The California State University Institute for Education Reform is a university-based policy center focusing on elementary and secondary school issues. Located on the California State University, Sacramento campus, the Institute is supported by the California State University Chancellor's Office. Its goals is to link the university and state policy makers with important developments and concerns within the K-12 education community.
Much of the research and writing for this report is the work of Cary Berkeley who served as a research associate at the CSU Institute for Education Reform. Ms. Berkeley holds a bachelor's degree from Harvard University and currently works as a research associate at the Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At Risk (CRESPAR) at Johns Hopkins University.
Printed copies of this report (including complete tables) may be
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Hardly a day goes by without demands by some educational or political leader for reform of our public school system. Public alarm over education has evoked many calls for higher standards for students over the past two decades, but over the same period, the employment of under-qualified, inexperienced teachers to fill classrooms has continued and even increased.
While these individuals come to the classroom from a variety of experiences and with differing degrees of knowledge, they uniformly represent a lowering of standards to accommodate their incomplete qualifications. This erosion of teacher standards, particularly in California's urban areas and in challenging subject areas such as special education and math, must be stemmed if we hope to improve pupil achievement, particularly among our disadvantaged student population.
This problem will be further exacerbated as the State of California embarks upon an ambitious class size reduction program in the early elementary grades. As many as twenty thousand new teachers will need to be hired. Where will these teacher come from, and will they meet minimum state certification requirements?
The theme of this report is unequivocal: quality schools begin with quality
teachers. As long as emergency teachers occupy California classrooms, the
rhetoric of strengthening academic standards will remain hollow and
hypocritical. In issuing this report, our goal is not to criticize any state
agency or school district, but rather to stimulate a long overdue debate and
action on a pressing problem facing California's public education system.
A Profile of California's Emergency Teachers
From their inception, emergency teaching permits were intended to respond to precisely what the name implies: emergencies in our public schools, specifically situations in which a shortage of available, fully-qualified teachers requires hiring of less-qualified individuals to meet immediate teaching needs. However, over the years, these "emergencies" have become routine, and their numbers are growing.
In 1994-95, over 15,000 people with inadequate teaching credentials were teaching in classrooms up and down the state, on emergency permits or waivers of credential requirements. Most were hired in Southern California, 60% in Los Angeles County alone. The statewide total has increased by more than 50% in recent years, despite the introduction of internship alternatives for new teachers (chart 1). However, a significant portion -- but not all -- of this growth can be traced to a recent upsurge in emergency-credentialed special education teachers, discussed in detail later in this report. Nevertheless, the percentage increase in emergency teachers has outpaced the growth of the entire teaching pool; the percentage of teachers who are on emergency permits or waivers has increased by 50% just since 1989, and now stands at 6.7% of the total teaching work force. Proportionately and absolutely, the ranks of emergency teachers are growing.
If a district has been unable to attract fully-credentialed teachers to meet teaching needs, it can under California statute declare an emergency and hire under-qualified people: under-qualified either in pedagogy or in the subject they are hired to teach. Some of those hired on an emergency basis are, in fact, fully-credentialed teachers, but with no demonstrated experience in the subject they are hired to teach. While hindered by their lack of specific expertise in their subject area, these emergency permit holders at least have a teaching background to draw on in managing their classrooms.
Many other emergency permit holders have bachelor's degrees in relevant subjects, but have no credential or experience in teaching or working with children. In many cases, these people are seeking to earn a teaching credential, but have not yet done so due to either the need to work or the unavailability of classes needed to earn their credential. The latter problem reflects both capacity and scheduling issues within the college system's credentialing programs -- too many are already full and/or tend to offer classes at times or places that make them effectively unavailable to graduate students who need to work while in school.
For still other emergency teachers, the state may elect to waive even the basic emergency credential conditions, compromising already-compromised standards yet again. In these cases, even the bare requirements for an emergency teaching permit -- possession of a bachelor's degree and a passing score on the CBEST, a basic skills test -- are circumvented in order to fill a slot in a classroom. School districts employ emergency teachers disproportionately for a few particular places and subjects. They are hired predominantly to teach bilingual and special education students, and, among academic subjects, for math and science instruction. In recent years, special education has seen the most rapid growth in emergency teachers.
