budget for the next year. Because pink slips are handed out based on seniority, it is the newest teachers who are laid off first, though some are rehired before the fall if districts have the money.
"We have had a lot of layoffs here in our district," Drange said. "There are some young teachers that have been laid off several years in a row."
Drange said some of those teachers can't find work in another school district and end up leaving education altogether.
"The thing is once you get laid off, there's no other work to be found," Drange said.
The report also implicates tightening state and federal education standards for making it more difficult to enter the profession.
Whereas in the past, districts were willing to hire teachers with partial credentials, the federal No Child Left Behind Act has made that less likely, the report says.
Mike Sullivan, who has spent nearly 30 years working for school districts around the San Gabriel Valley and now works part-time as a substitute teacher, said increased regulations and red tape can be very frustrating for new teachers.
"In the old days you could get a lifetime credential and you were done," Sullivan said. "Now it's a five-year credential that has to be renewed. Not only that, you have to take so many tests."
Both Kelly and Holly Jacobson, director of the CFTL, said school districts need to begin preparing for for a teacher shortage, even if tight finances prevent them from doing much hiring right now.
"One-hundred-thousand elementary kids are expected to arrive in the next five years," Jacobson said. "I think they need to be tracking their data really closely."
Kelly said Cal Poly Pomona has begun discussing partnership possibilities with local school districts, so graduating college students will be able to make a seamless transition into the workforce.
"The forward-thinking districts are beginning to prepare and that's where these partnerships come in," Kelly said. "We don't want a replay of 2001-2002. They were taking any warm body that walked in. That's not good for kids because you're training people on the fly."
Debbie Kaplan, superintendent of West Covina Unified, said her district hasn't yet experienced a shortage in teachers, but she is concerned about that possibility.
"It does scare me as an educator," Kaplan said. "The stakes are really high."
But Richard Martinez, superintendent of Pomona Unified, didn't seem to think his district would face a critical shortage of teachers any time soon.
Martinez said Pomona Unified is keeping careful track of its potential retirees, so it won't be caught off guard.
"I don't know if we're going to have that massive exodus of teachers in the near future," Martinez said.
And he said there are a large number of laid-off teachers eagerly waiting for jobs. He said when the district posts a job opening, it often gets as many as 300 applications.
Jacobson said that might be true now, but she cautioned districts against assuming those same people clamoring for teaching jobs now will still be there in a few years.
"Right now you probably have a lot of freshly laid off people," Jacobson said. "Five years from now is that pool still a viable pool of candidates?"