02/10/2014 10:38 am ET Updated Apr 12, 2014

Preparing California's Teachers: Is U.C. Doing Its Part?

California's 1960 Master Plan famously carved out specific niches for each of the three public higher education segments. Top high school graduates were to be steered to the University of California's (now) nine undergraduate campuses where they would learn from "teacher-scholars" who are preeminent researchers in their fields. The next tier of high school graduates would be eligible for the California State University's (now) 23 campuses, where faculty members focus on teaching more than on research. The community colleges, meanwhile, would serve anyone interested in education beyond high school, either to get training for a job or to prove themselves worthy of transferring to a four-year college.
The Master Plan was very clear about which colleges should be responsible for what, and many people assume that the dominance of the less-selective CSU system in the field of teacher education is by design. But it ain't so. Nowhere does the Master Plan imply that the top students going to UC shouldn't be steered toward K-12 teaching. Much the opposite, the document specifically includes teacher education as one of the professions--along with law, medicine, and architecture--that the state's premiere research universities should take responsibility for.

Depending on which numbers you look at, UC performance in preparing teachers is either horrible, or not-as-bad-as-we-thought-but-needs-improvement. California's Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) regularly releases data on the number of teaching credentials issued by public and private colleges. While UC campuses produce a full third of the state's bachelor's degrees they issued fewer than 13 percent of the new teaching credentials, according to a CTC report. In fact, UC credentials more lawyers than it does teachers, even though teachers outnumber lawyers in California by about two to one.

But are teaching credentials the correct measure? The best teachers both know their subject matter, which they learned in their four years as undergraduates, as well as how to teach, the focus of the one-year credential program after college. How many California teachers got their bachelor's degrees at a UC regardless of who issued their teaching credentials? For some reason the state doesn't regularly track those numbers. Years ago I took the state teacher exam and I remember that the registration form asked me where I earned my bachelor's degree, so I suspected that the CTC might have the answer to my question somewhere in its vaults. After some back and forth, the CTC research staff came through with some spreadsheets. While I'm not convinced that the data tell the full story (for example, there is no one listed with an out-of-state bachelor's degree) they do suggest that the number of UC graduates who are teachers is not as low as the credential data indicate. Adding up the raw data shows that about 20 percent of the state's newly-credentialed teachers in recent years had earned their bachelor's degrees at the University of California.

With a third of the state's college graduates, UC's 20 percent share of teachers is still not enough. A more vibrant and aggressive UC presence in teacher preparation would help to send the message that teaching is a top profession worthy of UC graduates, like the Master Plan intended. While expanding UC's teaching credential programs may or may not be the right step, finding ways to deepen UC's involvement in K-12 education is critical not just to the state, but also to the strength and diversity of the future University of California.