Castle Elementary School second-grade teacher Jennifer Benak teaches a math lesson to her students Monday. Panama-Buena Vista Union School District received a $7 million grant that will allow Castle School, one of southwest Bakersfield's poorest, to transform into a STEAM Academy focusing on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

California school districts have grappled with a teacher shortage for years but the problem has worsened since 2014, with 75 percent reporting a lack of qualified instructors, according to a survey released Wednesday.

The report, which surveyed 211 school district representatives at the annual California School Boards Association Delegate Assembly this fall, called the shortages “alarming,” especially in rural areas like the Central Valley.

As a result, more than half of the districts surveyed were hiring teachers with substandard credentials, and another 24 percent were backfilling positions with substitutes.

“In California, these shortages are impacting districts serving low-income and English-learner students the hardest, but even affluent districts are struggling to recruit and retain high-quality teachers,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, president and CEO of Learning Policy Institute, which conducted the survey.

Eighty-two percent of the shortages were felt in rural areas, according to the survey, with high school districts being hit especially hard. Roughly 62 percent of high school officials surveyed said they were seeing shortages.

It's especially difficult to attract talent to areas like the Central Valley. The Kern High School District, for example, has taken aggressive steps to recruit qualified teachers throughout the country to Bakersfield.

Recruiters attended 48 job fairs last year, set up a website, www.teachinbakersfield.com, and traveled across the nation to lure candidates away from other states. The district sweetened its offers with early signing bonuses and relocation allowances.

It spent $181,500 on signing bonuses for 121 teachers last year, $66,444 traveling to and attending job fairs, and $28,600 in relocation allowances for 22 teachers, according to an October board report.

KHSD officials said it may also consider additional bonuses for people with specific credentials, possibly special education ones. Eighty-eight percent of districts face a shortage of special ed teachers, according to the report.

Special education enrollment has been growing steadily in California, with 11.5 percent of K-12 students receiving some form of special ed in 2015. In Kern County, 10 percent of students are in special education, roughly a 2 percentage point increase over a five-year period. 

The problem is compounded by a decrease in teachers applying to work in that field, said Anne Podolsky, a researcher and policy analyst with the Learning Policy Institute.

"The number of individuals preparing to become special education teachers has been decreasing in the last two years, so it truly is a smaller number of teachers out there preparing for those positions," Podolsky said.

A shortage of credentialed teachers coming through the system is one reason for the shortage, according to the report. Other respondents attributed it to reductions in class sizes, the high cost of living and more teacher retirements.

More than 2,000 teachers in Kern County are projected to retire by 2023-2024, according to an October report published by WestEd, an educational research group. KHSD employs 1,700 teachers.

Programs like rural teacher residency initiatives help fill positions, according to the Learning Policy Institute survey. Those programs, one of which is offered at Cal State Bakersfield, have been successful in bringing potential teachers into classrooms and paying them to learn as apprentices under skilled educators, according to the report.

Meanwhile, some local districts are getting creative with their recruitment efforts.

The Bakersfield City School District set out the ambitious goal this year of hiring 2,000 instructional aides to assist teachers as part of a robust effort to transform the district. So far, it has attracted about 70, who are generally not credentialed but could become part of a teacher pipeline the district is building.

“It’s still not enough,” Superintendent Harry “Doc” Ervin said this week. “But that’s 70 potential teachers right there.”

(1) comment


This has been worsening in Kern County for more than a decade and without a peep of awareness from the public about what teachers are expected to do daily to satisfy ever-growing classroom and administrative demands. Let teachers find other work? Well, that is exactly what has happened. Some parents are not going to like this economic answer to retaining qualified teachers: If your sons and daughters raise cane in the classroom, bully others, swear and throw things at the teachers, and really don’t want to be there, then take them home and keep them for good. Why isn’t that already school policy? Because the schools get money for each and every day kids are in school, and the schools say they can’t afford to give up money lost by kicking kids out. Great. Look where that’s got us.

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