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How many teachers in your school district have the proper credentials?

In eight of San Diego County’s 42 school districts, more than one out of five classes were taught by a teacher without the proper credential for the course they’re teaching or by a teacher for whom no credential information is available.

That’s according to new state data for the 2020-2021 school year that show, for the first time, how many teachers in each school have the proper authorizations and training to teach their assigned course.

Most teachers in San Diego County and across the state do have the appropriate credentials, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made it increasingly difficult for schools to hire and keep teachers in general, let alone those with the proper credentials, school officials said.

“There is no question that well-qualified teachers are among the most important contributors to a student’s educational experience,” state Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond said in a statement. “California is committed to ensuring that every student has teachers who are well prepared to teach challenging content to diverse learners in effective ways and are fully supported in their work.”

Across San Diego County about 84 percent of teaching assignments in public schools were filled by teachers with the proper credentialing.

Two percent of assignments were filled by teachers who lacked authorization to teach their course, were using an emergency teaching permit, or had no authorization, permit or credential to teach in California. Schools may choose to hire teachers on emergency permits as substitutes, for example, if they are facing a staffing shortage.

Another 5 percent were filled by teachers who have a credential, but not the correct credential for the course they’re teaching.

One percent of assignments were filled by interns who are studying to earn a teaching degree or credential.

For the other 8 percent of teachers, the school district or charter reported incomplete or incorrect information about their authorization, so it’s unknown whether those teachers have the proper credentialing.

San Diego County’s numbers roughly match the state averages. Statewide 83 percent of classes were taught by educators who had the proper credentialing, while 4 percent were taught by teachers with out-of-field credentials, 2 percent were taught by interns and 4 percent were taught by teachers who had an emergency permit or who lacked authorization.

San Diego Unified School District was above the state average: 92 percent of teaching assignments were filled by properly credentialed teachers.

Of the 12 San Diego County districts with percentages of properly credentialed teachers below the state average, seven were rural districts. Rural districts often faced hiring challenges even before the pandemic because of their remote locations. It’s now even harder to convince people to commute out to rural districts amid higher-than-ever gas prices, officials say.

“Our location does play a part in it, definitely, in finding teachers,” said Lisa Stoffel, assistant to the superintendent and human resources director for Mountain Empire Unified School District, a rural district that spans the southeastern swath of the county including the communities of Pine Valley, Campo and Boulevard. At Mountain Empire, 79 percent of teaching assignments were filled by teachers with proper credentials, and 12 percent had an emergency permit or lacked authorization.

Five of the below-average school districts were high-school only districts. Unlike elementary schools where an educator has one credential to teach all subjects, high schools need teachers with specialized subject credentials.

Federal and state officials refer to teaching assignments filled by teachers on an emergency permit or without authorization as “ineffective,” although many school officials don’t like that term. They say a teacher can still be an effective educator even if they don’t have the proper credentialing.

“The definitions of this report are new and do not speak to the performance or teaching effectiveness of our teaching staff,” said Amy Venteuolo, spokesperson for San Marcos Unified School District, where 11 percent of teaching assignments were designated “ineffective.”

Venteuolo added that 87 percent of San Marcos courses were taught by educators with the proper credentialing, which is higher than the state average.

“At SMUSD, we actively seek to hire and retain only the best educators and invest in their success. This includes substitute teachers and working with student-teachers to invest in their growth and development,” Venteuolo said.

Some school officials said there are sometimes financial or logistical reasons why schools use teachers in courses for which they don’t have a credential.

Out of all public school systems in the county, the San Diego County Office of Education — which educates about 1,200 students — shows the lowest percentage of teachers with the proper credentialing. Only 40 percent of teachers at the county office had proper credentialing, while 48 percent were teaching a subject other than their credentialed field, and 11 percent showed incomplete or unknown information.

The San Diego county office is not alone — county offices of education across the state overwhelmingly showed lower numbers of teachers with proper credentialing, the state data show.

Officials say that’s largely because county offices have small schools, including court and alternative schools, that serve certain populations of students, such as students with cases in juvenile court. In those small schools, where there may be as few as 10 students in a high school grade, it makes more sense to have one teacher for all those students, rather than hire multiple teachers each with the proper credential for every high school subject they are taught, said Kindra Britt, spokesperson for the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association.

State law allows teachers with any California credential to teach in community, court, alternative and other specialized schools, yet they may still be classified as “out-of-field.”

This need for efficiency of scale is also why tiny rural schools may be showing lower numbers of teachers with proper credentials, Britt added. That’s one example of why schools may show large numbers of educators who lack the proper credentials, but it doesn’t automatically mean the teachers are unqualified, she said.

Some San Diego-area districts showed low numbers of teachers with proper credentials because they had incomplete, incorrect or missing data for many of their teaching assignments.

For example Sweetwater Union High School District, which had about 1,580 teaching assignments, reported that only 68 percent of them were filled by teachers with the required credentialing, largely because there’s another 28 percent of teaching assignments that had incomplete or no data. Alpine Union Elementary similarly had only 69 percent of classes taught by teachers with required credentials and 23 percent with incomplete or no data.

Britt said she is concerned about the numbers of assignments with missing data partly because, eventually, at least some of this data will be used to judge the quality of schools in the California School Dashboard, the state’s school rating system.

The state has not yet decided exactly how teacher assignment data will be incorporated into the Dashboard, said Maria Clayton, spokesperson for the California Department of Education. She added that at least two years of data are needed before moving forward.

Schools had almost six months to submit, review, correct and certify their data, Clayton said. Schools had another four months to review and modify their data after teacher credentials were compared to teaching assignments, Clayton added.

Clayton said the state education department held more than 30 in-person training sessions and helped conduct several webinars about how to submit the data correctly. More than 3,000 people participated, she said.

“(School districts and charters) have time to learn from these data and improve their local data submission and review practices for future years,” Clayton said.

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