Feb 08 2017

Addressing California’s Growing Teacher Shortage: 2017 Update

Sixty-four percent of new special education teachers—over 4,000 teachers—entered the field as interns or with permits or waivers. No other major teaching field issues most of its new credentials to underprepared candidates.

In this update to the Learning Policy Institute’s January 2016 report on teacher shortages in California, we find that teacher workforce trends have worsened in the past year, with especially severe consequences in special education, mathematics, and science, and significant threats in bilingual education. This analysis builds on a fall 2016 survey of more than 200 California districts, which revealed that 75% of districts were experiencing teacher shortages, and the vast majority said those shortages were getting worse.Podolsky, A., & Sutcher, L. (2016). California teacher shortages: A persistent problem. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute and California School Boards Association. The demographics of this sample are generally representative of the average district demographics in the state. Most of those districts reported responding to shortage conditions by hiring teachers with substandard credentials or permits—that is, teachers who have not yet completed the subject matter and teacher preparation requirements for a full credential.

Based on an analysis of California’s most recent data on teacher workforce trends, report authors find that:

  • Stagnant teacher supply is insufficient to meet growing teacher demand. New California credentials have remained constant at 11,500 since 2013–14, while growing projected annual new hires have grown and now exceed 20,000. 
  • There have been significant increases in substandard credentials and permits. In 2015–16, California issued more than 10,000 intern credentials, permits, and waivers, more than double the number issued in 2012–13. These authorizations to teach were granted to those who had not completed—or sometimes not even started—preparation for teaching. The greatest growth has been in emergency-style permits known as Provisional Intern Permits (PIPs) and Short-Term Staff Permits (STSPs). In 2015–16, California had over 4,000 teachers on PIPs and STSPs, nearly five times as many as in 2012–13. About 1,700 PIPs and STSPs were issued in special education and over 450 in mathematics and science. 
  • Enrollment in teacher preparation remains near historic lows. Despite a 10% increase in teacher preparation enrollments between 2013–14 and 2014–15, the number of teaching candidates enrolled in 2014–15 was just one quarter of the number enrolled in 2001–02. 
  • The pipeline of prepared mathematics and science teachers continues to shrink. Between 2012 and 2016, the proportion of mathematics and science teachers entering the field on substandard credentials or permits doubled, going from 20% to nearly 40%, while the number of such teachers entering with full credentials dropped from 3,200 to only 2,200 over that time frame. 
  • More special education teachers are entering the classroom on substandard credentials or permits than are entering with full teaching credentials. Just 36% of new special education teachers in 2015–16 had a preliminary credential. The remaining authorizations issued to new special education teachers—more than 4,000, comprising 64% of the total—were for intern credentials or short-term permits or waivers. No other major teaching field issues most of its new credentials to underprepared candidates.
  • California may be unprepared to meet the expected increase in demand for bilingual education teachers as schools develop and expand bilingual programs under Proposition 58. At just 700 new bilingual teachers in 2015–16, California authorizes fewer than half the number of new bilingual teachers than it did when bilingual education hiring was at its peak in the mid-1990s. 
  • Shortages disproportionately impact low-income and minority students. Teachers hired on emergency-style credentials are twice as likely to teach in high-poverty schools than in low-poverty schools and three times more likely to teach in high-minority schools than in low-minority schools.


Investments in California's 2016–17 state budget hold promise for bolstering the teacher workforce within the next 5 to 7 years but will not lessen the shortages occurring now. The following recommendations address how the state can boost teacher supply quickly, without compromising on teacher quality.

  1. Offer service scholarships or loan forgiveness programs that cover the cost of tuition and living expenses to teacher candidates who commit to teach in high-need fields and locations. Service scholarship and loan forgiveness programs have a track record of recruiting and retaining qualified teachers in the places where they are most needed.
  2. Boost the supply of teachers entering shortage fields and locations through high-retention teacher preparation programs completed in 1 year at the postbaccalaureate level, such as teacher residency models. These teachers could immediately fill vacancies in shortage fields with the training and incentives to have successful and lasting careers.
  3. Eliminate barriers to re-entry for retired teachers in shortage fields or postpone their exit. Retired teachers are an untapped resource that can help meet immediate hiring needs. In the short term, the state could remove caps on earnings that would allow districts to hire retirees to return to schools as teachers and mentors.


Faced with severe shortages more than 20 years ago, California responded by issuing emergency permits and waivers. By 2000, more than 40,000 teachers were teaching with substandard credentials. Then, like now, these teachers were disproportionately assigned to high-minority, high-poverty schools.Darling-Hammond, L. (2003). Access to quality teaching: An analysis of inequality in California’s public schools. Santa Clara Law Review, 43(4), 1045–1184. Strategic state-level initiatives, such as the Assumption Program of Loans for Education loan forgiveness program, the Governor’s fellowships, and Cal TEACH grants were effective at reducing the number of underprepared teachers by underwriting preparation with service requirements that recruited and distributed teachers to the places where they were most needed. Salary increases, investments in teacher mentoring, and the Teachers as a Priority program all contributed to sharp reductions in the number of underprepared teachers who were hired.

Over the subsequent decade, however, these programs were all eliminated, leaving the state unprepared for the emergence of a new round of shortages. The most recent evidence shows that the pattern of many years ago may be repeating itself. Substandard credentials and permits are rapidly increasing, and thousands of students are in classrooms with teachers who are wholly unprepared. Students in special education, as well as those in high-minority, high-poverty, and high-English Learning schools are hardest hit. While the state has made initial investments in increasing the supply of well-prepared teachers, these investments will take time to yield qualified educators. More action is needed to ensure a robust, well-prepared teacher workforce now and into the future.

Addressing California’s Growing Teacher Shortage: 2017 Update by Desiree Carver-Thomas and Linda Darling-Hammond is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.