Mar 03 2016

What California School Districts Can Do to Address Teacher Shortages

This post was first published on March 3, 2016 by EdSource and authored by Roberta Furger and David Robertson.

School districts and county offices of education are estimating they’ll need to hire just over 22,000 new teachers for the 201617 school year. These latest projections, part of a multi-year rebuilding of the state’s teaching force, are a good sign. They mean budgets are growing and programs are expanding after years of devastating cuts. There’s just one problem: our state is not preparing enough new teachers to meet the projected need. Even with re-entrants and an increase in out-of-state recruits, districts are experiencing shortfalls they cannot easily address.

California policymakers are examining a range of state-level responses to the teacher shortage. Members of the Legislature are reviewing several bills, including proposals focused on recruitment, preparation and retention. The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, for its part, is considering new guidelines for the use of substitutes, an issue that the Association of California School Administrators believes represents part of the short-term solution to the shortage.

School district and county officials also have a critical role to play. Indeed, the shortage provides local policymakers and practitioners with an opportunity to update their recruitment strategies and re-examine how best to retain teachers as part of a comprehensive effort to address short-term staffing needs, as well as build a stable, supported and effective teaching corps.

In the increasingly competitive labor market, it takes more than just posting an ad on EdJoin, the statewide education job portal, to recruit and hire qualified teachers, particularly in high-need subjects and regions. In Riverside County, district staff are traveling out of state and offering signing bonuses and moving expenses for hard-to-staff positions. In the Central Valley, the Bakersfield City School District recently signed a contract with its local teachers union that removed the cap on salary schedules for teachers hired from outside the district, as a way to attract the “best and the brightest” to work there. And in the Bay Area, where teacher salaries in many communities have not kept pace with skyrocketing housing costs, districts like Cupertino and San Francisco are looking to provide stable, affordable housing solutions as part of their efforts to recruit and retain quality teachers.

These and other efforts represent the kind of innovation and partnerships that will position districts well, particularly in times of teacher shortages. Even more strategic, say researchers and practitioners alike, are initiatives aimed at understanding and addressing teacher turnover, which costs schools nationwide an estimated $7 billion, according to a 2007 study. A comprehensive approach to reducing turnover would reduce the demand for new teachers and save money that could be better spent on mentoring and other approaches to supporting teacher development and advancing student achievement.

The first step in addressing turnover is understanding both its scope and causes. That’s what Superintendent Stephanie Houston and her colleagues in the Colton-Redlands-Yucaipa Regional Occupational Program in eastern San Bernardino County did 10 years ago in response to what Houston describes as a revolving door of career technical education (CTE) teachers. They began conducting exit interviews with departing teachers and a consistent theme emerged: teachers were leaving because they felt unprepared and unsupported as they transitioned from their industry jobs to the classroom.

Armed with this knowledge, the Regional Occupational Program introduced a two-year support program for beginning teachers, under the guidance of a full-time mentor teacher. Over the past 10 years, the program has reduced turnover and improved instruction. It was identified as a statewide model by the California Department of Education and became the basis for CTE Teach, a professional development and training program for new California CTE teachers.

Research shows that high-quality mentoring and induction programs accelerate professional growth among new teachers, lead to teachers who stay in the profession longer, and improve student learning. Unfortunately, many California districts reduced or eliminated their Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) programs during the era of budget cuts. Last year’s allocation of $490 million statewide to support professional learning, including mentoring and induction for beginning teachers, is a first step toward reinvigorating these programs. A guidance paper, published by the Learning Policy Institute and the Stanford Center for Opportunity and Policy in Education (SCOPE), in partnership with CDE, is a resource for districts looking to maximize the impact of these funds.

A high-quality teacher support program is one of many steps districts can take to reduce turnover, and – by extension – the number of vacancies they need to fill each year. Research into why teachers leave their schools and the profession also points to the need to create more productive teaching and learning environments, in part by providing training to principals and other site administrators. Increased leadership opportunities for teachers and the chance to participate in decision making at their school sites are other factors found to improve teacher retention.

Over the long term, local partnerships with higher education are critical to ensuring that teacher preparation programs are producing graduates that meet their unique needs. In San Francisco and Los Angeles, for example, the districts have partnered with nearby schools of education to implement yearlong teacher residency programs, which are effective at recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers. Also promising are programs that seek to recruit young people to teach in their own school districts, such as the Education Academy at Skyline High School in Oakland, part of the district’s Linked Learning program.

With every challenge comes an opportunity.  As districts build new pipelines to teaching that attract and support young people and mid-career adults, they’ll also be taking steps to create a more diverse teaching workforce that better reflects the students and communities our schools serve.

Roberta Furger is senior writer at the Learning Policy Institute, a research and policy organization in Palo Alto. David Robertson is the director of human resources for the Twin Rivers Unified School District and chair of the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) Human Resources Council.