Schools in Berkeley district face teacher shortage

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Schools in Berkeley are facing an acute shortage of teachers due to rising housing prices and low teacher salaries, following a trend in California.

The California State University and UC systems are producing 60 percent fewer teachers than needed — meaning that for every 10 teachers needed, there are four available, according to California Teachers Association spokesperson Ed Sibby. The state has filled the gap for the 2015-16 school year by issuing more than 10,000 intern credentials, permits and waivers, which allow trainees and teachers to teach outside their areas of expertise — more than double the number issued for the 2012-13 school year, according to a recent Learning Policy Institute study.

Cathy Campbell, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, said that while the shortage has impacted school districts across California, the housing crisis in the Bay Area has increased the problem in Berkeley.

“We are affected differently,” Campbell said. “We live in an area with high cost of living, which saturates the problem.”

Sibby also attributed the teacher shortage to a lack of affordable housing, which forces some teachers to “travel 90 minutes to two hours to come into the city to teach.” California Teachers Association, or CTA, is committed to building more affordable housing and increasing teacher salaries to tackle this problem, Sibby said.

Sibby added that he believes the economic downturn of 2008 eliminated many teaching jobs, affecting younger teachers in particular. Those who could not retain their jobs and found success in other fields talked about disappointment in teaching jobs that discouraged others from pursuing a career in education, according to Sibby.

The state has issued both waivers to allow teachers trained in other subjects to teach outside their areas of expertise and temporary credentials to trainees. Cal Teach program director Elisa Stone said this is especially a problem in secondary math and science classes, which are often being taught by teachers who lack training in STEM subjects. Nearly 40 percent of math and science teachers lack full credentials statewide, according to the Learning Policy Institute study.

“This is a crucial concern, as our K-12 students in the state do not all have access to the quality science and math education they deserve. This is particularly the case in urban and rural schools,” Stone said in an email.

Cal Teach is focused on recruiting and preparing math and science majors for future teaching careers.

Stone said in an email that teachers are harmed by these practices as well. Teachers under temporary credentials are often paid less than those with full credentials and are let go from their jobs more frequently, according to Stone.

Sibby said a “significant” amount of work is being done to address the disincentive surrounding teaching jobs. He added that advocates of the profession are trying to communicate that “teaching is a great profession if you live in a diverse community.”

“As an institution, (CTA) believe(s) every student deserves highly qualified teachers in schools,” Sibby said. “We understand we need to minimize the issuance of preliminary credentials for folks who have not been trained in front of a classroom.”

Contact Azwar Shakeel at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @azwarshakeel12.