California Currents

State targets high proportion of underqualified teachers in low-income schools

(Photo courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency)

The most inexperienced and least qualified teachers continue to teach in schools with the highest-needs students in California — even though those students require the most expert teachers, and research has shown that the effectiveness of classroom teachers is the biggest in-school factor contributing to students’ achievement.

The state lacks comprehensive data, but the most recent report from the California Department of Education found that districts with the most low-income students had 25 percent more inexperienced and underqualified teachers and teachers with a temporary intern credential than districts with the lowest numbers of low-income children.

The disparity has widened amid the ongoing teacher shortage, when districts have hired thousands of teachers with substandard credentials. It has persisted because there has been little state pressure on districts to take action in the new era of local control, and no leverage by Washington, under the Every Student Succeeds Act, to force states to hold districts accountable for inequitable staffing patterns.

“In the decade since the recession, we haven’t made a serious effort to invest in schools with novice teachers, when the research has been clear that their inexperience creates an opportunity gap for kids,” said Bill Lucia, CEO of the Sacramento-based, nonprofit, advocacy organization EdVoice.

“California is not alone; most of the country has dragged their feet on what may be the most significant issue of resource inequity,” said John Affeldt, managing partner of the nonprofit law firm Public Advocates, which has sued the federal and state governments a half-dozen times over the past two decades over issues of underqualified teachers in low-income schools and those in which many students are performing poorly.

However, that could change significantly in 2020. Sometime next spring, the state will have collected and will make publicly available comprehensive data detailing the numbers and percentages in every school and district of “ineffective,” “inexperienced” and “out-of-field” teachers — categories of underqualified teachers that federal law requires districts to count.

As the State Board of Education has defined the terms, “ineffective teachers” generally are those lacking a teaching credential; “inexperienced” applies to first- and second-year credentialed teachers; and “out of field” generally applies to credentialed teachers who lack the subject expertise to teach a class they’ve been assigned, like a French teacher teaching history.

Parent activists and advocates have been calling for this data for years, but until now, some of the data has been inaccurate, incomplete or collected locally for School Accountability Report Cards but not reported to the state.

Two little-noticed statutory changes  pushed the issue forward. One, passed in 2018, will enable the state to accurately collect teacher misassignments by enabling the Commission on Teacher Credentialing to share data with the California Department of Education. Former Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2011 veto of a proposed statewide teacher database, CALTIDES, had thwarted collecting more data about teachers.

The other, which Gov. Gavin Newsom included in the trailer bill for the 2019-20 state budget (see section 37) will conditionally require the state board to include the teacher staffing data as part of the state’s school accountability system. If education analysts verify that the new data are accurate and comparable across the state, the state board would then take the next step: creating a teacher equity index, rating every district’s and every school’s composition of fully prepared teachers. Perhaps as soon as a year from now, the index would join other indicators including test scores, suspension rates and college and career readiness on the California School Dashboard, the website reporting the state’s multi-colored rating system.

As a result, schools staffed disproportionately with novice and underqualified teachers would get more visibility and public scrutiny. Districts with schools with low ratings — red or orange — signifying the biggest staffing needs would have no option but to address their hiring and retention problems.

And that, Affeldt said, “would be a big deal.”

Elizabeth Ross, managing director for teacher policy for the advocacy nonprofit National Council on Teacher Quality, agreed in a column she wrote earlier this year. Because “great teachers” have an “outsized impact” on students compared with other school interventions, she wrote, “states have a special obligation to ensure that their most vulnerable student populations are not systemically discriminated against by being taught at higher rates than their peers by ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers.”

California has not ignored the problem altogether.

State budgets signed by both Brown and Newsom have included more than $200 million to address the teacher shortage, particularly in low-income districts. The funding includes $75 million for teacher residencies, in which teachers-in-training work beside experienced teachers for a year. Residencies have proven successful in jump-starting and retaining new teachers. Last year, Newsom included $90 million in scholarships for an estimated 4,500 newly credentialed teachers who commit to teaching at least four years in local income schools in high-demand fields, including math, science, bilingual education and particularly special education.

The federal government, under the Every Student Succeeds Act and the No Child Left Behind Act before it, has required districts to write plans on how they would eliminate disparities in staffing in largely low-income, African American and Latino schools and move toward hiring fully qualified teachers. But the state board viewed this requirement strictly as a reporting exercise to qualify for $2 billion in annual federal education funding and has not monitored district plans.

Last year, 374 California school districts qualified for assistance from county offices of education because one or more racial, ethnic or student group — most often students with disabilities — received the lowest ratings on multiple dashboard indicators. Staffing patterns would be one of the factors examined in a “root cause analysis” behind poor achievement. But, consistent with local control, districts would decide what, if anything to do about it.

Big rise in emergency permits

Following a sharp decline after the recession in new teaching credentials, the number has slowly inched upward to 16,518 in 2017-18, according to the latest data from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. State leaders hope that programs like teacher residencies will quicken that pace.

Meanwhile, though, the number of short-term and provisional license permits quintupled over five years to about 6,000 in 2017-18. About two-thirds of entering California-prepared special education teachers are on substandard credentials, according to a study for the research project Getting Down to Facts. Together with intern credentials, the number of non-fully credentialed teachers rose to more than 13,000 that year. While they represent under 5 percent of all teachers, they are inequitably distributed.

A 2017 survey of principals by the Learning Policy Institute, a Palo Alto-based nonprofit research and advocacy organization, found that two-thirds of principals serving schools with high proportions of black and Hispanic students from low-income families had vacant positions or had hired teachers on short-term or intern credentials. That compared to less than half of their peers in schools with few students from low-income families and black and Latino students.

Linda Darling-Hammond, CEO of the Learning Policy Institute, said that the institute’s recent analysis of “outlier districts” — 156 districts where African American and Hispanic students performed better on math and English tests than predicted, based on income and other demographic data — found that teacher qualifications and preparation mattered. Those districts “turned their attention to strong teaching. They had fewer emergency hires and established pipelines with universities, with strong professional development, and it paid off for them,” she said.

Districts have a variety of strategies to attract promising new teachers and encourage them to stay. They can reduce their course load and provide extra coaching, lower their class sizes or hire aides to help them. They can offer bonuses to a group of veteran teachers to transfer and ensure that effective principals run the schools.

As the Learning Policy Institute study noted, teachers who have not completed a teacher preparation program when they begin teaching leave the profession at two to three times the rate of fully prepared teachers; those without mentoring leave teaching at about twice the rate of those with regular mentoring, time for collaborative planning and a smaller teaching load.

Districts can fund these options with the extra state funding they get for English learners and low-income, foster and homeless youths under the Local Control Funding Formula. But a recent analysis by researcher Julien Lafortune of the Public Policy Institute of California indicated they’re using the supplemental funding for other purposes. Districts with the most low-income students continued to hire more novice teachers.

Once there is accurate data on staffing disparities and a dashboard indicator to measure them, the state board will decide how to make sure districts act on the information — and what to do if they don’t.

At the last state board meeting, member Patricia Rucker said she’d favor requiring districts to use some of the $252 million in federal funding that California gets for teacher training to respond to staffing inequities, including out-of-field teachers. That had been a federal mandate under the No Child Left Behind Act but it ended with the expiration of the law.

Affeldt said the state board needs to take an active role, “with consequences,” to ensure that districts equitably manage their workforces. And the board, he said, “must make this a priority.”

Story originally published by EdSource.