In terms of location and demographics, the majority of emergency teachers work in urban districts, frequently in schools with high enrollments of at-risk youth. Los Angeles Unified School District alone employed more than 40% of all California's emergency teachers in 1994-95. A small percentage teach in remote rural districts.
WHO are California's emergency teachers?
WHAT do they teach most frequently?
WHERE do they teach?
WHY are they needed?
Emergency Permit Standards: How Low Can They Go?
A substantial number of California's new emergency permits in 1994-95 were granted to individuals who did in fact have teaching credentials, but in subjects other than the ones they were asked to teach. While these people are qualified to teach in a classroom, and demonstrate an admirable willingness to try to adapt to fill immediate needs, they do not have the subject-specific background the state rightfully requires of teachers. Though state law bans misassigning of teachers per se, and requires regular checks to make sure, for instance, that English teachers are not assigned to teach math, emergency permits allow exactly this situation to occur. Once a district declares the need, teachers can work in the subject matter of need, regardless of their specific training.
Another group of emergency permits -- approximately a third of the first-time permits issued in 1994-95 -- were granted to individuals with basic educational qualifications but without the required training and credential to teach or work with children. Not only are standard state requirements waived for them, but some emergency teachers are also hired only a few days before they begin teaching, allowing little opportunity for them to become familiar with the school and neighborhood environment. A recent state law did require that those in their first year receive training, as well as be given ongoing assistance and guidance by a veteran teacher. Meanwhile, their need for "assistance and guidance" must compete with the veteran teachers' many duties in their own classrooms.
More troubling is the fact that even the basic emergency permit requirements can be and are waived, moving the lowest standard for classroom teachers lower still. The Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) has determined that each or all of the key emergency credential requirements -- a bachelor's degree, passage of CBEST, and evidence of experience in teaching or in the subject taught -- can be waived "to give individuals additional time to complete credential requirements." These waivers are particularly common in special education.
Permit Duration: The Never-ending "Emergency"
In 1994-95, according to the best available data, around sixty percent of California's emergency teachers were teaching not on new permits, but on renewals of old permits. Emergency teaching permits are valid for no more than one year each, but no limit exists on the number of times they can be renewed. Too often, what was intended to be a temporary circumstance has developed into a permanent state of emergency.
In theory, statutory and regulatory guidelines on renewal are designed to promote emergency teachers' progress toward a standard credential in the subject or area in which they teach. Usually this means that an emergency teacher must have taken six units of course work toward a credential to renew his or her permit, although other activities such as taking required tests or participating in a district's "Plan to Develop Fully Qualified Educators" program may be counted as well.
These renewal rules appear structured to keep emergency teachers moving through the system toward full credentialing within a few years. Despite the apparent logic of this process, however, district personnel suggest that some people continue on emergency permits for extended periods. Data on the average number of years of renewal of emergency permits is not currently available, but should be developed and studied to determine whether the six-unit renewal requirement is strong enough to keep emergency teachers on track toward full credentialing.
Double Negative: Handing Challenging Subjects to Under-Qualified Teachers
Defying the logic of reserving the most seasoned teachers for the most challenging teaching assignments, California's school districts resort to emergency teaching permits more often for special education, bilingual education, and math and science instruction than any other situations or subject areas. Recent increases in the total figures for emergency teachers reflect both an ongoing problem attracting teachers for certain kinds of students and subject matters, and new efforts to report the extent of the problem accurately.
The Special Case of Special Education
Two factors have exacerbated the emergency teacher situation with regard to special education. One is that, until very recently, those people seeking a special education credential were uniformly required first to earn a regular teaching credential (multiple or single subject), and then to complete additional coursework and clinical experiences before being granted a specialist credential for special education. This double credential requirement probably contributed significantly to the shortage of special education teachers. In an effort to address this issue, the CTC recently eliminated the regular credential as a prerequisite to the special education credential for several categories of special education teaching credentials.
