Jean Fuller: Help is on the way to help fix teacher shortage – but we must partner and move now

(Opinion Editorial appeared in the Bakersfield Californian on October 5, 2018)
Friday, October 5, 2018

Over the next decade, it is projected that approximately 30 percent of teachers will retire. Over the same period of time, we expect a considerable increase in the number of children entering school, subsequently increasing demand for new, qualified teachers. Thus compounding our existing teacher shortage.

The ongoing teacher shortage affects all levels of the educational pipeline and ripples into our local industries. The unfortunate reality is that in some schools, students are placed in impacted classrooms or in classrooms without a fully credentialed teacher. School administrators must then resort to advocating for emergency teaching certificates to address staffing vacancies. In rural communities, this issue can create even more severe challenges.

The demand for qualified teachers is growing across the nation, and retaining these teachers in rural and underserved communities is proving to be exceptionally difficult. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Education reported 39 percent of remote schools struggled to fill positions in every academic subject — and the shortage does not stop there. With an annual turnover rate of 20 percent nationwide, school principals are needed. And, when accompanied by the steady decline of enrollment in education programs nationwide, we are due for a change. And, thanks to Senate Bill 577, a change is coming.

Senate Bill 577 establishes the California Community College Teacher Credentialing Partnership Pilot Program, which allows community colleges to offer teacher-credentialing programs to their local school districts to help alleviate teacher shortages. This is why I supported it. With 2.1 million students across 114 campuses, California community colleges make up the largest higher education system in the country. These graduates are more likely to stay local and work in communities served by the community college.

I was born and raised in Shafter and began my higher education at Bakersfield College. This lead to coursework at Fresno State, UC Santa Barbara, and I supplemented my education at Oxford and Harvard. However, prior to my service in the legislature, I served as the Superintendent of the Bakersfield City School District — the largest K-8 district in the state. I dedicated more than three decades of my career to education in this region, so I understand that strong futures start with a robust education taught by the most qualified teachers. I can attest that big dreams do begin in Kern County classrooms.

SB 577 is part of the solution to our recruiting and retention challenges, and it will help grow the teaching profession from within our community. It is the responsibility of our local educational institutions to prepare these teachers effectively. Bakersfield College (BC) is taking this responsibility seriously. It is working hard to reduce barriers with programs and initiatives such as Strong Workforce, Early College and the Kern Promise’s Finish in 4 program to increase transfer students to CSU Bakersfield. In March, BC held the Future Teachers Open House events at both its Bakersfield campus and Delano Center. Implementing teaching credential programs through community colleges is the next step to reducing a barrier that hits education at all levels.

The Learning Policy Institute reported that teacher education enrollment dropped drastically from 691,000 to 451,000, a 35 percent reduction, between 2009 and 2014. A commitment and partnership between local higher education institutions offering close-to-home programs on a flexible schedule, along with strengthening education-based career pathways would be monumental to support and further the intent of SB 557. This strengthens the incoming generation of new qualified teachers.

Kern County classrooms are places of true opportunity and hope for bright futures. Without a local and less-expensive higher education option like the one I started while at BC, I would not have enrolled in college or completed my teaching credential. Now, with SB 577, we have the opportunity to come together as a community and help local students become teachers and address our workforce needs.