CHICO – Curtis Scott is a 45-year-old prison guard who really wants to teach third grade.
So he’s spending several weeks this summer in California State University, Chico’s Flex plan, which allows him to take to take evening, weekend, Internet or summer classes and get a teaching credential while still working at High Desert State Prison in Susanville.
It is one of dozens of programs created in recent years as the state struggles to put fully trained teachers in every classroom.
Using everything from cash bonuses to recruiters in bright-yellow sports utility vehicles, California public schools and colleges are attempting to find new teachers and keep the ones they have.
So far, they seem to be working. Recent statistics show encouraging signs, although the state’s poorest schools still remain the worst off.
— A total of 20,116 potential teachers sought first-time full teaching credentials in the 1999-2000 school year, the latest figures available from the Commission on Teacher Credentialing. That was up from 19,451 the year before.
— The number of people taking the basic-skills test all prospective teachers must pass increased to 98,272 in 2000-2001 from 91,950 the year before, according to the CTC. In addition, a record 22,216 people took the test last month.
— The number of people teaching on “emergency permits,” meaning they don’t have full credentials, fell to 34,670 or 11.5 percent in 2000-2001 from 37,266 or 12.8 percent the year before, according to the Department of Education.
However, state records show the less-than-fully qualified teachers still tend to be in schools with high poverty levels and low test scores.
The 1,337 public schools with the lowest 20 percent of 2000 test scores had an average of 21 percent of teachers on emergency permits; 113 of those schools had 40 percent or more unqualified teachers, according to Department of Education records.
By contrast, the 1,361 schools with the highest 20 percent of 2000 test scores had an average of only 5 percent of teachers on emergency permits; 465 of them had none.
Despite the improvements, California still needs more teachers. In May, school board members from around the state met and told of how they competed with each other for the small pool of credentialed teachers and even for those with emergency permits, said Phillip Escamilla, a consultant for the California School Boards Association.
It’s a national problem. The U.S. Department of Education estimates school districts will need to hire more than 2 million new teachers over the next decade, mostly because of a growing student population and the aging of current teachers.
California needs about 300,000 new teachers over the next decade, or about as many as are teaching now. First warnings of the impending shortage came in the late 1980s, but little was done, particularly during the recession of the early 1990s.
Demand for teachers exploded with the popular decision in 1996 by Gov. Pete Wilson and the Legislature to cut class sizes for the lowest four grades.
That sent the number of elementary teachers on emergency permits jumping from about 6,000 in 1995-1995 to nearly 20,000 by 1998-99, CTC records show.
The state responded. California State University, which produces nearly two-thirds of the state’s teachers, set a goal of increasing its output of teachers by 25 percent by 2000. It raised the number of teachers ready for full credentials from 7,352 in 1996-7 to 2,500 by 2002-2003, a 41 percent increase, said CSU spokesman Ken Swisher.
The University of California, criticized by lawmakers for a declining production of teachers, has set its own goal of increasing teachers ready for credentials from 1,100 in 1997-98 to 2,500 by 2002-2003, says spokesman Charles McFadden.
Private colleges, many of which offer evening classes for working people, are also seeing increases. National University, the state’s largest private producer of teachers, has seen its teacher enrollment increase from 4,636 in 1995-96 to 8,901 in 1999-2000, says spokesman Hoyt Smith.
State colleges, such as CSU Chico, are taking lessons from private colleges and offering more flexible programs to make it easier for prospective teachers to graduate and get a full credential.
Since 1972, the traditional path to teaching has taken five years in a state college, four for a bachelor’s degree and another for teacher classes and student teaching.
The Flex program targets students with degrees who can’t afford a fifth year, people with emergency permits or in district internship programs and the Curtis Scotts of California, who want to change careers.
Half of the students in Scott’s social studies curriculum class have emergency permits and are working for the full credentials.
Another student, Jenni Josifek, 23, taught kindergarten last year at Oster Elementary School in the Union School District in San Jose on a district internship credential, which allows her to teach while taking classes. A 2000 Chico graduate, she ran out of money, took a job and decided to get her full credential through Flex.
Chico has also started an experimental Integrated Teacher CORE program that combines a bachelor’s degree, teacher classes and student teaching in four years. Its first class of six graduated this spring.
“The numbers are increasing,” says education professor Cris Guenter. “We’re finding that we’re getting quality people who want to be teachers and they’re bringing in a wealth of experience and that’s exciting.”
To boost its recruitment efforts, the state in 1998 opened the California Center for Teaching Careers or CalTeach, a one-stop information and referral service. Its state-funded budget was $11 million in 2000-2001; the pending budget for this year contains the same.
Since its opening three years ago, CalTeach has gotten 16.6 million hits on its Internet site and has registered 53,565 potential teachers, some of whom have submitted 13,885 job applications online through CalTeach to California school districts, says codirector Kris Marubayashi.
CalTeach also dedicated $2 million toward recruiting teachers in other states. Ads touted California’s “better lifestyle,” and CalTeach sent five recruiters to visit 97 colleges in 18 other states to persuade students to teach in California.
More than 3,000 out-of-state students have showed some interest in teaching in California, although the state does not yet know how many have actually applied and gotten jobs, said Marubayashi.
Last year, a booming economy allowed Gov. Gray Davis and the Legislature to approve $488 million in various incentives aimed at luring teachers.
The “Teaching As a Priority” grant program dished out $119 million for districts with low-performing schools to attract credentialed teachers, including offering salary hikes, bonuses or housing subsidies.
The Grant Joint Union High School District in north Sacramento received a $402,866 TAP grant. It is offering signing bonuses of up to $2,000 and moving costs of up to $3,000 plus $260 for classroom supplies to new credentialed teachers, says David Karell, assistant superintendent of human resources.
He’s been busily recruiting teachers all around the state and in New York. Last year, 89 of the district’s 700 teachers were on emergency permits; this year he hopes to have only about 20, all of them in the particularly difficult areas of math and special education.
“We’ve made a real turnaround,” he said.