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California's Teacher Supply Plummets

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This story comes courtesy of California Watch

By Louis Freedberg

The number of Californians seeking to become teachers has plummeted by 45 percent over a seven year period -- even as student enrollments are projected to rise by 230,000 over the next decade and as many as 100,000 teachers are expected to retire.

Teaching is clearly becoming a less and less desirable profession for Californians. The number of students enrolled in teacher preparation programs has declined from 77,705 in 2001-02 to 42,245 in 2008-09, according to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

Those dismal figures are paralleled by an ever smaller number of teachers getting their teaching credentials in California -- from 24,149 in 2004-05 to 17,797 in 2008-09, the last year for which figures are available.

A report issued today by the Center for Future of Teaching and Learning warned about the brewing crisis:

The disinvestment in building a top quality teacher workforce is at odds with rising demands for students' academic success. The fiscal crisis has so severely damaged the pipeline for recruiting and training new teachers that teaching quality may be put at risk for many years to come.

Who will teach our children? That question is rarely asked in the current cacophony of voices, from President Obama's on down, demanding more of teachers, and threatening them with dismissal or replacement if they are unable to close the enduring achievement gap that separates poor, mostly black and Latino students from their more affluent, largely white peers.

"The report puts its finger on a more urgent problem than the need to push out the very small number of teachers who are not as good as we would like them to be, and that is where we are going to get the best quality teachers in our schools that we will need in the future," Richard Zeiger, chief of staff to incoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, told California Watch. (Torlakson along with other education leaders will be at UCLA today at a forum on education finances hosted by Gov.-elect Jerry Brown.)

But as Zeiger points out, "the problem from a political standpoint is that it is very hard to pivot from the notion that we are currently laying off teachers to having to prepare for a new batch of teachers in the future."

There are multiple reasons for the declining appeal of teaching to Californians, said Patrick Shields, director of research for SRI International, which conducted the research for the report. Principle among them are horrendous "market forces" that have led to 30,000 teachers being laid off in California over the last two years alone -- with novice teachers being the most likely to have gotten their walking papers.

Adding to the pipeline problem are budget cuts to the California State University system, which awards half of all teacher credentials in the state, and which has had to cap enrollments in teacher training programs.

The impact of other factors is harder to pinpoint, such as the intense pressures on teachers to increase test scores under No Child Left Behind over the past decade, and more recent moves to link teacher evaluation to test scores of students.

Because of budget cuts, teachers are expected to do more with less, typically teaching in larger classes, with fewer counseling and other staff to help out with hard-to-teach children. All this comes on top of reductions in salaries and benefits in the form of unpaid furlough days, increased health care premiums, and other cost-saving measures.

"Teachers are coping with lower compensation, fewer resources and increasing expectations of student achievement," said Shields. "It is a reasonable expectation that a college sophomore or junior might think 'I might not even get a job, so perhaps I should look for another career.'"

Under normal economic conditions, with rising student enrollments and more teacher retirements, districts would hire more teachers to fill the need. But these are not normal times. Because of shrinking revenues, school districts may simply decide to raise class sizes rather than hire new teachers, said Shields, a trend that is already underway across the state.

The Center for Teaching and Learning report concludes this way: "Put simply, the California teacher workforce faces a critical tension between expectations and resources."