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50 Years Later, Californians Can Get an Undergraduate Degree in Education Once Again

Aspiring teachers in California will now be able to major in education as undergraduates, which has been forbidden for more than five decades under an unusual state law.

Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that would end the requirement that teachers in the Golden State get an undergraduate degree in a subject other than education. Teachers there have generally taken a fifth post-graduate year to complete their pedagogical training and student teaching.

The law banning the undergraduate education major went into effect in 1961. "At the time, lawmakers believed an education major was a watered-down degree, with students spending too much time learning teaching methods and too little time learning rigorous subject content," reports John Fensterwald in EdSource.

Critics of the California approach say a single year is simply not enough time to give teachers the specific training they need—particularly at the elementary level which requires a wide range of content and pedagogical knowledge. 

"Under the current postbaccalaureate structure, it's unlikely elementary programs can fit in everything aspiring teachers need, especially when half the year is already devoted to student teaching," said Hannah Putman, director of research for the National Council on Teacher Quality, a research and advocacy group that ranks teacher education programs. All of the California programs performed poorly on that group's 2014 assessment of elementary math training (though many folks have questioned the methodology behind that review).

Teacher education programs in California have gotten more flexibility over the years. A law passed in 2013 that allowed programs to offer up to two years of formal preparation, rather than just the one postbaccalaureate year, as my colleague Stephen Sawchuk reported.

Some institutions created "blended" programs, that condense the bachelor's degree and teaching credential into four years. And alternative-route programs allow people with bachelor's degrees to work in classrooms while doing their teacher coursework.

"How many universities will recreate undergraduate education majors now that they can is a big unknown," writes Fensterwald. 

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