How to find out if your child's classes have teachers with proper credentials. Many don't

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WEST HILLS , CA - MARCH 23: Forth grade student Emily Yep, middle, and John Do, right, raise their hands during class at Pomelo Community Charter School, a K-5 school, on Wednesday, March 23, 2022 in West Hills , CA. Today is the first day Los Angeles Unified School District students will no longer be required to wear a mask indoors. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
Fourth grade students raise their hands during class at a school in West Hills. A new report by the California Department of Educations finds that 17% of teachers working in the state's classrooms are not fully credentialed amid shortage. (Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

At least 10% of California's public school classrooms are overseen by teachers who are not properly credentialed, according to a first-of-its-kind report released by the Department of Education on Thursday.

The new data shed light on the number of classrooms with instructors who are fully trained in the subject they are assigned to teach. It also shows how many classrooms are led by teachers who are working while awaiting full credentialing. The data come as California schools have been grappling with widespread staffing shortages, a problem compounded by the pandemic.

A vast majority — 83% percent — of classes are led by teachers fully authorized to cover the subjects they teach. Data are unknown for nearly 7% of classrooms. But the report did delve into classrooms without properly trained instructors:

  • The 10% of classrooms without credentialed teachers represents 27,500 courses.

  • 4.1% of the state's teaching assignments are considered “ineffective," meaning educators are using emergency permits or are otherwise teaching without proper authorization.

  • 4.4% of classrooms are led by teachers who have a credential but have "not demonstrated subject matter competence" in the course they are assigned to.

  • 1.5% of courses are taught by teachers with an intern credential.

The inaugural report was mandated by legislation signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019 amid concerns about a lack of monitoring and accountability of "teacher misassignments."

The new data, available on the California Department of Education website, allow the public to drill down to individual districts, schools and grade levels. But advocacy groups, including the Education Trust-West, are pushing the state to provide even more information about how the data impact students of color and those living in poverty as well.

“We can’t fix what we can’t see clearly. That’s why the release of this data is a vital first step toward better understanding the quality of California’s teacher workforce," Jana Luft, senior associate for the Education Trust–West, said Thursday. "Now that we are finally starting to see clearly the equity gaps in teacher preparedness, it’s time to get to work fixing them."

The state's previous, more limited monitoring of credentials showed that such misassignments were disproportionately higher for courses such as special education and in schools located in low income ZIP Codes.

Assemblymember Reggie Jones Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), who authored the bill that requires the state to provide the annual reports on teacher credentials and class assignments, said Thursday's results show why it was needed.

"This is the exact purpose of the legislation — to identify deficiencies in the system and make targeted investments in schools and communities most in need of resources to address these problems," Jones Sawyer said. "Our main concern is whether or not students are being served and educated properly, especially in Black and Latino communities."

In school districts like Montebello Unified, where 95% of students are Latino and 74% qualify for free or reduced price meals, less than half of classrooms are led by teachers properly credentialed.

Los Angeles Unified, the largest district in California, is about on par with the state, with 82% of classrooms overseen by teacher properly credentialed. Many of Los Angeles Unified’s highest-needs campuses remain significantly understaffed, and the problem has hit hardest at schools in parts of South L.A. and other low-income neighborhoods.

At San Diego Unified, about 89% of classrooms have adequately authorized teachers. At Oakland Unified, about 58% of teachers meet the state standards.

The California Teachers Assn. said the pandemic affected teachers' ability to finish their credential programs while at the same time there has been an urgent need to get teachers, even if not fully prepared, into classrooms lacking instructors.

“Exceptions were made during COVID in order to return to in-person teaching and learning," said Lisa Gardiner, CTA spokesperson. "The state’s testing centers were closed, and the temporary solution was to give student teachers more time to complete the assessments and earn their credentials, in addition to granting them preliminary credentials to be able to move to the classrooms."

The state budget finalized by Newsom and state lawmakers this week includes millions to increase the pipeline of aspiring teachers, expanding grants and residency programs. Nationwide, teachers have fled the profession, which has seen a significant decline in education degrees and accelerated retirements, with pandemic disruptions partly to blame.

In a news release Thursday, the California Department of Education said that the data will be used to get more teachers properly certified. State officials pointed to $3.6 billion the state has provided in the last four years to improve teacher recruitment, retention and training.

“As we begin to emerge from a global pandemic, this data is an important tool to drive conversations about how we can best serve students,” said Mary Nicely, state chief deputy superintendent of public instruction. “By launching this annual report, we are providing a new level of transparency to support schools, students, and families as we find ways to navigate today’s challenges to public education, including statewide education workforce shortages."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.