The California Teacher Shortage and COVID-19

Years before pandemic restrictions upturned the U.S. education industry, California was already struggling with a state-wide teacher shortage that even today remains frequently cited as one of the nation’s worst. However, the socioeconomic devastation wrought by COVID-19 — which has, as of March 2021, claimed more lives in California than any other U.S. state — has driven the state’s long-standing shortage to new and alarming heights. 

According to a study conducted by the Learning Policy Institute, a nonprofit education research group based out of Palo Alto, a staggering 80 percent of California school districts — four out of every five — are being impacted by teacher shortages, with disproportionate impacts upon communities of color and rural areas of the state. With more educators in quarantine and fewer people applying for substitute teaching credentials, an increasing number of school districts are fighting just to stay open — especially since California also grapples with exceptionally high rates of “attrition,” or teacher turnover, an issue which has stymied the state’s public school system since at least 2006. And while some state lawmakers have attempted to combat or alleviate these issues through pro-education legislation, there are still too many cases where schools have been forced to cut corners by hiring unqualified educators. For instance, according to a report by the Learning Policy Institute, “About two thirds of entering California-prepared special education teachers are on substandard credentials.” The same report called special education shortages “a five-alarm fire,” underscoring the urgency of the issue. 

Even as COVID-19 vaccines begin to be rolled out nationwide, these types of trends continue to threaten educators, families, and students by creating or worsening issues such as lower student engagement, higher teacher-to-student ratios, lower educational standards, and ultimately, poorer learning outcomes. However, while the data may look bleak, it also represents an incredible opportunity for aspiring educators to make positive impacts where they’re needed most. With teacher demand in California surging as shortages reach critical levels, now is the perfect moment to pursue your teaching credential and begin a rewarding, exciting career in education. 

National and California Teacher Shortage Statistics  

According to a 2019 report by the Economic Policy Institute, “The teacher shortage is real, large and growing” — not only in California, but at the national level. Though the Economic Policy Institute cautioned that “current national estimates of the teacher shortage likely understate the magnitude of the problem,” one study conducted just several years prior calculated a shortage of approximately 112,000 teachers. The same study, which was published in 2016 by the Learning Policy Institute, also predicted that “by 2020, an estimated 300,000 new teachers will be needed each year, and by 2025, that number will increase to 316,000.” 

California isn’t the only U.S. state to face serious teacher shortages — but it has been one of the hardest-hit. Here are some key statistics that were released by the Learning Policy Institute toward the end of 2019: 

  • 34% of new hires in California had “substandard credentials” 
  • 14% of hires were aged 60 or older while 40% of hires were aged 50 or older
  • Over 6.2 million students were enrolled
  • Over 4,100 teachers were “needed to reduce [the state’s] student-teacher ratio to pre-recession levels” 
  • 9% of teachers “left public school teaching in California”
  • 11% of teachers “left public school teaching in [their] district/county”

Why is There a Teacher Shortage in California? 

How did we reach this crisis point, and why is California so heavily impacted? The Learning Policy Institute identified “three main factors” driving the state’s ongoing teacher shortage: 

#1: “A rapid decline in teacher preparation enrollments and thus new entrants.”

The report pointed out that “over the past decade or so, teacher preparation enrollments in California have declined by more than 70 percent,” saying the thousands of “new credentials [that are] being issued” are simply “not enough to close the gap.” Related issues that contribute to this problem include various “program terminations and cutbacks” (which have been particularly devastating in the special education space), and even teaching requirements like the California Subject Examination for Teachers (CSET), which are set by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC). Preparedness for the CSET and related teaching exams is a major pillar of National University’s education programs, ensuring that our students are ready to meet professional challenges head-on. (And if you could use a little extra help preparing for your teaching exams, check out our tips on how to study for the CSET in California.) 

#2: “New demand as districts seek to return to pre-recession course offerings and class sizes.”

As the Learning Policy Institute pointed out, “California’s pupil-teacher ratios have been the largest in the country for many years.” 

#3: “Teacher attrition.” 

This refers to teacher turnover rate, or the rate of teachers leaving California, their district, or the profession. It happens to be higher than average in California, fueling the state’s chronic teacher shortage. The Learning Policy Institute reported that “about 8.5 percent of teachers in California appear to be leaving the profession (or the state) each year, and another 8 percent leave their current school to move to another.” Attrition or turnover rates were highest “in schools serving higher proportions of students from low-income families, in Title I schools, and [in] those serving a large concentration of students of color,” the report also stated. The opposite of teacher attrition is teacher retention, which not only benefits students, but also helps save money for schools.

Is There a Need for Teachers in California?

Considering COVID-related restrictions, are teachers needed in California? The answer to this question is definite: Yes! 

In fact, California is currently experiencing a greater demand for qualified teachers than any other state in the country, though nearby Nevada and Arizona also rank highly. If you’re thinking of becoming a teacher, California is the perfect destination to start your new career in education. That’s especially applicable for anyone who wants to start a career in special education, where qualified teachers are desperately needed at the K-12 levels. 

The takeaway message for those who are considering careers in education? Don’t be intimidated by the California teacher shortage of 2021. The state needs skilled teachers now more than ever, and National University offers the tools and credentials to help you succeed. Whether your goal is to become a teacher in California, cultivate educational leadership abilities and essential teaching skills, or explore a related field such as educational counseling, the Sanford College of Education at NU provides a wide range of accredited programs to develop your career in academics. 

Earn Your Teaching Credential or Education Degree Online from National University 

Change your life and your greater community by teaching where you’re needed most. The journey begins with a teaching degree or credential from National University, which has fast-paced online programs designed for undergraduates, graduate students, transfer students, and military students. From a Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education (BAECE) or Master of Education in Teaching and Learning to your Single or Multiple Subject Teaching Credential, the dynamic programs at NU are designed to challenge and prepare you for a fulfilling career in K-12 or postsecondary education. 

Take the first steps toward earning your degree. Contact our Admissions office for more information about your program of choice, or apply to National University today. 

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