Info: Teacher Preparation in California

In the US, each state has its own unique set of requirements that prospective teachers must satisfy in order to earn their professional credentials. Some states offer teaching degrees and credential programs at the undergraduate level, other states only offer teaching degrees and credential programs at the graduate level, and others offer teacher licensure at the undergraduate and graduate level. The coursework and content required to earn a teaching credential varies across states, the expectations for and duration of credential candidates’ clinical practice field experiences vary, the means of assessing credential candidates’ teaching performance varies, the type of credentials available to teachers varies, and the credentialing structure in each state varies. This state-by-state variation makes engaging in meaningful conversations about teachers’ professional preparation quite difficult. When speaking about teacher preparation with teachers and preservice teacher educators from different states, we always find ourselves qualifying, specifying, explaining, and detailing the nuances of our state policies before we can actually begin a conversation.

California as a context for preparing teachers

I taught first grade for one year in New York City, and earned my initial New York State teaching credential in 1989. I also spent twelve years on the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin (1996-2008), where I taught preservice elementary school teachers and conducted empirical research on kindergarten teachers’ experiences with top-down regulation and bottom-up resistance in NCLB-era Texas.

However, I consider California my home as a teacher and a teacher educator. California is where I spent my early career as a credentialed primary grade teacher in a public school district (1989-1991), where I completed my doctoral program (1991-1995), and where I hold my current position as Director of Teacher Education at Santa Clara University (2008-present).

Because my blog posts are likely to reflect my experiences in California, I’d like to provide some background information about teacher education in the state. I believe this page may help readers understand the context in which my posts are embedded.

Planning to become a teacher in California.  In California today, teacher preparation occurs primarily at the post-baccalaureate (graduate) level. California college undergraduates hoping to become teachers must find or create their own opportunities to engage in activities in which they can get closer to teaching and learning.

A common major for prospective elementary teachers in California is something called “Liberal Studies.” This major provides opportunities for prospective teachers to engage with and reconsider all the content elementary teachers are typically expected to teach their students. Over the years, however, Liberal Studies has broadened and deepened. For example, at Santa Clara University, prospective teachers majoring in Liberal Studies invest a great deal of time and energy in working—in a volunteer capacity—with children and families in the local community. These service learning courses provide our Liberal Studies majors with opportunities to learn about the lives, experiences, and challenges faced by individuals who live in typically under-resourced communities, individuals who are English Language Learners, individuals who have not had the opportunity to earn a high school education (or to go to school at all), and so on.

Other common undergraduate majors for prospective elementary school teachers are things like “applied learning and development” or “child and adolescent development” which focus on the psychological foundations of education and learning.

As undergraduates, prospective middle and high school teachers typically major in the academic content area they hope to teach (e.g., mathematics, English, biology, art).

Enrolling in a 5th year program.  California credential programs are often referred to as “5th year programs” because they add a fifth year to the initial 4 years of pre-professional study at college. Fifth year programs typically enroll college graduates who intend to complete the requirements for a teaching credential in 10-12 months. When candidates successfully complete their fifth year program, the sponsoring university recommends them to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) for their preliminary teaching credential.

Some fifth year programs award only the credential recommendation to their program completers; other fifth year programs add courses and other requirements to CTC’s basic expectations and award their program completers both a teaching credential and a master’s degree of some type.

Passing mandated standardized tests.  Candidates for the preliminary multiple or single subject credential are not required to have a bachelor’s degree in the content area(s) they intend to teach. In fact, their undergraduate major is of little consequence because the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing requires candidates to demonstrate their mastery of basic skills and their subject matter knowledge by passing a range of standardized tests.

Basic Skills Requirement (BSR).  This requirement may be met in any of these ways:

(a) Passing the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST);

(b) Earning a score of “College Ready” or “Exempt” on both the English and the math sections of the CSU Early Assessment Program or earning a score of 151 or higher on the English subtest and a score of 50 or higher on the Math subtest of the CSU Placement Examinations;

(c) Passing a basic skills examination in another US state;

(d) Earning a score of 500 or higher on the English section and 550 or higher on the math section of the SAT exam;

(e) Earning a score of 22 or higher on the English section and 23 or higher on the math section of the ACT;

(f) Earning a score of 3 or higher on the English Language and Composition or the English Language and Literature AP exam and on the AP Calculus AB, AP Calculus BC, or AP Statistics exam.

(g) Multiple Subject candidates may also satisfy the BSR by passing the three Multiple Subject subtests of the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET) examination AND passing the Writing Skills CSET subtest.

