Daniel Anderson/California Watch Charlie Parker, a longtime biology teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, was assigned for two years to teach history and social studies – subjects he’s not licensed to teach. Thousands of teachers in California’s public schools every year are placed in classes they lack the credentials or legal authorizations to teach.
Teachers are required by law to have appropriate credentials, authorizations or permits for the subjects and students they teach.
But in California every year, thousands of teachers do not. They instruct English-language learners without the training to do so, teach U.S. history when they’re licensed to teach biology and serve students with disabilities whose needs they’re not prepared to address.
These improper assignments are known as “misassignments.” The state tracks the problem annually at low-performing schools and once every four years at all traditional public schools. The rate of improper assignments has hovered above a persistent 12 percent at low-performing schools, whose students are overwhelmingly low-income and Latino.
How the state calculates that rate, however, obscures the magnitude of the problem.
County boards of education monitor teacher assignments by verifying that certificated personnel – primarily teachers – are licensed for their positions. Some employees hold multiple positions or teach various subjects that require different credentials, permits, authorizations or waivers.
As a result, one staff member could have one or more assignments.
The state Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which compiles the assignment data, calculates an annual misassignment rate at low-performing schools by dividing the number of improper assignments reported at those schools by the number of those schools' full-time equivalent certificated staff.
This does not show an accurate rate because it compares two different things – the number of reported improper assignments against the total number of staff members. Because a single teacher could have three incorrect assignments, for example, the official rate of misassigned teachers at low-performing schools would be inaccurate.
The commission has calculated the rate this way since 1987, when the Legislature began requiring assignment monitoring. Because the misassignment rate has been consistently calculated the same way, the rate can be compared year to year, said Teri Clark, director of the agency’s professional services division.
“This method of calculation represents the best, and really only, reflection of the misassignment rate available at this time based on the available data,” Clark wrote in an email.
Neither the commission nor the California Department of Education has data on the number of assignments that each staff member holds, which would allow an accurate rate to be calculated.
California Watch used the commission’s data in its reporting because it represents the best – and only – available data on improper assignments.
In September, our analysis of the commission’s data revealed that the state had reported an inflated rate of misassignments in the 2005-06 school year. The commission revised its data, and California Watch based its reporting on the corrected figures.
We verified the names of all schools and districts with reported misassignments against the state’s public school directory. We then identified those schools’ Latino and low-income populations using the state’s enrollment data on student ethnicity and eligibility for free and reduced-price meals.