Smaller Classes Mean More Novice Teachers


Driving to cut class size in primary grades, California elementary schools in the last year have hired an unprecedented number of teachers like Lisa Myers: bright, eager and uncredentialed.

Myers is winning praise in her rookie year at Garfield Elementary School in Santa Ana as a spirited and promising young teacher of 20 first- and second-grade students who mainly speak Spanish.

Yet she and thousands like her across the state who lacked formal training when they were hired are now scrambling to secure teaching licenses in their spare time.


State officials estimate about 11,000 emergency permits for multiple-subject teaching--the kind used in elementary schools--will have been issued by the end of the school year on June 30. That’s about 75% more than the previous year’s total of 6,200 and considered a record. The numbers are expected to grow in the next year as demand for new teachers continues to exceed supply.

Emergency permits are given to people who hold a bachelor’s degree--with course work in key subject areas--and have passed a basic skills examination, but have not yet finished a required year of postgraduate studies and training. The state also can lower the minimal emergency standards; several hundred elementary teachers have been granted such waivers this year.

While emergency teachers are typically the greenest in a school district, educators say many are rejuvenating schools with enthusiasm and fresh ideas. But historically they have tended to drop out of the profession at a faster rate than fully trained teachers. Many are given difficult assignments in bilingual and special education programs, where some of the greatest teacher shortages lie.

An disproportionate number of this year’s emergency teachers appear to be employed in urban school districts already faced with daunting educational challenges, according to education analysts and figures from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.


Through April, 10 months into the school year, the most recent date for which numbers are available, the commission had issued 3,165 multiple-subject emergency permits to teachers in the giant Los Angeles Unified School District, up from 1,718 in the full 1995-96 school year. Those figures do not include beginning teachers in the district’s well-known internship program.

In Santa Ana Unified School District, which hired Myers last summer, 152 emergency permits had been issued through April. That is the highest number in Orange County and up from 88 total the year before. School districts in Orange, Garden Grove, Anaheim, Long Beach and Montebello also have posted sharp increases in uncredentialed staff, while districts in better-off suburbs have gobbled up the fully licensed teachers.


“The problem is that those teachers who do get appropriate training and certification tend to go to school districts where they think their work will be more manageable,” said Jeannie Oakes, an education professor at UCLA. “That leaves urban school districts--with language-minority kids, children of color, immigrant kids--bearing the brunt of the teacher shortage. We think it’s a horrendous problem.”

Emergency permits have surged even though California universities are accelerating their production of certified teachers. This year, the state expects to credential about 9,600 elementary-level teachers, up from 8,100 the year before. But enrollment growth and the state’s new demand for primary-grade teachers ate up the gains.

The influx of teachers who lack full certification has forced many school districts to launch in-house teacher academies and has prompted calls for more state investment in training.

The commission’s director of teacher certification, Bob Salley, said there are no figures on how many emergency-permit teachers were put into classes limited to 20 students each under a new state program targeting kindergarten to third grade.

But some lawmakers and analysts say the $1-billion class-shrinking initiative and other efforts to improve student performance in reading and mathematics could be undermined unless the state acts to bolster the quality of its teaching force.

“Simply reducing class size is only part of the equation,” said state Assemblyman Jack Scott (D-Altadena). “Frankly, I would rather have my child in a classroom of 30 students with an excellent teacher than a classroom of 20 students with a poor teacher.”


Scott is sponsoring a bill, AB 351, backed by the California Teachers Assn. and the credentialing commission, that would allot $10 million in the next year for formal academic training and mentorship of emergency-permit teachers. In addition, Gov. Pete Wilson has proposed another $10 million for another university program that monitors beginning teachers.


Local school officials said they have taken exhaustive measures to support the new teachers and are pleased with their performance. Joe Tafoya, a deputy superintendent of Santa Ana Unified, said that only five or six first-year teachers won’t be asked back.

Myers, 27, was out of work and rethinking her career options in her home state of Pennsylvania when a friend called last summer with news of openings in Santa Ana schools. Myers’ fluent Spanish and experience with a youth ministry and a boys and girls club helped her land a job despite her lack of training.

But the Santa Ana district gave Myers and other new teachers a one-week seminar last fall on strategies for time management, classroom discipline and lesson plans. Veteran teachers also have given advice freely. Myers now takes evening courses at National University for her credential.