Subject Matter Competence (SMC).  To meet this requirement:

Multiple subject credential candidates must pass all three subtests of the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET) Multiple Subject exam.

Single subject credential candidates must pass all required subtests of the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET) in their specialized content area or provide evidence of successful completion of a CTC-approved subject matter preparation program at their undergraduate institution.

I believe the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing perceives eliminating opportunities for prospective teachers to major in education at the undergraduate level and requiring prospective teachers to demonstrate their skills and knowledge using expensive, “authoritative” standardized tests before allowing them to begin student teaching as a way to ensure that it maintains rigorous standards for entry into the teaching profession.

California Teaching Credentials

California has a two-tier credential structure. The first credential issued to a brand new teacher is a “preliminary” teaching credential. This credential is valid for 5 years and must be “cleared” before it expires. Clearing a credential involves two years of successful full-time teaching in a public school setting and completion of a district-mandated induction program (these programs are called BTSA: Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment). After satisfying these requirements, the employing school district recommends the teacher for their clear teaching credential.

I am proud to hold two valid California teaching credentials—Clear Multiple Subject and Clear Single Subject: Social Science. I also have two specialized endorsements added to my credentials: a Crosscultural, Language and Academic Development Certificate (CLAD), and an Added Authorization in Art History and Appreciation.

Do these credentials and this terminology sound familiar?   If not, here’s some clarification and assistance:

  1. The Multiple Subject Credential: Most useful for elementary and middle school teachers.

California teachers who hold a Multiple Subject teaching credential are authorized to teach all content areas (English-Language Arts, mathematics, sciences, social studies, art, music, PE, health) to a group of learners from age 4 to adult. A multiple subject teacher must teach more than one academic subject to the same group of students. An elementary school teacher with a self-contained classroom clearly satisfies this requirement. Multiple subject credentials can also be valuable in middle school settings that emphasize teaming: a middle school teacher with a multiple subject credential could teach both English-Language Arts and social studies to two different groups of students.

  1. The Single Subject Credential: Most useful for middle and high school teachers.

California teachers who hold a Single Subject teaching credential are subject matter experts who are authorized to teach a range of courses within their content area to students from transitional kindergarten – adults. A candidate with a single subject Mathematics credential could teach basic mathematics, algebra 1, algebra 2, geometry, trigonometry, pre-calculus, calculus, or statistics at the middle school or high school level. However, she could not teach physics (even though physics requires mastery of calculus) because teaching physics requires a Science: Physics credential; she could not teach economics (even though economics is a mathematically intensive content area) because teaching economics requires a Social Sciences credential.

  1. Anomalies: Uses of the Single Subject credential in TK-12 settings

Teachers of music, art, physical education, and world languages hold Single Subject teaching credentials in their content area and are authorized to teach in grades TK- adults. Thus, a candidate with a World Language- Spanish credential could be hired by an elementary school in which Spanish is taught to all the students in grades TK-3: as long as the teacher was only responsible for Spanish instruction she would be teaching within her credential. Another example of this would be a Physical Education teacher hired by a district to teach in a middle school/high school split appointment: 2 sections of 8th grade P.E. and 3 sections of 10th grade P.E. Although this candidate is teaching at two different schools, he is still teaching a single subject: physical education.

  1. Endorsements: CLAD or ELA

Most recent graduates of California multiple and single subject credential programs earn what is called a “2042” credential. The most notable characteristics of the 2042 credential are the shifts away from allowing general education classroom teachers to see their English Learners as “someone else’s responsibility” to a clear expectation that teachers will provide their English Learners with appropriate English Language Development experiences and will actively support ELs’ use and mastery of enriched academic language. Supporting English Learners is now embedded in all preliminary teaching credential coursework and field experiences.

The CLAD (Crosscultural Language and Academic Development) endorsement was phased out beginning in 2009 and was replaced by the English Learner Authorization (ELA).

  1. Endorsements: Added Authorizations

An added authorization is a CTC endorsement that documents a teacher’s specialized expertise in a particular content area. For example, one of my recent multiple subject credential candidates completed a minor in theatre arts. She felt her added authorization in theatre might give her a bit more sparkle and differentiate her from all the other candidates looking for elementary teaching positions. Because my undergraduate major was History of Art, I was delighted to see that California offered an added authorization in Art History/Appreciation. Now, when people question my choice of major (which really doesn’t happen much these days), I have a great answer: my major enabled me to get an added authorization on my Single Subject Social Science teaching credential.


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