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Assessing and Resolving California's Growing Teacher Shortage Crisis

by Christopher Holland - April 18, 2017

This commentary critiques current proposed legislative efforts in California that seek a resolution to the state's teacher shortage crisis.

The Learning Policy Institutes report, A Coming Crisis in Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the U.S. projects a rather grim image of teacher shortage crises for every state across the nation (Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas, 2016). National enrollment levels in teacher-education programs have declined by 35% between 2009 and 2014 (691,000 to 451,000) (Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas, 2016). Moreover, a high national rate of teacher attrition (8%) continues to plague American school districts. Compared to nations like Finland and Singapore, the rate of attrition in the U.S. is double the rate of these nations (Heim, 2016; Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas, 2016). Among those who leave the profession, the vast majority of educators decide to exit voluntarily before they reach retirement. For example, 43% exit as a result of family or personal reasons and 57% cite job dissatisfaction resulting from a lack of administrative support, testing or accountability pressures, and difficult working conditions as the major reasons for leaving (Haynes, 2014; Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas, 2016).

This teacher shortage issue is especially evident in California, a state that educates over 10% of Americas K12 students. Here, attrition and teacher education recruitment rates reflect a problematic trend. Enrollment in teacher preparation programs declined over 70% during the period between the academic years 200102 to 201415 (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). Furthermore, although attrition rates in California (6.1%) are lower than the national average (8%), they are still well above the 4% experienced by top educational systems around the world (Camera, 2016). As a result of these trends, California schools became increasingly reliant on hiring educators with substandard credentialing. During the period 201213 to 201516, emergency-style provisional and short-term teaching permits increased by over 200% (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). According to the Learning Policy Institute (2017), 55% of California school districts reported that they hired teachers with substandard credentials. Moreover, shortages continue to be worst in STEM, bilingual education, and special education classrooms throughout the state (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). Finally, schools with higher rates of minority students and lower income students continue to feel the pains of teacher shortages at disproportionate rates compared to those districts with Caucasian students and higher income students (California Department of Education, 2015).

Besides issuing substandard credentials, state and local officials implemented other ineffective strategies to fill the gaps that have been caused by teacher shortages. These strategies include hiring substitute teachers, assigning teachers outside of their credentialed field, leaving positions vacant, increasing class sizes, and canceling courses (Learning Policy Institute, 2017). Although these policies were originally intended to be temporary solutions for the teacher shortage crisis, they exacerbate larger issues of subpar instruction and diminished student achievement (Learning Policy Institute, 2017).

Three proposed bills currently in the state legislature would maintain grant programs, loan forgiveness programs, and tax credit programs that aim to increase recruitment and retention rates for teachers. Although each piece of proposed legislation considers the financial realities that teachers face, they do little to fix the core issues associated with Californias teacher shortage problems. First, AB 169, introduced in the State Assembly on January 17, 2017, would reauthorize the Golden State Teacher Grant Program to provide up to $20,000 in grant money to teacher education students to complete certification requirements as long as they taught a high needs subject for at least four years after completing a degree or certification (2017). Second, AB 463, introduced in the State Assembly on February 13, 2017, would reauthorize the states Assumption Program of Loans for Educators incentive. This would earmark $5 million for a teacher recruitment program that provides high-achieving postsecondary students from disadvantaged backgrounds with the necessary financial resources to complete a degree and teach in rural low-income schools across the state for at least four years (2017). Third, SB 807, or the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act of 2017, introduced in the State Senate on February 17, 2017, would provide educators with tax relief through two efforts (2017). First, it would offer credit for money spent on earning teaching credentials. Second, it would allow teachers who remain in the profession for more than five years to be free of paying any state tax on income earned from their profession.

Each of these three bills shares a significant budgetary focus and provides pre-service and full-time educators with major incentives to enter and stay in the classroom. Despite this, they do not address the major reasons behind teacher shortage. As was stated earlier, the vast majority of educators who decide to leave the profession do so voluntarily before retirement (Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas, 2016). Personal life events and employment dissatisfaction overwhelmingly rank as the most cited reasons for leaving teaching early (Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas, 2016).

Moreover, many educators like Stephen Mucher link high percentages of disgruntled teachers to an undesirable educational system that negatively impacts recruitment efforts (Strauss, 2015). Although not a full empirical investigation, Muchers reflection on his efforts to find and recruit pre-service educators highlights connections among college students lack of enthusiasm for entering the teaching profession and growing efforts to standardize K12 curricula, eliminate tenure and seniority, maximize school choice, and further advance efforts to expand high-stakes accountability through standardized assessments (Strauss, 2015). In this respect, state officials should conceptualize the issues of attrition and teacher recruitment as entwined and use innovative solutions in structuring proper interventions that can resolve both of these problems.

Lawmakers should maintain their commitment to resolving the teacher shortage issues that plague the state by considering several policy options to complement each of the three aforementioned bills. Specifically, policy should improve work conditions, encourage educators to stay in the classroom, and recruit new talent. First, state lawmakers should consider financing regular empirical studies that investigate the reasons why college students do not want to enter teacher education programs. Determining a more exact vision of why college students do not want to enter the teaching profession would shape the manner that the California legislature diverts resources and envisions certain interventions.

