Let’s learn how well California’s efforts to attract and keep teachers are working

Courtesy: Eric Lewis / SFUSD

An important bill making its way through the Legislature could help California’s schools better recruit and retain teachers.

Senate Bill 1391 would require the state’s new Cradle to Career (C2C) Data System to provide data that answers critical questions about California’s teacher workforce, including trends in teacher training, credentialing, hiring, retention, and the effectiveness of key programs aimed at addressing the teacher shortage.

I think about this bill as I prepare to lead a summer science workshop for nearly two dozen new middle and high school science teachers from diverse backgrounds. We will be working through our core science curriculum before the next year starts.

I know these teachers’ first few years in the classroom will be challenging, and their first year is the most challenging. They are often overwhelmed by time management issues: planning their lessons, grading students’ work, attending many meetings at their school site and in the district, all while trying to build relationships with their students.

These first-year challenges show up clearly in our data. In my district last year, about 17% of our pre-K-12 teaching staff left their positions. This means that we need many new teachers, and especially teachers from diverse backgrounds, to work with our heterogeneous students. 

The good news is that California is attempting to stem the loss of teachers through a variety of innovative programs and resources. There has been an effort to bring more people into the profession through the Golden State Teacher Grant, which pays teacher candidates a stipend while they get their credential, and a variety of teacher residency programs run in partnership with our school districts. The National Board Certification grants for teachers will also help keep many teachers in the profession through opportunities for additional professional learning and the possibility of additional funds once teachers become certified.

In my district, like many others, we have built teacher housing in our city and have had recent wins for pay raises. We have also been using state incentives for teachers working in difficult-to-fill subjects and schools.

All of these programs are great and are clearly part of the solution, but are they working? How can we know? Is all of this money and support actually getting to the teachers and populations that need it? Is the state doing enough to provide us with the data to help us make the right decisions? Currently, we don’t have the information to answer those questions.

The Cradle-to-Career dashboard could provide critical data on how effective our teacher grant programs and teacher training pipelines are, but it has not yet lived up to its potential. As the governor and Legislature are debating difficult choices about our state resources, including SB 1391, we cannot back off investing in the future of our workforce — first understanding clearly which programs work and which don’t, and then doing everything we can to maintain the programs that ensure every student has access to a well-supported teacher who reflects the diversity of our state. 

Once we know what works, we should play the long game and really focus on what our new teachers need to be well-prepared and supported. We need to be targeted in how we recruit diverse populations into the teaching profession. Our teacher education programs need to help link our newest teachers to mentoring programs and affinity groups to help them through the challenges of their first few years. We need to identify and support programs that provide mentors or provide pay for new teachers to have an extra prep period (these programs are few and far between but help keep our newest teachers from burning out quickly). Through all this, we need to remain laser focused on what helps our incredibly diverse student population to be successful. Let’s ensure that the Cradle-to-Career database informs us on how to make this future come to pass.

So, while I don’t know how many of the teachers I work with at my summer science institute will still be in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) next year, I’m hopeful that they will be. And I hope we’ll have the data to better understand why they’ve stayed, so we can know what to do better next year and into the future.


Eric Lewis is a secondary science content specialist in the science department of curriculum and instruction in the San Francisco Unified School District, where he supports middle and high school science teachers. He is a 2023-24 Teach Plus California Policy Fellow. 

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