A larger issue over the past two years has been the implementation of a 1993 law (AB 2355) addressing credentialing standards. This statute reaffirmed legislative intent that private school teachers hold full teaching credentials, and added an enforcement mechanism to ensure credentials were checked. Many private institutions handle special education students on behalf of the public school system. Such institutions were required by AB 2355 to demonstrate that their special education teachers had been trained according to state standards, and at that time, many had not been. As a result, the number of emergency permits requested for special education teachers exploded almost overnight.
Reflecting both the effects of AB 2355 and teacher demand conditions, in 1994 the statistics showed California hiring some 4700 more emergency teachers than it had the year before. In similar fashion, during 1994 the Los Angeles Unified School District alone added 3,800 emergency teachers just in special education, which accounted for 62% of its emergency positions (chart 2).
From 1993 to 1994, the statewide number of emergency teachers in special education more than doubled to over 6,700, and in 1994, special education teachers held 44% of all California's emergency teaching permits and waivers. Rather than signaling a wholly new emergency, this staggering jump reflected the new prominence of an old, still unresolved, and steadily growing emergency involving special education students in both public and private school systems.
Other Problem Areas
In other emergency permit categories, conditions in California's schools have been fully documented for years (chart 3). Since 1987, 18% to 33% of all emergency teaching permits granted have been for bilingual education positions. The proportion of emergency teachers engaged in bilingual education has fallen somewhat in the last three years, as the special education numbers jumped; however, in absolute terms, the number of bilingual teachers on emergency permits and waivers is still above its 1987-1994 mean (chart 4).
Among individual academic subjects, emergency permits are turning up the most in mathematics and the sciences -- math and science teachers together made up 10% to 16% of all emergency teachers from 1987 to 1994. More strikingly, they have been granted nearly half of all emergency permits and waivers given in secondary subjects from 1990 to 1994.
The trend here is clear and disturbing. Bilingual and special education teachers and math and science instructors account for the vast majority of California's emergency permits and waivers in any given year. Of the over 15,000 under-prepared, inexperienced emergency teachers occupying California classrooms, most are being assigned to the most challenging educational situations the state faces.
Geography as Destiny: The Urban Predicament
California's ongoing "emergency" has cheated students, particularly those who are most at risk of failure -- those in large urban school districts. Many of these students are forced to function in chaotic environments both in and out of school, and come from families without strong educational backgrounds. They are challenging to teach, and are therefore exactly the students who need the best-trained and most thoroughly prepared teachers. Yet they are often the ones for whom only under-qualified, inexperienced teachers are found.
The reality is that emergency permits are concentrated primarily in urban districts, particularly several districts in heavily urban areas of Southern California. Los Angeles County, taken as a whole, uses the bulk of the state's emergency teachers; in 1994-95 LA County accounted for 60% of the statewide total of emergency teachers. The Los Angeles Unified School District alone employed 41% of all California's emergency teachers in 1994-95. In 1991 the worst emergency was in bilingual education, which then accounted for 72% of LAUSD's emergency teachers; more recently, the larger problem has been the district's special education emergency.
Although the LAUSD is the heavyweight, other districts in Los Angeles County also contributed to this dubious distinction; the unified districts of Long Beach, Pomona, Montebello, and Compton, along with Hawthorne Elementary, were among the top ten employers of emergency teaching positions in 1994. Chart 5 illustrates the ballooning use of emergency teachers in the LA County region.
Urban school systems in other counties also share in this unfortunate trend. Of the ten largest school districts in California by 1993-94 enrollment, half were among the top eleven users of emergency permits and waivers in 1994, including LAUSD, Long Beach Unified, San Bernardino City Unified, Oakland Unified and Fresno Unified. Moreover, although the number of emergency teachers in LAUSD is staggering, the percentage of the district's teaching force operating on emergency permits is similar or higher in other districts. In 1994, 24% of LAUSD's teachers were on emergency permits, while Alvord Unified, in Riverside County, had 26%, and Hawthorne Elementary of Los Angeles County reported 49% of its teachers on emergency permits or waivers. Among the top ten emergency employers by total number of teachers, only Oakland Unified in Alameda County had less than 13% on emergency permits.
