Wednesday, October 3, 2012

California’s Inflated Number of Non-Credentialed Teachers

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons

Everyone knows that the nation’s lowest performing schools (generally also the poorest) have the highest number of poorly trained or Non-Credentialed teachers. This common wisdom may very well be true. These are the toughest schools to teach at, with the greatest pressure for quick, miraculous improvements and the greatest expectations for teachers to work longer and harder to solve the schools’ myriad problems. Thus, it stands to reason that such schools would have higher rates of attrition and consequently have to hire more teachers each year than other schools. The need to hire many teachers in a short period of time would likely force many to hire some teachers who have not yet finished earning their credentials or who are teaching out of their subject area (also known as misassignments).

There has been considerable research to back up this hypothesis. In California, the data suggested that nearly 60% of the teachers in the state’s lowest-performing schools were not properly credentialed for the subjects they were teaching. This appalling statistic led to an intense effort to get these teachers properly credentialed or replace them with colleagues who already were properly credentialed.

The problem is that the data was wrong, very wrong. The actual number of improperly certificated teachers in the 2005-06 school year was only 29%, half the official number, according to an analysis by California Watch. While this is still a very high number that needs to be addressed, the faulty original statistic provided an inaccurate baseline for the state’s monitoring of the problem.

California watch examined the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) records in July, 2012, and found many duplications. The CTC later admitted that all the records had been duplicated and has since cleaned up its records according to the Bay Citizen.

Since the 2005-06 school year, misassignments have decreased dramatically and were down to 13% in the lowest performing schools for the 2010-11 school year, the most recent in which data is available, the Bay Citizen reports.

13% is still high and one might justifiably wonder why the state still has so many misassigned teachers in the classroom. After all, it has laid off 10,000s of fully credentialed teachers over the past four years. Why aren’t they filling vacancies and replacing the non-credentialed teachers with the growing pool of laid off credentialed teachers?

One reason is that low seniority teachers are sometimes replaced by non-credentialed long-term substitutes during layoffs, particularly in tough to fill positions with shortages of suitably credentialed teachers. While this example might seem asinine from the perspective of the students, parents and public, who all want the most qualified teachers possible in the classroom, it makes perfect sense to school districts grappling with large budget deficits. Substitute teachers cost a fraction of what districts must pay for their full-time tenured teachers.

This example should also seem ridiculous to teachers and their unions since it involves the replacement of dues-paying teachers with an underpaid non-union replacement workers. Yet the unions tend to defer to the districts, citing the districts’ rights under Ed Code to lay off workers during hard times and hire substitute teachers to fill in when teachers are unavailable. However, districts’ right and obligation to hire substitutes is intended to provide continuity and safety for children when a teacher is out sick or has a personal emergency, not to provide districts with a means to lower their payroll costs by firing qualified teachers.

Of course, if we really want the best fully credentialed and properly assigned teachers in every classroom, we need to pay teachers a hell of a lot more, give them a lot more autonomy and decision-making power, give up the testing and accountability mania, and generally treat them with a lot more respect and support. This would go a long way toward attracting people to the profession and keeping them there.

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