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Educating Teachers in California: What Matters for Teacher Preparedness?

Two teachers talking in a classroom.

High-quality teacher preparation is a critical building block of an effective and stable teacher workforce. In California, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) currently oversees teacher preparation programs (TPPs) at more than 100 institutions, and these programs graduate more than 10,000 teacher candidates per year.

Over the past decade, California has considerably revised its statewide licensing and accreditation systems that set standards for teacher preparation and performance expectations for beginning teachers. These new teaching standards emphasize teachers’ abilities to teach to the more ambitious student learning standards the state adopted in 2010. The standards are focused on preparing teachers to enable the development of higher-order thinking skills, support social-emotional as well as academic learning, and effectively teach a wide range of students with different language and learning needs. The evolving licensure system incorporates these standards into teacher performance assessments that evaluate how teachers plan, implement, and assess instruction for diverse learners within subject matter contexts.

Meanwhile, following a long decline in teacher education enrollments, shortages of teachers began to re-emerge in California by 2015, particularly among special education and STEM teaching fields and across multiple fields in high-poverty schools. From 2012–13 to 2018–19, California saw substantial increases in the number of credentials and permits issued to those without full training to teach. In 2016–17, the number of substandard credentials issued in the state outpaced the number of new preliminary credentials issued to teachers fully prepared in California TPPs. The state has since invested in new program models—like teacher residencies—to stem shortages and strengthen preparation along with subsidies to offset tuition and living expenses for teacher candidates.

In 2016, the CTC also implemented a new accreditation framework for TPPs that included new program standards, new outcome measures, and a new accreditation data system and dashboard capturing different aspects of teacher preparation and candidate readiness. The redesigned accreditation system uses data about how and where the teaching performance expectations are taught and supported, how supervised clinical practice is organized, and how coursework and clinical work cohere. As part of this new system, the CTC began administering surveys to all teacher candidates completing an approved TPP who were applying for their preliminary teaching credential. The surveys are meant to serve as a tool for continuous improvement for programs (which receive the data from the CTC) and input for accreditation decisions.

What can 5 years of new teacher perceptions captured in these surveys tell us about the state of teacher preparation in California? This analysis examines statewide patterns that emerge from the responses of almost 60,000 completers of TPPs across California applying for their preliminary teaching credentials from 2016–17 to 2020–21 as well as perceptions from employers hiring these new teachers and cooperating teachers working with student teachers during their preparation. The report describes who is receiving preliminary teaching credentials after completing California-based TPPs, how well prepared completers of TPPs feel across all of the domains of the teaching performance expectations, what kind of coursework and clinical experiences they received, and what aspects of preparation explain how prepared completers feel to enter the profession.

Summary of Findings

  • The pool of recently prepared graduates from California TPPs has increased in size and racial/ethnic diversity.
  • The majority of completers rate their preparation programs highly.
  • Cooperating teachers’ and employers’ perceptions about preparation largely align with those of completers.
  • Teacher residencies, which provide a full academic year of subsidized clinical training while candidates complete credential coursework, now prepare about 10% of new teachers.
  • Completers who participated in residencies were the most likely to rate their programs as highly effective, closely followed by those who participated in student teaching.
  • The nature and extent of clinical support from TPPs is uneven and strongly related to completers’ feelings of preparedness and employers’ views of program quality.
  • Most multiple subject completers and education specialists (i.e., special education teachers) reported having substantial preparation for teaching reading, writing, and math, and this type of learning was associated with increased feelings of preparedness.
  • The small number of lower-rated programs offer fewer opportunities to learn critical content and less-supported clinical experiences.
  • Teacher candidates have unequal access to highly rated preparation and clinical experiences, with Black and Native American completers as well as education specialists having less access than their peers.

Policy Considerations

The findings from this analysis of 5 years of teacher preparation program completer data suggest that California’s recent policy changes to strengthen teacher preparation and increase the supply of well-prepared teachers may be paying off. In 2020-21, only 58% of new California teaching credentials/permits issued were preliminary credentials for those who had completed a TPP, while the remaining documents were issued to those still enrolled in internship programs or serving on an emergency-style permit. While TPP completers generally report feeling well prepared, many students in California continue to be taught by teachers who have not had the benefit of full preparation. Among those who complete preparation for their preliminary teaching credential, some are getting strong clinical experiences, in which they have sustained clinical placements and support, and others are not. The results suggest four steps that California policymakers and practitioners can take to further strengthen teacher preparation:

  1. Continue to expand access to high-quality preparation, especially for education specialists and historically underserved candidates of color, through avenues such as subsidizing the cost of preparation and developing a more robust state recruitment and communication strategy.
  2. Increase opportunities for teacher candidates to learn how to work with families and support the needs of English learners and students with disabilities by deepening coursework and clinical learning opportunities, supporting TPPs in redesigning their programs, and expanding access to dual credential programs.
  3. Improve the quality of all pathways through the implementation and enforcement of CTC’s new accreditation framework.
  4. Support TPPs in using their survey data for continuous improvement.

Finally, California’s recent efforts to strengthen its teacher preparation systems offer a valuable example for other states hoping to redesign preparation standards or integrate surveys into the evaluation of TPPs. California’s approach to surveys highlights some important best practices, including how to (1) integrate completer surveys into the state’s teacher licensure process, (2) align surveys to statewide standards for teaching, (3) administer surveys to all completers across preparation pathways, and (4) build statewide capacity for data use by offering results in multiple forms. This approach ensures that survey results can offer helpful perspectives on teacher preparation across the state that can support both accreditation processes and continuous improvement efforts.

Educating Teachers in California What Matters for Teacher Preparedness? by Susan Kemper Patrick, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Tara Kini is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

This research was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Core operating support for LPI is provided by the Heising-Simons Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Raikes Foundation, Sandler Foundation, and MacKenzie Scott. We are grateful to them for their generous support. The ideas voiced here are those of the authors and not those of our funders.