The Los Angeles Unified School District Paraeducator Career Ladder Programs

Steve Brandick Director, Paraeducator Career

There is a need for teachers who reflect the changing demographics of Los Angeles. There is also a shortage of elementary, bilingual, mathematics, science, and special education teachers. However, among the 15,000 paraeducators who assist teachers in classrooms throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District, there are many who have both the desire and ability to help meet these needs. The great majority are from the community in which they work. All have experience working with children and many have expressed the desire to become teachers, but they have encountered such obstacles as time, money, family responsibilities, or passing the CBEST exam.

In 1990, the California legislature established the California School Paraprofessional Teacher Training Program to address several key issues and opportunities in the stateâs public schools. The primary purpose of the program is to create local career ladders that enable school paraprofessionals to become certificated classroom teachers. Additionally, the program was designed to:

  • respond to teacher shortages in areas of high need such as special education;
  • diversify the teaching profession;
  • establish innovative models for teacher education; and
  • improve instructional services that are provided by school paraprofessionals.

The core of the program consists of academic scholarships to defray the costs of tuition, books, and fees for paraprofessionals who complete college and university course work to meet teacher certification standards by earning college degrees and teaching credentials. Since 1994-95, the program has enabled 129 school paraprofessionals to become certificated classroom teachers and has enabled 600 other paraprofessionals to approach that goal.

In September 1994, the LAUSD Paraeducator Career Ladder was established as a joint project of the district and the Service Employees International Union, Local 99 in which there were pursuing careers as teachers and to guide them short fields. The program was designed on the California School Paraprofessionals Teacher Training Program model, but the LAUSD program went much further.

There are 13 California School Paraprofessional Teacher Training Programs throughout the state. However, LAUSD is the only program that has made an effort to become a model that is institutionalized and fully supported by the district. The LAUSD Career Ladder is open to all district paraeducators, not just the small group funded by the state. The Board of Education provided funds for development and initial implementation on a year-to-year basis from July 1995 and then established the program as part of the general fund budget in July 1996. The Career Ladder is now a unit within the Personnel Division and is an integral part of the districtâs recruitment strategy. It receives approximately $1 million annually; from district funds that support over 4000 participants. It also receives approximately $140,000 from the state in the form of a grant for a California School Paraprofessional Teacher Training Program that supports forty-five participants.

The Career Ladder also acts as a clearinghouse helping to disseminate information about other efforts to develop teachers. Currently, it is working with programs such as the USC Latino Teacher Project, CSULA Apprentice Teacher Program, CSULA Special Education Intern Program, CSUN Project COMETS (also a special education credential program), PACE at various community colleges, and Project Teach at East Los Angeles Colleges.

Career Ladder participants are placed on one of five levels based on education completed towards a teaching credential and demonstrated proficiency in a series of teaching-related performance areas. Progress towards a teaching credential is monitored through ongoing analysis of transcripts. Proficiency in performance areas is assessed through observation by the supervising teacher.

As participants increase their level of proficiency and progress towards a work for the district for a minimum of two years if offered a position. In return, participants are provided with educational advisement, support groups, mentoring, test preparation seminars, hiring assistance, and partial tuition reimbursement.

Results of the Career Ladder have been impressive. Since July 1995, over 800 program participants have been hired as teachers.

These new teachers are 85% people of color and 65 bilingual. 12% have gone into special education. Reports from the field indicate that they are generally having success and come to the profession with skills that few other new teachers possess. In addition, 97% of Career Ladder participants hired as teachers since July 1995 are still teaching for the district. By bringing together the needs of schools and the aspirations of a vital group of employees, the education of students has been improved.

During the first half of the 1998-1999 school year, resources have been focused upon improving program components to maximize the number of participants that become district teachers.

The following describes the current status of the program.

New Teachers

From July 1, 1998 through October 30, 1998, 262 participants became K-12 teachers, 62% became elementary teachers and 24% entered the field of special education. The ethnic diversity of these teachers continues to reflect the diversity of the LAUSD student population.


The Fall edition of Education , the oldest education journal in the United States, features the Career Ladder through photographs on the front and back covers, an article by Superintendent Rubin Zacarias, and a cover article co-written by Mr. Steve Brandick, Career Ladder Director and Dr. John McGowan, Career Ladder On-Campus Adviser at California State University, Dominguez Hills. In addition, the journal presented Mr. Brandick and Dr. McGowan with a Special Merit Award for Project Innovation.

