Education

California public schools plan calls for immediate steps to address teacher shortage

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson attends the first meeting of an oversight committee that will act as watchdog over $90 million in school improvement bonds.
State Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson attends the first meeting of an oversight committee that will act as watchdog over $90 million in school improvement bonds.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

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A four-year plan to improve the state's public schools calls for fast action to address a shortage of teachers and principals already impacting Southern California school districts.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson issued his "A Blueprint for Great Schools" that builds on an earlier plan on improving state schools and that will guide him in his current four-year term in office.

Torlakson discussed the report at a press conference Friday at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

“This is about our kids and their future but it's also about California's economy,” Torlakson said. “We'll get back to the top ranked in the nation where we deserve to be, where our kids deserve to have us to be for them.”

Torlakson also touted the state’s transition to the new learning standards known as the Common Core. During an interview with KPCC, he discussed both the standards and the new statewide, computerized tests based on the new standards.

The tests are a major departure from the old assessments. Called Smarter Balanced exams, they emphasize such skills as critical thinking and problem-solving instead of rote memorization.

Results will be sent to parents and guardians in late August. Torlakson cautioned that the new test results may not be stellar.

"I think we’ll do well,” he said. “There’s a low, lower performance until everybody gets in line – the curriculum, the teaching and the testing and getting used to computers themselves as a way of measuring your learning and your proficiency.” 

The blueprint, developed by a task force of educators, notes the state's graduation rate reached 80.8 percent in 2014, up from 74.7 percent four years earlier. 

“Unfortunately, California’s school funding continues to lag. The latest annual state ranking by Education Week placed California 46th in the nation in school spending, but it was based on data from 2011–12,” according to the blueprint.

"California’s expanding state budget for 2015–16 has certainly increased our ranking, though California is still likely to remain in the bottom half of the nation,” the plan states.

Among other recommendations, the plan calls for research into why the teacher shortage is occurring, especially in bilingual and special education teachers; working with schools of education to coordinate teacher recruitment and preparation programs; and encouraging diverse undergraduates to pursue teaching as a career.

This story has been updated.