Skip to main content

Addressing California’s Emerging Teacher Shortage

An Analysis of Sources and Solutions
By Linda Darling-Hammond Roberta C. Furger Patrick M. Shields Leib Sutcher
Teacher working with two young students

After many years of teacher layoffs in California, school districts around the state are hiring again. Increased demand for k–12 teachers in California comes at a time when the supply of new teachers is at a 12-year low. Enrollment in educator preparation programs has dropped by more than 70% over the last decade and fallen below the number of estimated hires by school districts around the state.

This report examines indicators of current shortages, discusses their impact on students, analyzes factors that influence teacher supply and demand in California and nationally, and recommends policies to ensure an adequate supply of fully prepared teachers for the fields and locations where they are needed.


Many signs point to shortages:

  • In mid-October, 2015, two months after the school year started, EdJoin, the statewide educator job portal, still listed more than 3,900 open teaching positions—double the number listed at that time in 2013.
  • In 2014–15, provisional and short-term permits (issued to fill “immediate and acute” staffing needs when a fully credentialed teacher cannot be found) nearly tripled from the number issued two years earlier, growing from about 850 to more than 2,400.
  • In all, the number of teachers hired on substandard permits and credentials nearly doubled in the last two years, to more than 7,700, comprising a third of all the new credentials issued in 2014–15.
  • Estimated teacher hires for the 2015-16 school year increased by 25% from the previous year, while preliminary credentials issued to fully prepared new teachers increased by less than 1% from the previous year, and enrollment in teacher education programs increased by only about 2%.

Although shortages are occurring across a range of subject areas, the problem is most acute in mathematics, science, and special education.

  • In mathematics and science, the number of preliminary credentials awarded to new, fully prepared teachers dropped by 32% and 14%, respectively, from 2011–12 to 2014–15.
  • In that same time, the numbers of underprepared mathematics and science teachers (those with temporary permits and waivers and intern credentials) increased by 23% and 51%, respectively.
  • In special education, the number of credentials issued dropped by 21% between 2011–12 and 2013–14, while substandard permits and credentials increased by 10%. Nearly half (48%) of the special education teachers licensed in California in 2013–14 lacked full preparation for teaching.
  • While districts estimated their hiring needs at roughly 4,500 special education teachers in 2014–15, only about 2,200 fully prepared new special education teachers emerged from California’s universities in that year.
  • As in previous years when California has experienced a shortage of qualified teachers, low-income students of color and students with special needs are disproportionately impacted by the shortage. According to California’s educator equity plan, in 2013–14, nearly twice as many students in high-minority as in low-minority schools were being taught by a teacher on a waiver or permit (a teacher not yet even enrolled in a preparation program).

Prognosis for the Future

California has the highest student-teacher ratio in the nation (24:1, as compared to the national average of 16:1 in 2013), and the disparity grew even greater during the extended period of budget cuts. To bring student-teacher ratios back to pre-recession levels, districts would need to hire 60,000 new teachers beyond their other hiring needs. If California were to reduce student-teacher ratios to the national average, districts would have to hire 135,000 additional teachers.

A comprehensive approach to reducing attrition 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. Replacement costs for teachers have been found to be about $18,000 per teacher who leaves, which adds up to a national price tag of more than $7 billion a year. High turnover also negatively affects the achievement of all students in a school.

On the supply side, overall desirability of teaching as a profession is the most important factor; others include ease of entry, competitiveness of salaries, and teaching conditions. Highly publicized teacher layoffs during the budget downturn left a mark on the public psyche, including that of individuals who might have been considering a teaching career. 

Policy Recommendations

Based upon this analysis and prior research, the authors offer the following policy recommendations for consideration:

  1. Reinstate the CalTeach program, which helped recruit teachers from colleges, other careers, and other states, provided them information about how to become credentialed, and directed them to preparation programs and districts so that entry into the profession was made simpler and more supported.
  2. Create incentives to attract diverse, talented individuals to teach in high-need locations and fields by funding candidates who prepare and teach in such schools and subject areas, as did two highly successful California programs: the Governor’s Teaching Fellowship and the Assumption Program of Loans for Education (APLE).
  3. Create innovative pipelines into teaching, such as high school career pathways and Grow-Your-Own teacher preparation models, which encourage and support young people and others to go into teaching in their own communities.
  4. Increase access to high-quality preparation programs that support teacher success in high-need districts and fields. In particular, innovation is needed to develop new model programs for training urban and rural teachers, such as teacher residencies and new models of special education preparation.
  5. Ensure that all beginning teachers have access to a high-quality support and mentoring program that can reduce early attrition and enhance competence, such as is available through well-designed Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) programs.
  6. Provide incentives that support teachers’ ability to stay in or re-enter the profession through strategies such as mortgage guarantees for housing, ease of credential renewal, streamlined reciprocity with other states, and opportunities to continue teaching and mentoring after retirement.
  7. Improve teaching conditions by supporting administrator training that enables principals to create productive teaching and learning environments.


California must take purposeful steps now if the state is to avoid more acute, widespread shortages of teachers. Earlier state policy initiatives were greatly reduced or terminated during the era of state budget cuts. Stemming attrition and reinstating incentives for teacher recruitment and retention will be a critical component of a thoughtful strategy to address the emerging teacher shortage.

Addressing California’s Emerging Teacher Shortage: An Analysis of Sources and Solutions by Linda Darlng-Hammond, Roberta Furger, Patrick M. Shields, and Leib Sutcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Research in this area of work is funded in part by the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation. Core operating support for the Learning Policy Institute is provided by the Ford Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Sandler Foundation.