Professionalizing Teaching in California

James W. Guthrie
Policy Analysis for California Education


Since 1983, California has made substantial policy and financial investments in improving public K–12 education. Teaching remains a prime challenge within this school reform agenda due in large part to the fact that educational reforms depend crucially for their implementation upon cadres of classroom teachers. The performance, character, and commitment of California's teaching force determines not only the short-run nature of schooling but also shapes the lives and social conditions of Californians for years to come. The purpose of this forum is to discuss the major teacher-related policy components and decision challenges facing California's public officials.

Recent legislation proposes changes in the state's systems of teacher credentialing and professional teacher preparation, including replacing the Commission on Teacher Credentialing with a California Teacher Standards Board and abolishing the emergency credential. These ideas draw on the report of the California Commission on the Teaching Profession as well as other national commissions and task forces that have generated proposals to improve teaching. Several major issues and policy challenges underlie these and related proposals, such as:

Recruitment and Preparation

  • Enhancing the quantity of able recruits while elevating the quality of professional entry standards.
  • Continuing to increase entry-level teacher salaries.
  • Eliminating the duel licensing systemone formal and rigorous, the other including emergency credentials, long-term substitutes, and assignments outside one's subject matter specialty—while ensuring that the supply of qualified teachers matches demand.
  • Intensifying professional preparation while sustaining or enlarging the pool of eligible teacher candidates.


  • Determining an appropriate balance between program approval and individual appraisalthat is, relying primarily on an assessment of the curricula at teacher training institutions or on tests of individual candidates themselves.
  • Identifying recruitment incentives and better preservice preparation whereby the pool of minority teaching candidates can be certified rigorously and expanded in number.
  • Reassessing the tenure question to determine if the correct balance has yet been struck between an individual's property right to employment and the public's interest in having competent teachers.
  • Balancing lay control of public education with the growing aspirations of educators for professional parity and self-regulation in deciding who should control the licensing of teachers.


  • Maintaining the momentum of salary increases while balancing the awesome costs involved.
  • Correcting weaknesses in the Mentor Teacher Program and simultaneously leaving California in a posture to accommodate to national developments regarding professional specialty boards for teachers.
  • Framing incentives which simultaneously provide added professional opportunity and remuneration in exchange for teachers assuming added professional responsibility for the welfare of the state's public schools.
  • Regarding working conditions and class size reduction: fabricating a set of phase-in incentives and financing formulas which permit practical progress toward a healthier instructional climate while remaining within reasonable revenue boundaries.

Changing the way teachers are trained and credentialed, improving their working conditions, and providing professional advancement opportunities will be costly and controversial. Yet much of the important analytic groundwork and policy research has been done regarding financial impediments to professionalization. Seldom in history has greater attention been given at state and national levels to the issues involved. The objective—a fully professionalized teaching force in California—is assuredly one of the most potent answers to furthering school reform, increasing the skills and abilities of future generations of California students, and enhancing the state's position nationally and worldwide.

Suggested citationGuthrie J. W. (1987, March). Professionalizing teaching in California [Report]. Policy Analysis for California Education.