Teacher shortages statewide could hurt schools reopening for in-person instruction

CREDIT: ALLISON SHELLEY FOR AMERICAN EDUCATION

The ongoing teacher shortage, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, means more under-prepared teachers will be in California classrooms when school campuses fully reopen, according to a study released Friday by the Learning Policy Institute.

A decrease in the number of teacher candidates earning credentials, as well as the possibility of increased retirements and resignations, will make it difficult for schools to hire all the teachers they need, according to the report — “California Teachers and COVID-19: How the Pandemic is Impacting the Teacher Workforce.”

It will be particularly difficult to find teachers for special education, math, science and bilingual education, subjects that historically have had teacher shortages, the report states.

The shortage of teachers could make it difficult to reopen campuses, which are required to have smaller class sizes to accommodate physical distancing. Additional teachers are also needed to tutor students who fell behind academically during distance learning, according to the report.

In a few cases, California school districts that have already reopened campuses have had to close them again because of a shortage of teachers and substitutes.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has further strained an already faltering pipeline of qualified teachers,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, president of both the Learning Policy Institute and the State Board of Education.

Since 2015, teacher shortages have continued to grow across the country, Darling-Hammond said. There has been a sharp decrease in the number of people going into teacher preparation programs as well as high attrition rates, she said. To fill vacancies, school districts hired under qualified teachers working on waivers or on intern, limited-assignment, short-term or provisional intern permits.

Teachers working with provisional intern permits and intern credentials have not completed the testing, coursework, and student teaching required for a preliminary or clear credential. Limited assignment permits and waivers allow credentialed teachers to teach outside their subject areas to fill a staffing need.

Because the short-term permits and provisional intern permits can be issued only if a credentialed teacher cannot be found, they are a strong indicator of teacher shortages, said Desiree Carver-Thomas, one of the authors of the report.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Between 2012 and 2019 the number of teachers in the state working with “substandard” credentials increased from 4,724 to 13,912, according to data from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. The number working on provisional intern and short-term staffing permits increased seven-fold, Carver-Thomas said.

“These teachers, who have not completed preparation for teaching, are likely to be less knowledgeable about how to close growing learning gaps caused by the pandemic crisis,” states the report.

Researchers from the Learning Policy Institute interviewed school superintendents and human resources administrators from the state’s eight largest school districts and nine of the state’s small rural districts for the report. The districts surveyed serve more than a third of the state’s students, according to researchers.

The school officials said the biggest hurdle to earning a teaching credential for teacher candidates is the required tests, as well as the need for additional financial assistance to complete teacher preparation programs.

Since the pandemic began many teacher candidates have been unable to complete required exams because testing centers were either closed or had a backlog of appointments due to social distancing requirements. Others have not been able to complete student teaching or required coursework because school campuses are closed.

Since last March, when communities went into lockdown because of the COVID-19 outbreak, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, state legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom have taken a number of actions designed to help teacher candidates move into the classroom and prevent a worsening of the teacher shortage.

Prior to the pandemic, about 40% of students seeking to become teachers gave up because they failed to pass the required tests at various steps along the path to getting their credential, according to data from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. For prospective math or science teachers, that number was about 50%.

The report’s authors also said that teachers are retiring early or resigning because of the steep learning curve needed to transition to distance and hybrid teaching. Other teachers have indicated they might retire early if in-person instruction begins before they feel safe returning to school campuses, Carver-Thomas said.

Teachers also are leaving the profession because their workloads have increased, causing teacher burnout, according to district officials interviewed for the report. They say teacher workloads have doubled since the pandemic, in part because of the extra hours required to design lesson plans for in-person as well as for distance learning instruction.

A lack of substitute teachers on top of considerable teacher shortages could upend efforts to reopen schools for in-person learning, Carver-Thomas said. The substitute shortage has grown worse during the pandemic, especially for smaller, rural districts.

Substitutes are leaving because they are tired of waiting to be called for the scarce jobs available during distance learning or are uncomfortable with the technology required, according to an EdSource report. Some substitutes in districts that have reopened campuses fear returning to the classroom during the pandemic or can’t find child care for children who are home half the week in hybrid instruction.

“Teacher shortages were not created overnight, nor will they be solved with quick, Band-Aid solutions,” Carver-Thomas said. “Policymakers should attend to both long-term solutions for growing a high-qualified teacher workforce and to meeting the immediate needs of a state school system reeling from a year of instability and strife.”

June 1, 2020 – El Segundo, California, United States: Sean Brandlin, 8th grade social studies at El Segundo Middle School. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times/Polaris)

The report recommends:

  • The state continue to invest in scholarships for teachers who work in low-income communities or who teach subjects with a shortage of teachers; teacher residency programs; and district programs that help school staff earn a bachelor’s degree and teaching credential.
  • The state reduce the number of tests required to earn a teaching credential and allow teacher candidates to demonstrate their competence with coursework instead of exams, in most cases.
  • School districts hire more teachers and staff to decrease workloads. Offer incentives for substitute teachers, including increasing their pay and paying for their training. School districts should also offer high-quality professional development to support teachers in distance learning and hybrid instruction, among other things.

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