In a few cases, rural school districts have also had trouble filling their classrooms. These districts employ high percentages of teachers on emergency credentials, although their small overall size keeps them off the list of those employing the most emergency teachers by pure volume. The overwhelming majority of emergency teachers, however, have been working in urban school districts, especially in Southern California.
Education's "Dirty Little Secret"
Concern about emergency teachers has been minimized, in part, because of a lack of public knowledge of the problem. One commentator called emergency permits education's "dirty little secret." However, policy-makers have taken a few initial steps to respond to the problem, chiefly in terms of increasing requirements and providing support and training for emergency teachers.
Progress began in 1987, when California finally required all emergency teachers to hold a bachelor's degree (previously, only 90 college units qualified individuals for emergency teaching credentials). In 1988, a law was enacted limiting permit renewal to those who were working toward their regular credential. New internship programs to attract, train, and retain talented teachers were developed, some aimed specifically at people currently teaching on emergency permits. Finally, a recent state-funded effort -- the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) program -- has been successful in dramatically reducing the attrition rate for new credentialed teachers, thereby helping to retain fully qualified individuals in the teaching profession.
These and other such responses to the problem of emergency teachers have been important, but progress has been slow and much remains to be done to strengthen standards. Often in the effort to limit emergency permits, a step forward has been followed by a tap dance back. Limitations on emergency permits may be rendered meaningless by exceptions, just as requirements for emergency permits may be rendered moot by being waived.
By way of example, a 1979 law limits schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District to hiring a maximum of 5% of their teachers on emergency permits. Although such a limitation -- if enforced so as to make it meaningful -- could be an important change agent for other districts that are high users of emergency permits, the 1979 law then proceeds to exempt emergency permits for bilingual and special education, destroying the value of the entire exercise and effectively sanctioning Los Angeles' current 24% emergency teacher rate. Limiting emergency permits, except in the cases of bilingual and special education, is like requiring a student to do all her homework, except for her two hardest subjects.
State of Emergency: Where Do We Go From Here?
Californians must recognize that without capable, well-trained teachers, efforts at school reform are predestined to fail. The available data indicate the emergency teacher situation seems to be getting worse, perhaps in part because so few observers are even aware it exists. How many California parents know that their children's teachers may not meet minimum professional standards? And what should policy makers do to reduce the necessity for granting emergency teaching permits?
California's goal should be to reduce and ultimately eliminate emergency teachers. In the meantime, better training and support for all new teachers -- including emergency permit holders -- is essential. The steps outlined below for state and local district action can increase public awareness of the presence of emergency teachers, while improving support and training for new teachers and raising standards for all.
The Governor, the Legislature and the CTC all have important roles to play if the emergency teacher problem is to be sufficiently addressed. We recommend the following steps:
Public Awareness: State of the State of Emergency Credentials
Californians need accurate information about the presence of emergency teachers in their schools if they are to comprehend and respond to the problem. Public awareness of the seriousness of the qualified teacher shortage in California can go a long way in putting pressure on local districts, state agencies and the Legislature to take corrective action. An annual "State of the State on Emergency Credentials" report should be issued by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC), the gatekeeper agency for teachers in California. The report should include the approved number of emergency permits granted by district and subject matter fields and five-year comparison trends. It should also identify successful strategies employed by the CTC and individual districts to reduce the number of emergency permits.
More Rigorous Training Requirements for Emergency Teachers
The state should require that emergency teachers be enrolled in a credential training program immediately upon accepting employment, and be required to complete the program by a certain time. To ensure that appropriate training programs are available, the state should substantially expand funding for successful internship programs that provide emergency permit holders access to intensive training programs coupling on-the-job experiences with academic course work.
Enhance Credential Candidates' Ability to Finish Programs
Credential program administrators should be more flexible and customer-oriented, by working to match credentialing program schedules to the likely schedules of credential candidates already working in classrooms or elsewhere. This means scheduling more classes in the late afternoon, evening, on weekends and holding more classes at school sites.
Waivers of emergency permit requirements should be eliminated, to ensure that individuals who teach on emergency permits possess, at a minimum, a baccalaureate degree and a passing score on CBEST.
