Californias shortage of fully prepared teachers
is troubling. But far more disturbing is the distribution of underprepared
teachers. Californias poorest and most vulnerable children
are by far the most likely to face teachers with the least training
and the least experience.
There has been some marginal improvement in the
last year, but the numbers remain unacceptable schools with
the highest number of minority students have more than one in five
teachers who are underprepared, while in schools with the lowest
number of minority students less than one teacher in 20 is underprepared.
Beyond those teachers who are underprepared, these
schools often have many teachers who have little experience even
if they have a credential. In 1,500 California schools 17
percent a quarter or more of the teachers are in their first
or second year of teaching. In 700 schools, at least one-third of
teachers are in their first or second year. Experience matters,
and these schools have a limited capacity to deliver high-quality
instruction and rarely have enough accomplished teachers to provide
leadership and assistance to the newest teachers.
Despite this variance in instructional capacity,
all California students are expected to meet the same rigorous academic
standards. And California has raised the stakes significantly for
all students who do not meet these standards. Beginning in spring
2004, high school seniors who have not passed the states exit
exam will be denied a diploma.
Initial results on the exit exam are disappointing,
particularly for poor and minority students. Worse, schools with
the lowest passing rates also have the most underprepared teachers.
Students in schools with the lowest passing rates
on the exam are more than twice as likely to face underprepared
teachers as are students in schools with the highest passing rates.
The sad truth is that those students who need the most help have
the least-trained and least-experienced teachers to help them succeed
in a system with very high stakes.