Calif. Group Sues Over ‘Highly Qualified’ Label

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A California activist group has sued the state commission on teacher credentialing, contending it is misleading the public by enabling teachers with emergency credentials to serve as “highly qualified” educators under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The lawsuit focuses on the commission’s creation of the “individualized internship certificate” three years ago. The policy allows teachers with emergency credentials who have demonstrated subject-matter competence—but not yet completed all their pedagogical coursework—to teach and be considered highly qualified under the federal law.

Mary C. Armstrong, the general counsel for the credentialing commission, said the state board of education approved the certificate as a way to recognize a subgroup of emergency-certified educators who had reached a certain level of skill and were working toward full credentials.

The suit, filed in superior court in San Francisco by the group Californians for Justice on Aug. 2, says the commission has issued more than 2,800 such certificates. Ms. Armstrong said the latest figures she has show that 2,600 had been issued by June 2004.

‘Really Misleading’

Michelle Rodriguez, a lawyer from San Francisco-based Public Advocates Inc., which is representing the plaintiffs, said the teachers working with the new certificate fall short of the federal law’s requirements because they are not in a rigorous credentialing program with classroom supervision. “It really is misleading to call these people ‘highly qualified’ teachers,” she said.

Ms. Armstrong said the aspiring teachers do receive supervision in the classroom. “We stand behind the certificate,” she said.

The lawsuit is the latest development in an ongoing controversy in California over the definition of “highly qualified” teachers. In 2002, the state proposed a definition of “highly qualified” that included emergency-certified teachers, sparking opposition from activists and some lawmakers, and, ultimately, rejection by the U.S. Department of Education. Tougher rules adopted in 2003 prohibit application of the label to educators with only emergency credentials.

Vol. 24, Issue 44, Page 6

Published in Print: August 10, 2005, as Calif. Group Sues Over ‘Highly Qualified’ Label
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