Time Limit on Emergency Permits
Teachers should be limited to five years' eligibility for employment on any type of emergency permit. Assuming reasonable efforts to make the necessary classes more available to credential candidates, five years should be sufficient time for any motivated person to complete an approved credential training program.
The state should substantially expand the Beginning Teacher Support and
Assessment program and other successful internships, to improve retention of new
teachers. As long as 50% of new teachers leave the teaching profession within
their first five years on the job, the need for emergency teachers will
continue. Since its inception in 1988, BTSA has had remarkable success in
reducing the attrition rate among beginning teachers by more than
The Legislature and Governor ought to re-enact the beginning teacher incentive salary program. In 1983 (SB 813) the state provided funds to local school districts to increase beginning teacher salaries. The program was successful, substantially increasing beginning teacher salaries (approximately 20%) and attracting stronger candidates to the teaching profession. However, the program was discontinued in 1986-87.
The state should statutorily require a change in the Proposition 98 school "report cards" to mandate that every school report on the number of emergency credentialed teachers employed at each school site by subject and grade level. Parents are entitled to know if emergency permit teachers are employed at their school and such knowledge can pressure school districts to take appropriate corrective action.
School District Action
School districts can take a number of independent actions to reduce the need for emergency teachers.
Districts should direct attention to the possibility of paying teachers with certain special skills in areas of persistent shortages (e.g. special education, bilingual education and math and science) according to their market value, instead of lowering standards. In addition, to the extent funds are available, district should explore changing salary schedules to provide augmentation for beginning teachers and thereby lessen the need to hire emergency teachers. This is a subject for collective bargaining; there is no prohibition in state law against such salary differentials.
Examine Lessons From Successful Districts
Districts that hire a large number of emergency teachers should study similar
districts that hire very few. Not all districts of comparable size and situation
are equally afflicted by the epidemic of emergency hiring, and those that suffer
more can and should learn from their healthier peers.
The County Superintendent of Education in Los Angeles County should convene a summit to focus on the causes of and possible solutions for the major problem of emergency hiring in Los Angeles County. Participants at the summit should include deans of the Schools of Education for all higher educational institutions in the Los Angeles Basin, school district personnel directors, teacher union representatives, parents, school board members, and civic leaders.
Notes on the Data
Numerical data not otherwise cited came from the Educational Demographics
Unit of the California State Department of Education and from the California
Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Tables of this data are included with their
sources identified. All figures cited in the text are included in the charts or
in tables of raw data.
The California Department of Education (CDE) keeps figures on the number of
emergency teachers working in schools. CDE statistics are collected each year on
a representative day in October, designated as "Information Day." County and
district offices are asked to submit totals of teachers on emergency permits or
waivers in several subject areas. The state does not audit the data received.
When a figure is assigned to a particular calendar year, it was collected on
Information Day in October of that year. If for purposes of consistency it is
assigned to a given school year, it was collected on Information Day in October
of the first year listed (i.e., data identified as 1993-4 was collected in
October 1993). In the charts provided, it is always assigned to the calendar
year in which it was collected. Whether a date in October is truly
representative of the number of emergency teachers in a school throughout the
year is unclear; more emergency teachers might well be hired when teachers quit
as the school year progresses. Information Day varies in some year-round
districts; contact the state for information about these exceptions.
The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing keeps figures on the numbers of emergency permits and waivers that are granted. The Commission recently discovered significant flaws in its data. A limited amount of corrected information is available, and is included in this report in the appendix. This data includes permits issued under two categories, "long term" and "bilingual," but does not include "limited assignment" permits that had been included in earlier flawed data. Accordingly, the CTC figures are lower than CDE figures. This report uses minimal data based on percentages of earlier CTC figures, particularly the rough percentages of new emergency teachers in 1994-95 who were inexperienced in their subject or in teaching. CTC's revised data is not yet available in these categories. CTC is working to provide further corrected data.
