Fiscal, Demographic, and Performance Data on California’s K-12 Schools

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Teachers in California

In California, almost 296,000 teachers worked in public school classrooms in 2014-15. This article provides background about California's K-12 teachers.

Accountability

In California, almost 296,000 teachers worked in public school classrooms in 2014-15, reflecting a gradual increase since 2011-12 when there were only about 284,000 public school teachers. But the number is still below the more than 310,000 employed in 2007-08, the year before the recent national economic crisis first hit. 

The background, qualifications, training, and abilities of this vast workforce are central to the quality of schooling students receive. Their compensation represents the bulk of school expenditures, and their interactions with students are the essence of education.

The state of California sets a baseline for teacher qualifications through its credentialing requirements and procedures. Each school district, however, is responsible for hiring teachers, setting salary and benefit levels, and assigning teachers to specific schools.

Recruiting qualified teachers, evaluating and providing ongoing training for existing teachers, and encouraging them to stay in the profession are some of the biggest challenges in public education today.

Teacher demographics

In 2014-15, California’s teachers were predominantly white (65%), with Hispanic teachers at 19% the next largest group. That is quite a different look from the student population, which is 54% Hispanic and 25% white.

Teacher credentials

California offers several types of credentials: multiple subject (usually elementary school); single subject (usually middle or high school); specialist (special education, reading); and adult or vocational education. A special credential—Bilingual Crosscultural, Language, and Academic Development (BCLAD)—is required to teach students in bilingual settings. Teachers can hold more than one credential.

To receive a preliminary teaching credential, which is valid for five years, a prospective teacher must acquire a bachelor’s degree, pass the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) or other approved basic skills test, earn an authorization to teach English learners, demonstrate subject-matter knowledge through exams or coursework in the subject(s) that the individual plans to teach, and participate in a state-approved teacher preparation program and pass a teaching performance assessment.

Most candidates take a year of graduate courses at an accredited teacher training institution, usually with practice teaching, to receive a preliminary credential. To receive a “clear” credential, a teacher must complete a beginning teacher induction program. Clear credentials must be renewed every five years. National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification can also be used to obtain a clear credential.

Teachers who are credentialed in another state must also pass an approved basic skills test, though the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing can waive certain requirements for individuals with private school or out-of-state teaching experience.

About one-quarter of new teachers in the state enter as intern teachers, an alternative pathway that permits new teachers to earn a preliminary teaching credential over a two-year period while teaching in the classroom. Teach for America is one program that places intern teachers in schools. Some districts have established their own internships that include a two-year professional development plan for the teacher.

The Short-Term Staff Permit (for up to one year) and the Provisional Internship Permit (for up to two years) are waivers for districts that are unable to recruit suitable credentialed staff. Pre-internships and CalStateTEACH programs also allow individuals—including professionals changing careers—to hold paid teaching positions while completing credentialing requirements. University- and district-based programs must offer participants an early completion option allowing them to demonstrate pedagogical skills through examination.

The requirements for teachers in schools that receive federal funding under Title I have changed with Congress’s reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 2015, referred to as the Every Student Succeeds Act. Unlike its predecessor, which required that core academic courses be taught by “highly qualified” teachers, the Every Student Succeeds Act states that teachers only have to meet their state’s licensing requirements. However, ESSA also requires that poor and minority students not be disproportionately taught by teachers who are inexperienced, ineffective, or teaching out-of-field

Teacher salaries

Each district’s governing board sets a schedule for teachers salaries through the collective bargaining process negotiated between the district and the teachers’ representatives. The schedule is based on level of education and years of experience.

A teacher gains a salary increase for each step of the schedule based on length of service in the district and for each column based on earning additional educational credits. For example, “BA + 60” is the salary level for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree plus 60 additional credits. The contract specifies what professional development counts as a credit; some districts require a minimum amount of professional classes for their teachers. By state law, teachers hired after 1985 must complete 150 hours of professional growth classes every five years to retain their credentials.

California law requires the district to report (on its school accountability report card, or SARC) its beginning, midrange, and highest teacher salaries, the school-site principals’ and district superintendents’ salaries, and the percent spent on administrative and teachers’ salaries with comparisons to statewide averages (provided by the Superintendent of Public Instruction).

The Ed-Data Teacher Salary report displays the average salaries paid rather than the average on the salary schedule or average offered. Therefore, in each district the “average” salary depends on the range of its salary schedule and teachers’ placement on it. A district with many beginning teachers and few at the top will have a much lower average even if their salaries are competitive with those in neighboring districts. Conversely, a district with an experienced, senior staff will have a higher average. These averages reflect considerable differences across the state, as districts vary in size, the degree of urbanization, and geographic region.

Teacher benefits

The salary figures generally do not include the considerable amounts that are spent for a variety of employee benefits, both required and optional. These typically include professional development, health and life insurance, and retirement. Districts’ pension contributions to CalSTRS are rising substantially, from 8.25 percent of a teacher’s and administrator’s salary in 2014 to 19.1 percent, effective July 1, 2020, under legislation passed in 2014.

Comparisons of benefits among districts or even among employees of the same district can become quite complex. For example, a district could offer a single plan, two-party plan, family plan, or a cafeteria plan in which the employee selects benefits up to a total dollar allowance. Some districts also contribute to benefits for retired teachers. Occasionally, salaries and benefits are combined into one lump sum, which complicates cross-district comparisons. This situation is noted in the Ed-Data Teacher Salary report where known. Further, some contracts call for higher salaries in lieu of benefits. Although there is some variation, expenditures on salaries and benefits for all employees typically make up 80% to 85% of a district’s budget, with the bulk of it going to teachers.

Student-teacher ratios

The pupil-teacher ratio is the total student enrollment divided by the number of full-time-equivalent teachers. The number of pupils per teacher is smaller than the average class size, which is the number of pupils attending divided by the number of classes. Some teachers have special assignments in a school or in the district and so are not confined to one subject or one classroom.

The Local Control Funding Formula requires that class size for kindergarten through third grade be no greater than 24 students per teacher by the time the new formula is phased in, which is estimated to occur in 2020-21. The ratio applies to every school, not just a district’s class-size average. The class-size provision can be waived if the district’s teachers union agrees to grant an exemption.

The combination of average salary, years of teaching experience, percent of fully credentialed teachers, and the pupil-teacher ratio gives a good picture of the teaching staff in a district.