By Xilonin Cruz-Gonzalez, CSBA President
Providing all students with a high-quality education is our greatest responsibility as school board members. In order to succeed in this work, we must prioritize teacher quality and invest both intellectually and financially in the recruitment, retention and development of an effective and diverse educator workforce for California’s preK-12 schools.
This is not just a moral ambition, it’s a practical measure to improve overall student outcomes and help close opportunity and achievement gaps that shortchange our students and undermine our communities. In that light, it’s not surprising that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2020–21 budget proposal includes $900 million to address California’s teacher shortage. Like many of you, I would prefer increases to LCFF base funding, but, if the Governor is going to make targeted investments, educator preparedness is a good choice. Research repeatedly shows that teacher quality is the single greatest in-school factor related to student achievement. In fact, of all the issues affected by board policy, instruction is estimated to have two to three times the impact on math and reading outcomes than quality of services, facilities and even school leadership.
Students who have effective teachers are more likely to attend college and earn higher salaries. Research also shows additional value is offered by culturally competent, seasoned teachers who have experiences aligned with their students. A 2017 review of data from North Carolina and Tennessee found that for low-income African American males, having at least one African American teacher in elementary school reduced high school dropout rates by 39 percent. This was attributed to a number of factors including the role-model effect, and the likelihood that teachers with similar experiences or backgrounds as their students hold higher expectations, view their language and culture as assets and create a sense of belonging in the classroom.
Yet, despite a growing body of evidence that a diverse faculty can benefit all students, including white students,, California’s teacher workforce fails to reflect the diversity of its student body. A little more than 60 percent of California’s teachers are white and roughly 20 percent are Latino, practically the inverse of the student population, which is 20 percent white and 54 percent Latino.
Given the important role instruction plays in student outcomes, it is critical that school boards create a policy environment that supports the recruitment and training of a diverse and experienced teacher workforce — and the placement of those teachers at schools with high-need students. A 2017 report from CSBA and the Learning Policy Institute discovered that 83 percent of the districts serving high concentrations of low-income students suffered from teacher shortages compared to 55 percent of more affluent districts. The review found similar trends existed for schools with large percentages of English learner students and students of color.
These findings are troubling because a diverse, high-quality faculty produces profound benefits for all students, but especially for low-income, Latino, African American, English learner and students with disabilities. The CSBA governance brief “Ensuring High-Quality Staff for English Learners” notes that teachers who understand the culture and language of their students are better able to communicate with families and engage them in the learning process. The brief also says that teachers with similar backgrounds as their EL students can more accurately identify whether students’ challenges are primarily due to English proficiency or in their ability to grasp content.
Expanding the teacher pool and boosting the capacity of existing teachers are high-leverage strategies for accelerating student achievement. Boards would be wise to focus on professional development that allows teachers time to collaborate, builds cultural competencies and facilitates continuous improvement.
School districts and county offices of education around the state are working to address these issues. Fresno USD partners with CSU Fresno to recruit highly qualified teachers through a residency program that combines master’s-level coursework, a yearlong classroom apprenticeship, a stipend of up to $20,000 and a three-year commitment to teaching in the district.
Santa Rosa City Schools received a 2016 CSBA Golden Bell Award for its initiative focused on changing policies and practices to better serve Latino and English learner students. Staff examine research-based practices for meeting the needs of Latino and English learner students, share student data and discuss the root cause of patterns in the data..
In Northern California, four high-need rural districts have partnered with CSU Chico to form the Chico Rural Teacher Residency program. The program combines classroom experience alongside mentor teachers with a master’s degree in education and a support system of university faculty, school administrators and other teacher candidates. Participants also benefit from professional learning communities and an induction program to help guide them through the first two years of teaching.
In the Capitol, CSBA is working hard to pass legislation that addresses the teacher shortage, broadens the range of new teacher candidates and makes it easier to attract experienced teachers to California schools.
In 2018, CSBA co-sponsored Assembly Bill 2285, a bill that was signed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown to create a more direct path for prepared teachers from other states to receive a clear credential in California. In 2019, Gov. Newsom signed CSBA-supported AB 988, which allows an out-of-state candidate to receive their education specialist credential while working on a preliminary credential
In the current session, CSBA supports AB 843 (Rodriguez), legislation that would provide additional loan assumption benefits for teachers who have credentials in math, science, special education, bilingual education or career technical education and work at schools identified for differentiated assistance. CSBA also supports AB 1623, which would establish the Golden State Teacher Grant Program. The program would provide a grant to each candidate enrolled in an approved teacher credentialing program who commits to working in a high-need field for four years.
At the state and local level, more work is needed to create an attractive, supportive and productive environment for diverse, high-quality teachers. Some barriers are related to the inadequate funding for our schools, yet even with the current system, districts across the state are diversifying their teaching staff by leveraging local investments, creating partnerships, and updating practices around recruitment and professional development. As board members and governance teams, I hope that we all take the time to reflect upon our own district’s policies, practices and investments and that we work toward developing and supporting a teacher workforce that, at the very least, mirrors the diversity of our student population.
Editor’s note: This President’s message appears in the February 2020 issue of California School News.