Under proposals the state's teacher credentialing agency is set to consider today, school districts would need to show on a case-by-case basis that no fully credentialed teachers are available before they resort to less-qualified educators, and under-prepared teachers could serve a maximum of three years instead of five.
The Commission on Teacher Credentialing is weighing the changes after expressing concern that under-prepared teachers disproportionately serve students who are living in poverty and learning English.
"Until that changes, we need to tighten up our process a little bit," Commissioner Kathleen Harris said at a September commission meeting, where possible regulatory changes for under-prepared teachers were first discussed.
California grants emergency permits to credentialed teachers so they may instruct English language learners, deliver a bilingual curriculum, or serve as resource specialists or teacher librarians before they have the required authorization to do so. In order to hire teachers on emergency permits each year, school districts must preemptively declare with the state the number of under-prepared teachers they might need and certify that they will first try to recruit fully credentialed teachers.
Critics said that system has allowed districts to hire cheaper, under-prepared teachers en masse when fully trained teachers are available. California schools cut about 32,000 teachers between the 2007-08 and 2010-11 school years, the state legislative analyst reported.
The state issued 2,888 emergency permits in 2010-11, according to a commission report [PDF]. Eleven years earlier, when efforts to reduce class sizes led to a spike in hiring of under-prepared teachers, roughly 35,000 teachers were employed on emergency permits [PDF].
"California has come a long way in ensuring that all students have access to a fully prepared teacher, but we still have loopholes to close, and this is one of them," said Tara Kini, a senior staff attorney at Public Advocates.
School officials said the current system works and allows schools to staff classes in true emergencies, such as an auto accident that might suddenly put a teacher on medical leave. A teacher on an emergency permit is preferable to a rotation of substitutes, who are limited to serving 30 days in general education and 20 days in special education, they said.
"For instructional continuity, not only would students not learn, it really would not be safe in the environments that we work in" to rely on substitutes, David Simmons, director of human resources for the Ventura County Office of Education, said at the September meeting.
Officials also said the public meetings at which governing boards must approve districts' declarations of need for teachers served as checks on employing under-prepared teachers.
"Our community folks are saying, 'We want the folks who have the right credentials, the right qualifications' – they hold us accountable to that," Teri Burns, senior director of policy and programs at the California School Boards Association, said at the September meeting.
The commission did not have available the overall number of emergency permits that districts estimate in their declarations of need, but records from some districts showed estimates were greater than actual hires.
The Mt. Diablo Unified School District, for example, said it would need [PDF] 100 emergency permits for teachers without English language learner authorization and 12 for those without bilingual authorization in the 2010-11 school year. It later hired [PDF] nine teachers on emergency permits for English language learner authorization and one for bilingual authorization.
The Oakland Unified School District estimated [PDF] it would need 150 emergency permits for English language learner authorization and 30 for bilingual authorization that same year. It hired 26 teachers on emergency permits for English language learner authorization and 10 for bilingual authorization.
To supporters of the current system, such numbers show that schools are hiring teachers on emergency permits only when necessary. To critics, the numbers underscore the argument for individual emergency permit applications.
California required individual applications for emergency permits until 1994, when it moved to districtwide declarations of need. It also used to offer more types of emergency permits, which for many years were called credentials despite their lower training requirements.
In 2005, California replaced most emergency permits with short-term staff and provisional internship permits. One-year short-term staff permits are for unanticipated staffing needs and are not renewable. Provisional internship permits may be renewed once, but the commission also may decide today to eliminate this possibility.
If schools can make do with fewer or no renewals for those permits, Kini said, "why wouldn't we also apply it to emergency permits?"
The commission's report shows that, with the exception of teacher librarian credentials that require completion of longer training programs, authorizations to teach English learners, bilingual courses and resource specialist programs can be earned within three years – and they typically are.
But the current five-year limit on emergency permits is "very appropriate when needed," Derek Ramage, director of certificated workforce management for the Los Angeles Unified School District, said at the September meeting.
Kini disagreed. "As a parent, and I am a parent of a kid in public school, I don't want my student being taught by one of those (emergency permit) teachers for five years. I don't think any parent wants that," she said.