“It’s been a lot more enjoyable than I expected,” Myers said of her first year. “I didn’t think I’d be able to do it. But I love it.’

Other first-year teachers tell similar stories.

In the Los Angeles neighborhood of Echo Park, nine new teachers were hired at the Logan Street school. Almost all lacked a credential. But all are receiving training, through the district or universities, that will earn them a teaching license within a year or two.


Melissa Moore, 29, was an administrator in a West Los Angeles psychiatric rehabilitation hospital when she decided to try something she’d long wanted to do--work with children instead of adults. And she’s happy she made the move.

“I love working with first-graders. I love teaching them to read. It’s been terrific,” she said.

But it hasn’t been easy. After teaching all day, she works on homework assignments for her credential program. She spends three hours after school one night a week in class and is in class most weekends as well.

In Anaheim, Brandon Loomis holds an emergency permit as a first-grade teacher in Thomas Jefferson Elementary. Loomis, 25, a credential candidate at Chapman University, said he had no expectation of getting hired when he went to a job fair in November.

By February, he was in the classroom.

Crunched for space but eager to reduce class size in first and second grades, the Anaheim elementary district grouped Loomis and other teachers in teams of three, with each group in charge of 60 students in two adjoining rooms.

Loomis, who speaks little Spanish, works with two bilingual teaching veterans. He said they have helped him learn how to teach students who aren’t fluent in English.


“It couldn’t have been a better experience for me,” Loomis said on a recent morning devoted to spelling tests and a word game. “They’ve been role models for me, and they give me all the freedom to teach how I want.” Principal Ruth Sorensen said Loomis and more than a dozen other first-year teachers have energized the school.

“They’ve really blown us away with their skill and knowledge and flexibility,” she said. “I can’t say enough about our first-year teachers. They are awesome.”


For all the success stories, most education leaders agree that California must step up its production of fully trained teachers. Last fall, Cal State’s Institute for Education Reform issued a study that found that many districts have come to rely on emergency-permit teachers year after year.

“As long as emergency teachers occupy California classrooms, the rhetoric of strengthening academic standards will remain hollow and hypocritical,” former state Sen. Gary K. Hart, director of the institute, wrote in the report.

University leaders say they are doing all they can to raise the output of new teachers. Many are forming partnerships with districts to increase oversight of novice teachers. But they warn that the problem could take years to fix.

In the meantime, emergency teachers will continue to be in heavy demand, especially in elementary schools. That worries state teaching leaders who say the reputation of the profession is at stake.


“Our feeling is that [all teachers] should be fully credentialed, just like fully certified doctors, fully certified nurses and fully certified lawyers,” said David Lebow, a longtime high school history teacher in Montebello who tracks the issue for the California Teachers Assn.

“The problem is, if you take all the emergency permits out of California schools, who’s in those classrooms? Who’s there? You can’t open the doors to the schoolrooms with no one there.”

Times education writer Richard Lee Colvin contributed to this report.


Credential Crunch

The number of multiple-subject emergency teaching permits granted in Orange County school districts has more than tripled in three school years:


District 1994-95 1995-96 1996-97 Anaheim Elementary 5 10 66 Anaheim Union High 1 0 1 Brea-Olinda Unified 3 4 6 Buena Park Elementary 1 1 6 Capistrano Unified 2 2 7 Centralia Elementary 0 0 1 Cypress Elementary 0 0 2 Fullerton Elementary 2 3 8 Fullerton Joint Union High 5 3 3 Garden Grove Unified 2 2 51 Huntington Beach City Elementary 2 0 0 Irvine Unified 3 4 5 Laguna Beach Unified 0 0 1 La Habra City Elementary 0 1 9 Los Alamitos Unified 1 0 0 Magnolia Elementary 4 3 6 Newport-Mesa Unified 4 3 11 Ocean View Elementary 4 2 2 Orange County office 8 10 7 Orange Unified 10 8 43 Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified 10 16 17 Saddleback Valley Unified 4 2 4 Santa Ana Unified 60 88 152 Tustin Unified 2 2 5 Westminster Elementary 6 0 26 Total 139 164 439


Note: Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach Union High and Savanna school districts have been granted no multiple-subject emergency permits. Figures for 1996-97 are for first 10 months of the school year.

Source: California Commission on Teacher Credentialing; Researched by NICK ANDERSON / Los Angeles Times