PERCENT OF ALL TEACHERS ON EMERGENCY PERMITS,
Educational Demographics Unit, CA Dept. of Education
American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, Task Force on Teacher Certification. "Emergency Teacher Certification: Summary and Recommendations." Journal of Teacher Education 35 (March-April 1984): 21-25.
Bond, Linda, et al. Emergency Permits and Credential Waivers: A Program Advisory with Title 5 Requirements, Guidelines, Instructions, and Forms. Sacramento, CA: Commission on Teacher Credentialing, 1994.
California. Education Code (1995).
California Department of Education. Administrative Manual for CBEDS Coordinators and School Principals. Sacramento, CA: California Basic Educational Data System, 1994. 12-13.
. LEP Program Manual: Organizing a Compliant Program for Students of Limited-English Proficiency. Sacramento, CA: California Department of Education, 1995 [cited September 1995].
Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Credential Handbook. Sacramento, CA: Commission on . Local Assistance Funds for Alternative Preparation and Certification Programs: Target Populations and Number Prepared, Summary 1994-5. Sacramento, CA: Commission on Teacher Credentialing, 1995.
Dorlag, Donald. "Summary of the Data on Special Education Teacher Shortage in California 1984-85 to 1991-92." San Diego: Department of Special Education, San Diego State University, 1993 [cited February 1993].
Gold, Norman. Solving the Shortage of Bilingual Teachers: Policy Implications of California's Staffing Initiative for LEP Students. Paper presented at the third research symposium on limited English proficient students' issues, OBEMLA, Washington, DC, August 12, 1992.
Gunderson, Katherine, and Belinda Dunnick Karge. "Easing the Special Education Shortage: Are Emergency Permits the Answer?" Teacher Education Quarterly 19 (summer 1992): 79-90.
Jensen, Mary Cihak, Susan Mortorff, and Susan Pellegrini Meyers. "On-the-Job Training: Is it the Answer to a Special Education Personnel Shortage?" Teacher Education Quarterly 19 (summer 1992): 91-101.
Michael McKibbin. A Longitudinal Study of the Effectiveness of District Intern Alternative Certification Programs in California: Report to the Legislature. Sacramento, CA: Commission on Teacher Credentialing, 1995.
Roth, Robert. "Emergency Certificates, Misassignment of Teachers, and Other 'Dirty Little Secrets.'" Phi Delta Kappan (June 1986): 725-7.
"Shift Noted in L.A.'s Teacher Hirings." Sacramento Bee, 6 September 1994.
Other Publications Available from the
Building a Powerful Reading Program: From Research to
The Teachers Who Teach Our Teachers
School Choice: Lessons Learned A Retrospective on Assembly Bills 1114 and
Education Reform: Implications and Responsibilities for K-12 and Higher
State Policies and School Restructuring: Experiences With the Senate Bill
1274 Demonstration Program
Professional Development Schools: An Annotated Bibliographic
Teachers and Teaching: Recommendations for Policy Makers
The Institute for Education Reform was notified after publication of this document that the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) had erroneously reported their special education emergency permits to the California Department of Education (CDE) in 1994. The district didn't discover the error until Fall, 1995, after the California Basic Educational Data System (CBEDS) data report had been certified for six months.
Because we used the certified data in the preparation of this report, we incorporated the district's initial reporting error in our tables. In the table on page 16, "Emergency Permits in Los Angeles Unified, By Selected Subjects" special education permits should be 383 not 3,883. This error has a ripple effect throughout the document and all totals cited in the text of the report, as well as tables in the Appendices, are overstated by 3,500. Specifically, the error affects Chart 1 (page 1), Charts 2 and 3 (page 6) and Chart 5 (page 8), as well as the tables on pages 15-17.
We regret this error, but don't think it detracts from the substance of the document; namely, that emergency permit teachers exist in large numbers in many school districts and they significantly diminish the quality of the teaching force. Moreover, with the advent of the 1996 Class Size Reduction Initiative, it is likely that the number of emergency permits will again substantially increase.
The error also serves to emphasize the point made in the "Notes on the Data" on page 14 that state data reporting on emergency permits is quite weak and inconsistent between the California Department of Education and the Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
Included with reports distributed after 10/31/96
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