Orange County Community Colleges Tackle Regional and National Teacher Shortage Feature Story

January 28, 2020
chemistry teacher holding a beaker and explaining to a room of students

When Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the California State Board of Education, said, “Teaching is the profession that builds all other professions,” she was describing the critical role that teachers play in not just educating children but in building the workforce of the future. It is this foundational importance that makes the nationwide teacher shortage especially alarming.

According to reports from the Learning Policy Institute, a respected provider of education-related research, the number of unfilled teaching positions has nearly quadrupled since 2012, growing from 20,000 to 110,000 unfilled vacancies across the country. In California, 80% of school districts reported teacher shortages in 2017-18. In Orange County, this shortage is exacerbated by the fact that demand for education-related jobs is expected to increase by 6% through 2022 resulting in 4,349 annual openings according to the Orange County Center of Excellence.

To address this shortage, the Orange County Careers in Education (CIE) Pathway Collaborative, a Strong Workforce Program (SWP)-funded partnership that includes seven of the region’s nine community colleges, is working hard to create streamlined high-school-to-career pathways to help future teachers get the education and training they need to succeed faster. Participating Orange County community colleges include Santiago Canyon (co-lead), Santa Ana (co-lead), Fullerton, Irvine Valley, Golden West, Saddleback, and Coastline.

“Most people don’t realize that that 55% of the students who graduate from a CSU credential program were originally community college students,” says Janis Perry, project director of the Orange County CIE Pathway Collaborative and chair of Santiago Canyon College’s (SCC) education department. “Given this, the role that community colleges have to play in recruiting and early teacher preparation is profound. That’s why we’re working so hard to develop programs and services that support that.”

Specifically, the CIE Pathways Collaborative is focused on addressing the state and local educator shortage by focusing on developing early work-based learning opportunities, improving workforce diversity, creating certificates and degrees that lead to employment in the education sector, and bolstering transfer to bachelor’s degree and state credentialing programs.

While the CIE Pathway Collaborative is relatively new (SWP funding started in April 2018), “Careers in Education” is actually a continuation of 20 years of teacher preparation curriculum and regional partnership development by Perry and Steve Bautista, a Santa Ana College (SAC) counselor and the coordinator of SAC’s Center for Teacher Education.

“The Strong Workforce Program funding has really allowed us to connect the dots between all of the programs we’ve been developing over the years,” says Bautista. “Because the funding has always come from multiple sources, our different projects have always had slightly different requirements and goals. In a way, the Strong Workforce funds allowed us to bring all of our pathway efforts under one umbrella, while giving us the resources to share our successes with other colleges.”

At Santiago Canyon College, Perry’s efforts have been so successful that her department now boasts the highest semester-to-semester persistence (or retention) rate of any department at SCC. Bautista has been similarly successful at SAC where teacher education pathway persistence rates are near 80%, 13% higher than the college’s average for all programs.

Perry and Bautista’s “recipe” for success includes such practices as early identification of interested students, establishing educational plans leading to completion and transfer, providing early academic field experience to students, robust wraparound support services for students, and helping students find work in the field as paraprofessionals while in school. As a whole, these efforts have helped Perry grow SCC’s education department from 105 students in 2012/13 to over 500 in 2018/19. In 2019, SCC graduated 183 future teaching students with associate degrees, with 103 of them transferring to a 4-year university. Similarly, education pathways students at SAC earned 168 AA degrees, with 102 of them transferring to a 4-year university.

“The Strong-Workforce-funded collaborative has really been about figuring out how to replicate this model for teacher preparation success at all of the participating community colleges,” explains Perry.

While it might be obvious to those who work in or around schools and colleges, many people wrongly assume that the only “real” jobs in the education field are for teachers. But the truth is, the education sector not only has a broad need for teachers of all types, but also for a host of entry-level, paraprofessional-type occupations.

“In terms of teacher preparation, our goals at the community college level are to get students on a pathway to higher education and a teaching credential,” says Perry. “But at the same time, we’re preparing them for multiple levels of early employment. We’re preparing students to become community early educators, preschool teachers, teacher assistants, after school program aides, and a host of related positions. These aren’t high-wage positions, but many of them are living wage occupations and they’re in high demand in Orange County.”

These positions are also a perfect entry point for students looking to find out what it is like to work in education as a field and this is intentional—the attrition rate for new teachers is astonishing. According to Richard Ingersoll, professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, 44% of teachers leave the field within their first 5 years.

“Attrition is a huge problem for our profession but one way to solve it is by getting students early exposure and practice in the field as paraprofessionals so that they know what they’re getting into,” says Perry. “Not all students are going to end up being teachers, and that’s fine–there are plenty of other in-demand jobs in the field–but now is the time for students to figure that out. That’s why this is and has always been a big focus for us.”

Another key focus of Perry and Bautista’s early efforts was the development of pathways that led directly from regional high schools to community college certificates and credit. Not only does this allow students to start figuring out early if education is the right career path for them, it also has the added effect of helping build a “college is possible” mindset among the area’s low-income, first-in-family college prospects.

“Creating a more diverse pool of teachers is an important issue,” says Bautista. “Data clearly tells us that students are more likely to connect and feel supported by teachers who look like them. But here in Orange County, 75% of our students are students of color while only 28% of teachers are teachers of color. Early start programs like these are one way to address the issue because they help make college less scary.”

The Orange Unified School District has adopted one such program. Students at its four high schools can participate in a teacher preparation program that includes four elective classes spread over four years in which students learn about everything from child development to what a career in education will be like.

One key development has been the creation of stackable certificates that students can earn while in high school. After taking a combination of articulated and dual-enrollment courses, students at participating high schools are awarded the After School Program Assistant Certificate (from SAC or SCC), which can help them qualify for employment in any number of related jobs.

For those that continue on, after just a couple more classes at SAC or SCC, students then qualify for a second, After School Program Associate Teacher Certificate, further improving their chances of successfully finding work within the field.

“The idea is that they come to college and after just a couple more classes, they earn that certificate and then our wraparound services help them find employment in the field, not working at Burger King,” says Perry. “Instead, they get to work in an afterschool program or at the Boys and Girls Club as a program assistant, all the while getting to know the field, earning some money, and building the confidence they need to continue on their journey to become a teacher.”

While many of the collaborative’s participating community colleges are still in the early stages of developing their programs and support services, Bautista points to several achievements that are paving the way for a robust, region-wide teacher preparation effort.

“Much of our collaboration has been using what we’ve done as a model, sharing best practices, and helping each other find creative solutions to common problems,” says Bautista. “Some of the big things we’ve been working on are helping participating colleges identify interested students, developing educational planning processes, and figuring out how to provide more field work and service learning opportunities to students. All of our colleges do things a little differently, so there’s no simple answer for all of this. But being able to work together to address these needs has been great.”

In the last year, the collaborative has identified 6,308 students in Orange County that are interested in becoming teachers.

“Good teachers change lives,” reflects Perry. “They believe that all students can learn and they’re committed to making a difference in society. Those are the people we’re looking for. Those are the ones our programs are here to support.”