Rural teacher shortage solve could be in the making

Rural teacher shortage solve could be in the making

(Calif.) Developing partnerships between California State University campuses and rural community colleges to offer CSU-level teacher preparation programs at two-year institutions could be a potential solution to the state’s teacher shortage, officials said this week.

Throughout California, examples of the teacher shortage in rural areas are numerous. During a joint committee hearing between Assembly committees on higher education and K-12 education Tuesday, lawmakers heard of one district where a middle school near Madera County didn’t have an 8th grade science teacher for three years, and had to rely on a series of substitutes.

The Needles Unified School District, meanwhile, has for years depended on educators and support services from across the border in Arizona—a pool that has been drying up as policy changes and pay increases have been adopted in Arizona to keep teachers in their own state.

And in Sierra Sands Unified School District, located near Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, schools have ample access to families with Ph.D. scientists and other individuals qualified to teach–but with no four-year university serving the eastern side of the Sierra Mountain range, potential candidates don’t have access to credentialing programs.

“(Community colleges) are often able to attract individuals who are interested in teaching, but are nevertheless unable to get the qualifications to teach simply because of the geography of our state, and the lack of access to teacher credentialing programs in rural settings,” said Doug Houston, chancellor of the Yuba Community College District, who advocated Tuesday for developing partnerships between community colleges and CSUs. “I think if community colleges have similar authority to what local education agencies already do, then we can implement solutions in ways that will fit local needs, and provide diverse solution sets to meet the needs across our state.”

According to a 2016 report from the Learning Policy Institute, 87 percent of urban districts and 82 percent of rural districts in the state face a shortage of teachers—especially in subjects such as mathematics, science, special education and bilingual education. Many districts reported responding to shortage conditions by hiring teachers with substandard credentials or permits—meaning those teachers hadn’t yet completed the subject matter and teacher preparation requirements for a full credential. The issuance of emergency or substandard credentials increased nearly 600 percent over past 5 years, according to the report.

Earlier this year, Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, introduced legislation that would have authorized California community colleges to offer teacher credentialing programs in an effort to attract people who are interested in teaching, but who cannot afford CSU tuition or who live too far from one. The bill failed to move past the Assembly’s higher education committee.

That hasn’t stopped institutions of higher learning from working together to develop programs that rely on similar ideas. According to Houston, Yuba Community College and CSU Sacramento are currently in discussions to establish a program either at the Yuba College main campus or at an extension campus in Sutter County. The colleges would use the CSU’s curriculum as well as some faculty members, and Sacramento State will transcript students for their upper division units.

Patrick O'Donnell, chair of the Assembly Committee on Education, said that while he supported the idea of community colleges delivering undergraduate CSU curriculum in education, he was hesitant to endorse community colleges having their own teaching credential programs.

“I wouldn’t want the teaching credential to come from a community college, as much as maybe some of the education for a teaching credential happening on a community college campus by the appropriate staff with the appropriate program,” O’Donnell told Houston during the hearing. “I’m open to the CSUs partnering with community colleges, and if we have to make some changes to make that happen because there’s geographic challenges, then we need to have that conversation.”