Paraprofessional Teacher Training Program (PTTP)

The PTTP is a grant program funded by the State of California through the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC). The proposal, as funded, specifies that participants must be Career Ladder enrollees at Level 3, 4, or 5 with a minimum 2.75 GPA studying at CSUDH. The original participants were chosen in an open competition held in Fall 1994. When the CCTC expanded funding to the LAUSD PTTP in February 1998, fifteen new participants were selected from among Career Ladder Outstanding Teacher Candidates at CSUDH. In 1998-1999, the LAUSD PTTP entered its fifth year. Funding for the year is $153,000 which brings the total received to $646,000.

Outstanding Teacher Candidates

These OTC’s are Career Ladder participants who are nominated by their schools to receive a $3000 annual stipend. OTCâs must maintain a minimum 2.75 GPA and complete nine semester units each semester or eight quarter units each quarter. There are 58 active recipients, and 138 former recipients who are now teachers. Application is currently open for new recipients.

Implementation Of Apprentice Teacher Program

This program is an alternative route to teacher certification for LAUSD Paraeducator Career Ladder participants pursuing teaching careers in elementary education. It was developed by the Career Ladder Office in collaboration with the California State University, Los Angeles Charter School of Education. In two years, participants complete requirements for a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Child Development and a preliminary multiple subjects credential at CSULA. This is done by integrating upper division requirements with credential course work and by weaving structured paraeducator classroom experiences into the course work. The first cohort of 31 participants began with the Winter 1999 quarter. Applications for the second cohort are currently being accepted. This cohort began in Fall 1999.

Pilot Programs In Development

The Career Ladder Office is currently developing three new programs: 1) a collaboration with CSUDH to implement a blended program that integrates undergraduate requirements with credential requirements for paraeducators, 2) a collaboration with the Multicultural Alliance and Americorps to extend support to Career Ladder participants working on credentials as emergency permit teachers, and 3) a collaboration with USC to provide stipends to encourage participants to complete traditional teacher training programs.

Expanded Test Preparation Program

The Career Ladder has added Math Praxis to its array of test preparation services offered to Career Ladder participants, other district employees, and LAUSD teacher candidates.

This year there will be four CBEST seminars, five MSAT seminars and one Math Praxis seminar.

Evaluation of the effectiveness of test preparation seminars has proved challenging because results are confidential and the testing companies have refused to send results of seminar participants directly to LAUSD. The Career Ladder Office has begun a campaign to obtain the results directly from seminar participants. A complete evaluation of the program will be conducted in June 1999.

Implementation Of Revised Performance Assessments

During 1997-1998, Performance Assessments were revised for the first time since 1994. The revision was made: 1) to make Performance Assessments more useful as a teacher training tool, and 2) to bring them into alignment with the California Standards for the Teaching Profession.

Open Application And Support Group Recruitment

Eligible employees may now apply to the Career Ladder at any time during the year by attending a Support Group meeting and obtaining the signature of the Support Provider. Participants may also apply at informational meetings held each November and April. Open application makes it possible for Support Providers to recruit members. Individual schools may also begin on-site Support Groups if they can maintain attendance of fifteen program participants.

Currently, there are 55 Support Groups that are organized by high school complex. These groups meet once every two months with a Support Provider, an experienced teacher who acts as a mentor to the group.

On-Campus Adviser Services

On-Campus Advisers are faculty members at CSUDH, CSULA, CSULB, and CSUN who provide additional advisement to Career Ladder participants whether or not they are enrolled at the institution. The Career Ladder Office monitors services and makes adjustments where necessary;. For 1998-1999, advisement services were expanded at CSULA. A minimal amount of hours are offered at CSULB due to the small number of program participants who enroll in that institution. Services at CSUN have been temporarily discontinued because of difficulties obtaining services requested in the contract.

Participant Satisfaction Survey

The program was evaluated in June 1998 by participants through the annual Participant Satisfaction Survey. Generally high marks were received.

The Ladder

The Career Ladder newsletter, The Ladder, is published quarterly and now has a distribution if 6000. Copies are sent to all schools and offices, all past and present participants, and a growing mailing list of other interested persons and organizations throughout the country.

Career Ladder Informational Packet

During the week of January 4, 1999 the Career Ladder Office distributed an informational packet to all schools. The packet included a brochure, a poster, a program application, and a twenty-minute informational video developed by Career Ladder staff.

LA Unified School District
450 N. Grand Avenue, Room P-218
Los Angeles, CA 90012