Statewide teacher increase relies on substandard permits

February 26, 2018 Staff Writer

Fewer students who now complete a teacher preparation program need to find a job upon doing so. The successful completion of an initial student teaching experience now serves to qualify a candidate for a teaching position.

By David R. Jones

This article isn’t about the shortage of teachers in California. This article is about increases. Don’t celebrate just yet.

The good news from the Learning Policy Institute is that the teacher workforce has clambered back to a five-year high. Comparably, and according to the same source, district hiring has hit an upswing, returning to a level of activity not seen since 2007.

University prep program increases

As an administrator of a university-based, teacher-preparation program, I see an increase, too. Over the previous three years in one Central Valley program, the number of students receiving mentoring while completing field-based experiences has nearly doubled, spiking from a mere 163 candidates for teacher credentials in the fall 2013 semester to 293 in the spring 2016 semester.

This means more up-and-coming teachers, yes? Not exactly.

What this information so far disguises is the realization that the increase has little to do with the number of individuals preparing to become teachers. Instead, the rise owes to the six-fold increase in a category we, in our teacher preparation program, christened independent teachers and includes those with internship credentials, short-term staff permits, and provisional intern permits – what the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing refers to as substandard permits.

These candidates already constitute the workforce, despite a lack of preliminary credentials, and reflect district efforts to staff every classroom despite the unavailability of credentialed teachers. The independent teachers at our representative university-based, teacher preparation program consisted of special education credential candidates almost exclusively in the fall 2013 semester and, in the spring 2016 semester, grew to include candidates from every credential and specialty area.

Furthermore, increasing numbers of student teachers opt to complete their teacher preparation program as an intern – that is, as an employee – rather than as a volunteer student teacher. The number of initial and final student teachers in our preparation program grew overall in the 2013-14 and 2014-15, with expected inversions occurring each semester as initial student teachers became final student teachers.

The number of final student teachers – those students who will earn preliminary credentials at the end of the semester – plummeted during the fall 2015 semester, surpassed concurrently by an influx of interns. This shift indicates that more teacher candidates than ever before seek and achieve paid teaching positions before finishing their preparation program. In other words, fewer of those students who now complete the teacher preparation program need to find a job upon doing so. The successful completion of an initial student teaching experience now serves to qualify a candidate for a teaching position.

The number of candidates in our teacher preparation program employed on substandard permits increased at least four-fold each year over the previous three years. This trend corresponds to one of the most alarming findings reported by the Learning Policy Institute: California has seen an explosion in the number of substandard permits that comprise the teacher workforce.

It appears that the shortage has not only depleted its supply of newly credentialed teachers and substitute teachers, it is even carving into the pool of aspiring teachers. Substandard permit holders may assume teaching roles before enrolling in a teacher preparation program. The disparity between the number of substandard permit holders employed in local districts and the number of substandard permit holders enrolled in teacher preparation programs suggests that they may assume teaching roles without enrolling in a teacher preparation program at all. Conversations with other university-based programs yielded evidence that the trend is general within the region.

CCTC support requirements

The rise of substandard credentials, though, raises serious concerns about the decrease in the quality of teaching. Many university-based teacher preparation programs responded to the call from Mary Sandy (2016), executive director of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, by committing themselves to cooperate with districts to support those on substandard permits.

Sandy’s articulation of expectations attempts to raise the rigor of support but doesn’t elude the irony of highlighting the disparity between expectations for interns who have already completed a noteworthy portion of their teacher preparation and short-term staff permit or provisional intern permit holders ranging from those who may not even be enrolled in a teacher preparation program to those who have not yet finished the program requirements to advance to intern-eligible status.

The CCTC issued two Program Sponsor Alerts in 2013 (PSAs 13-04 and 13-06) that drove university-based, teacher preparation programs and districts to provide weekly and intensive support to intern credential holders. Whereas interns are provided a mandatory 144 hours of support (at minimum), those on permits have only a vague guarantee of any support.

