Corrected: This story incorrectly states that California requires only a bachelor’s degree for secondary teachers. The state also requires secondary teachers to demonstrate subject-matter competence in the subjects they are teaching.
California is revising its definitions of a qualified teacher, after a draft submitted to the U.S. Department of Education was shot down.
The situation provides an early indicator of states’ responses to the new teacher-quality mandates in the “No Child Left Behind Act” of 2001—and of how a state that has had chronic problems finding qualified teachers for its toughest classrooms might meet them.
California, where thousands teachers are either working with emergency licenses or teaching outside their fields of expertise, has set up a network of alternative-certification programs in its drive to train more teachers.
The state wants teachers enrolled in such programs, called pre-interns, to be counted as meeting the federal law’s standard of “highly qualified.” Those candidates must complete 18 credit hours of coursework in the subjects they are teaching and pass state tests in order to be certified in secondary education.
State officials proposed their definition as an appendix to California’s application for federal Title I aid last month. The definition was not requested or required by the federal Education Department, but officials there let the state know that its definitions wouldn’t pass the test.
Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat and a chief architect of the law, which reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, said officials of his state were trying to cover up its high numbers of uncertified teachers and circumvent the law’s intent of ensuring that the neediest students have well- qualified teachers.
“This is an audacious and reckless action that suggests a lack of regard for students, parents, and taxpayers,” Mr. Miller, the ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, wrote in an Aug. 1 letter to members of the state board of education.
But Kerry Mazzoni, California’s secretary of education, says the state’s proposed definition of “qualified” is above what the law requires, because the pre-intern teachers already have work experience in the subjects they are teaching. She’s worried that federal officials will not be flexible enough to accept the state’s efforts.
“These simplistic definitions don’t always work in the field,” she said in an interview last month. “We are absolutely practicing and implementing the intent of the law, but we feel our standards are very high for teachers ... and we are concerned we’ll be penalized for that.”
On Aug. 23, the state Senate held a hearing on the proposal, during which state officials said they were working with federal officials to revise their draft document.
The No Child Left Behind Act requires every secondary school teacher in a program supported by Title I funds hired after the first day of this school year to have a bachelor’s degree in the same field, or a closely related one, as the subject he or she is teaching. As an alternative, those teachers can pass a state test of their knowledge and skills. All newly hired teachers also must be state-certified. By the 2005-06 school year, all new and currently employed teachers must meet those requirements.
Previously, like many other states, California only required secondary teachers to have a bachelor’s degree, with no match between their degrees and the subjects they were teaching.
In California, 27 percent of secondary school teachers do not have either a major or a minor in the subjects they’re teaching, according to the Education Trust, a research and advocacy group based in Washington.
About 32,000 California teachers, out of more than 300,000, are uncertified, according to the state. And the state estimates it will need another 260,000 to 300,000 new teachers in the next 10 years because of enrollment growth and faculty attrition.
Right now, hundreds of fully certified, veteran teachers may not meet the federal definitions of a highly qualified teacher, because they are teaching as they seek certification in additional subject fields, said Linda G. Bond, the director of government relations for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. She is concerned that those teachers might quit if they are told they are not qualified and have to take further courses or tests.
“If 60,000 to 70,000 teachers are taken out of the mix because of a technical definition, that’s absolutely devastating,” Ms. Bond said.
California’s problems arose because the proposed definitions did not mention the state’s plans for teacher licensure, and the pre-interns’ qualifications were not in line with the law’s intentions for a highly qualified teacher, said Cheri Yecke, the director of teacher quality for the federal Education Department.
“It’s a work in progress,” Ms. Yecke said. “It’s all very new, and states are putting forth their best efforts.”
Early next year, California officials will resubmit a revised document.