Over the past several years, political pundits, parents and politicians have regularly disparaged the state of education in the Golden State.
Thankfully, the cacophony has been met with steps that are leading us in the right direction, including class-size reduction, more rigorous standards and standardized testing. In just a few short years we have made significant, successful changes, but one looming issue hasn’t formerly been addressed , increased wages.
How can we meet the challenges of the 21st century without properly preparing the leaders of our future , our children? The need for qualified teachers has become a national phenomenon, and in California the problem is reaching epidemic proportions.
Some 22,000 teachers are needed to fill our classrooms this year alone. Over the course of the next decade we will need an unprecedented 260,000 to 300,000 new teachers. Class-size reduction alone has increased the need for qualified teachers by 100 percent.
Also fueling the fire is the fact that many educators are reaching retirement age and the attrition rate is about 50 percent during the first five years of teaching.
I’ve known many professional people who have shown an interest in becoming a teacher but when they realized how inadequate teacher pay is, they simply can’t make the move. This is truly unfortunate. In California alone, 46 percent of all current math teachers and 52 percent of our physical science teachers didn’t even have a minor in the field they are teaching.
Pay Better Wages
Can you imagine the benefits to our children if we were able to fill those positions with educators who actually worked as engineers or scientists? It is people of this caliber that California should be targeting. In order to recruit the best teachers, we need to pay better wages.
Right now the CSU system is aggressively seeking new teachers through a government sanctioned teacher recruitment program called CalTeach. This program has made great strides in recruiting qualified teachers into California classrooms. Included in this outreach effort is a $1 million cable television advertising campaign. This ad beckons people to consider a career in teaching. The CalTeach program has been successful but is only a small piece of the puzzle.
My colleagues and I take education seriously and are constantly working on new ways to recruit teachers. We know the need for qualified teachers is at an all-time high and have authored legislation addressing the issue at hand.
Last year, legislation was introduced to allow educators from states outside of California, that meet specified conditions, the ability to teach in our classrooms of this bill has dramatically widened the candidate pool to recruit qualified teachers. In a survey by the San Bernardino County Office of Education, 73 percent of those districts surveyed indicated they plan to recruit teachers from outside California.
In 1998, I authored Assembly Bill 2730, which created a three-year pilot program allowing out-of-state universities with campuses in California the opportunity to award teaching credentials. The previous system only allowed universities accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges the ability to award teaching credentials.
Now institutions such as the University of Phoenix, Antioch and NOVA Southeastern, to name a few, have the capabilities and means to credential teachers in California. Institutions of this type have been successfully awarding degrees in other fields for years.
Securing Brightest Minds
These institutions are flexible and are designed to meet the needs of working professionals. The more avenues we open up to the public, the better our chances are of securing the brightest minds available to us. Allowing private institutions to help curb the teacher shortage makes perfect sense.
Recent legislation and programs such as CalTeach have all been innovative ideas that will go far to reverse the current trend, but there is more that we can do and should do. The truth is, no matter how much we advertise and how far we reach out to other states in our recruiting efforts, we will never attain our goal unless we increase salaries and improve the working conditions and facilities of our schools.
President Lyndon Johnson said it best when he said, “At the desk where I sit, I have learned one great truth. The answer for all our national problems: the answer for the problems of the world: comes to a single word. That word is ‘education.'”
Mazzoni is a member of the state Assembly whose districts include Marin County and the semi-suburban areas of Petaluma, Cotati and Rohnert Park in Sonoma County. Mazzoni also is chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee.