California school districts improve wages and working conditions to ease teacher shortage

Credit: Phil Roeder/Flickr

A severe teacher shortage exacerbated by the Covid pandemic has caused California school districts to raise teacher salaries, develop new hiring strategies, and try to lighten teachers’ workloads by hiring more support staff, according to a report by the Learning Policy Institute, a nonprofit education research organization.

The ongoing teacher shortage, coupled with higher-than-usual retirements and resignations during the pandemic, is forcing district officials to fill classrooms this school year, even as additional funding from the state and federal government allowed them to hire more staff.

The report, “Teacher Shortages during the Pandemic: How California Districts are Responding,” consists of a survey of district officials from eight large and four small school districts – Modoc Joint Unified, Upper Lake Unified, San Juan Unified, Elk Grove Unified , San Francisco Unified, Los Angeles Unified, Long Beach Unified, Santa Ana Unified, San Bernardino City Unified, Needles Unified, San Diego Unified, and San Pasqual Valley Unified. Districts educate a total of 1 in 6 California students.

The report follows “California Teachers and COVID-19: How the Pandemic Is Impacting the Teacher Workforce,” published by the Learning Policy Institute last March.

Two-thirds of districts surveyed said they had more vacancies than usual to fill this school year and it was harder to find teachers to hire. As a result, schools have increasingly had to hire underprepared teachers working with trainee credentials, licenses, or waivers instead of completing coursework, clinical practice, testing, and other requirements to earn a full teaching diploma.

“The solutions available are often not the solutions we would want for our children – cutting classes and combining classes, or trying to fill classes with substitutes and emergency-licensed teachers who don’t have demonstrated proficiency in the subjects they teach,” said Desiree Carver-Thomas, one of the report’s authors. “What we would like is for the classrooms to be filled with competent and experienced teachers. instead, they scramble to find these people and rely on strategies that aren’t necessarily ideal.

Research shows that students who have access to experienced, fully qualified teachers perform better academically than students who don’t, Carver-Thomas said.

The report offered recommendations that researchers believe would help increase the number of teachers in California classrooms:

  • School districts should increase teacher compensation by raising salaries and offering stipends and bonuses, especially for hard-to-fill positions. They should grow their pool of teachers by launching teacher residency programs and initiatives that recruit and train school staff to become teachers as they graduate. Districts should also continue to invest in teacher recruitment and add more staff to support teachers.
  • The federal government should make teaching more financially attractive by making colleges debt-free for educators and offering income tax credits and housing subsidies.
  • The state should implement a program to help teacher candidates navigate teacher preparation programs, credentialing requirements, and funding opportunities. It should also invest in programs that allow students to begin teacher training at community colleges and complete it at a four-year institution. This could be especially useful in rural areas that are not close to a four-year university, but are served by a community college.
  • Universities should increase enrollment in teacher preparation programs, especially in high-demand fields.

Teacher burnout is one of the reasons cited for resignations and retirements, according to district officials. In one large district, retirements in 2020-21 increased by 25% over the 2018-2019 school year and furloughs increased by 50%.

Despite an overall need for teachers, the greatest demand was still for teachers certified to teach in the hard-to-staff areas of math, science and special education, according to the report.

The teacher shortage is amplified due to an acute shortage of substitutes so severe that many schools are forced to merge classrooms, send administrators to teach in classrooms and, in a few dramatic cases, to close schools for one or more days.

“At San Lorenzo USD, principals, principals, assistant superintendents, and the superintendent are in classrooms trying to support school sites,” Superintendent Daryl Camp said in the report. “Teachers are oversubscribed during their preparation periods.”

In August and September, when districts were surveyed, six still had not filled 10% or more of their open teaching positions. One district had more than 25% of its vacant teaching positions still open. Only one district reported fewer vacancies than it had at the same time the previous year.

School district officials have also expressed concern about how the instability of teacher vacancies and changing replacements are affecting student well-being.

“Many districts want to prioritize student welfare, which is hard to do without a stable workforce,” Carver-Thomas said.

With only a limited number of job applicants, many districts are focusing on retaining the teachers they have by hiring additional staff to help them in the classroom and improving teachers’ working conditions, the study finds. . Several districts interviewed for the study increased teacher pay, while one large district focused on building its supply of substitute teachers by increasing daily rates of pay for substitute teachers.

Rural districts, which typically have even fewer potentially eligible teachers in their communities than other districts, have struggled to attract teachers to their schools despite some offering signing bonuses and relocation allowances, Carver said. Thomas.

A small district offered teachers an initial signing bonus, annual bonuses for each of the four years of contract, and an allowance for moving to the area. The district offered a $15,000 signing bonus and a $3,000 moving allowance to fill high school math and music positions, but had received no applications for those jobs, according to the study.

Districts that cannot find enough teachers are using state and federal recovery funds to hire teacher assistants to reduce teacher workloads, as well as counselors, psychologists, social workers, educational coaches and assistant principals to help students and, in turn, teachers. Districts are also investing in recruiting, hiring more HR staff, hosting career fairs, streamlining their recruiting process, and increasing their presence at virtual and in-person career fairs.

“Each district had its own strategy — from what we heard, it’s a holistic set of strategies,” Carver-Thomas said. “They’re doing everything they can, reducing class sizes, hiring counselors, hiring teaching assistants.”

The report recognizes the state’s record investment in teacher preparation, retention and training over the past two years. Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposed budget earlier this month includes more than $54 million to hire teachers and make it easier for them to graduate. Carver-Thomas said these funds can be used to support some of the report’s recommendations.

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