Enrollments in teacher preparation programs in California are continuing to decline at a precipitous rate, according to new figures prepared for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
A report for the commission indicates that 26,446 students were enrolled in teacher preparation programs in 2011-12 – a 24 percent reduction from the previous year’s total of 34,838 students. That was by far the biggest decline recorded over the past decade, during which enrollments have steadily dropped. Enrollments have declined by 66 percent from a decade earlier, when 77,700 students were enrolled.
The declining enrollments are echoed by similarly declining numbers of teaching credentials. At the California State University system, which has traditionally produced about half of the teachers in the state, only 5,787 credentials were issued in 2011-12 to students in its teacher preparation programs, down from 13,933 in 2003-04, according to CSU figures.
It is impossible to know what precisely is causing the drop in numbers, but experts point to multiple factors.
One is that over the past five years, the teaching profession in California has been devastated by layoffs; some 26,000 teachers lost their jobs as a result of the state’s budget crisis. Except for openings in high-needs areas – special education, math and science, and English learners – it may be difficult for new teachers to find positions, especially in school districts or geographic areas of their choice.
Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford University and chair of the California Teacher Credentialing Commission, said that the declining numbers in teacher preparation programs could just be a natural response to the terrible budget crisis of the last five years and the massive layoffs inflicted on teachers.
“The clear message to prospective employees is that with huge layoffs this is not the time to go into teaching,” she said.
In addition, working conditions for teachers continue to deteriorate. The latest national survey by MetLife found that teacher satisfaction levels have plummeted, perhaps not coincidentally at about the same rate as enrollments in teacher education programs in California. In 2008, 62 percent of teachers expressed satisfaction with their jobs, the highest level since 1984. By 2012, only 39 percent said they were satisfied – about the same level as in 1984.
Another possible cause has to do with the regimen of reforms that have put unprecedented pressures on teachers as a result of the negative sanctions of the No Child Left Behind law, along with the state’s Standardized Testing and Reporting program. As described in a report by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd, teachers in California faced what it called “a new normal of rising expectations and reduced support.”
“Teachers start telling their cousins and nieces and nephews and younger brothers and sisters, ‘Don’t go into teaching,’” said Michael Fullan, a Canadian educator and organization expert who is working with a number of California school districts on what he calls “whole system reforms.”
“When you are allowing the teaching profession to decline, you get a self-perpetuating future that goes downwards because good people don’t go into it, and those who do go in don’t find it satisfying,” Fullan said.
What is far from clear is the extent to which the drop in numbers presents a problem for the future of public education in the state. Darling-Hammond anticipates the state will see some “natural bounce back” as the economy improves, a projected enrollment increase occurs, and districts begin to hire more teachers.
“It will certainly be more attractive next year than this year,” she said.
At the same time, she acknowledged that “it may be that we will have something to worry about,” especially if other factors that make teaching unattractive to prospective candidates remain in place, including “teacher bashing,” which has characterized the testing and accountability reforms of recent years.
Beverly Young, CSU assistant vice chancellor of academic affairs and an ex officio member of the California Teacher Credentialing Commission, expressed far more concern.
“I think it is alarming,” she said. Especially if student enrollments grow in California as predicted, the state could easily face “very severe shortages” of teachers.
“It takes a long time for the pipeline to recover to get back to where we were (in terms of teacher production),” she said.
She expressed concerns that if California experienced a teacher shortage, it would revert to sending under-prepared teachers with emergency or interim credentials. That, she said, would have an impact on the students who need the most qualified teachers, not the least.
“When we are in a shortage situation, in California we tend to send the least prepared teachers to the most under-served schools,” she said.
Douglas Mitchell, the interim dean of the UC Riverside School of Education, also predicts that school districts will face a “severe shortage” of qualified teachers.
“Prompt action is needed to prepare new teachers and avert a significant loss of educational quality,” he wrote in an opinion piece this summer in the San Jose Mercury News. If California doesn’t take active steps to recruit more candidates to the teaching profession, he said, “school districts will be compelled to staff their classrooms with hastily trained and marginally certified new teachers.”
Another unknown factor is how many teachers will retire in the coming decade. Retirements have slowed as a result of the economic downturn, and some older teachers, worried about the the state of their retirement investments, which may have taken a hit during the recession, have delayed retiring. But as the economy picks up, more retirements will be inevitable. What is unclear is whether enrollments in schools of education will pick up fast enough to produce teachers fast enough to replace the wave of retirements that will inevitably come in over the next decade.