Many California teachers lack proper classroom credentials

At least 10% of California public school classrooms are supervised by teachers who are improperly qualified, according to a unique report released Thursday by the Department of Education.

The new data sheds light on the number of classrooms with teachers fully trained in the subject they are tasked with teaching. It also shows how many classrooms are led by teachers working while awaiting full authorization. The data comes as California schools struggled with widespread staffing shortages, a problem exacerbated by the pandemic.

A large majority – 83% percent – of classes are led by teachers who have full authority to cover the subjects they teach. The dates are unknown for almost 7% of the classrooms. But the report looked at classrooms without properly trained trainers:

  • The 10% of classrooms without recognized teachers represent 27,500 courses.
  • 4.1% of government teaching assignments are considered “ineffective,” meaning educators are using emergency permits or otherwise teaching without proper authorization.
  • 4.4% of classrooms are led by teachers who have a qualification but have “not demonstrated professional competence” in their assigned course
  • According to the report, 1.5% of the courses are taught by teachers with an internal degree.

The inaugural report was commissioned by legislation signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019 due to concerns about the lack of oversight and accountability of “teacher misallocations”.
The new data, available on the California Department of Education’s website, allows the public to break down by district, school and grade level. But advocacy groups, including Education Trust-West, are urging the state to provide even more information on how the data affects students of color and also those living in poverty.

“We cannot fix what we cannot see clearly. For that reason, the release of this data is an important first step in better understanding the quality of the California teaching workforce,” Jana Luft, senior associate at Education Trust-West, said Thursday. “Now that we’re finally beginning to see clearly the equity gaps in teacher preparation, it’s time to get to work to fill them in.”

Previous, more limited state scrutiny of credentials showed that such misassignments were disproportionately common for courses such as special education and in schools in low-income ZIP codes.

Assemblyman Reggie Jones Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), who authored the bill requiring the state to file annual reports on teacher credentials and class assignments, said Thursday’s results show why it was necessary.

“That’s the precise purpose of the legislation — to identify flaws in the system and make targeted investments in schools and communities that most need resources to address those problems,” Jones Sawyer said. “Our primary concern is whether students are being properly served and educated, particularly in Black and Hispanic communities.”

In school districts like Montebello Unified, where 95% of students are Hispanic and 74% are eligible for free or discounted meals, fewer than half of the classrooms are run by properly licensed teachers.

Los Angeles Unified, the largest county in California, is roughly on state level, with 82% of classrooms supervised by properly licensed teachers. Many of Los Angeles Unified’s neediest campuses remain significantly understaffed, and the problem has hit schools in parts of South LA and other low-income neighborhoods hardest.

At San Diego Unified, approximately 89% of classrooms have adequately authorized teachers. At Oakland Unified, approximately 58% of teachers meet state standards.

The California Teachers Assn. said the pandemic has impacted teachers’ ability to complete their credential programs, while at the same time there has been an urgent need to get teachers, even those not fully prepared, into classrooms lacking instructors.

“Exceptions have been made during COVID to return to in-person teaching and learning,” Lisa said Gardiner, CTA spokesperson. “The state’s testing centers have been closed, and the temporary solution has been to give student teachers more time to complete exams and earn their credentials, in addition to giving them provisional credentials so they can move into classrooms.”

The state budget, finalized by Newsom and state lawmakers this week, includes millions to expand the pipeline of prospective teachers, expand scholarships and residency programs. Nationwide, teachers have fled the profession, partly to blame for a significant drop in educational attainment and accelerated retirements due to pandemic disruptions.

In a press release Thursday, the California Department of Education said the data will be used to properly certify more teachers. State officials pointed to $3.6 billion the state has allocated over the past four years to improve teacher recruitment, retention and training.

“As we begin to emerge from a global pandemic, this data is an important tool to start conversations about how we can best serve students,” said Mary Nicely, assistant director of public education for the state. “With the release of this annual report, we are providing a new level of transparency to help schools, students and families find ways to meet today’s public education challenges, including the nation’s education workforce shortage.” Many California teachers lack proper classroom credentials

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