Implications for superintendents

Superintendents have relied on pools of newly credentialed teachers as a source for staffing their districts. However, the discussion above advises strategic shifts.

Choose the preparation program. Districts now have much more say in where their teachers obtain training. In situations where a newly hired teacher is employed on a short-term or provisional intern permit, districts can steer the selection of university-based programs that suit the collusion of the individual’s and the district’s needs. The assumption here is that district representatives know the needs of the individual and have a meaningful relationship with local teacher preparation programs and can speak to the contrasts among programs.

None of this discussion intends to imply that the traditional model of teacher preparation –a candidate begins a training program in pursuit of personal aspiration, completes student teaching, and then takes a position with a local school district – has turned obsolete. Instead, this evidence points to an alternate pathway for teacher recruitment – one in which the district more directly drives its own recruitment process by nominating teachers and recommending them to a teacher preparation program, rather than relying on a new pool of credentialed applicants.

Forge partnerships. At our representative university-based teacher preparation program, the change in enrollment patterns informed an effort to forge a deeper partnership with local districts. Even before Sandy’s communiqué, these partnerships grappled with the question of how to support those holding substandard permits. Besides addressing pragmatic concerns about support like how much, the effort of grappling helps stakeholders maintain their commitment to their respective roles in the process and avoid disappointments that result should one or both parties fail to perform according to the expectations of the other.

The partnership to support those on substandard permits can bolster the skills of a qualified candidate and stave off the loss of quality teaching. Moreover, the university provides a reflection to the districts in understanding where substandard permit holders might have insufficiencies. By respectfully informing partners, districts can continue adapting their support efforts. The partnership cannot, though, replace the careful selection of promising, albeit un-credentialed candidates – a task that remains exclusively the district’s privilege.

Two-way support. Substandard permits holders seek district support in two ways. The obvious type of supports relates to classroom teaching. In many cases these teachers have never planned a lesson, recruited curricular resources, written IEPs or led the meetings associated with special education, or scheduled a full day of classes. However, their new assignment will require them to complete several of these tasks within the first few weeks of school. These teachers need intense support, especially at the beginning of the contracted period – the time when resources have not yet arrived and when the most qualified support personnel are most likely divided among competing demands.

I suggest using the CCTC’s outline for intern support – see especially PSA 13-06 – as a model for supporting those on substandard permits. Besides enhancing the teacher’s ability, district support demonstrates commitment to its teachers and improves retention. Our university-based program saw many substandard permit holders leave districts that provided insufficient support.

The less obvious direction of support entails participation in teacher preparation. This partnership concedes that many substandard permit holders never succeed in forming a niche within the teaching profession, owing in part to that these teachers never earn admission to a teacher preparation program. Because districts issue substandard permits at their own discretion, program administrators lack the means to identify these teachers and support them into, through, and out of a preparation programs. The onus rests on the teacher and the district to translate a yearlong appointment into a career.


In a long-standing conversation about the teacher shortage, evidence of increases portends good news and – dare we say it? –resolution. However, un-scrutinized increases insufficiently reflect our progress and fail to inform long-term and sustainable solutions. This present discussion dissects the increases observed at one university-based, teacher preparation program located in the Central Valley. By doing so, I hope to raise awareness of the ramifications of our actions and foster efforts to redress potential and unforeseen pitfalls.


Darling-Hammond, L., Furger, R., Shields, P.M. and Sutcher, L. (2016). “Addressing California’s emerging teacher shortage: An analysis of sources and solutions.” Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved from

Sandy, M. (2016, Jan. 8). “Employer responsibilities for teachers serving on Provisional Intern Permits, and Short-Term Staff Permits, and Intern Credentials. California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Retrieved from

California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (2013, May 3). “Program Sponsor Alert: Programs transitioning to revised standards relating to preparation to teach English learners.” Retrieved from

California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (2013, June 3). “Program Sponsor Alert: Intern preservice, support and supervision requirements: Preparation to teach English learners.” Retrieved from

David R. Jones (, M.S., is assessment coordinator at Fresno Pacific University.

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