Addressing the needs of teacher education deserts
Nine California counties do not have a preparation program within 60 miles of its COE
Drawing on findings from its newly released report, California’s Teacher Education Deserts: An Overlooked & Growing Equity Challenge, the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools held a webinar on April 23 to discuss the obstacles that some regions face in attracting and retaining highly qualified educators.

As staffing shortages continue to impact local educational agencies across the U.S., teacher education deserts, defined as a county that does not have a preparation program within 60 miles of its county office of education, are most common in California’s rural border counties (those that border other states and/or Mexico).

Nine of California’s 58 counties — Alpine, Del Norte, Imperial, Inyo, Lassen, Modoc, Mono, Sierra and Siskiyou — are considered teacher education deserts.

Issues including declining interest in the profession, confusing and/or overcomplicated credentialing processes, passing credentialing assessments, program affordability, concerns around compensation, burnout and mounting political attacks affect many areas, but rural programs specifically.


“Research suggests that teachers are more likely to complete their student teaching and also secure employment close to where they receive their teacher training,” said Kai Mathews, the director of the Center’s California Educator Diversity Project. With that in mind, researchers set out to discover ways in which the geographic location of training programs impacts teacher supply and regional shortages.

Evidence-based recommendations to address teacher supply issues in the nine counties were covered during the webinar and in the report. An accompanying map, with data for all California counties on rates of underprepared teachers, student demographics, local education programs and community colleges and more, is also available online.


Key findings from the research include:

  • All nine teacher education deserts are border counties. Border districts have higher teacher vacancy rates than non-border districts. This can be due, in part, to educators leaving rural areas in favor of the upward mobility urban/suburban areas offer.
  • Limited post-secondary options are available in teacher education deserts. In California, teacher credentials can only be obtained after earning a bachelor’s degree.
  • The nine desert counties have higher rates of underprepared teachers.
  • LEAs in these locations employ higher rates of inexperienced teachers and teachers working out of field.
  • These locations are also considered resource deserts. Poverty rates in these regions are above the state average of 12 percent and median household incomes ($42,000 to $71,000) are lower than the state median household income of $92,000. Additionally, those from rural areas are less likely to return to their communities after graduating college.
  • Students in teacher education deserts have lower academic performance on state standardized tests.
  • Lower school stability rates occur in these locations and higher proportions of foster students are served.

Researchers presented recommendations that state leaders, as well as those in teacher education deserts, may implement to address educator supply issues.

Increasing financial support in the form of stipends for underprepared teachers to complete the credentialing process and offering bonuses and establishing a state-led paid rural teacher fellowship program were among the suggestions.

“Individual school districts or a collaborative coalition of teacher education desert county offices of education should endeavor to provide educational support stipends for underprepared teachers employed through an intern credential, permit, or waiver to complete the necessary coursework and assessments to receive a preliminary teaching credential,” is an example of one recommendation made in the report.

The state may also consider providing COEs in teacher educator deserts more structural and developmental support. Offering more mentorship and credentialing support including implementing rural teacher mentorship programs and specialized credentialing programs were tactics discussed during the webinar. Additional investments in the California Rural Ed Network that would improve available resources and guidance would aid in these efforts.

Utilizing specialized professional development to prepare rural teachers for the student populations that they will work with — specifically those in the foster care system and students experiencing housing insecurity — would benefit educators, students and the larger community. Prioritizing diversity and focusing on attracting teachers who have cultural and linguistic backgrounds similar to the local student population was suggested as well.

“Professional development programs for teachers should underscore the design and implementation of culturally responsive teaching strategies and curricula. School curricula and teacher training initiatives must also be carefully designed to promote inclusivity and cultivate a more comprehensive understanding of cultural diversity in the school community,” the report states. “Furthermore, to enhance course offerings and student learning in rural areas, districts and schools should provide specialized professional development that equips teachers with skills to integrate the use of technology into their instruction.”

Other recommendations include:

  • Allowing community colleges to host K-12 credentialing programs and implementing hybrid residency programs for community college graduates to earn a credential while working in their community.
  • Launching regional marketing campaigns to attract educators.