Second, state officials should establish requirements and guidelines for the inclusion of comprehensive induction programs across every school district in the state. According to Ingersoll (2012), comprehensive induction programs encourage the facilitation of quality teaching skills and value experiential learning. These factors are both vital to the development of strong pedagogy. They include mentorship, goal setting, and collaboration. When enacted, these opportunities lead to higher rates of job satisfaction, commitment, retention, and student achievement among teachers (Haynes, 2014; Ingersoll, 2012). Finally, these programs empower veteran educators to voice their opinions about how best to educate students (Ingersoll, 2012; Riggs, 2013).

Finally, lawmakers should consider allocating significant funding that would subsidize childcare programs for educators. As stated earlier, a major source of increased teacher attrition includes personal and family events. Providing educators with significantly subsidized childcare would diminish the costs associated with raising young children and encourage passionate teachers to remain in the classroom. Moreover, this type of incentive has the potential to attract younger generations of college students to consider careers in education because these benefits would presumably give them a sense of increased influence over their own family lives.

Realistically, funding these projects remains extremely difficult, especially given that state lawmakers cannot rely on the federal government for assistance. The recent release of President Trumps budget proposal supports massive cuts to the Department of Education. Although Congress does control the purse strings, Republican control of both chambers of Congress does not bode well for future education spending at the federal level. As a result, state officials must examine their budgets and consider new and effective ways to fund teacher shortage legislation. For example, lawmakers should reconsider plans about how to best allocate revenues earned through the legal recreational marijuana market to finance the aforementioned proposed programs. Last Novembers passage of Proposition 64 effectively legalized recreational cannabis for adults over 21 years of age (New Frontier, 2016; Smith, 2016). According to the cannabis research firm New Frontier, sales are expected to more than double by 2020 (New Frontier, 2016; Smith, 2016). As a result, the state stands to earn an additional $1 billion in annual tax revenues from these legalization efforts. Earmarking a portion of this money to fund proposed programs can also reduce budgetary strains (Smith, 2016).

Similar to the rest of the United States, the economic vitality of California in the twenty-first-century hinges on schools preparing students for success in the global economy. Unfortunately, throughout the state, districts facing shortages must utilize limited resources to recruit, hire, and train new or unprepared teachers at the expense of financing necessary student learning services and programs for Californias youth (Raue & Gray, 2015). Specifically, the cost of Californias teacher shortage crisis is estimated to fall between $81.9 million and $178.4 million (Haynes, 2014). Such a high cost is second in the nation to Texas. As a result, if state officials want to ensure that California is a perpetual leader in the twenty-first-century century global economy, they need to start seriously investing in public education and seek innovative new solutions to the teacher shortage issue.


Assem. Bill No. 169, 20172018 Reg. Sess. Cal. Stat. (2017).

Assem. Bill No. 463, 20172018 Reg. Sess. Cal. Stat. (2017).

California Department of Education. (2015). California state plan to ensure equitable access to excellent educators. Sacramento, CA: California Department of Education.

Camera, L. (2016). The teacher shortage crisis is here: A new report examines the multipronged problem of teacher supply and demand. U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-09-14/the-teacher-shortage-crisis-is-here

Carver-Thomas, D., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2017). Addressing Californias growing teaching shortage: 2017 update. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.

Haynes, M. (2014). On the path to equity: Improving the effectiveness of beginning teachers. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Heim, J. (2016). America has a teacher shortage, and a new study says its getting worse. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/america-has-a-teacher-shortage-and-a-new-study-says-its-getting-worse/2016/09/14/d5de1cee-79e8-11e6-beac-57a4a412e93a_story.html?utm_term=.47f3e44fad4b

Ingersoll, R. (2012). Beginning teacher induction: What does the data tell us. Phi Delta Kappan, 93(8). 4751.

Learning Policy Institute. (2017). California teacher shortages: A persistent problem. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.

New Frontier. (2016). New report: California marijuana sales to top $6.5 billion by 2020. Denver, CO: Frontier Financial Group Inc.

Raue, K., & Gray, L. (2015). Career paths of beginning public school teachers: Results from the first through fifth waves of the 2007-08 beginning teacher longitudinal study. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.

Riggs, L. (2013). Why do teachers quit? The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/10/why-do-teachers-quit/280699/

Sen. Bill No. 807, 20172018 Reg. Sess. Cal. Stat. (2017).

Smith, A (2016). Legal weed: Tax jackpot or pipe dream? CNN Money. Retrieved from


Strauss, V. (2015). Why todays college students dont want to be teachers. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/11/20/why-todays-college-students-dont-want-to-be-teachers/?utm_term=.4e3f2d4dbde5

Sutcher, L., Darling-Hammond, L., & Carver-Thomas, D. (2016). A coming crisis in teaching? Teacher supply, demand, and shortages in the U.S. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: April 18, 2017
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21925, Date Accessed: 10/7/2021 8:44:02 AM

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