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Addressing Teacher Shortage in California

Addressing Teacher Shortage in California

Like many states around the country, California is facing a significant teacher shortage. According to the California Teachers Association, recruiting qualified teachers is a major challenge. However, retaining California’s educator workforce may be an even more crucial issue, with roughly a third of California teachers nearing retirement and about 20% of new educator hires leaving the profession within three years of beginning their careers. The teacher retention problem is even more pronounced in urban California districts, where nearly 50% of educators leave the teaching profession within five years.

These shortages come with negative impacts on multiple levels. Teachers are faced with larger workloads and are left with larger class sizes—in fact, California has one of the highest student-teacher ratios in the nation, according to the Learning Policy Institute, with one teacher per 21 students. The national average is a ratio of 16:1.

Here, we’re taking a close look at what’s at the root of California’s teacher shortage issues and what administrators can consider doing to meet specific challenges in their own buildings.

What Is Causing California’s Teacher Shortage Problem?

Teacher shortage in California is a nuanced issue, and it’s impossible to attribute it to a single cause. However, several key factors can be identified:

Stagnant wages and a rapidly rising cost of living

It’s no secret that California’s cost of living has skyrocketed within the last decade, and largely stagnant teacher salaries have not been able to keep up. According to EdSource: “In nearly 40 percent of the 680 school districts that reported salary data to the state, first-year teachers did not earn enough to rent an affordable one-bedroom apartment.”

While teacher retention continues to be one of the largest issues facing California K–12 education, recruiting new teachers to backfill empty positions adds an additional layer of challenges. The California Teachers Association calls educator compensation a “significant deterrent to recruitment,” noting that teacher salaries are much lower than salaries for professions that demand a similar level of education.

Turnover and retirement

California teacher attrition is, by far, the largest contributor to the statewide educator shortage, accounting for 88% of demand for new teachers.

According to a 2016 report by the Learning Policy Institute, 34% of California’s teachers are age 50 years or older, and nearly 10% are age 60 years and older. While these numbers are significant, two-thirds of California teachers who leave the profession do so for reasons other than retirement, with the Learning Policy Institute citing: “salary levels and other aspects of compensation,” working conditions, and costs of education-related debt as major factors.

Alternative-licensure concerns

In the past decade, enrollment in California teacher-training programs has dropped by 70%, significantly reducing the state’s pipeline of new teachers. In response, California has approved provisional intern permits, limited assignment teaching permits, and other official permissions for educators without full teaching credentials to teach in the classroom. In the 2016–17 school year, California issued over 12,000 of these permits and waivers. Because the shortage for qualified STEM educators is more pronounced than in other subject areas, many of these permits and waivers were issued to math and science teachers.

However, as is true in other states, concerns have been raised about how well these alternative programs prepare the individuals who complete them for the challenges of the classroom and diverse student populations. This can have significant impacts on teacher retention and, in turn, ongoing shortages.

Especially critical shortages of qualified math and science teachers

In 2018, 56% of California school districts reported a shortage of math teachers, and 50% reported a shortage of science teachers. While this is a major concern statewide, the most qualified and experienced math and science teachers can find higher-paying positions in wealthier districts, leaving traditionally underserved student populations even more exposed to the shortage of STEM teachers.

Low wages are a primary factor in the math and science teacher shortage in California; well-educated math and science professionals have many other career options with significantly higher average wages, especially in Northern California, where tech and software companies make up a sizeable portion of the local economy.

What California Administrators Can Do to Overcome Staffing Challenges

Addressing an issue as complex as California’s ongoing teacher shortage inevitably takes time and sustained effort; there will never be a quick fix for this problem. However, there are concrete steps that administrators can take to manage immediate staffing issues and lay the groundwork for overcoming the broader challenge. Here are three options for California administrators to consider:

Talk to local legislators

Advocacy efforts do make a difference. Talk to your local politicians about staffing challenges that your school or district is facing and how those challenges are affecting the teachers and students you serve. As much as possible, provide legislators with concrete numbers and statistics to support your case. Overnight changes won’t happen, but with time, these conversations can lead to real and impactful policy changes.

Focus on workplace culture

You may not have control over the size of the applicant pool in your area, but you do have some control over retaining the high-quality teachers you already have. So, even if your school or district is working under significant financial constraints, do all you can to make your buildings outstanding places to work. Prioritize teacher-induction programs to ensure that all new staff members you hire get started on the right foot—and stick around. Provide opportunities for all of your teachers to engage in mentorship, seek professional development, take on leadership roles, network with their peers, and voice their opinions and needs. The resource edWeb is a great place to start for free webinars and networking resources to share with your staff. Even small cultural shifts to prioritize teachers’ well-being can have a huge impact on finding and retaining the talent you need.

Consider a virtual school partner

Often, virtual schools are understandably seen as competition by district and school administrators, so they may not be a teacher-shortage solution that immediately comes to mind. However, partnering with such a program can be a practical, convenient, and cost-effective route to take to address staffing challenges. For example, Edmentum’s EdOptions Academy is a fully accredited virtual school that works with schools and districts to provide over 350 California standards-aligned courses—including career and technical education, World Languages, and Advanced Placement® options—paired with high-quality teachers certified in the state. Students can be enrolled in EdOptions Academy courses as needed, enabling our California partners to provide the courses students want, the flexibility to quickly fill staffing gaps when needs arise, and the ability to retain student enrollment. 

Interested in learning more about how partnership with EdOptions Academy can help your school or district manage teacher-shortage challenges? Check out this blog post on 7 Benefits of Partnering with a Virtual School!

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carmen.palmer@edmentum.com's picture

Carmen Palmer lives in the Minneapolis area and serves as a Marketing Manager on the Edmentum team. She graduated from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida with a degree in creative writing and literature. Carmen loves to read and is passionate about literacy and education.

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